Bookish Review: The Rasputin Dagger by Theresa Breslin

The Rasputin Dagger by Theresa Breslin

Published: 10 August 2017 by Random House Children’s

Genre: Historical, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Russia, 1916. Nina Ivanovna’s world is in turmoil. Her only hope is to travel to St Petersburg, to escape the past and find a future. Stefan Kolodin is a medical student – young and idealistic, he wants change for Russia and its people. Amidst the chaos of a city in revolt, their lives collide. And a stormy relationship develops . . . full of passion and politics. But soon Nina is drawn in to the glamorous, lavish lives of the Russian royal family – where she begins to fall under the spell of their mysterious monk, Grigory Rasputin. The ruby-studded dagger he carries – beautiful and deadly – could save her and Stefan from a cursed life . . . or condemn them to it. untitled

Review: The Rasputin Dagger was my first historical YA in a while, and I was really craving a good one. Luckily it delivered! Theresa Breslin, a Carnegie Medal winner, is a heavyweight in YA historical fiction – her war romance novel Remembrance has remained unforgettable to this day. So I was definitely looking forward to seeing how she handled a slightly different, but nonetheless exciting, period of history.

A story is the most powerful weapon in the wide, wide world.

As a fully confessed history nerd (and history major!) when I pick up a historical novel, I’m after a faithful use of the setting and Breslin always seems to deliver on this front. I feel like often in YA a historical setting can be a little secondary to the plot – so you’ll have this brilliant setting but you never really scratch the surface beyond the usual mentions around dress, behaviours, location etc. In The Rasputin Dagger, however, you really get a sense of St. Petersburg and the lives of the people in the city. I found it totally immersive and got caught up in the daily hardships faced by the average Russian because of the war effort and the relatively untouched lives of the Imperial family.

The whole of Russia, and in particular our city, is like a huge barrel of gunpowder surrounded by desperate souls brandishing lighted tapers.

I adored the way politics was woven in, something which is often neglected or glossed over in YA books, seemingly because teens aren’t given enough credit for being interested/able to digest slightly ‘heavier’ topics (when hello Teen Vogue anyone?) In The Resputin Dagger, you get a real sense of the divisions in society, and the different ideologies at play – I thought it was clever how each of the characters seemed to represent a different point on the political spectrum but still be able to call each other friends and family. The characters were generally just great – Nina, our female protagonist, and Galena the housekeeper were fabulous female characters, resourceful and strong, and not at all content to sit back and watch their lives as they know it pretty much change before their eyes. I also really liked how understated and slow burn the romance was – there was absolutely no instalove here.

No on is taking me anywhere. I go where I please. I too am a bread-queue woman, and today I will join with my fellow women.

Breslin was also brilliant at portraying historical figures like Rasputin and the Imperial family – they were neither black nor white. Oftentimes with historical novels it seems there’s a tendency to sensationalise famous people in history. Instead, Breslin doesn’t get caught up in making characters ‘bad’ or ‘good’ but rather show them as they might have been, letting the reader make up their own mind. The same goes for the plot. I liked that The Rasputin Dagger stayed true to history and didn’t overly rely on the famous figures to drive the plot. Instead, you really get to know the main fictional characters and, because of their well-developed back stories, learn why they think and are the way they are.

A person with a book in their hands wields more power than the one who holds a gun.

One thing I have to say is that the blurb doesn’t seem all that faithful to the book itself in my opinion. The romance and supernatural/fantasy element is played up more in the blurb and made to seem like the focal points of this book. Instead, I found The Rasputin Dagger to be way more subtle and intricate, and it seems a shame that this isn’t reflected in the blurb. I loved how the supernatural curse element is woven throughout the book, more subtle and used more as a plot device for Nina to learn her history. Overall, I really enjoyed The Rasputin Dagger and think if you’re a historical YA fan or at all interested in this part of Russia history, this book will not disappoint!

