Report: Cecelia Ahern at County Hall, Preston 

On Tuesday evening I was lucky enough to be able to accompany 3 of the young volunteers I work with to see Cecelia Ahern at County Hall, Preston, an event that was organised by Silverwood Events in partnership with Lancashire Libraries.

Going to any author event is a treat. But going to see an author you particularly admire in an impressive venue like County Hall is extra special. And seeing young people inspired and enthused and then desperate to get home and start reading is the absolute cherry on top. 

Cecelia was in conversation with our very own YLG North West representative and current Chair Elect, Jake Hope, and was promoting her new novel Perfect, the follow-up to her debut YA novel, Flawed, which was published in 2016 and brilliantly received.


Topics discussed on the night included Cecelia’s career so far, the differences between writing adult and young adult fiction, and the ways in which (particularly with the proliferation of social media) people can be so quick to judge others and publicly shame them for their mistakes. This is a central theme in the Flawed series, in which anyone that is deemed to be imperfect is physically branded with an F for Flawed – with the location of the F dependent on what it is they are judged to have done wrong. It’s dark and compelling and the parallels with our own society give real pause for thought.


Cecelia also talked about her experiences of promoting her young adult books and some of the schools she has visited. She talked about how often the pupils that ask the most questions are the ones described by the teachers as the ‘quiet ones,’ and how vital author visits are in showing young people that they can make a living from writing, that there are people out there that have done it and do it every day. 

This was a really well-organised, enjoyable event – Jake has a lovely interview manner and Cecelia was a brilliant speaker – refreshing, down-to earth and funny too. The young people were buzzing about the event on the train home  – and so was I! 🙂

Emma

Review: The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

The blurb:

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true? 


The Review:

Okay, I’m going to be totally honest here. Whilst I’m clearly not averse to using the occasion (and accompanying Twitter hashtag) to shamelessly try and get some views for this post, I am not a huge fan of Valentine’s Day in general. I really don’t like the idea of making grand romantic gestures on one particular day just because Clinton Cards says I should – if my husband gets a card at all it will be Card Factory all the way and the last grand romantic gesture I made was letting him watch a whole episode of Ancient Aliens without snorting sarcastically once…

But although I don’t like Valentine’s Day, I do think I’m a romantic at heart. And although I don’t agree that one particular day should hold so much romantic pressure, I do believe that any one day can hold a huge amount of romantic promise. I also believe that someone can come along one day and change everything you think you know about love. 

“Save me from the nice and sincere boys who feel things too deeply”

And that is why I loved The Sun Is Also A Star. One of the criticisms I’ve heard levelled at this book is that it’s all a bit too insta-love, but I loved the optimism and possibility and was completely swept along by Natasha and Daniel; helped on the way by the constant switch in POV and the deliciously glorious short chapters (hooray for short chapters!). 

Natasha and Daniel are intelligent, thoughtful and engaging main characters and I loved the way their narrative was interspersed with snippets from the other peripheral characters that they come into contact with as their own love story unfolds. It’s testament to Nicola Yoon’s writing that she made me care so much about a character (Irene) that only appears on a handful of pages in the book. And although the events of the novel take place over a period of only around twelve hours, it feels like Natasha and Daniel really get to know each other on a deeper level – they find out about each other’s backgrounds, likes and dislikes and what will frustrate as well as endear them to each other, and their love story feels progressive and genuine. There’s humour in there too and, as someone who often wonders ‘what if…’ I particularly liked the exploration of coincidence and the ripple effect that seemingly random, minor incidents can have upon people’s lives.

So there you have it. My name’s Emma and I’m a hopeless romantic. And The Sun Is Also A Star is my ideal Valentine’s date (sorry husband!)

Em

Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks – Emily Barr

The Blurb:

HOW DO YOU KNOW WHO TO TRUST WHEN YOU CAN’T EVEN TRUST YOURSELF?

I look at my hands. One of them says FLORA BE BRAVE.

Flora has anterograde amnesia. She can’t remember anything day-to-day: the joke her friend made, the instructions her parents gave her, how old she is.

Then she kisses someone she shouldn’t, and the next day she remembers it. It’s the first time she’s remembered anything since she was ten.

But the boy is gone. She thinks he’s moved to the Arctic.

Will following him be the key to unlocking her memory? Who can she trust?

The Review:

It’s been more than 48 hours since I finished reading this book and I just can’t stop thinking about Flora Banks. In quiet moments I find myself drifting off, wondering what Flora is up to now – whereabouts in the world is she? What quest is she on and who is with her? I even dreamt in Flora the other night – I was still me but kept having to write down what I was doing in a notebook (in short but beautifully formed sentences a la Flora) because I knew I was going to forget all about it very soon.
That is the effect this book has had on me. Flora has really got under my skin – she’s bright, bold and brilliant; as well as being, thanks to her anterograde amnesia, possibly the most unreliable narrator I’ve ever come across.

