Poetry Review: Plum by Hollie McNish

plum.pngThe Premise: a new collection of poems from British poet Hollie McNish, this time focused on the development from childhood to adulthood.

Thoughts: since reading McNish’s previous work, Nobody Told Me: Poetry and Parenthood, I’ve been a big fan. I found that collection really relatable in the way McNish wrote so honestly about pregnancy and being mother to a young daughter, and I found plenty to relate to in Plum too, with McNish taking her reader through from early childhood to adulthood, encompassing topics like school, religion, friendship and part-time jobs. McNish creates an intimate atmosphere, and it has the overall effect of making Plum feel like a conversation of whispered secrets with a best friend.

Alternating between topics like the demonising of teenagers in ‘No Ball Games,’ and the empty promises in ‘Politicians,’ along with amusing anecdotes about working on the photo counter in Boots and plotting about which print to place at the top of the wallet to embarrass both employee and customer when the pictures were collected. I like McNish’s ability to mix humour with serious commentary; in Plum, she mixes her current work with poems written when she was a child and teenager, and, ironically, it’s often these earlier poems which concern themselves with wider issues.  McNish’s brief introductions to these poems are self-effacing and witty, mocking her own teenage earnestness at times. It all adds up to a collection that confronts important questions without ever seeming pretentious or trying to lecture its reader.

now we must plan to meet
in diaries
don’t dance in pjs/
share the bed

you do not comb my hair
for hours, to practise plaits
– drink tea instead

There were a few poems in Plum that I found particularly relatable; ‘Call On Me’ laments the fact that adults are so often geographically distanced from their friends at the time when they are most needed, juxtaposing the lost innocence of childhood friendships with the more formal nature of meeting up as grown-ups. I found myself nodding along in a way that I would have found very embarrassing if I was reading it in public. In the poem ‘And We Talk,’ McNish exposes the hypocrisy of modern parenting, when mums “talk about the seed packs for handy fat-free snacking” but “when children beg the park from us we tell them we are chatting; McNish has a real gift for spotting these seemingly insignificant moments of modern life and pointing them out in a strongly worded but un-preachy way.

In Conclusion: if you’re an admirer of McNish’s previous work, or of Kate Tempest, I highly recommend Plum; it follows on from Nobody Told Me while widening the scope of subject matter, and it’s hugely successful in doing this. I love McNish’s poetic style; the language is deceptively simple, allowing it to really pack a punch, and the poet’s voice is strong throughout. Hollie McNish is a really exciting talent.


YA Review: Fall in One Day by Craig Terlson

Premise: it’s Canada in 1973 and Joe’s best friend Brian has gone missing, along with his strange father, who has put Brian’s mother in the hospital. Amid news reports of the Watergate scandal, hippies and many references to Steely Dan, Joe is determined to find out what happened o his friend.
Thoughts: I received an e-ARC of this book via NetGalley, having requested it because I was on the hunt for some obscure and unusual YA. Fall in One Day delivers in both respects; I’m really keen to find more YA set in different historical periods, even those that aren’t really so long ago, and, although Nixon and Watergate are far away from Joe’s search for Brian, they help to create a general atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia which work really well in the novel. I would hope that an actual teen reader (rather than a wannabe-teen-but-actually-mid-30s one like me) would be attracted to the idea of reading something with an unfamiliar context like this.

The story itself is unpredictable, with the air of a thriller about it. There’s a big shift in tone and focus about two-thirds of the way through, which adds a new dimension (not literally – it doesn’t turn into a space travel epic) to the plot. It feels jarring and strange to the reader, but that’s exactly how it feels to the characters too, so it works. I stayed just the right side of convinced by Joe’s anxious pursuit of Brian; it’s melodramatic, obviously, but believable and I did find myself both really wanting to know where he was and why his dad had taken him.

There were a few little things that niggled; Joe is always really rude to his mum, which annoyed me, and some of the psychadelic dialogue didn’t fully convince me. But these are little issues in a YA book which is generally intriguing and original.

In Conclusion: Fall in One Day is a refreshing change of pace in YA, where contemporary stories and fantasy seem to dominate. I’d love to read more YA set in different era; it’s already a given in general fiction, and something I hope becomes more mainstream in YA. Fall in One Day is a great place to start.

Top Ten Tuesday: Interesting Fictional Dads

This week’s TTT, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish is a Fathers’ Day special. Incidentally, does this mean Fathers’ Day is the same in the US and UK, when Mothers’ Day is on completely different days? Weird. Anyway, I’m going for a vague ‘Interesting Dads’ theme because I didn’t feel like restricting myself to good or bad ones.

Samuel Hawley from The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
Hawley’s a lifelong outlaw, always on the run and often absent from this daughter’s life. He’s not a particularly good dad, but he’s a very protective one with the kind of backstory that would scare off any potential son-in-law.

