Spring update, continued. March is the best month: it has my birthday, International Women’s Day, World Book Day, Crufts, and, this year, London Book Fair! Also, I read some books, which I’m sure you’re just dying to hear my opinions on, so let’s get to that:
TRUTH OR DARE by Non Pratt – A new Non book is a veritable event, and I was delighted to get a proof of this, a tale of tragedy, YouTube, and unlikely romance. Predictably brilliant but brilliantly unpredictable. When it comes to contemporary YA, Non Pratt is truly one of the best. (Proper review to come closer to publication date!)
HOMEGOING by Yaa Gyasi – Epic in scale, this sweeping novel follows seven generations of family, beginning with two half-sisters in eighteen century Ghana. Homegoing is unflinching in its portrayal of the horrors of slavery, and the continuing weight of that history. As might be expected, it’s difficult to hear at times, but it is luminous and compelling as anything I’ve ever read. The way the ties between ancestor and descendant stretch but never snap is an almost elementally powerful concept, and Gyasi successfully juggles fourteen separate voices living very different lives whilst making sure their stories are woven together subtly but effectively, making the novel more than a sum of its parts. Homegoing is brilliant and unforgettable, and I can’t wait to see what Gyasi does next.
ORANGEBOY by Patrice Lawrence – I loved this tough, pacy YA novel, and… so did everyone else! I’m so pleased to see Patrice being handed accolades left right and centre. Marlon is a (mostly) sweet kid who gets caught up in his older brother’s world of gangs and danger when an innocent date at the fair ends badly. This is quite unlike a lot of contemporary YA I’ve read, but a good way, with the plot keeping me anxiously turning pages until the end. Marlon is a very likeable main character, even as he keeps making decisions you know aren’t going to work out for him. The supporting characters are great too, and the librarian mum is a fine addition to the growing canon of actually-present-and-parenting YA parents.
THE JUNGLE by Pooja Puri – The inaugural title of new YA imprint Ink Road, Pooja Puri’s debut had a fair amount riding on it. That’s without considering the heavy subject matter. The Jungle is a YA novel about the Calais refugee and migrant encampment. The writing is understatedly lovely, and the depiction of the situation these people have found themselves in – its essential, inhumane unfairness – is deftly done. I would have liked to know more about the characters’ backgrounds, but perhaps the point is that now they are in the Jungle, they are seen as residents of the Jungle, not as whoever they were in the past. The twists and turns the plot takes are unexpected, and Pooja avoids writing an easy narrative. Overall, this is a story that will make you think, without the get-out of a neat resolution.
CHASING THE STARS by Malorie Blackman – I DNF’ed this when I first tried to read it. It had such an excellent pitch – Othello in space! Othello is a black teenage girl! – but I’m not sure it ever lived up to it. Longer review to come as part of my YA Book Prize shadowing.
THE ESSEX SERPENT by Sarah Perry – Newly widowed Cora Seaborne moves to Essex and hears the tale of the Essex Serpent, rumoured to be terrorising the parish of Aldwinter. Will Ransome, man of the cloth, has no truck with the tall tales of mythical creatures, but that’s only one thing of many he finds to disagree over with Cora. It took me some time to get into this, but once I was in, I was in ALL THE WAY. What a big, sexy, clever, lovely book. It’s about the monsters of love and desire… and also science, socialism, sensation. I couldn’t wait to get back to Aldwinter every time I went back to the book. Every character feels like a friend, and I miss them already.