Review: Juvie by Steve Watkins

I received this book for free from Walker Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Juvie by Steve WatkinsJuvie Published by Walker Books on 1st January 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Friendship, General, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Source: Walker Books
Goodreads
three-half-stars
Heart-wrenching and real, Juvie offers an unflinching and poignant view of life in juvenile detention, and will appeal to fans of TV shows like Orange Is the New Black. Sadie Windas has always been the responsible one - she's the star player on her basketball team, she gets good grades, she dates a cute soccer player and she tries to help out at home. Not like her older sister, Carla, who leaves her three-year-old daughter, Lulu, with Aunt Sadie while she parties and gets high. But when both sisters are caught up in a drug deal - wrong place, wrong time - it falls to Sadie to confess to a crime she didn't commit to keep Carla out of jail and Lulu out of foster care. Sadie is supposed to get off with a slap on the wrist, but somehow, impossibly, gets sentenced to six months in juvie. As life as Sadie knew it disappears beyond the stark bars of her cell, her anger - at her ex-boyfriend, at Carla and at herself - fills the empty space left behind. Can Sadie forgive Carla for getting her mixed up in this mess? Can Carla straighten herself out to make a better life for Lulu and for all of them? Can Sadie survive her time in juvie with her spirit intact?

Review: I was lucky enough to be invited to Walker Books blogger brunch last November and had a wonderful time chatting with bloggers and publishing people, eating yummy food and hearing all about the upcoming books from Walker. One of them immediately caught my attention with its striking cover and compelling concept: Juvie.

Described alongside Orange Is The New Black comparisons, Juvie tells the story of Sadie who is accidentally caught up in a drug deal. To keep her sister out of jail, and niece out of care, Sadie confesses despite being innocent. What was meant to just be a slap on the wrist turns into a six month sentence and when we meet Sadie she’s just about to start this.

Juvie surprised me as I read it. It is far more about Sadie’s own journey and growth than action. The structure is divided between past (what led to juvie) and present time serving her sentence. With the flashbacks I loved seeing more of Sadie’s family, something that could have easily not featured in a novel set away from home, and in particular her relationship with Lulu, her adorable niece. I did find Sadie’s relationship with her sister Carla frustrating as Carla was a difficult character to sympathise with at times and I really wanted her to step up more for both her daughter and her sister.

Sadie was a strong narrator and I thought the moments where she discovered more about her fellow inmates and  the way first impression and innocent expressions can actually be deceiving. The only criticism of the fellow inmates was that not all of them stood out to me and a few felt quite cliched.

There were some great tense moments in the final third of the novel I won’t spoil and I found the whole book very readable and compelling. I read it in just over one sitting and wanted to find out what would happen to Sadie. The ending was also quite open and while I often like this openness and making my own conclusions, I wanted something a little more cement personally.

Overall, Juvie is an interesting and character focused story with an unglamorised look at the justice system, and a novel that I think would appeal to fans of Orange is the New Black and similar programmes.

three-half-stars

ChooseYAtrope: Grief, Loss and Suicide in YA

This book may contain content that is triggering or disturbing.

chooseyatrope

 

ChooseYATrope is an original feature at ChooseYA discussing, examining and analysing popular tropes and trends within YA literature. 

ChooseYAtrope is back. While my survey is still open on the blog, currently 100% of participants have suggested they would like to see more posts about YA trends and tropes so I’m brushing the dust off this feature and hope to make it a regular occurrence.

Today I’m talking about something I’ve noticed in a lot of early 2015 titles I’ve been reviewing: suicide. Obviously, this is a potentially very triggering topic and therefore I have put my standard content warning and would advise readers who may be affected to use their discretion and be carefulI would also like to add this post may contain spoilers for several recent or upcoming releases and while I’ll try to tag those who don’t reveal this in the summary, I cannot promise you won’t be spoiled.  

Grief and loss have been a staple topic discussed in YA for years; the loss of a parent, sibling, friend or brother. As teenagers we may unfortunately start to see death more than as a child and it’s an important issue to discuss. Mental health is too and lately I’ve noticed several YA books dealing with a friend or sibling’s suicide, most notably Gaye Forman’s I Was Here, Cynthia Hand’s The Last Time We Said Goodbye, Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff and View Spoiler » I read two of these in the same week, not realising where the latter title was heading, and it was a quite difficult and emotional experience. The Last Time We Said Goodbye in particular was an incredibly poignant and moving book about dealing with  a sibling’s death/suicide and the guilt that can come with this.