Maverick Carter from The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I reckon Maverick will pop up in a few lists this week. He’s an interesting, imperfect father figure. He cares deeply about his family but is also heavily invested in his community and loyal to his neighbourhood, even when that conflicts with his paternal duties.

Lord Capulet from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
I think I brought up his missus on the recent mothers-themed list, but Lord Capulet deserves a mention for being a rubbish parent too. He starts the play appearing to care about Juliet, putting off a potential suitor by claiming she’s too young for marriage, but later shows all this to have been a scam when he berates Juliet for not just doing as he says. He is awful.

Danny’s Dad from Danny, the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
Reading this book as an adult, I was appalled at the way Danny’s dad (the poacher who leaves his young child unattended every night to COMMIT CRIMES) is romanticised. I hope that when Danny grew up he realised his dad was a disturbingly neglectful, if well-intentioned parent.

Olive’s Dad from Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moira Fowley-Doyle
This is a very recent read. I really liked Olive’s dad, principally because of his penchant for waking up his family by loudly reciting poetry at them first thing in the morning.

Kevin’s Dad from Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ron Koertge
Another recent read, this verse novel was a real find for me and I will be inflicting it on an unsuspecting class next year. Kevin, the main character, lives alone with his dad after the death of his mum. His dad’s a writer and basically just the cutest.

Dill’s Dad from The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
This dude was terrifying: a snake-handling preacher imprisoned and responsible for the massive debts Dill and his mum are left with. Really not my favourite fictional father.

Arnold Waite from Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson
A comically awful human, Arnold Waite is possibly the most man-splainy father in fiction. His letters to Natalie, his daughter, are laughably horrendous. Fictional dads like this make me grateful for my (reasonably normal) father.

Roderick LeRoux from the Starbound trilogy by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Reappearing as the big baddie throughout this trilogy, LeRoux is the father of Lilac, one of the main pair in the first book, These Broken Stars. I love these books more than is healthy, and I really enjoy all the intrigue surrounding LeRoux and his massively corrupt organisation.

Mr Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
No discussion of fictional dads would be complete without a comprehensive takedown of Mr Bennet, for centuries celebrated as a comically dismissive parent when actually he’s just a terrible, awful human who despises all but one of his daughters really just because they’re girls, and who is horrible to Mrs Bennet WHO IS ONLY TRYING TO DO HER BLOODY BEST FOR HER DAUGHTERS IN A PATRIARCHAL SOCIETY okay? Not that I feel strongly about this at all.

What Fathers’ Day related list did you make this week? Please leave me links. And who would you add to this list of interesting, if not brilliant, fathers?

YA Review: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

tragic kind of wonderful.pngThe Premise: it’s fair to say Mel is pretty troubled. In the aftermath of her brother’s death and parents’ divorce, she’s moved to a new town, but problems just won’t leave her alone; a mysterious falling-out with her friends has left her socially isolated, along with a condition she’s desperate to keep a secret from the world.

Thoughts: Lindstrom, as you might know, is also the author of Not If I See You First, which I loved (review here). He is also the reason I had to turn off autocorrect, because it kept changing his surname to Windstorm, which was very annoying.

Aside from these issues, A Tragic Kind of Wonderful didn’t grab me to begin with. Although Mel is an intriguing character and the hints to her background grabbed my attention, it took too long for any actual details to emerge; it gave a realistic sense of Mel’s struggle to deal with mental illness, but it wasn’t massively enthralling to read about. I am a very impatient person and books which spend a lot of time hinting at secrets which will be revealed later on tend to annoy me; it’s like when my daughter decides she has a secret and won’t tell me what it is but tells me every ten seconds that she has one. Of course, her secrets generally involve having seen a squirrel or dropped the toilet roll in the loo, so it’s not really the same as the stuff that Mel grapples with.

The last third of the book is much more fast-paced and the overall structure of the book cleverly reflects Mel’s illness (although I’ve seen Goodreads reviews that reveal what it is, the blurb doesn’t, so I’m not being specific in case it could be seen as a spoiler; if you want to know what I’m skirting around, you can check Goodreads), although I felt like I waited a long time for anything to happen. Maybe this makes me sound horrible. I am, so it’s accurate. I did like the cast of characters at the home for the elderly where Mel works; the contrast between teenagers and old people gave the book a different aspect, as well as some appealing characters. I was less interested in the friends Mel seemed to have lost; one, in particular, just seemed very self-centred and I didn’t understand why I was supposed to care about her. It all gets very complicated and I like life to be simple. Why, you may ask, am I reading YA books then? It’s a fair question.

In Conclusion: for me, A Tragic Kind of Wonderful suffers by comparison to its predecessor; Not If I See You First was so vibrant and funny and absorbing that I couldn’t help but compare Lindstrom’s follow-up as I read. This isn’t very fair, as any younger sibling would probably tell you. I’m the oldest though, so this is how my brain works. There are lots of interesting things about A Tragic Kind of Wonderful; you have to wait until quite late on to get to them, but they do make it a worthwhile read.