This Is Not A Review – five things Keren David’s latest made me think about

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Of the many new UKYA books gracing our shelves today, I was perhaps most excited about This Is Not A Love Story. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy from Netgalley, but I’ve decided not to post a traditional review here. Instead, I’m going to explore some of the aspects of the book I found interesting.

1. Communities

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Both narrators identify as Jewish, but their experiences of Jewishness are quite different. It was refreshing to read about a culture I’m not familiar with, and to see a spectrum of difference within that culture. Theo’s relationship with his community is a tricky one to navigate (but then, so is his relationship with his family). His desire for independence complicates the comfort that comes of belonging. Kitty doesn’t have the same kind of obligations – she’s happy eating non-kosher foods, for example – but she envies Theo his closer understanding of the rules. Yet they still have enough in common that when they meet, they immediately recognise an ally – someone with the same reference points. It’s not a family thing, but they’re from the same community.

Kitty and Theo are also both members of the expat community in Amsterdam. Anyone who’s been on a year abroad will know only too well the joy and agony of this kind of community. You’re instant friends, because who else are you going to hang out with? These groups get intense fast; the perfect recipe for drama, as we see play out in the novel. Expat communities are model found families, the kind of places you become friends for life with people you have nothing in common with except for shared experiences (and probably a language). They’re also the perfect environment for coming out of your shell around people who don’t know you well enough to judge you, as Kitty finds out.

2. Love stories

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The day before I read This Is Not A Love Story, I read an excellent advice column on crushes, which you can (and should) read here. The timing was perfect. Kitty’s naive approach to relationships boils down to “There’s a cute boy! I’d better fall in love with him!” and Dear Dana does a good job of explaining why: “Teenage years are a monsoon of hope and awkwardness.”

This is not a love story, but a story about love stories. The ones we’re told, and the ones we tell ourselves. Kitty loves reading romances, and ends up casting herself in one of her own invention, where she falls in love with the perfect boy in the perfect city. It doesn’t quite work out the way she’s planned.

Theo is also telling himself a story, about Sophie and how they’ll be happy together, one day, if he just waits… And of course, he is literally writing a love story: he’s working on a novel.

The real-life romances the characters experience are messy and awkward and disappointing in a lot of ways. But this is not a love story! It’s about growing up and living your life outside of what is safe and easy and already written for you.

3. Salvage

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Naturally, reading a book by Keren David made me think about a book by Keren David. I said everything I want to about Salvage in my review earlier this year. This Is Not A Love Story is lighter in tone but just as realistic, and I was drawn again to the depictions of non-traditional families. (Kitty’s family is complicated enough to make my head hurt, and that’s before SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER.)

4. Bisexuals

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Diversity and representation have become big buzzwords in recent years, especially in YA and children’s publishing. Back in March, I attended the Including the Excluded seminar at the London Book Fair. It was interesting and heartening to hear about the steps actively being taken towards inclusion.

There’s no shortage of gay characters in YA, though there’s always room for more. Trans characters are starting to be explored too – Lisa Williamson’s The Art of Being Normal drew universal praise from the panel and has been well-received all over. Hopefully, it’s a game-changer in terms of trans stories being told sensitively and marketed to the mainstream audience.

We’re still behind when it comes to bisexuality. Having bisexual characters to relate to would have helped me a lot growing up, and yet bi role models are still hard to find. It’s difficult, too, to find bisexuality represented without stereotype. Perhaps most frustrating is when Bi is the Sexuality that Dare Not Speak Its Name (I’m looking at you, Piper Chapman).

But Ethan! Ethan is rude, pretentious, creative, good looking, and ATTRACTED TO BOTH BOYS AND GIRLS. He’s a main character who is openly bi! Yesss! I found myself cringing whenever anyone else talked about his bisexuality – bi is so trendy, you know? – but Ethan himself is great. He’s difficult, but not because of his sexuality, which he is very casual about. In conclusion: give me all the bisexual protagonists, thanks.

5. Amsterdam

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I love books where the setting is a character in and of itself, and This Is Not A Love Story fits the bill. I challenge you toread this book and not want to buy a ticket to Amsterdam. The story is steeped in authentic local details, and dialogue is Screenshot_2015-05-07-13-14-08peppered with Dutch words. I enjoyed discovering the city along with the characters, especially Kitty, who falls in love with Amsterdam and sets about recording it all for her followers.

Discounting The Fault in Our Stars, this was the first book I’d read set in Amsterdam, and it has whetted my appetite for books set in European capitals. Also: stroopwafels.

This Is Not A Love Story by Keren David is out today from Atom.

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