REVIEW: How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss

Thanks for joining me on an odyssey through the #YA10. I’ll be brutally honest about what I love and what I don’t enjoy so much about the ten books deemed worthy contenders for the only prize dedicated to UKYA. This is the fourth of my reviews. I originally planned to have them up, week by week, in order but real life has intervened! Adds a wee bit of excitement and mystery, I suppose.

Copy of ASTRONOMY 101

The long, lazy summer holidays are some of the best days of a teenager’s life, right? Not so for Hattie; not only has she been abandoned by her best friends, she’s pregnant by one of them. As if the rest of her family’s drama wasn’t enough… Cue the sudden appearance on the scene by Gloria, surprise great-aunt, and the friend Hattie desperately needs right now. Gloria is in the early stages of dementia, but she’s fierce, funny, and ready for a road trip. So off they go, to confront and to share a past and future.

I read this book last year, and wrote on Goodreads:

A beautiful, generously heartfelt novel, and that great rarity – a UKYA roadtrip story! The book is peppered throughout with laugh-out-loud lines, and peopled by characters charming and lively enough to elevate HOW NOT TO DISAPPEAR above the standard YA contemporary. There are some wonderful female friendships and a welcome focus on functional, if non-traditional family relationships. Moving and full of wisdom, with an appealing narrator and a unique sense of humour.

Even a year later, I remember the experience of reading this book fondly. It really is lovely, which is not to say that it sugarcoats any of the difficult subjects it tackles; on the contrary, through the dual narratives it digs deep into the prejudice faced by pregnant women who aren’t the right kind of mother according to society’s mores. The characters are really strong, and I loved that Hattie writes a good email – her narration in all formats is likeable, mature but not unrealistically so, and very much alive. You know she’d be an excellent pal.

Much like Unbecoming from last year’s shortlist, with which it shares the themes of intergenerational relationships, family history, and dementia, How Not to Disappear is a novel with broad appeal. I would readily recommend it to anybody who likes books that warm the cockles of their heart. (Though you had better be ready to shed a few tears, too.) And, as I said above – it’s a road trip story! There’s something very appealing about characters going on a literal journey that mirrors their internal journeys, and being the little island that we are, there are precious few road trips in UKYA. This novel makes me believe in a future for rich, well-rounded characters driving around and having emotional epiphanies. There’s a trend I could get behind.


REVIEW: The Graces by Laure Eve

Thanks for joining me on an odyssey through the #YA10. I’ll be brutally honest about what I love and what I don’t enjoy so much about the ten books deemed worthy contenders for the only prize dedicated to UKYA. This is the third of my reviews.


Everyone says the Graces are witches. The three impossibly beautiful siblings are irresistible, and River wants – no, needs – to know them. To bask in their magic. To be with them. She’s just the misfit new girl with secrets, eating beans on toast in the library, but for some reason the Graces notice her. She is chosen, and feels like she has finally found her place in the world. The beautiful Graces are not quite what they seem… but then again, neither is River.

Friends, I read this book last spring and I was so disappointed. I thought it was shallow, indulgent, irritating. When I decided to reread it so I could write this review, I knew it would be a waste of my time. But, my blogger sensibilities said Go, you must review afresh (or something). So I reread it and… I kind of… really enjoyed it. I think I misjudged it the first time round, partly because it was marketed as The Secret History meets The Craft and I LOVE The Secret History. Largely, it’s because I didn’t realise River was meant to be a terrible person. It clicked for me last night: River isn’t Bella Swan, she’s Richard Papen!

Once you understand that River is pretty awful and an unreliable narrator, the whole book breaks free from its Twilight-esque plot shackles and becomes a deliciously hideous car crash of deeply flawed rich people doing bad things, which is my absolute favourite subgenre. Once you understand that the Graces have no power other than the myths they have built around themselves and that they have been born into, they are much more compelling and fragile characters. The Graces aren’t super special, they’re super messed up.

