REVIEW: Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

Over the next ten weeks I will be reading and reviewing the shortlisted books for the inaugural YA Book Prize. I’m thrilled that the diverse and thriving UK YA scene is being celebrated. I’m also thrilled about the UK YA Extravaganza coming up at the end of February! Ace stuff as usual from YA Birmingham.

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Lobsters is a socially awkward love story. I would contend that the main characters Hannah and Sam are not that socially awkward, they’re just teenagers. But I suppose that’s bad enough. The plot is fairly straightforward: Hannah and Sam share a brief moment of connection in the loo at a house party, then spend the rest of their last summer before university trying to reconnect despite various shenanigans and mistakes. Everything is hilarious and terrible.

I loved this book. I LOVED IT SO MUCH. I think crustaceans are funny, and I picked this book up a few times before it made the YA prize shortlist mainly on the strength of its title. (Here are some lobster facts. Lobsters are amazing.) I am so glad I finally read it, because it is so wonderful. It made me laugh out loud at least once a chapter. Lobsters is hilarious, but treats its subjects with precisely the right amount of levity. Youth, young love, and especially sex are all frankly ridiculous things and Lobsters captures this perfectly. It reads like The Inbetweeners but with a 50/50 gender split, and a little more earnestness. It really rang true with my memories of being a teenager (and reminded me how grateful I am not to be one any more). With perhaps the exception of the whole Erin episode, everything that happens to these characters is relatable. I was particularly struck by how well Ellen and Ivison write the dual adolescent fear of and fascination with sex.

The depiction of female friendship and not-quite-friendship is also well done. Hannah and Stella’s relationship is complex and interesting, and their conflict rises from real resentment rather than empty bitchiness or a desire for drama. It’s an accurate portrayal of teenage friendships and how the tiniest things can destroy you at that age, in those relationships. I loved, too, that Hannah forgave Stella in the end. In all, it was thoughtful and sensitively done, and a highlight among the more serious moments in the book. The male friendships are casual by contrast, which again rings true with the social dynamics I remember from my adolescence, but Robin and Sam’s friendship stands out to me. Robin is a bit of an idiot, but he is unfortunately an idiot Sam loves.

Other things I loved: Casper! What on earth is his life about? I want to know. The elegant “going to York” reveal. How appealing Sark sounds to me, because I am an old person. Embarrassing injokes! “It’s laminated, you dick.” Hannah’s nan, and Hannah’s mum too. All of it! EVERYTHING. Lobsters is just pitch-perfect on the agonies and ecstasies of being young and stupid. It is very funny, very lovely, and very British. Really a great example of UK YA.

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