Review & Ramble: Crush edited by Cathy Alter and Dave Singleton


Crush brings together the nostalgic, cringe-inducing experiences of a selection of writers discussing their formative celebrity crushes. It’s a cute concept, but also one which allows for real emotions: some contributors experience sexual awakenings while watching Star Wars, while others are woken up to gender roles thanks to Little House on the Prairie. Some accounts are very short (Stephen King’s takes up under a page) while other imaginary love affairs require a page count closer to a novella (clearly Brian Austin Green is a tough guy to get over – this one was one of my favourites, actually; it’s extremely funny). 

Celebrity crushes are surely one of the great unifying themes of human experience, aren’t they? Reading this book inspired me to recall some of my own, which range from the reasonably normal (Robbie Williams up to and including Everything Changes) to the obsessive (former Ipswich Town captain Matt Holland, who I once met and found myself so overcome I genuinely nearly cried), to the faintly embarrassing (look, fancying Zach Morris was way too obvious so lusting after AC Slater was fine at the time). At the age of 14, I had a sweet imaginary romance with Taylor Hanson and aggressively fought anyone who said he looked like a girl. In the mid-90s, I was obsessed with the largely fogotten TV show Seaquest DSV and its young star, Jonathan Brandis, about whom I once had a very nice, chaste dream in which he was my boyfriend and I was a marine biologist (incidentally, I Googled Brandis yesterday and discovered that he died in 2003, so clearly my commitment wasn’t that intense). Even now, as a mature 34 year old, I will pretty much only watch films that star a hot man called Chris. I love a good celebrity crush. I don’t care if it makes me seem shallow or overly concerned with appearance or fooled by the trappings of fame: in real life, I am none of these things, so sometimes it is rather pleasant to let my mind wander towards a well-sculpted pair of cheekbones.

Crush gave me a pleasing opportunity to dwell on these serious matters (and Taylor Hanson), as well as raising many rueful smiles in reaction to the writers’ mortifying experiences. It was one of those books I read and think, “I want to write something like that” (sorry, you just read it) and possibly force my students to write. Unless that’s just too weird. And also I don’t know how many times I could read about Justin Bieber without losing the will. Be warned: my new conversation starter (obviously after “what are you reading?”) will be “who was your first celebrity crush?” I have a strong urge to discuss this in the comments…

Advertisements

YA Review: Satellite by Nick Lake

The Premise: Leo, Libra and Orion are counting down to the day they can go home. Of course, having been born and raised on a spaceship, they haven’t ever actually been ‘home’ to Earth, so it’s a complicated situation made more so by government secrets, unexpected twists and messy family relationships.

Why you should read it: Satellite is an excellent YA sci-fi, with emphasis on the ‘sci’ part. The beginning, with the action set on board the spaceship, is hugely detailed without ever becoming too much. I’m no scientist and I can’t pretend to have understood all the science exposition, but I was never less than intrigued by it. The story develops superbly too; I was worried that I’d lose interest once the action moved Earthwards, but Lake’s plot is twisty and turny enough to keep any reader enthralled. I lap up space-set novels anyway, but I was no less interested when the setting became more familiar. 

There are lots of absorbing elements to the plot, my favourite of which was the complex family dynamic between Leo and his astronaut mother and retired astronaut grandfather. There’s so much bubbling beneath the surface in these relationships that I was very much intrigued. 

And, once again, space. SPACE! 

Be warned: the narrative, from Leo’s PoV, is written in a sort-of text-speak, without certain punctuation marks and with abbreviations like “c” for “see”. To begin with, I will admit to having found it quite irritating (I’m an English teacher, okay? It’s in my nature to want to add capital letters), but stumbling across a blog in which Lake explained his decision along with his predictions for the future of punctuation helped me to accept it as a necessary part of the narrative. So don’t be put off by the style: if I can deal with it, I reckon you can too.