At the moment in the UK, children and youth’s mental health funding is being cut and more and more teenagers are seeking help for mental health issues. Literature informs, some would say it’s the duty and others would say literature shouldn’t be so didactic. It’s tough, isn’t it? Where do we draw the line from informative to preachy? And does literature have to save, does YA? About a year or so ago there was a trending topic on Twitter, YA Saves. And I think it does. It can make someone feel less alone and like they have a voice and this is so important. It’s why I’m against books like Speak being banned in schools. Literature is a lifeline.

I think on the other hand there is a line, is the use of this serious topic just for drama, to give backstory or create sympathy? In the examples I’ve used, I would like to make it clear I don’t think this is the case at all, I think they are pretty sensitively handled and have more to say than ‘my main character is tortured, yo!’ If I’m honest, I don’t like Finch fixated on Violet at the start of All the Bright Places but as the book progressed, I found this lessened.   However, this probably isn’t the case for every book and using a topic like this just for backstory or drama really upsets me. There’s a difference between sensitively exploring difficult topics to look at wider questions around them to just throwing in angst for drama. Also romanticising mental illness is dangerous, it isn’t glamorous and in particular romanticising suicide in YA is really worrying.

What I find particularly interesting about the aforementioned group of recent YA books that look at suicide are they are often from the perspective of a friend or sibling and I’ve been trying to think about why? Why are authors choosing to approach this subject from a friend and not the actual person? I think by doing this they get to show the repercussions of suicide, there’s an element of cautionary tale without being overtly obvious and perhaps feel like they are avoiding romanticising suicide. If you see the pain caused by an action, are you more likely to get help and not attempt this yourself? However there a danger in writing through the perspective of the depressed to further trigger others? Mental health is an important topic to be explored though. And like I said, death narratives and exploration are common in YA and can be an unfortunate part of growing up.

There is certainly more YA being published dealing with mental health and suicide than I can remember from earlier years. There’s more discussion and openness. We live in a post ‘It Gets Better’ world, I think people are beginning to see that teenagers can suffer from depression and mental health issues in the same way as adults and are more forward about this now. Just this week Hot Key Books announced a new non-fiction James Dawson book for 2016 about mental health: Mind Your Head. 

What do you think? Have you noticed an increase in books that deal with difficult topics about grief and suicide? Do you think these books work or do they feel preachy? 

 

 

 

Review: The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon

I received this book for free from Bloomsbury in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Mime Order by Samantha ShannonThe Mime Order by Samantha Shannon
Series: The Bone Season #2
Also in this series: The Bone Season
Also by this author: The Bone Season
Published by Bloomsbury USA on January 27th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Fiction, General, Young Adult
Pages: 528
Format: eARC
Source: Bloomsbury
Goodreads
four-stars
Paige Mahoney has escaped the brutal penal colony of Sheol I, but her problems have only just begun: many of the fugitives are still missing and she is the most wanted person in London. As Scion turns its all-seeing eye on Paige, the mime-lords and mime-queens of the city’s gangs are invited to a rare meeting of the Unnatural Assembly. Jaxon Hall and his Seven Seals prepare to take center stage, but there are bitter fault lines running through the clairvoyant community and dark secrets around every corner. Then the Rephaim begin crawling out from the shadows. But where is Warden? Paige must keep moving, from Seven Dials to Grub Street to the secret catacombs of Camden, until the fate of the underworld can be decided. Will Paige know who to trust? The hunt for the dreamwalker is on.

Review: I enjoyed Samantha Shannon’s debut The Bone Season and was excited to see what was in store for Paige next. I found The Mime Order even more engaging and intriguing than The Bone Season.

There’s definitely a very different tone and atmosphere to the Mime Order, whereas The Bone Season was Paige forced into a very difficult situation and fighting to escape, now she’s fighting the society she lives in and has developed as a character into more of a leader. We don’t see much of London in the Bone Season, it’s the secondary location and most of the book takes place in Oxford, so it was great to see and learn more about it in the Mime Order. We learn a lot more about the world and rules and politics behind in the Mime Order and I thought this really worked well. The book also felt easier to follow, however at the start immediately jumps into the action from the cliffhanger ending of book one so you may wish to remind yourself – it took me a few minutes to remember what had happened and where the plot was going.

One of the characters we learn more about is Jaxon and he’s particularly compelling. I thought Shannon painted his charm despite his manipulative and selfish streak really well and bought him to life. Learning more about the mime queens and lords was really interesting too.