The first person narration means the reader is entirely immersed in Flora’s head – when she forgets things, we are retold them just as she has to retell herself (through her trusty notebook and the writing on her arms); when Flora is confused we are confused; and when Flora really doesn’t know what’s real and what isn’t we haven’t got a clue either. It’s disconcerting and uncomfortable in places but that is what makes this book so effective.

I was with Flora all the way – I felt her hurt and confusion and was swept away by her adventurous spirit and general adorableness. And, despite me calling her unreliable just a paragraph or so ago (which in many ways she is), Flora is actually one of the most honest characters in the book – provided you overlook the small matter of the text messages telling her parents (who have dashed off to be at her gravely ill brother’s bedside) that she’s fine with her friend in Penzance, when she’s actually on her own in Svalbard! But we’ve all been there right? Although Svalbard somewhat beats Yates’s Wine Lodge circa 2002 as a place worth lying to your parents about your whereabouts for…

Anyway…the fact is that this book is brilliant. It’s one of those books that is so good it makes me sad that I won’t ever be able to read it for the first time again. And I’m going to stop talking about it now so that you can go and reserve it from your local library / bookshop and get swept away by Flora too!
Em

The One Memory of Flora Banks is published by Penguin and is out now.

Review: The Hypnotist by Laurence Anholt

Best known for his books for younger children, The Hypnotist is Laurence Anholt’s debut novel for YA readers – not that you could guess. This is an assured and indeed ambitious piece of writing.hypnotist-final-cover-design-e1457618358586

 

Thirteen-year-old Pip is plucked out of an orphanage by the wonderfully characterised Zachary, a farmer, to help with his tender-hearted but bedbound wife Lilybelle. Pip’s expectations might be looking up but for the fact that this is the Deep South of the 1960s and Pip is black and the inhabitants of Dead River Farm are white.

 

Well-meaning but nevertheless entrenched in the endemic segregation of the time, Zachary and Lilybelle are harmless enough but their son, the unstable and menacing Erwin, is a different matter entirely. A constant note of discord in the household, Erwin (irreparably damaged by his experiences in Vietnam) looms large over the lives of all. Add to this melting pot Hannah, a mute Native American girl also employed on the farm and a newly arrived university professor skilled in hypnotism, and a powerful story of prejudice and danger emerges. The striking cover design will give the eagle eyed among you a clear indication which way this story is heading but I shan’t give too much away…

 

Clever narration is shared between Pip and the first person narrative of the eponymous hypnotist Jack Morrow, allowing the reader to see racial tensions from both the point of view of the oppressed and via the shock and horror of an outsider. Both voices are interwoven by the lyrical and enigmatic voice of Hannah, adding a dreamy otherworldly quality to the book. It all combines into a compelling and powerful look at a turbulent period of American history that will have readers weeping in frustration at the potential for injustice in the world. The inclusion of an afterword from Anholt and an endorsement from Amnesty International also makes this read a particularly timely warning from history.

Review: A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Steffi doesn’t talk. Rhys can’t hear. They understand each other perfectly.

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

I picked up a proof copy of this at the YLG conference back in October and it was one of the first books I read when I got back home. As well as being a love story, it’s also a beautifully written exploration of the subtleties and nuances of different modes of communication and language – the feelings of isolation and exclusion that come with not being able to communicate in a way that is perceived as the norm, and joy and triumph at finding a way to express yourself to someone who understands. Texting; talking; lip-reading; British Sign Language; writing and online messaging – all these forms of communication are featured in this story and all of them come with their own advantages and difficulties, clarity and misunderstandings.

The relationship between Steffi and Rhys feels natural and authentic and builds nicely as the story, and their importance to each other, progresses, and the other important relationships in Steffi’s life, including  those with her parents and best friend Tem, are also explored. Steffi’s friendship with Tem was one of my favourite elements of the book – joyful, intense and, as many teenage friendships seem to be, characterised as much by the secrets they keep from each other as the secrets they share.

Indeed it seems that this book is as much about what is not said as what is. One of the things that Steffi chooses not to tell Tem for a long period of the book is that she has started taking tablets to help with her anxiety. The reader knows this early on though and it’s a crucial factor in ensuring that this book doesn’t fall into the “problems cured by getting a boyfriend” category.

Overall this is a well-written, and obviously well-researched, hopeful story with central characters that are easy to warm to and a strong supporting cast.

A Quiet Kind of Thunder is published on 12th January 2017 by Macmillan.