Read this if you liked: The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James, Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

Review: Through the Sad Wood Our Corpses Will Hang by Ava Farmehri

through the sad wood.pngThe Premise: at the age of 20, Sheyda Porrouya’s life is almost over. She was born in Iran on the day staunchly orthodox mullas declared the birth of the Islamic Republic and set about summarily purging the country of all things Western and un-Islamic. To make matters worse, as she matured, Sheyda seemed increasingly unable to distinguish between fairy tale and reality. She began to exhibit disturbing behaviour. When Sheyda is accused of killing her mother, she is immediately jailed and sentenced to death by hanging.

Thoughts: as you may conclude from the synopsis, this is not a cheery book to read. Sheyda’s story begins with her imprisonment, with the narrative then flitting between past and present to fill in the gaps, showing the reader her peculiar childhood behaviour as a means of explaining her present state. I was expecting more misery, to be honest; these flashbacks are not as traumatic as you might expect in a book in which the main point is the protagonist’s murder of her own mother. I found the depiction of Sheyda’s relationships with her mother and father really engaging, with her social isolation and strange childhood quirks having obvious impacts on her ability to socialise with others.

More saddening are the sections set in the prison, with Sheyda’s abjection complete as she is ostracised by her fellow prisoners and reduced to the embarrassing behaviours of her childhood. These sections, and the structure of the book overall, reminded me of one of my favourite novels – The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah, in which the protagonist is similarly imprisoned for murder and spends her time reflecting on her past – particularly in its gradual unravelling of the truth. Farmehri’s writing is perfect for the task of revealing Sheyda’s fractured state and the emotion she feels at different parts of her life. Even in relatively uneventful passages, the book is compelling because of how beautifully written it is.

In Conclusion: I was drawn to this book because of its extremely emo title and its author and setting, as I like to read as widely and diversely as possible. It’s a book that subtly draws you in and grabs hold of your emotions without you really noticing until it’s too late.

through the sad wood.png

YA Review: A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe

jigsaw of fire and starsThe Premise: fourteen year old Sante is a member of a traveling circus, adopted by Mama Rose after being washed ashore as a baby. Sante was the sole survivor of the sinking of a ship carrying migrants and refugees and remains haunted by the idea of her lost people even years later. Arriving in Cadiz with her adopted family and the circus, Sante encounters trouble in the form of figures from the past and a deep web of corruption and crime.

 

Thoughts: A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars is a wildly original novel and something really different in YA. The juxtaposition of Sante’s past as a refugee and the tragedy of her lost family with the modern day issues of human trafficking and forced prostitution which arise later on create something quite shocking and very hard-hitting. In combination with this, there are varying kinds of magic realism within the novel too; Sante is literally haunted by the ghosts of those who didn’t survive the shipwreck, and she has strange psychic powers. It’s ambitious for Badoe to combine these realistic and magical features into one narrative, although it is also quite confusing; I sometimes felt like I was reading two books spliced together and it was occasionally difficult to keep track of everything that was happening.

For some reason, I’ve read a handful of novels set in and around circuses this year, and, as in the others, I really enjoyed the descriptions of Sante’s act and the rest of the troupe’s performances; although these bits didn’t use magic, there was something really special about the descriptions that made it easy to feel absorbed into the action. The risks involved in the circus performances are reflected in the sense of danger seen throughout the novel, as Sante and her friends take on the sex traffickers who threaten a newfound acquaintance. The book certainly conveys a sense of danger throughout, particularly in the sections that see Sante in direct conflict with the villains.

In Conclusion: A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars is an ambitious, diverse and challenging novel, the like of which I’m really pleased to see in YA. It’s vastly different to anything else being marketed at teens and also features plenty to engage an adult reader. I found it a little too free-wheeling, with dramatic plot events preventing me from fully caring about the characters, which is a shame given the seriousness of the subject matter. It’s definitely an interesting and intriguing book though, and one which is worth looking up.