What are your favourite historical YA books? If you have any recs, send them my way please! 🙂

Advertisements

Bookish Review: The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James

Published: 7 September 2017 by Walker Books

Genre: Sci-fi, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Can you fall in love with someone you’ve never met, never even spoken to – someone who is light years away? Romy Silvers is the only surviving crew-member of a spaceship travelling to a new planet, on a mission to establish a second home for humanity amongst the stars. Alone in space, she is the loneliest girl in the universe until she hears about a new ship which has launched from Earth – with a single passenger on board. A boy called J. Their only communication with each other is via email – and due to the distance between them, their messages take months to transmit across space. And yet Romy finds herself falling in love. But what does Romy really know about J? And what do the mysterious messages which have started arriving from Earth really mean? Sometimes, there’s something worse than being alone… untitled

Review: I managed to grab a copy of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe at YALC back in July. Honestly, it was no mean feat – every time the Waterstones got new stock of the book in (and we’re talking like a hundred copies!) they’d be sold out within minutes. Anyway, back on topic, this book was a superbly unexpected wild ride! I confess I did glance over some of the Goodreads reviews of The Loneliest Girl before I read it and lots of them said something along the lines of “the less you know going into this book, the better”. I have to say I wholeheartedly agree! This is one of those books that just cannot be pigeonholed into any one label, be it YA, sci-fi etc. So keeping the above advice in mind, this review will be unusually brief and will be spoiler free 🙂 

If I get ill, there will be no one to help me. No one to fix me if I break.

The setting of The Loneliest Girl is one of the most unique selling points – we’ve got a young girl captaining a ship, completely alone, in the far reaches of space. For one thing, titles do not get much more literal than that, and secondly, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a premise like that in any YA sci-fi so major points already going in to The Loneliest Girl and it just gets better from there on out. James has taken a common setting of a spaceship and made it into something feels totally original. I loved how creative James was with the tech on board the Infinity – all of the attention to detail to explain how the spaceship could feasibly keep going made the whole book all the more realistic and immersive. I have to admit though that the light-speed transmission lags were totally lost on me…

Staring through the porthole, I watch the spiralling stars until I make myself dizzy.

The way Lauren James writes really does drive home just how alone Romy is. The casual references to things Romy has not experienced forced me to really consider just how isolated she is. It’s also told in first person and there are mundane “slice of life” details alongside the plot that you just become immersed in Romy’s life, as uneventful as it can be at points I still felt engrossed and totally invested. Films with a similar premise like Gravity and The Martian use all sorts of things like visual effects, body language and amazing scores to make the audience feel unsettled so I’m totally in awe of how James managed to put across the lonely and slightly creepy factor using just words! 

I’d like to have wild stories about my university days to tell my kids, someday. I’d like to have any anecdotes at all, actually.

I also enjoyed how James managed to weave in some really interesting ideas like the ethics around such a mission as well as mental health issues. Romy was a realistic character, struggling to cope, given the magnitude of her responsibilities and the trauma she has experienced. Heroism does not come naturally to her – she often rebels against her predicament, especially as she had no choice in it. Her naiveté is also totally realistic, there are points where she casually drops that she hasn’t been in physical contact with another human being in years, and so anything else would’ve felt unconvincing. Beyond that though, Romy is a really relatable character with her love of fictional characters and fanfic and I really found myself rooting for her throughout the book!

This voyage was never meant to be easy. It was meant to be important.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe is a solid standalone (whoop!) book that you will not want to put down! It is totally unique and was a fresh take on YA romance/space/sci-fi novels. The plot has a hint of mystery and James did a great job of feeding the reader enough to keep you intrigued whilst also keeping you just enough in the dark that you feel this weird uneasiness as you read on. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to fans of all genres! The Loneliest Girl in the Universe is out tomorrow so be sure to grab a copy ASAP!

