Monday, 25 August 2014

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing
Eimear McBride
Norwich, Galley Beggar Press, 2013, 203p

So this turned out to be a slightly unconventional choice of reading for my holiday in Italy...

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing tells the story of a young woman's developing maturity and sexuality, alongside the tragedy of her brother's haunting brain tumour and her mother's staunch Catholicism. The novel is written like an extended poem, with unusual sentence breaks and unexpected points of emphasis. Both it's content and form make for very difficult reading, but it is fascinating. 

The two predominant themes of this novel are presented with frank honesty. The protagonist is abused by her uncle aged thirteen, and the consequences stay with her well into adulthood. The fact that her mother's religion is so loud alongside this makes it all the more difficult for her to move on. The style, with it's disregard for any of the formal rules of grammar and syntax, reflects her demise into mental instability. 

This is Eimear McBride's debut novel, and won the Women's Prize for Fiction 2014. I have not read the full short list, but it is clear why McBride's book stood out - her style is incomparable to anything I have read before, and the story of her young protagonist is powerful and political. A few days after finishing this read, I am still distracted with thoughts and questions about it. 

Sunday, 17 August 2014


Sarah Crossan
London, Bloomsbury, 2012, 371p

I have been trying to read this for the last few days, with little success. I am unsure if it is because it is the holidays and I have switched off, or because the book isn't all I wanted it to be, but I have not gotten very far.

One hundred pages in, the characters are introduced and the plot is established, but I am not gripped. Alina, part of a rebel group, is forced to escape the city in which she has always lived. Here, oxygen is a gift, divided according to a strict social divide, which leaves many without enough air to lead a normal life. The state is catching up with the rebel group, and Alina must get away. On the city borders, she is helped by a Premium boy, one of the rich and fortunate, and together they escape into the unknown outside the Pod. 

Already, the path of their story seems clear, paralleling many of the tropes of the multitude of other dystopian novels currently available. On reading the blurb, I loved the concept of this novel, but the initial pace felt slow and I could not engage with the characters and their trials. 

Perhaps I just need a holiday and will return to it in the future. 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Cakes in Space

Cakes in Space
Philip Reeve
ill. Sarah McIntyre
Oxford, OUP, 2014, 213p

Astra is both nervous and excited about her one hundred and ninety nine year journey from Earth to Nova Mundi, a planet where a select few are being sent to establish a base for people to move to. She is a little peckish before her journey, and accidentally breaks the Nom-o-Tron, a machine designed to make any food she wishes. 

But halfway through the journey, she is woken from her space pod to discover the space ship is overrun with evil cakes, created by the Nom-o-Tron after some confusion about her snack request. With her robot friend, Pilbeam, Astra must fix the Nom-o-Tron and set the ship back on it's correct course. 

Cakes in Space is a delightful, merry jaunt through space - I adored Astra's innocence, determination and bravery, and felt like I was taking an adventure with her.

Unfortunately, I only have a proof copy of this book (it comes out in September), meaning the illustrations are not all completed. Yet, within just a few pages, you get a great idea of Sarah McIntrye's skill and what the pages will look like - full of bold pictures with colour spilling over the pages - simply gorgeous!

Now I have to go back and read Oliver and the Seawigs, which I know I should have read long ago!

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska
John Green
London, HarperCollins, 2006, 263p

John Green's style is becoming increasingly popular - the awkward young protagonist meets the girl / boy of his / her dreams, and their soul mate is charmed by their strange quirks and skinny frame. Romance ensues, with elements of uncertainty and a comic best friend helping bring the couple together. A happy ending is not guaranteed, but the reader is promised a slither of hope as they read the final pages. 

Miles falls for Alaska the moment he meets her. She is beautiful, curvy and confident; he is lanky, awkward, and can recall the last words of almost anyone. Alaska has a boyfriend who she professes to love, so Miles must settle for being her friend. He has moved schools, looking for the Great Perhaps - that opportunity to do more with his life than he had previously been experiencing. He makes friends, pulls pranks, and gets drunk, but his love for Alaska never deteriorates. 

Looking for Alaska is a sweet and zany romance. It's target audience - those teenage misfits that so love John Green - will find quotes to treasure and moments to relate to. Initially, I found myself engrossed with Miles Halter - I understood his low self-esteem and satisfaction with his own company, conflicting with his desire to find a group with which to fit in. Unlike many high school romances, John Green does not transform his characters in any profound or physical sense; essentially, they find ways to love themselves through friendship (and often some mild drinking). 