There are some problematic elements that need addressing: the girl-hate is like nails on a chalkboard, but it is just River being horrible. More troubling is the vein of homophobia that runs through the book unchecked, and especially the bisexuality representation which is not great. (Who’s sick of sexuality-as-plot-twist? Meee!) I absolutely understand that characters’ views are not necessarily condoned by the author, and, to reiterate, everyone in this book is horrible and it delights me, but there is a responsibility when writing for young people to handle these issues with a bit more sensitivity than we see here. Also, an Eastern European character is referred to as a Gypsy, and please can we not?

Aside from those issues, I really enjoyed The Graces this time round. The characters pontificate pretentiously about death and the true nature of self, and do pagan rituals, and drink tremendous amounts of alcohol. Some reviewers have criticised this as unrealistic, especially the pontificating, but to those people I say: did you never have a Goth phase? There is nothing unrealistic about a fifteen year old believing they have a unique perspective on the meaning of life. There is nothing unrealistic about a fifteen year old feeling like they can’t show the world their “true self”. Most teenagers can’t kill people with their thoughts, admittedly, and I am eternally grateful for that.

In conclusion this is a dark, weird book peopled by flawed characters, with a killer ending. I liked it quite a bit.

REVIEW: Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman

It’s YA Book Prize time again! My favourite time of the year – in terms of this blog, anyway. Prepare to join me on an odyssey through the #YA10. I’ll be brutally honest about what I love and what I don’t enjoy so much about the ten books deemed worthy contenders for the only prize dedicated to UKYA. This is the second of my reviews (with the first yet to come… don’t ask, it’s all timey-wimey shenanigans.)


Olivia Sindall is the teenage captain of a ship hurtling through space back to Earth. A virus has wiped out the rest of the crew, including her family – except for her brother, Aidan. It’s a pretty lonely existence, until one day they intercept a distress signal coming from an uninhabited planet in enemy territory. Vee’s life collides with Nathan’s, and nothing will ever be the same again. The confines of a spaceship are the perfect environment for love to flourish… or to suffocate. Surrounded by rumours and a spate of suspicious accidents, jealousy starts to rear its ugly head.

Othello in space – by Malorie Blackman – sounds like everything a YA nerd could want, right? Whether Chasing the Stars is a retelling or merely inspired by the Bard is up for debate. It has been a little while since I last read/saw Othello, and my literary criticism is not rigorous enough for me to have sought it out for purposes of this review, and therefore I may have missed some nods to the play in the book. Vee and Nathan are obviously Othello and Desdemona, with Aidan playing the role of Iago. Iago’s famously inscrutable motivation is rather cleverly explained here; I cannot elaborate for fear of spoilers, but I enjoyed Blackman’s addition to the canon of interpretations of Iago’s psychology.

There is a whole diverse cast of characters surrounding Nathan and Vee – so many, in fact, that they quickly become interchangeable. Nobody gets very development except for the two narrators, although I did like Commander Linedecker, Nathan’s forthright and authoritative mother (Brabantio, of course). The first person dual narration creates a claustrophobic vibe and allows us to get inside the motivations behind Vee and Nathan’s often frankly baffling actions. However, the very short chapters mean that the POV often changes several times within the same scene, which didn’t really work for me.

I am glad that the sexual content in the book is not demurely skimmed over. For the reader to believe in Vee and Nathan’s dizzyingly intense romance, we have to believe they are attracted to each other. They’re young and have been isolated for so long, it would be unrealistic for them not to want to jump each other’s bones. Especially considering that they’re married. Their romance is the central part of the book, at the expense of the sci-fi element – a shame in my eyes, because what we do get to see of the futuristic world is intriguing enough.

There are some things I liked about this book, but I only managed to finish it because I was shadowing the YA Book Prize. It was easier going in the back half, where the plot picked up a little, but most of the book is flat characters delivering cringe-worthily clunky dialogue. (Seriously, here’s an example: “And weren’t those the words from a poem used in the late twentieth-century film Dead Poets Society starring Robin Williams?” Just trying saying that sentence out loud.) Nathan and Vee’s chemistry was not convincing enough for me to get swept up in their romance, or to ignore the fact that Nathan’s idea of consent is sketchy at best. I really wanted to like Chasing the Stars, and I hope other readers get something out of it, but I think I’ll stick to Noughts & Crosses, and/or the actual works of William Shakespeare. (Though I still need to read Hagseed, Margaret Atwood’s spin on The Tempest!)