To my surprise, I found Warden less important to me in the Mime Order, he does have an essential role in his scenes, but perhaps because the balance and the world view has shifted away from Oxford, I was more intrigued by Paige’s understanding and exploration of her city, London.

The action feels more muted in this book, however a lot is still happening and the final third is particularly action-packed. This feels more about the politics and justice than the Bone Season did but it works. There were some very interesting parallels about civil rights and the ‘unnatural’ community.  I enjoyed this book a lot and I’m keen to find out what happens next and continue with the series.

 

four-stars

Review: The Murdstone Trilogy by Mal Peet

I received this book for free from Publicist in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Murdstone Trilogy by Mal PeetThe Murdstone Trilogy by Mal Peet
Published by David Fickling Books on November 6th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publicist
Goodreads
four-stars
Award-winning author Philip Murdstone is in trouble. His star has waned. The world is leaving him behind. His agent, the beautiful and ruthless Minerva Cinch, convinces him that his only hope is to write a sword-and-sorcery blockbuster. Unfortunately, Philip - allergic to the faintest trace of Tolkien - is utterly unsuited to the task. In a dark hour, a dwarfish stranger comes to his rescue. But the deal he makes with Pocket Wellfair turns out to have Faustian consequences.
The Murdstone Trilogy is a richly black comedy from an author described by one American critic as 'the best writer you've probably never heard of'.

Review: I was very intrigued by the concept of The Murdstone Trilogy and Mal Peet is an author I’ve been meaning to read for a while so was really excited when I was offered the chance to review Peet’s latest novel, especially as the main character is a YA author and it looked very original.

Peet’s narrator, Philip Murdstone is being forced by his agent to write a fantasy novel and fit in with the latest trends. Murdstone who writes about sensitive boys with problems is unsure where to start and at the beginning very dismissive about fantasy. This did concern me at the start a little as I worried the book would be ‘antigenre’, however as the plot progressed Murdstone’s reticence recedes. There is a really great darkly comic and cynical tone to this book and a lot of humour. In many ways it’s quite satirical and harsh on the publishing industry and I found this very interesting to read. I’d recently completed J K Rowling’s The Silkworm which also contains an interesting look at the publishing industry and the two complemented each other in some ways.

The Murdstone Trilogy really comes into its own once Murdstone meets Pocket and begins writing his book. There is a fabulous faustian edge to the plot as the fantastical and real collide. I also liked how the amulet functioned in the novel and seemed like a thinly veiled reference to the one ring in Lord of the Rings.

While the novel was engaging and enjoyable overall, I felt the ending chapters didn’t draw me in quite so easily – however, I did love the section in Tibet and messages about literary interpretation. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the agent’s narration when first introduced either, however it did work and by the end felt seamless.

The Murdstone Trilogy is one of those books that doesn’t really fit into one category, it floats delightfully in between, though I would say that for me I felt it was more skewed towards the older end of YA/crossover due to the more mature narrator and occasional inexplicit sexual content. That said, I think those interesting in the process of writing would find a lot to enjoy. Peet’s prose is wonderful and fantasy fans, those with an interest in writing or publishing should find a lot to think about in this book.

 

four-stars

Very important notice for current wordpress/ email subscribers

This post is just for those of you who subscribe to my blog via email, specifically through wordpress, feedburner is unaffected by this as far I as am aware.

I’ve recently started using the UBB plug in which I love and I’ve noticed that Jetpack doesn’t let me keep the short codes in my emails so you guys just get the review body of text. As I’m not happy with this, I have removed Jetpack email subscriptions from the sidebar and replaced with a different email subscriber widget.  I would ask any current subscribers getting email subscriptions from wordpress please transfer to feedburner as I am deactivating Jetpack subscriptions as of now (Friday 16th January 2015)

TLDR: If you subscribe to ChooseYA via email/via wordpress and wish to continue this you WILL need to resubscribe via feedburner using the widget in the side bar. I apologise for any inconvenience this may cause however feedburner doesn’t offer a way to import subscribers.  

 

 

Review: The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

I received this book for free from Orion Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book may contain content that is triggering or disturbing.
Review: The Walled City by Ryan GraudinThe Walled City by Ryan Graudin
Published by Orion Books Limited on November 6th 2014
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 424
Format: Paperback
Source: Orion Books
Goodreads
four-stars
Disguised as a boy, Jin Ling searches for her missing sister, Mei Yee, who was sold into the brothels of the Walled City. It's a cut-throat world of gangs, drug-dealers and warlords and every day is a struggle to survive. Jin Ling relies on her speed and cunning but how long will her luck hold? When a mysterious boy, Dai, requests her help with a dangerous mission Jin Ling's inclined to say no - this is a world where no one can be trusted - but the mission offers her a vital chance to see inside the brothel where her sister may be being held.Jin Ling and Dai join forces, but will either of them survive the mission? Is Mei Yee still alive? And how will any of them ever escape the stifling city walls?
With a fantasy setting inspired by Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong, Ryan's novel has a rich authenticity and an intense atmosphere, and its pace will enthral the reader from the very first page.

