I’ve rather a backlog of books to talk about, so here are capsule reviews of two strong YA novels I read during the past couple of months:
We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach
The world is going to end in ten chapters (weeks?) time when an asteroid called Ardor will crash into the Earth. If you’re a teenager, what are you going to do? There may be no future, so you’re going to live those last weeks to the utmost and attend a huge party at the end of it all – aren’t you?
Four senior High School students, Peter, Eliza, Andy and Anita – characterised as “the athlete, the outcast, the slacker and the over-achiever”, tell the interlocking story of these last weeks. Friendships will be made, broken and maybe mended; relationships, families and society too. What they all need though, is someone to love, to be with when the end comes.
It’s perhaps inevitable that there will be pairing up (after many false starts) and that the four protagonists are stereotypes. It takes the secondary characters – namely Andy’s mate Bobo and Peter’s younger sister Misery to gee things up on the action front. It does take a long while to get going though and in the last quarter everything happens rather fast. There are some nice touches though, especially near the start when Peter is talking to his teacher after class, and Mr. McArthur says:
The best books, they don’t talk about things you never thought about before. They talk about things you’d always thought about, but that you didn’t think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you’re a little bit less alone in the world.
This was an interesting novel, that nearly carried it off – but not quite for me. (7.5/10)
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The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
A new book by Ness is always worth reading and this summer’s offering is a thoughtful novel that sits on the boundaries between paranormal fantasy and normal life for a small group of friends about to graduate from High School in a small town in Washington state. The first chapter is prefaced thus:
Chapter The First, in which the Messenger of the Immortals arrives in a surprising shape, looking for a permanent Vessel; and after being chased by her through the woods, indie kid Finn meets his final fate.
There are strange blue lights in the sky, the deer are acting like zombies, but then it gets straight down to normal life for Mikey, his sister Mel, best friend Jared and object of his affections Henna (who doesn’t realise and is attracted to new boy). Mikey’s family is dysfunctional – cheerful alcoholic father, mom running for state senator, and Mel a recovering anorexic. Mikey himself had counselling for anxiety – things are getting back to a sort of normal again…
And that, I think, was the problem. They could absolutely deal with Mel getting so sick. But I don’t think they could quite deal with her getting better. I did about eight hundred hours of anxious research on the internet and tried to tell them that almost ninety percent of anorexics do recover, but as time passed, they seemed to start resenting the healthy daughter just sitting there, the one that they’d sacrificed so much for, no longer needing the sacrifice, if she’d ever really needed it in the first place. (She did. We could have lost her. I could have lost her. And then what?)
It’s hard being normal for Mikey, in a world that’s so abnormal, where everyone seems to act like a superhero. Who are the real superheroes? This is the question at the heart of the novel – a slow burner – but thought-provoking in its gentle way. I enjoyed this a lot. For a fantastic and much fuller review – do read Eric’s take on this book – here. (8.5/10)
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We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach – Simon & Schuster, March 2015. Review copy. Paperback, 384 pages. Buy at Amazon UK
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness – Walker Books, August 2015. Own copy. Hardback, 352 pages. Buy at Amazon UK