On track this month with 4 books, though fewer than I really should have managed. But in between the sickening amount of job applications and sickening actual sickness, my reading/writing habits fell a little by the wayside this month. Anyway, in the same way that the glorious sunshine of June and July motivated me to get outside and read in the garden, the colder weather and darker evenings also motivated me to read, albeit indoors with a mug of tea rather than outside with a pitcher of Pimms that I definitely don’t finish all by myself.
Book 35 : Heroes by Robert Cormier
As I am currently tutoring a girl who is starting Year 10, I am making an effort to read the texts that she is studying so that I know what she’s doing and can help her with any questions she might have about them. ‘Heroes’ may well have been on the syllabus around the time I was doing my GCSEs (almost ten years ago haha no really oh god has it been that long someone help me I can’t breathe), but I never studied it back then so it was completely new to me, although you might remember (you won’t, and that’s okay) that back in January, I revisited one of Cormier’s books that I read as a child. One of the things I liked about that book was how Cormier doesn’t treat his ‘young adult’ audience like children, and tackles very real and grown up issues in his books with children as the protagonists. ‘Heroes’ tells the story of Frances, a disfigured young soldier who returns home from the war hoping to meet up with his former sweetheart Nicole, but he also has another more tragic and pressing mission, the motivation for which is revealed over the course of the book through well-paced flashbacks. Cormier is a masterful author, and though the book comes in at fewer than 100 pages, he manages to pack in a plot with so many issues and well-defined characters that they practically burst out of the pages. He doesn’t hold back when it comes to the dark material, and in a pivotal moment in the lives of Frances and Nicole, the skilful way in which he handles and describes the disturbing events should be enough to convince any literary snob of the quality of fiction that can be found in the pages of young adult fiction. I think it is important for young readers to have the opportunity to experience adult themes in their reading material, and Cormier is the absolutely master at doing this.
Book 36: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
This book was one that I used to see when I worked in the bookshop, and wondered what it was about and whether it was any good; Patrick Ness is a hugely popular YA author, and I chose to look at the start of the book with my student to study how tone and setting are created in the first chapter. Then, I finished the rest of the book and loved it. A testament to Ness’s writing is that I (and my student separately, without much prompting) was both able to tell a great deal about the characters from the little that is given in the text.
Connor is a 13 year old boy who has a recurring nightmare that terrifies him, but the nightmare starts to become real when the yew-tree in his garden starts talking to him at night. It sounds like a hokey kind of kids’ story, but there are layers in the story that paint a complicated and sad life for Connor, who is dealing with his mother’s illness on his own, as well as school bullies, and when the monster starts to visit him at the same time in the night to teach him life lessons, he starts to see that stories don’t always end the way he wants or expects them to. There is such a strong sense of sadness and isolation in this novel, and again I think that it is important for young people to read things that aren’t all about babysitting and boyfriends – don’t get me wrong, there’s room for all kinds of literature and you should read whatever you want to, but I think that all young people need to be introduced to some serious works of fiction that will teach them about the harder side of life, and ‘low fiction’ is the perfect genre to accomplish this. Ness wrote the novel based on a story started by Siobhan Dowd before her tragic death from cancer, and I think he did a fantastic job.
Book 37: Deadbeat: Makes You Stronger by Guy Adams
So, this is going to be hard for me to review without giving away some major plot points, but I’ll do my best. Told from the alternating perspectives of Max and Tom (and later from the perspective of other characters), ‘Makes You Stronger’ is the first book in the Deadbeat series which sees the two unlikely friends teaming up to investigate some unusual happenings in a cemetery, when they see a coffin being transported fall on the ground to reveal the woman inside is breathing. Much like Ben Aaronovitch in his Rivers of London series, Adams clearly has a strong knowledge of London and it certainly comes out in his writing. The story itself is very well-paced; starting a book with somebody hanging from a roof is a pretty exciting place to start a book, but Adams cleverly takes the chance to build up suspense in a scene and then cut to a different character perspective or an explanation/backstory. About a third of the way in, Adams throws in a curve ball and the trajectory of the story changes dramatically – anymore details will spoil it, but I’d definitely recommend this book. One criticism is that the voices of the two main characters are too similar, and it is difficult to tell them apart most of the time until they refer to the other one.
Book 38: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
This month’s book club choice, ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’, was relatively popular with the rest of the group, more so than some of the others we’ve read in recent months, although there were one or two complaints from some members.
No complaints from me though – I loved it! Okay, maybe he could have left out ‘Big Boy’, a 2 page story about discovering a large, erm, bowel movement in the toilet and the humiliating quandry this leaves him in. That was gross.
Having read another of his books earlier this year, I chose this one because I wanted to read the non-fiction, autobiographical essays that Sedaris is probably best known for in terms of his writing. The book consists of a number of ‘vignettes’ so to speak, which describe different moments of his life – during the discussion in our book club, we identified a general theme of insecurity and possible a feeling inadequacy, a kind of self-deprecating tone. I really enjoyed his dry humour, the way he could take a throwaway comment or odd statement and imagine a whole scenario based off of it, and also how he described his own dreams for his future – there’s a great chapter towards the end of the book where he illustrates some of his dreams, such as one where he has an affair with a president, another where he develops a serum that increases the growth speed of plants 1000%, and various other images of how he pictures himself on stage singing advert jingles, or just generally as someone rich, famous and loved by the public. There’s something so cheeky yet insecure about his writing, and I know that I will be seeking out more of his books in the future.