Review: I had heard a lot about The Walled City and was really intrigued to read it, especially when I discovered the real-life inspiration of the city of Kowloon.

The Walled City is a gripping read and one I found chilling too. Exploitation is a central theme and there is some disturbing content around Mei Yee’s character.

I thought Jin was really strong and her desire to save her sister, along with the dangers she was placed in herself were well written and sympathetic. The only character who felt a little flat to me was Dai. There are some interesting developments and motivations for Dai View Spoiler » I thought his self-destructive and self-loathing streaks were well evoked however. I found Jin’s chapters the most compelling personally and Mei Yee’s were very emotional. I did think Dai’s plot was interesting, it was just his character didn’t quite grab me in the same way as the other main characters and this is just personal preference, but also I felt certainly at the beginning of the novel his stakes didn’t feel so high, though this did develop as the plot progressed.

The Walled City is structured as a countdown from 18 days to zero and really reads like a thriller, one with a very real and ‘gritty’ edge. As such, this book may be less suitable for younger readers but also has wonderful crossover appeal. What makes this book more profound and powerful is the fact the city itself is based on a real city, that the exploitation and danger and crime was an everyday occurrence. We need more books like this in YA and literature, books that shine a light on a period of history or topic that needs more awareness.

While Dai’s character and some of the romance did not work for me, the thriller elements, the tense countdown to day 0 and Jin’s highly compelling and vivid character made this book for me.I found the Walled City an assured and powerful novel I would definitely recommend.

 

four-stars

Review: All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

I received this book for free from Penguin in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book may contain content that is triggering or disturbing.
Review: All The Bright Places by Jennifer NivenAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Published by Penguin Books, Limited on January 7th 2015
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Source: Penguin
Goodreads
four-half-stars
The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park, All the Bright Places is a compelling and beautiful story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him. Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister's recent death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it's unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the 'natural wonders' of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It's only with Violet that Finch can be himself - a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who's not such a freak after all. And it's only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet's world grows, Finch's begins to shrink. How far will Violet go to save the boy she has come to love?

Review: All The Bright Places intrigued me from the moment I read the synopsis and its striking cover. I’d heard quite a bit of positive buzz around this title and I love contemporary YA.

All The Bright Places is the dual-narrative story of Theodore Finch (a brilliant character name) and Violet Markey. When both teenagers end up meeting on the edge of their school’s bell tower neither jump off it and when they become partners for a school project an unlikely friendship starts.

Both Violet and Finch were clear individual characters, however for me Finch was a much more vibrant character and came off the page a lot more easily than Violet. At times I felt like Violet was more in Finch’s shadow, a character who steals his scenes with relative ease. This at first made me a little unsure of the book however I persevered and it was definitely worth it. What I found really interesting was the way Finch’s mental health was depicted, there are elements of him that meet the manic pixie dream girl trope, however there’s an obvious gender subversion here. Niven also beautifully deromanticises this trope, as well depicting a strong bond between the two and developing relationship.

I’m doing my very best not to spoil this book. However, I have to say that there are some scenes which can be a little triggering regarding mental health. The final part of the book is for me the most remarkable and it blew me away and changed me feelings about the novel almost entirely. It is honest and heartbreaking and Finch has stayed with me beyond the page. I read this late last year and I spent about a day and a half afterwards with my mind drifting back to this book periodically and for me, that’s always a sign that something in a book has stood out.

 I received a free ecopy from Penguin  for reviewing purposes. My review is honest and its tone and content unaffected by the means in which I received the book.

four-half-stars

2015 Blogging Survey

Hi everyone,

I mentioned at the end of last year I wanted to conduct a survey this month to find out about how to improve ChooseYA this year. I’d also like to start a newsletter and want to gauge if people would actually read and subscribe to this.

I would so appreciate you spending five minutes or so filling out this brief survey (multiple choice). If there is anything you think you would like to see more of, or would like to see on the blog and it’s not in the survey please leave me a comment or email me.

The survey will be live for the next 1-2 weeks.

