What I Read in March

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:

25458747TRUTH 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!)

coverHOMEGOING 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.

25699515ORANGEBOY 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_jungleTHE 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.

CHASINGTHESTARS_9780857531414_JKTCHASING 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.

33016783THE 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.

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REVIEW: Remix by Non Pratt

remixcover

I don’t remember being particularly into music as a teenager. I’m sure I thought I was: I read the NME. But I don’t remember being into music, or unironically into anything, really. I mean… my favourite movie was Fight Club. (Okay, my favourite movie is still Fight Club.)

Right now I’m listening to Florence and the Machine’s new album How Big How Blue How Beautiful, released today. The moment I bought their second album, Ceremonials, is etched on my memory. It was Halloween, and I went out and bought the only copy in the French port town I was living in, and I listened to it again and again in what was one of the loneliest times of my life. I walked along the docks, letting Florence Welch sing me the sea. In the spring, I went alone to one of her shows at Alexandra Palace, and the songs that had been living inside my head for months took on new life. Those moments, hundreds of strangers mouthing the words I had carried with me in another country, the music and the passion and the joy of it… Is there anything better? More importantly, in those moments you ask yourself, “Is there anything else?”

In Remix, when best friends Ruby and Kaz get their hands on tickets for the eponymous music festival, they’re understandably excited. Not only is it the perfect chance to blow off some steam post-GCSEs, but their favourite band is playing! It’s set to be a truly unforgettable weekend, a non-stop party where they can forget all about relationship drama and just enjoy the music. The only problem? Well, you never know who you’re going to meet at a festival…

Non Pratt’s debut Trouble was a revelation, contemporary YA that dealt with dark and difficult things through witty and authentic (and very distinguishable) teenage voices. When I found out that her second book, another standalone YA contemporary, was coming out in the summer, it shot to the top of my anticipated list, and when I got hold of a proof I devoured it. I fell hard for Hannah, Trouble’s troubled heroine, so I had high expectations of Ruby and Kaz. Thankfully they didn’t disappoint. I love abrasive Ruby and quiet Kaz, and – vitally, wonderfully – they love each other. The drama that unfolds between them and their friends, family, exes and enemies is full of twists and misunderstandings, resentments bubbling up to the surface and needling making its marks, and (provided you can keep track of the characters) it’s totally gripping. Their friendship is the bedrock of the book, though, and you can’t help but root for them.

Remix effectively captures the mayhem of the musical festival, and its highs and lows. It’s an excellent setting for getting characters lost, and having them bump into just the right (and the wrong) people. Having so many people in a small space, and so many events in a short amount of time, makes for a hectic and intense experience, and our main characters are certainly put through the wringer. There are fun moments and moments of complete disaster, and one disturbing event towards the end of the book that I thought well-handled, but still upsetting. Pratt treats her young female characters with the respect they deserve, and they have every freedom to make poor choices without the narrative punishing them unduly for their mistakes. As with Trouble, she doesn’t shy away from the realities of teenage life, and writes well about sex, friendship, alcohol, and socially awkward situations.

The cast is understatedly diverse: Kaz is mixed race, Ruby’s brother is gay, I’m probably forgetting others. I’m also in love with Sebastian. He very nearly made my Book Boyfriends list. That’s how you know it’s serious.

As a teenager, I also made a big deal of being Just Fine On My Own Thanks. These days, I know that my friends are the best of me, partly because they let me yell at them about the music I love. The characters in Remix get there years before I ever did. If I had a teenage sister, I would give her this book. Seeing as you’re not my teenage sister, you’ll have to buy it yourself, but please do. It’s excellent.

Remix by Non Pratt is out 4 June 2015 from Walker Books.