Have you read any books that surprised or blindsided you? Are you planning to read The Loneliest Girl in the Universe? Drop me a comment below 🙂

Bookish Review: S.T.A.G.S by M.A. Bennett

S.T.A.G.S by M.A. Bennett

Published: 10 August 2017 by Hot Key Books

Genre: Thriller, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Nine students. Three bloodsports. One deadly weekend. It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into the sixth form at the exclusive St. Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as S.T.A.G.S. Just when she despairs of making friends Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin’ shootin’ fishin’. When Greer learns that the invitation is to spend the half term weekend at the country manor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy at S.T.A.G.S., she is as surprised as she is flattered.

But when Greer joins the other chosen few at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, she realises that Henry’s parents are not at home; the only adults present are a cohort of eerily compliant servants. The students are at the mercy of their capricious host, and, over the next three days, as the three bloodsports – hunting, shooting and fishing – become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying realisation that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school..untitled

Review: This is one of those books that has been marketed well – the cover was gorgeous whilst the blurb was tantalisingly simple. S.T.A.G.S started off well, the premise really intrigued me, it’s exactly the sort of mystery/thriller that would entice me – old private school dripping in privilege and thousands of years worth of history, and the misfits who couldn’t be more out of place. The writing style was pretty brilliant – the teaser first sentences at the beginning of the chapters were genius. But my favourite had to be the canny, wry asides peppered throughout the text – these cleverly acknowledged the frustration felt when characters respond in a silly way to something deeply obvious to the reader. 

Going back to the premise, the idea that people are so entrenched in traditionalism and conservatism that they take preservation to the very extremes is an interesting concept and one that was refreshing to see in a YA book. There were also some promising conversations between characters in the book covering issues like privilege, racism, proliferation of social media which rang true. We are surrounded by these issues on a daily basis and dialogue is absolutely integral to working through issues. I thought Bennett handled both sides of the argument really well – the marginalisation that some characters felt, as misplaced it might seem to some readers, was deftly portrayed.

IMG_4834

Buuuuut… I felt these messages were lost within a convoluted plot that required the suspension of major disbelief and took something plausible and made it unnecessarily into something much bigger. The ending felt really contrived to me. It was like the author was trying so hard to shoehorn in what may have been her favourite film/literary ending that she bent and twisted the story to pay homage to this. Don’t get me wrong, the references to the movies, from film noir to cult classics, to blockbusters was great and  I liked how the protagonist tied them into key scenes. I just didn’t think the references needed to be woven into the actual plot… you’ll see what I mean when you read the book!

One of the things I did enjoy was Bennett’s portrayal of the intricacies of life in the upper echelons of society! The details around the bloodsports, etiquette and traditions, as well as manor house life was brilliantly described and it was clearly very well-researched. However, at times it did feel like a disproportionate amount of page time was given to building the setting of Longcross, sacrificing character development in the process. it meant we didn’t get to know the main characters beyond the stock description given at the beginning to set the scene. I found it difficult to engage with the characters and bring myself to care too much about their predicaments, it all seemed a little too passive. It was a shame because I feel there was much more scope to show the obvious differences between the characters social backgrounds rather than tell us especially in such a setting.

I won’t go into the ending itself because #nospoilers but all in all I am disappointed in S.T.A.G.S because it started off really strong! It was different to most other YA thrillers in terms of the premise and setting but that wasn’t enough to convince me to suspend my disbelief at the ending. If you’re after a solid YA thriller with a great story and character development do check out One of Us is Lying 🙂

Do you have any YA thriller recs? Let me know in the comments below!!

ARC Bookish Review: A Change is Gonna Come by Various

A Change is Gonna Come by Various

Published: 10 August 2017 by Stripes Publishing

Genre: Diverse, Anthology, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Featuring top Young Adult authors alongside a host of exciting new talent, this anthology of stories and poetry from BAME writers on the theme of change is a long-overdue addition to the YA scene. Contributors include Tanya Byrne, Inua Ellams, Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence, Ayisha Malik, Irfan Master, Musa Okwonga and Nikesh Shukla. Plus introducing four fresh new voices in YA fiction: Mary Bello, Aisha Bushby, Yasmin Rahman, and Phoebe Roy.

untitled

Disclaimer: I was given an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not in any way influence my views on the book.

