Throughout 2017, I’ve indulged in some absolutely brilliant reads, and I looked forward to writing this Books You Need In Your Life post in particular: October- December marks cosy reading time, with cosy reading books, being all kinds of cosy reading goals. However, October in particular was a really disappointing reading month for me: I did read a lot, but none of the books I encountered over the month really stood out as ones I’d recommend. There are fewer books in this reading wrap-up than usual, however don’t let that take away from the wonderful works included below: two of them are also two of my favourites of the entire year…
Girlhood by Cat Clarke
‘The Hole is not as bad as it sounds. In the grand scheme of things, it’s definitely not a big deal. But it’s a tradition, and traditions are a big deal in a place like this. And if, to an outsider, it sounds a little bit like torture, all I can say is that boarding school can be a bitch’.
Girlhood was my first experience of Cat Clarke’s writing, and I can now safely say that it certainly won’t be my last. Clarke’s writing style is right up my street, and that, combined with such complex subject matter that I’d never seen tackled in any YA book previous to this, made for a really brilliant, refreshing read. Had I the time, there’s a huge possibility that I would have devoured this entire book, cover to cover, in one sitting.
I’ve always been fascinated with stories set in boarding schools, with Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series being a huge comfort read of mine. In a way, Girlhood is like a 21st century Malory Towers, just with less teamwork and hockey tournaments, and more passive-aggressive friendship drama, vodka shots, and complete disregard for authority figures. The subject matter combines family trauma, mental illness and manipulative friendships into a plot that simply sucks you in: the background information about the characters provided in the first few chapters alone was enough to have me invested in Rowan’s story right from the very beginning. I loved how Clarke was fearless in showing the main character’s faults, with no stone left unturned when it came to Kirsty’s complex background and how this affected the dynamic of her relationship with the other girls. This was such a satisfying read that really took me out of my own life and plonked me firmly within Duncraggan Boarding School, and I strongly invite you to plonk yourself in there with me. I’ll bring the shot glasses.
A Quiet Kind Of Thunder by Sara Barnard
‘Mum has had an anxious daughter for sixteen years, and she still doesn’t understand the concept of little victories. That spending an evening where I didn’t feel sick every time somebody asked me a question is actually a really big deal, and the fact that it might just be a one-off is the kind of thing I’m already worried about. There’s no such thing as getting your hopes up when you’re anxious. Little victories are everything in a world where worst-case scenarios are on an endless loop in your head’.
I’ve heard rave reviews about AQKOT all through the year, so I was delighted to receive this book for my birthday in November. I wasted no time in getting stuck in, and from the very beginning I could tell that this story was going to be right up my street. Following the journey of Steffi, who has selective mutism, and Rhys, who is deaf, the story questions how the world defines communication, and encourages you to rethink the notion that using audible words is the only way to speak.
I’ve been learning a lot about visual and hearing impairments lately through my job, and it was an absolute delight to see how that hypothetical knowledge applied within the context of a YA novel. Another aspect of the book that particularly appealed to me was how spot on Barnard was in conveying the feelings and emotions connected to being in a relationship when you have a disability or health condition, boldly discussing feels of guilt, burden, and paranoia, and how these can be detrimental to even the strongest relationships. As stereotypical as it sounds to make this comment about a diverse novel, I truly believe that if everybody read this book, it would be one more step forwards in making the world a better, more inclusive place. Not only that, but it’s legitimately had me looking into online sign language courses. If that’s not the sign of a book with a strong call-to-action, I don’t know what the heck is.
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
‘ANYBODY CAN LOOK AT YOU. IT’S QUITE RARE TO FIND SOMEONE WHO SEES THE SAME WORLD YOU SEE’.
In case you missed it, I read and reviewed Turtles All The Way Down, John Green’s first published book in six years, back in October. Whilst I’m glad to have read it, I have to say that I had very mixed thoughts, which I’ve discussed in more depth in a recent blog post. I’d particularly like to hear other people’s thoughts on this one!
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
‘”The good news”, Meemaw answers definitively, “is that the rebellious gene seems to have been some strange mutation.” She smiles at me and starts stacking the dirty dishes. “Our dutiful Vivian”, Grandpa offers. He even reaches over and ruffles my hair with his big, callused-covered grandpa hand, like I’m ten. I smile back, but I’m prickly all of a sudden. I don’t like feeling prickly (…) but I don’t like being called dutiful either. Even though it’s probably – no, definitely – true. So I don’t say anything. I just smile and try to bury the prickliness”.
What made Moxie unique to me was that it existed as a feisty feminist story, without featuring a main character who was already your typical feisty feminist icon. I’ve noticed that many of the feminist YA reads I’ve encountered lately, despite being brilliant in their own right, have featured girls with very distinct and similar traits as their main character: the loud, confident and authoritative girls who set out to change the world, and in my mind this was beginning to form something of a stereotype of The Typical Feminist, which I’m sure true advocates today would be quick to dispel.
That’s why I found being introduced to Vivian and her fellow high school classmates from a small Texas town particularly refreshing: Moxie tells of girls who accidentally stumble upon feminism and who want to create a ripple, as opposed to those who set out intent on causing waves. In a way, it was this softer yet more urgent approach that left me with more of a desire of my own to do something about the issues presented in the book. I do have to critique the use of ableist language, with the phrase ‘spastically psyched’ being used as a self-deprecating synonym for enthusiastic: something that really bugged me and made me think less of the book overall. However, Moxie still stands as one on its own as an engaging story that’ll have you really feeling for the characters and their situations… although I have to admit, I’ve made a mental note to stay clear of small Texas towns for at least another decade or five.
1984 by George Orwell, adapted by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan
‘There was no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police watched any particular individual was guess work. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time’.
Now, whilst I haven’t got around to starting this play yet, it felt right to include it in this edition of my reading wrap-ups. I’m very fortunate to be on Oberon Books’ blogger list and benefit from beautiful bookish/stagey surprises throughout the year, but this delivery in particular was straight-up the most adorably Christmassy thing I’ve ever seen. I can only wish I’d had the self-control to take a picture of the gorgeously wrapped parcel, complete with bows and candy cane, before diving straight in there to see what was inside.
I can now say that I am the owner of a very special limited hardback ‘Post-truth Edition’ of 1984, one of only 101 printed on this run. I’ve always admired Orwell’s writing style and the way his mind works, and as I’ve never read 1984 before (but heard only good things about it), I’m looking forward to putting some time aside to give this one a go.
And that brings us to the end of my 2017 Books You Need In Your Life Series! I read 50 (almost 51!) books this year, and I’ll be posting my favourite reads over the last twelve months on my Instagram page within the next week or so. In the meantime, be sure to check out my other bookish content, and do let me know if you have any recommendations of your own. In the meantime, I’ll be having a look through the This Is Writing Ultimate List of Fiction Books You Should Read At Least Once in Your Life for inspiration!
What are you looking forward to reading in 2018?
*I kindly receive books from various publishers and authors, some of which may be included in my posts. Others are re-reads of old favourites, and most are purchased of my own accord. I’d like to make clear that I’m under no obligation to review any of the complementary books I receive, so do be assured that all of the reads included in this post are genuine favourites of mine!