The Writing of Non Pratt | Reading Round Up

I’ve not really been in the YA scene very long. I started my job as a bookseller on Halloween in 2015, where I dressed up as a witch and read spooky stories to little ones. I already had a bit of a love affair with children’s literature going on, but admittedly much of that was a love for the books I read as a child.

I officially stopped being a teenager back in 2006, but I hadn’t really been reading very much at all for the previous four years ago due to a combination of exams, working numerous part time jobs and discovering boys.

And so, there are many young adult authors that have risen to prominence in the almost 15 (oh god) years since I stopped reading YA as an actual teenager. Stuff published in the last two years? Sure, I know it, probably own it, have likely read it, definitely have sold a few copies of it.

In my determination to read all the back catalogue of UKYA that I have shamefully missed out on, I figured I’d start with some of my absolute favourite people in the whole world. And so, we begin with literal angel human Non Pratt.

For those of you who may not know her, Non is a former children’s editor who then turned her hand to writing her own young adult fiction. She was the author who raised money for charity by shaving her head in front of an audience at the Young Adult Literature Con this year, which startled Benedict Cumberbatch who happened to walk in on us all chanting “SHAVE SHAVE”, which sounded a lot like that scene from Game of Thrones. More recently, she got two of the cutest kittens in the world and you should follow her on Twitter (and read her books).

I read Non’s books out of publication order, and have listed them in the same way.

9781781125854Unboxed (2016) is Non’s first book for dyslexic friendly publisher Barrington Stoke, and follows a group of friends who come together to retrieve a time capsule they had hidden on their school premises. However, in the years that have passed since its creation, their group has gone from five to four. As they open the box, they find a new addition from Millie, commanding the four to read aloud all their letters from all those years ago, and to share their deepest, darkest fears with each other. This may be the smallest of her books, but boy does this pack a huge punch to the heart. This is a book filled with the memory of friendships that were, changed by time and situation; the nostalgia of returning to places so imbued with specific moments in time.

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Remix (2015) is Pratt’s sophomore novel, a perfect summer read that follows two best friends as they attend their first music festival. I really like this summery novel – Kaz and Ruby both exploring growing up, relationships with boys and their own identities as people. It’s definitely a book that suits being read in the summer, lying on a patch of grass and reminiscing about your lost youth at muddy festivals (or that’s just me).

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Pratt’s first novel, Trouble (2014), is probably my personal favourite of her works. Hannah is such a passionate, witty and brilliant character who finds herself pregnant. When new boy Aaron arrives at school, Hannah finds herself drawn to him, only for him to offer to pretend to be the father of her unborn child. I found Hannah’s voice incredibly refreshing; a young working class person determined to be true to herself and her child. Rarely have I seen a character who felt so true to my own teen years – awkward drinks swigged while lurking cold parks.

9781406366938While Trouble is my favourite by a smidgen, I strongly think that Truth or Dare is Pratt’s best book to date. Told in split perspective, Truth or Dare follows Claire and Sef as they start a Youtube channel charity project in order to raise money for the private health care Sef’s brother so desperately needs after an accident leaves him with pronounced neurological damage. The book is split into two halves; the book starts with Claire’s narrative before you physically flip the book over to Sef’s storyline (shortly after which I sent Non a bunch of tweets with expletives in them). It is a brilliant story that also highlights a lot of problems with health care for disabled people, how the standard of it is so often hinged on how unwell you are and what borough you live in.

Wonderful Non has two very exciting books coming out next year: first of all Second Best Friend, her second outing for Barrington Stoke, followed by Floored from My Kinda Books in July, a book about several people stuck in a lift, authored by seven of UKYA’s brightest and best.

Have you read any of Non’s books? Which are you going to pick up next?

How I conquered my fear of poetry

Poetry was something I was a little afraid of when I was younger. I don’t think this emotion is particularly uncommon, especially in people who haven’t studied English Literature at University, or are from working class communities. What was that alignment about? What were the rules about rhyming? Is it only old white dead people who write poetry?

Despite this adulthood fear, I wasn’t afraid as a child. Rhymes? Sure, I was down with those. I can still quote much of Roald Dahl’s poems for children.

