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Sunflowers in February by Phyllida Shrimpton – Book Review

Synopsis

Lily wakes up one crisp Sunday morning on the side of the road. She has no idea how she got there. It is only when a police car arrives, and she sees her own body, that she realises she is in fact …dead.

But nobody can see or hear her, however hard she tries. So what is she supposed to do next? Then Lily is given a once-in-a-deathtime opportunity. Will she take it?

Author

Phyllida Shrimpton is a full-time mother of a teenage daughter and currently lives in Essex with her husband, their rescued Newfoundland and a small badly behaved Jack Russell.

She achieved a postgraduate degree in Human Resource Management, but soon jumped ship to work with teenagers, including students with Asperger’s syndrome, on an Essex-based agricultural college farm before eventually moving to live temporarily in the Netherlands. She is also an artist. Sunflowers in February is her first novel.

What I Thought

Crikey. Those opening scenes were pretty hard to read but Lily’s confusion and growing realisation of what has happened was so tangible.

In the early part of the book Lily is bounced around from person to person when they are thinking of her. She lacks agency – not surprisingly – and again it was difficult to read about the grief of those whose lives she is now absent from. There are a few different characters’ perspectives explored including the person who is responsible for Lily’s hit-and-run death. Someone a lot closer to home than you’d think.

I had total Ghost (the Patrick Swayze film) flashbacks at points throughout this story especially with the medium character, although One Shoe Sue actually is more credible.

The scenes where Lily first wake up in a boy’s body reminded me a little of Every Day by David Levithan and the Changers series. I have to admit to being frustrated with her taking over the other person’s life but then again it’s also understandable. She died at 15, her life is simply unfinished – she wants more time. Who wouldn’t.

I loved the exploration of the familial relationships most of all with Lily’s parents and brother being the most prominent of the other characters included. Teendom is a time when family relations can be quite fraught and this reminder to be kind to and make time for each other is important. Actually a useful reminder generally in this fast paced world.

I thought the book did very well to not go too much down the religious track when exploring the concept of life after death because I do think sadly that might have put me off a little. There was definitely some take away messages that were emotive but not overly schmaltzy.

One slight criticism I have is that I felt the concept of drink driving was perhaps not considered as negatively as it should be and in one case accepted as kind of inevitable.

I did get a little confused towards the end about when the book was actually going to end but that may have been because I was reading through tears and had to put the book down a number of times to make sure I could see! 😭 I definitely got over my frustration with Lily and she did develop to the extent that I was left hoping for a ridiculous and unobtainable proper happy ending although the ending itself was satisfying. As I said afterwards – I’m not crying. You’re crying! I dare you not to.

Let’s Talk Funerals and Bucket Lists in YA

What are some of the most emotional funeral scenes in YA Books that you’ve read?

Personally I think John Green pulls a corker in The Fault in Our Stars. I think the concept of actually being there to hear your own eulogy is so emotive. Phyllida also captures this here.

A bit morbid but reading this has actually got me thinking about how I’d like my funeral to be. Might make some plans. Gosh turning 40 is such a downer 😂😂 Have you ever thought about what you would like to happen at your funeral?

I have had a bucket list page on my blog for a while – must update it actually – and think it’s important that we take time to tick things off and stop putting things off. What would be on yours?

Thanks to Hot Key Books for the copy I received for the purpose of this honest review.

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White Rabbit, Red Wolf by Tom Pollock – Book Review

This picture was actually used in a buzzfeed article.

Synopsis

Sometimes, courage is just knowing what you’re more afraid of.

A taut thriller about murder, maths and the mind. Peter Blankman is afraid of everything but must confront truly unimaginable terror when his mother is attacked. Seventeen-year-old Peter Blankman is a maths prodigy. He also suffers from severe panic attacks. Afraid of everything, he finds solace in the orderly and logical world of mathematics and in the love of his family: his scientist mum and his tough twin sister Bel, as well as Ingrid, his only friend. However, when his mother is found stabbed before an award ceremony and his sister is nowhere to be found, Pete is dragged into a world of espionage and violence where state and family secrets intertwine. Armed only with his extraordinary analytical skills, Peter may just discover that his biggest weakness is his greatest strength.