Review: A Change is Gonna Come is a phenomenal landmark in YA fiction! The book is a collection of short stories and poems covering a range of genres, everything from dystopia, contemporary, realistic issues, historical, and surreal fantasy – phew! And all written by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic authors, both published and debut. 

Whilst growing up I could never have dreamed of coming across a book that captures different stories written by people who looked like me or had a similar upbringing – case in point, 13-year-old me would never have thought I’d see an inner London borough in the title of a YA story (Tanya Byrne’s Hackney Moon in case you’re wondering). Each and every story in Change resonated with me in different ways. Ayisha Malik’s A Refuge was fantastic in bringing a relevant and timely topic to a YA audience in such an accessible way, putting backstories to the nameless faces we often see in the news.

Homa was already climbing on top of a mound and overlooking the jungle as if she were there to conquer it.

I loved how the diversity of the authors reflected the diversity of the genres – there’s definitely something in here for everyone! Patrice Lawrence’s The Clean Sweep read like a Black Mirror episode to me! It left my skin crawling with its dystopia feel but at the same time there was a lot of familiarity in the setting too. Aisha Busby’s Marionette Girl really took you into the character’s head and in a few short pages made me empathise with what can be a difficult and misunderstood illness – and she’s a debut author too!

The dark’s shifting around me. It’s crawling out of the walls.

We Who? and Fortune Favours the Bold were searing in their accuracy portraying racism and Islamaphobia. The backdrops of Brexit and terrorist attacks were so relevant and hopefully give a voice to what so many young people feel and go through. We Who?, written by the legend Nikesh Shukla of The Good Immigrant fame, was really cleverly written to make it applicable to lots of people (you’ll see what I mean when you read it!) Meanwhile, it’s frightening how much I related to Yasmin Rahman’s protagonist in Fortune – the idea that you’re on alert after every devastating attack, hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. I look forward to more from Rahman because she absolutely has a very bright future in publishing ahead! 

If people want the freedom to say and think what they want, you have the freedom to challenge them. It’s your duty.

I loved the exploration of identity in Hackney Moon and Dear Asha. I could really relate to Mary Bello’s character in Dear Asha – the idea of visiting a new place which is at once totally unfamiliar and at the same time an intrinsic part of you. Tanya Byrne’s approach in Hackney Moon was great in that it was not at all condescending – in fact, for me the message was that we often need to make mistakes and bad decisions before we figure out who we truly are and to be comfortable in our own skin. I was also blown away by Musa Okwonga’s The Elders on the Wall. There were lines that I could relate to as a young person growing up feeling screwed over by the older generation.

“You youths can reach where we are if you toil,” // They say, pouring oil down that wall’s face.

If it’s not obvious already, there really is something for everyone in A Change is Gonna Come. I’m so thankful of the contributing authors for writing such strong voices and stories, for Stripes Publishing getting behind such a worthy cause, and the YA community for being such a welcoming place that an anthology of this sort doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. If you are at all interested in supporting and reading diverse books, or just understanding the world through the eyes of people from a different walk of life, A Change is Gonna Come will not disappoint! The book is out on 10 August so pick up a copy ASAP 🙂

Do you have any diverse book recs? Let me know in the comments below!!

ARC Review: The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Published: 4 May 2017 by Bloomsbury

Genre: Historical, Mystery

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scots Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to firsthand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation. Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body is discovered, her new friends are caught in the crosshairs of long-held biases about Travellers. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime.

Disclaimer: I was given an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not in any way influence my views on the book.

Review: I have been eyeing up Ms Wein’s books for some time now especially Code Name Verityher wartime book that I’m told portrays the endurance of friendship during times of difficulty. The Pear Thief is actually billed as a prequel of Code Name Verity but it can definitely be read as a standalone which is what I did.