Review: Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell

I received this book for free from Stripes in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Frozen Charlotte by Alex BellFrozen Charlotte by Alex Bell
Published by Stripes on January 5th 2015
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: Stripes
three-half-stars
We're waiting for you to come and play. Dunvegan School for Girls has been closed for many years. Converted into a family home, the teachers and students are long gone. But they left something behind…
Sophie arrives at the old schoolhouse to spend the summer with her cousins. Brooding Cameron with his scarred hand, strange Lillias with a fear of bones and Piper, who seems just a bit too good to be true. And then there’s her other cousin. The girl with a room full of antique dolls.
The girl that shouldn’t be there.
The girl that died.

Review: I was really intrigued when I heard that Stripes were going to be publishing YA and not just YA but creepy horror YA in the style of the old Point Horrors under ‘Red Eye’. I love horror movies (not so much the gory ones) and at the same time hate them because I always get five minutes into a film and remember I actually have an overactive imagination and will get a bit freaked out.

Frozen Charlotte involves an old boarding school and creepy dolls and the scares start early with a very creepy oujia board scene (always a subplot that will scare me). Sophie is a strong narrator dealing with the death of her best friend and the weight of the possibility of their oujia experience having a significant part in that death after calling on her dead cousin. She goes to spend time with her uncle and cousins while her parents are away, but her troubles are only just starting.

Aspects of this book are fairly predictable if you know your horror rules, however this did not impact my overall enjoyment of the book and a few moments did keep me guessing.  The ending is action-packed and dramatic. I thought that the plot progressed well and there are some striking images, plus the dolls really are quite scary and Bell hasn’t shied from depicting the creepiness of antique dolls.

Frozen Charlotte also feels very British and the Isle of Skye is a highly atmospheric backdrop. It’s great to see more horror in UKYA too.

Fans of horror films, James Dawson and of course the old Point horror series should find a lot to enjoy in Frozen Charlotte. I will definitely be keeping an eye on what the author and Stripes/ Red Eye bring out next.

 

three-half-stars

Review: Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley

I received this book for free from Harper Collins in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Rites of Passage by Joy N. HensleyRites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley
Published by Harper Collins on September 9th 2014
Pages: 416
Format: eARC
Source: Harper Collins
Goodreads
four-half-stars
Sam McKenna’s never turned down a dare. And she's not going to start with the last one her brother gave her before he died.
So Sam joins the first-ever class of girls at the prestigious Denmark Military Academy. She’s expecting push-ups and long runs, rope climbing and mud-crawling. As a military brat, she can handle an obstacle course just as well as the boys. She's even expecting the hostility she gets from some of the cadets who don’t think girls belong there. What she’s not expecting is her fiery attraction to her drill sergeant. But dating is strictly forbidden and Sam won't risk her future, or the dare, on something so petty...no matter how much she wants him.
As Sam struggles to prove herself, she discovers that some of the boys don’t just want her gone—they will stop at nothing to drive her out. When their petty threats turn to brutal hazing, bleeding into every corner of her life, she realizes they are not acting alone. A decades-old secret society is alive and active… and determined to force her out.
At any cost.
Now time's running short. Sam must decide who she can trust...and choosing the wrong person could have deadly consequences.

Review: When I was a kid, I secretly loved this Disney Channel film with Hilary Duff called Cadet Kelly, in which an artistic teenager is sent to military school and that painted a fairly idealised view of military school with Shawn Ashmore as the romantic lead. So reading the summary for Rites of Passage, I couldn’t help but be intrigued, however I didn’t expect to enjoy Rites of Passage as much as I did.

Sam is one of the first female students at Denmark Military Academy, attending after her brother Amos dared her shortly before his suicide. Her other brother is not particularly impressed by Sam taking it up.

Where Hensley excels with Rites of Passage is in making it more than a guilty pleasure read set in a military academy with secret societies. The discrimination, hazing and harassment Sam endures is painful at times to read and unfortunately felt realistic. Sam is the sort of character who won’t allow people to treat her and others this way and I think this carried the story well. My only criticism is that at the beginning of the novel, Sam was a little critical of some of the other females in her class and their physical strength. While Sam developed from this point, and perhaps this was a deliberate device by the author, I would have hoped for stronger camaraderie and loyalty. That said, Rites of Passage is a brilliant read and one that examines and exposes discrimination and sexism very well.

I really enjoyed this book and the combination of thriller elements with the secret society, elements of romance and generally awesome narrator added up to a great read I would highly recommend.

four-half-stars