The Author

Tom Pollock has been described as “a powerful imagination” by the Guardian. He is the author of four novels, and an ambassador for Talklife, the peer support network for youth mental health, for who he blogs about his experiences with depression, anxiety and bulimia at https://blog.talklife.co/. Inspired by those experiences, White Rabbit, Red Wolf is his first thriller for young adults. He lives and works in London and can be found on Twitter: @tomhpollock.

What I Thought

In the promo material for this book we received a letter from the author Tom speaking about his own mental health difficulties including binge eating/bulimia and initially I thought I was going into a contemporary story exploring that. There was no synopsis included just the front cover saying “This Story is a Lie”. Having had my own experiences of binge eating I was a little nervous going into the book and although some of the scenes are quite graphic and whilst mental health is explored, this book moved way beyond focusing on main character Pete’s mental health “issues”

In fact it came as a complete and pleasant surprise in the form of a thriller. Pete’s scientist mum is heading to an awards evening at the Natural History Museum and she is dragging along her children Pete and Bel. Not only is Pete a teen who would rather be at home but he is someone who has severe anxiety and the events of the evening are not about to help with that. His mum is stabbed, his sister goes missing and he’s bundled away by spies!!!

Told from Pete’s perspective in the present, and in the past (in chapters titled Recursion with the time reference indicated) this was such an engaging and dramatic read.

I loved how Pete’s focus on numbers and logic help him both manage his problems and gradually unpick the mystery. Although perhaps there are things uncovered that might have been better left hidden. Pete is definitely a character you root for and empathise with.

The relationship between him and his sister Bel, and Pete and his only friend Ingrid are highlights and boy does this story have you questioning everyone. Is anyone who he thought they were, is he?

Like a cross between A Beautiful Mind, We Were Liars and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime I would highly recommend this captivating story.

Huge thanks to Walker Books for the surprise proof copy of this. Opinions as ever are my own.

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

With London Pride being yesterday I thought that time was right to finally review this Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash.

Synopsis

Maggie is fifteen and has basically spent every summer of her life at one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, where her days are full of a pleasant, peaceful sort of nothing. Until one confounding moment of innocent physical contact catapults her into gut-twisting love with Erin, an older, wiser, and surprisingly – at least to Maggie – female counselor. When it seems as if Erin might feel the same way about Maggie, it’s too much for either Maggie or Camp Bellflower to endure, let alone understand.

Author

Maggie Thrash is a staff writer for Rookie, a popular online magazine for teenage girls. This is her first book. She lives in Delaware.

Honor Girl was first published in 2015 and was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist.

What I thought

This is a non-fiction book, based on true events and is presented as a graphic novel. It is about a girl discovering her sexual attraction to another, older girl at summer camp.

I thought it was excellently done and a great use of the genre. The book is illustrated in watercolour pencil and pen images which were finished digitally and even the font was designed by Maggie. The art is fairly simplistic but there’s something powerful in its simplicity especially in the close up images like below.

I’ve seen some criticism of the ‘ending’ but I really liked the fact that is was realistic. Nothing against fictional coming out stories but the happily ever after they often portray does not often represent the stories of many teens in this situation. I also thought Maggie’s confliction was represented powerfully.

I read some of the one star reviews of this book on goodreads and whilst I agree with some of the concerns highlighted over this being about a relationship between an older 19 year old camp counselor and a 15 year old girl I can’t help but wonder how vehemently those concerns would be expressed if the counselor had been male and the 15 year old female. In fact I’ve seen many older boy/younger girl stories like this fictionally and in real life that are seen as ‘part of the norm’.

This is set in a summer camp in southern America a ‘few’ years ago so usual camp activities take place including shooting guns and the safety around such activities is more lax than I think it would be now. This was again a criticism I read from others, though I think we need to take care to read stories in their context not just applying today’s standards.

I liked the use of humour and ‘silliness’ when describing the typical teen girl behaviour such as lusting over the backstreet boys, being mean to each other and scaring the younger girls. As such I do think that teenagers will relate to the story whatever their sexual orientation. It’s about growing up, discovering yourself, falling in love and heartbreak. What is more universal?

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher Walker for the purposes of an honest review. I read it a year ago so apologies for the delay in reviewing.

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