The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature’s head
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.

But somewhere between basically memorising these poems out of love as a child to being in my mid-20s, poetry and I got a little disconnected.

In A-Level English, I had a really battered copy of Seamus Heaney’s poetry about the peat bog bodies and while I loved it, I did feel surprised that you could actually write poetry about things, even preserved bodies. This was also back when I didn’t know that working in books was a job normal people could do, and figured it was a role bestowed from on high like a knighthood or celebrity status.

Moving forward a few years and once I’d fallen back in love with reading, I started questioning everything I thought about poetry. Part of this was inspired by reading every single book from Maya Angelou’s biography series and learning from her that, actually, you really can just read poetry. Heck, I met two of my best friends in the poetry section of Foyle’s (granted, we had opted to meet there before an event, because it would be quiet).

So my friends, this post is dedicated to you, those who are also nervous about poetry, and I’ll start you off with a few collections that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Though, as I do, I must strongly recommend you read Ella Risbridger’s new series on poetry, in which she contextualises beautiful words and will introduce you to a number of poets that you might not have tried yet.

There are a few good places to begin, or at least, they were where I began.

Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 11.45.42One of the most popular first stops on the poetry adventure right now is rupi kaur’s instagram and her first collection milk and honey. There’s something accessible, borderline non-threatening, about kaur’s poetry, which I feel is why she’s been so popular with teenagers in recent years. Make no mistake, I don’t mean the content is bland or pallid; kaur breaks and remakes you in the course of reading, spanning the start and subsequent escape of abusive relationships into healing, and forming new connections with people. Her words are powerful, ferocious and erotic. I cried a lot, expect to do the same. kaur has also released another collection this week, the sun and her flowers, which I have yet to read.

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Unless you have been living under a rock, I’m sure you will have come across Beyonce’s album Lemonade, and you may have heard some of the spoken word poetry within it. Those words come from Warsan Shire, a Somali poet based in London, whose first collection Teaching My Mother to Give Birth opens with a quote from Audre Lorde – “Mother, loosen my tongue or adorn me with a lighter burden”. This collection is beautiful, powerful and only £4. Given poetry collections can be a little on the pricier side of similarly sized books, I do consider this a bargain. You can also listen to some of her poetry on her Bandcamp here.

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Another popular book at the moment is Amanda Lovelace‘s first poetry collection The Princess Saves Herself in This One, shortlisted for the Costa Prize for poetry this year. Like rupi kaur, Lovelace’s short poems are brimming with rage, fury, love, passion. Grief and abuse at the hands of close family are topics tackled with personal experience in Lovelace’s collection. It left me breathless.

I consider these three collections not necessarily the same but certainly related, a theme of grief and passion, rioting against patriarchy. If you like their work and want to tackle some larger collections, may I recommend these by Maya Angelou and Audre Lorde.

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I can also strongly recommend the new series of Penguin Modern Poets, which has introduced me to 15 poets I might not have known beforehand. The first collection, If I’m Scared We Can’t Win, contains work from the wonderful Emily Berry, Sophie Collins and Anne Carson, whose event at the London Review Bookshop I went to earlier this week, where she performed a 40 minute long poem about being the sky; I never thought I’d see myself as someone who not only went to that sort of event but loved it. This is a good way to feel your way into the world of poetry, to understand whose voices you like and whose collections you might want to explore further. It can be quite a gamble to spend money on a collection of poems by one poet you then realise you hate, whereas here they feature three different poets per book.

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Carnegie Medal winning collection One by Sarah Crossan was one of my favourite books in 2016. I read it all on in one go, a story of twins told in sequential free verse poems that tell the story of their battle against poverty and stigma of being different. It is so astoundingly beautiful and devastating, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. It deserves all the awards it has been getting. Thank you kindly to Bloomsbury Kids who sent me this copy while I was a bookseller.

Did you know children’s author Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a poet? Well, now you do. I recently came across her collection Last March, which was produced in collaboration with the Scott Polar Research Institute to mark the centenary of Captain Scott’s final expedition to the South Pole. This stunning collection transports you to the final mission, amongst the chill and desperation and determination to succeed. You can read an excerpt here.