The Pearl Thief is set in rural Scotland and honestly this book made me fall head over heels with the landscape because Wein’s descriptive language and setting was so evocative. I will confess that there were quite a few words that were totally new to a born and bred Londoner like me (burn – which I think is Gaelic for ‘fresh water’ for example) so some of the descriptions weren’t the easiest for me to visualise but despite this I was able to get an idea of the gorgeous highlands and grand country house that Lady Julia lived in – testament to Wein’s writing definitely! I will say though, this is one of those books where a map at the beginning would have done wonders and perhaps a glossary for idiots like me 🙂

The river has a voice that doesn’t die. It is as inhuman and ancient as starlight.

Lady Julia our protagonist was an interesting character. I didn’t immediately take to her but she grew on me as the book went on. I liked how adventurous and gutsy she was and willing to be open-minded and experimental even if society frowned upon it. Her friendship and dynamic with Ellen was easily my favourite – it was complex and a lovely surprise in a historical YA book! There was quite a cast of secondary characters but as The Pearl Thief is told from the Julia’s perspective, I felt we didn’t get to delve into their personalities as much as I’d have liked to – especially the McEwens and Mary who stood out.

Wein wove in societal issues like discrimination against the traveller community, rape and poverty in a really subtle way and gave an insight into what life was like in rural Scotland during that period of history. The discrimination theme was eerily timely and a little frightening how many parallels I could draw between Britain in the 1930s and 2017! One of the unique things about The Pearl Thief was the premise: the Strathfearn family estate being sold to private developers – a part of history that is oft-overlooked. The sexier Downton Abbey-esque era definitely gets more attention and so it was intereting to see a teenager dealing with a drastic change of fortune. I enjoyed seeing Lady Julia rise above her title and circumstances and discover her privilege but also we’re not all that different – be it Lady or traveller.  

They were the ‘dirty bold sleekit tinkers’. They were not dirty, did not appear to be all that bold, and it remained to be seen how sneaky they were. In fact, I was floored by the girl’s beauty.

The mystery and plot of The Pearl Thief definitely kept me guessing. I managed to figure out some of it right towards the end but was still pleasantly surprised at the reveal. I loved that the mystery had a solid story behind it, the pearls were given significance and a history which made it all the more interesting. However, I felt the pacing of The Pearl Thief could’ve been better. I definitely think the book could either have been shorter and punchier or instead just gone the whole hog and had more detail about the other characters – instead it was somewhere down the middle and had me at times just wanting to return to the central mystery.

Besides some minor issues, The Pearl Thief was a solid historical YA with a unique setting not often found in young adult lit. Wein’s descriptive language really added authenticity and the mystery was good whodunnit that kept you guessing. If you’re after something with a great heroine like Pullman’s classic Sally Lockhart series or Y. S. Lee’s brilliant The Agency series this one’s for you! The Pearl Thief is out on 4 May in the US and UK. Thanks again to Bloomsbury for the ARC 🙂

Are you planning to read The Pearl Thief? Or have some other brilliant YA historical/mystery recs? Let me know in the comments below!

Bookish Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Published: March 2017 by Hodder & Stoughton UK

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real? Welcome to Weep. 

Review: Every so often a book will come along that makes you think “wow, I wish I could write something like that!” and Strange the Dreamer about sums that category up. I got the gorgeous hardcover through FairyLoot (whooo!) and savoured the whole reading experience, especially as I’d recently met Laini Taylor during her UK tour (blog post on that here!) They hype was strong with this was from way back in 2016 and so I had high hopes… needless to say Strange delivered and then some 🙂

Stolen name, stolen sky. Stolen children, stolen years.