But as with many other John Green novels I have read, I identified more with the comedy sidekick than the main protagonist. The Colonel, as he has named himself, is a trailer park boy with brains, awarded a scholarship into the academically aspirational Culver Creek. He is resentful to many of the posh kids at school, but makes himself the class clown, determined to get thrown out of every basketball game for causing a ruckus. And there was also Takumi, who plays a more quiet supporting role. These two are the glue which bring Miles and Alaska together and bind the whole story. 

It is clear why John Green's writing has become so popular; and, like The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska is shortly going to be made into a movie. However, I do find that I need long gaps between reading his novels - the formula is so perfect it becomes predictable, and I need something completely different for my next read. 

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Say Her Name

Say Her Name
James Dawson
London, Hot Keys, 2014, 287p

Another of the books I have been meaning to read for some time, Say Her Name, is gem from James Dawson, with whom I had the pleasure of recently spending a few days on a First Story residential. 

A Halloween dare seems like a good idea to Bobbie and her best friend Naya, until they discover that the legend of Bloody Mary might be more than just a story. In the five days following the night when they chant her name into a mirror, Naya and Bobbie are haunted by the ghost of the dead girl, and history suggests there is little chance of survival. 

James Dawson brings the classic tropes of Gothic literature into the twenty first century, redesigning the thriller genre for the age of technology and teenagers. Bobbie and Naya board in an old school, but they are modern, clever girls, not easily scared by ghost stories and dark corridors. And yet, Dawson creates a terrifying environment in which the drama plays out, with Mary growing stronger and stronger as the girls try to find a way to help the ghost rest in peace.

There are hundreds of different versions of the Bloody Mary legend, and Bobbie points out that there are teenagers chanting her name all over the world in search of a bit of Halloween fun. But what is different about this scenario is that, as Bobbie and Naya discover, the real Mary went to their school, and her death still haunts the old school. 

And alongside the haunting terror is a romance - it is not just Naya and Bobbie who chant into the mirror, but the handsome local Caine is brave enough to give it a try, too. As they try to understand if there is any hope to save themselves, Bobbie and Caine come closer and closer, and Bobbie cannot stop herself falling for the gorgeous young man. 

Say Her Name is a fast-paced thriller that I could not put down - I had to find out if the threesome survived the curse of Bloody Mary, and there are no guarantees with a horror like this...

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Model Misfit

Geek Girl: Model Misfit
Holly Smale
London, HarperCollins, 2013, 387p

I have only just read this second book in the Geek Girl series and already I cannot wait to get my hands on the third!

However much Harriet tries to convince herself that her modelling career has changed her, she continues to be the socially awkward, highly unfashionable, unnecessarily intelligent girls she always was. She has just finished her exams, and has created an extensive and detailed Summer of Fun Flow Chart for herself and her best friend, Nat. So when Nat announces she is being shipped off to France for summer school, Harriet is devastated that her plans are crumbling around her ears, especially as she has been dumped by Nick a.k.a Lion Boy. 

 Luckily, the glorious Wilbur chooses this moment to call and announce that Harriet is needed in Tokyo for a new campaign. Unluckily, Harriet's parents refuse to let her go alone, and ship in her zany grandmother to escort her across the world. But in Tokyo, nothing seems quite as easy as it should be; and when Lion Boy turns up, things just go from bad to worse.

Although this book is a bulky 400 pages, it felt like a breeze to read, with short chapters and a fast paced narrative. I found myself wondering if Holly Smale has been to Japan, and what she truly thought of it, because she completely sold it to me, and now I want to go!

Harriet is a ridiculously entertaining protagonist, with her ability to come up with a random snippet of information for any awkward occasion. Where does Holly Smale get her facts from? I felt inclined to check some of them, but Harriet is so convincing that I was happy to just believe everything I read. 

I like that Harriet doesn't change throughout her transformation into a model - partly because she herself seems unsure that she is even good enough to pull this off. But also because she has a brilliant supporting cast, with her excitable father and grounded stepmother, and her ever loyal stalker, Toby. In Model Misfit, Harriet is plagued by self-doubt - she is in a strange city, unable to contact her best friend, and haunted by the loss of the boy she loves. Like most teenage girls in this situation, she wants to just hide under a pillow and cry (and she often does), but as the reader roots for her, Harriet puts on a brave face and ultimately steals the show.