There we have it – some avenues for you to start down, exploring the written word in its various guises and formats. What poetry collections have you read recently? Which ones are you going to start with? Let me know in the comments!

The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman | 1 Minute Reviews

I was incredibly lucky earlier this year to meet Rowan Coleman as I chaired a panel she was on, along with Julie Cohen and Lisa Jewell, discussing their newest releases. It did dissolve quite quickly into me fangirling in their general direction, but I think it was at least relatively coherent. For Rowan, we were there to discuss her 2017 release, The Summer of Impossible Things.

A protagonist who is a physicist and a woman? Seizures that might actually be time travel? I couldn’t shout sign me up quicker, could I?

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When Luna and her sister Pia visit New York to settle the estate of their recently deceased mother, strange seizure-like episodes begin to happen to her. But she doesn’t black out; Luna keeps finding herself in New York in the summer of 1977 – the season that changed her mother’s life forever. Realising that she has the power to impact her future, Luna realises she could change the past and save their mother from dying from suicide.

I was immediately hooked by this stunning novel. Luna and her mission are both so easy to get behind, and Coleman sews the landscape of 1977 New York as vividly as though she’d just walked through there herself.

Lovely Penguin have helpfully supplied an extract here – you must check this out.

The Summer of Impossible Things, like Hold Back the Stars and Of Things Gone Astray, is one of those high concept fiction novels that I keep pushing on young adult fiction readers. Both contain great stories, believable romances, characters you get behind and a quick pace to the writing that seems to be a hallmark of the YA genre.

The novel is so beautiful, an impassioned tale of determination and redemption, in which Luna tries to solve the mystery of what changed her mother that summer and who is responsible. It kept me guessing throughout, while also feeling a sweet heartache at the scenes of her parents falling in love. I truly loved The Summer of Impossible Things so much that I know it is a book I’ll revisit in the future (a rare behaviour for me!)

Get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Ebury Press for sharing this copy with me and Hillingdon Libraries Events team for giving me the opportunity to chair this lovely panel.

The Red Thread by Dawn Farnham | Blog Tour

I’m always on the lookout for novels centred around other countries and cultures, especially historical novels that investigate the groundwork of the country or feature fictionalised versions of real life people.

My partner is half Singaporean. His mother came to the UK from Singapore in the 1960s to become a nurse, fell in love with a Welsh doctor and stayed. I’ve not been to Singapore myself, but my partner worked there one summer at an architectural firm, his parents have been out a number of times and I’ve began to develop a love for particular snacks she brings back – give me sambal crackers and pineapple tarts daily please.

I’ve been fascinated to find out more about Singapore as a country, given its intriguing history as a colonised country and important trading port for the East India Country. Thus I was really happy to come across The Red Thread by Dawn Farnham, the first in a quartet of novels published by Monsoon Books, following an interracial romance in 1830s Singapore.

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While the book has a varied cast of characters, the central romance plot follows wide-eyed Scottish girl Catherine and triad member Zhen, after a chance encounter at sea. But so much stands in their way, not least Catherine’s brother Robert, head of Singapore’s secret police. Can they possibly be together with so much against them?

Alongside this, Farnham plays with a number of real-life characters from 1830s Singapore on the page, most notably George Coleman and his partner Takouhi. Coleman was an Irish architect, responsible for much of Singapore’s civil infrastructure after Raffles’ founding, and his and Takouhi’s relationship acts as a mirror to the burgeoning forbidden romance between Catherine and Zhen.

Throw in piracy, the opium trade, Singapore’s complicated racial politics and young love and you have The Read Thread.

The Telegraph refers to The Red Thread as “immaculately researched” and I completely agree with this. Farnham’s years in Singapore and her passion for her adopted country is very clear, resulting in colour-strewn prose that leaps from the page. In reading this novel, my understanding of the colonial founding of Singapore has grown and spurred a desire to know more, and I hope it will do the same for others.

Interested? Get it here in paperback or get it on Amazon Kindle between 17th and 25th September absolutely free!

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Monsoon Books for sharing the copy with me and allowing me to take part in their blog tour. To check out the other posts on the tour, see below!

Monday 18th September

Book Lover Worm Blog

Tuesday 19th September

Fiction Fascination & Our First Year Here

Wednesday 20th September

Bibliobeth & The Bookish Fairy Blog

Thursday 21st September

The Writing Greyhound & A Books Eternal Glory

Friday 22nd September

Big Book Little Book & Two Book Thieves

Saturday 23rd September

Tales of Yesterday & Rambling Mads

Sunday 24th September

Rachel Bustin & Kraftireader

Trans by Juliet Jacques | 1 Minute Reviews

If you’re looking for a great primer on what life is like as a trans woman, you can’t do wrong by choosing Trans by Juliet Jacques. However, as you’ll see, the book is more than its title’s subject matter.

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Trans is the culmination of Jacques’ series written for the Guardian, about her transition from living as a man to living her truth as a woman. Beginning with the aftermath of her sexual reassignment surgery, and swiftly jumping back to her teenage years, Jacques writes with a brutal honesty about the issues facing trans women intermixed with her own experience of understanding her gender, and who she is.

Jacques also touches on the difficulties of being openly trans – both in the media and in private, facing off against people on all ends of the political spectrum who deny her existence and restrict her safety.

Alongside this, Trans is also a great story of growing up in the UK and trying to carve out a piece of the world for yourself under austerity. She writes openly about the difficulties of working within the NHS and of being a writer, an artist, in such a difficult economic climate. Her fears and triumphs will resonate with many young people today.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

 

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell | 1 Minute Reviews

Help, I’ve still not recovered from reading this dark little book.

Ellie Mack disappears one day after going to the library, never to be found. Ten years later, her mother Laurel is struggling to find closure on Ellie’s disappearance, even though the police chalk it up to her being a runaway.

A chance meeting with a handsome man in a cafe leads to a whirlwind romance, where Laurel comes face to face with Ellie’s doppleganger in a nine year old girl called Poppy.

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Unsettlingly creepy and heart-wrenching, Then She Was Gone follows Laurel as she reopens her own investigation to try and find out what happened to Ellie. This is a real tour de force of writing, as Jewell leads us down a decade old path and into the mind of a number of crucial characters.

Jewell’s characters leap from the page with such a strength of voice that blew me away. There are some really quite shocking and gruesome moments in this book, which jumps around the timeline of Ellie disappearing. The mystery reveals itself piece by piece and Jewell leaves you questioning yourself at every turn.

If you love thrillers, you must pick up this book. You will not be disappointed by this strange book from bestseller Lisa Jewell.

Get it here!

What to read next:

Thank you to the team at Century and Penguin Random House for sharing this book with me.

Girl Out of Water by Nat Luurtsema | 1 Minute Reviews

I have this idea that certain books demand to be read in particular places, seasons, towns. I had this notion that I’d be able to read Girl Out of Water at the side of the pool somewhere. Instead I had to settle for the bath.

Girl Out of Water is Nat Luurtsema’s debut YA novel, and is so hilarious that I slipped in the bath laughing and dunked myself. Beware, you will snort-laugh in public.

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Determined to be an Olympic swimmer, Lou’s poor times means her dreams of aquatic stardom are quashed, whereas her best friend Hannah finds herself pressing forward to the training camp. Without anything else to call her own, Lou is convinced by three popular boys to act as their coach for synchronised swimming routines for Britain’s Hidden Talent, a Saturday night televised talent show.

Going up against her old swimming team, can Lou’s boys prove they aren’t just a bit useless and steal the show? Well, I can tell you there are some incidents involving a statue stuck to a car, an aquarium and a possible local mafia.

I whizzed through this novel cackling and snorting. I’ve just discovered (thanks to snooping) that the currently unnamed sequel has been finished and will hopefully be released to the world next Summer, which I’m absolutely desperate for.

This is a sparkling UK YA for fans of Holly Bourne, Louise Rennison and Holly Smale. Dive in!

Buy it here.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Walker YA for sharing this copy with me.