I want to start with Lazlo because *hearts* – but not in the Rhysand way (I’m sure you all know what that means…) Lazlo was so likeable and a character you couldn’t help but root for. I spent most of the book just wanting the world for Lazlo because he hella deserved it. It’s not often you get such a pure character that doesn’t also come across as a little too sugary, but Ms Taylor got it bang on with Lazlo, he was earnest yes, but very genuine. Sarai was another strong character – I loved how principled she was even though she had every right to be bitter, being punished for something that was before her time. The secondary characters were also great, interesting and complex but I felt like we didn’t see enough of them! Thyon and Calixte, Sparrow and Feral, Azareen and Eril-Fane clearly all have their own back stories and parts to play so I’m hoping we get to see more of them in the next and final book.

But dreams were a different matter. He was Strange the Dreamer. This was his realm, and there were no limits here.

Interestingly, during the event, Laini mentioned that Strange the Dreamer doesn’t have a villain – and while initially , I thought maybe I didn’t agree entirely, the beauty of this book is how it makes you re-examine concepts like good and evil, right and wrong, hero and villain. Nothing about the conundrum in Strange is clear cut black and white – Laini said she wanted to tackle the aftermath of war and whether forgiveness and healing can overcome violence and vengeance and I am in awe of how she handled this, through complex characters and flawless worldbuilding. Unfairly, YA seems to often have a rep for being about fluffy romances and high school drama, but then books like Strange knock misconceptions like that out of the park, especially as you can draw parallels between this fantasy story and many things going on in the world today. 

Vengeance… if you really feel it – then you speak it like it’s a still-beating heart clenched in your fist and there’s blood running down you arm, dripping off your elbow, and you can’t let go.

So yes needless to say, I completely fell in love with the story in Strange the Dreamer, it was totally original and Laini had me on tenterhooks the whole time – I could not have seen that ending coming or much of the book at all. At the signing event, Laini described the book as a love letter to fantasy fans and it really is! Strange the Dreamer is all about the beauty of dreams, the strength of imagination, and the wonder of love and evil. The story was woven well, and it all came together brilliantly at the end. One thing I did appreciate was that although Strange is the first in a duology, the ending didn’t feel like a cop out, it was very much the end of one story and the beginning of another.  

For what was a person but the sum of all the scraps of their memory and experience: a finite set of components with an infinite array of expressions.

Final mention goes to the EX-QUI-SITE writing in Strange the Dreamer. I fell in love with Laini’s writing when I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Strange  does not disappoint – in fact I think it’s miles better if that’s even possible. I found myself highlighting vast swathes of the book and conjuring up the most fantastical images of Lazlo’s world. Laini really does have a gift stringing together ordinary words in the most extraordinary way and hearing her talk about it at the event was beyond brilliant. If gorgeously written fantasy is right up your street, but Strange the Dreamer isn’t already on your shelves/kindle/TBR you must go and get it now! I promise you won’t regret it 🙂

Every colour was deeper, richer than the real, and there were so many of them. If the weaver of the world itself had kept the snipped ends of every thread she’d ever used, her basket might look something like this.

Have you read Strange the Dreamer? Did you manage to meet Laini during her UK tour? Let me know in the comments below!!

Bookish Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Published: April 2017 by Walker Books UK

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, Khalil’s death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr’s best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr’s neighborhood becomes a war zone. What everyone wants to know is: What really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does—or does not—say could destroy her community. It could also endanger her life. 

untitled

Review: I actually finished The Hate U Give a couple of weeks ago but I’ve been stalling on writing a review because I was worried about doing this stunning book justice. The hype has been strong with this one and whilst THUG isn’t actually out in the UK yet, I came across it whilst on holiday in Singapore earlier this month (so technically I few halfway around the world to get my hands on it – dedication!) proceeded to grab it and devour it in a day or two. Also fair warning, this review is a bit of a long love letter…

Let’s start with the characters because that is easily one of my favourite things about this book. The protagonist, Starr Carter has one of the most compelling voices I’ve come across in YA fiction. There are points where she is speaking directly to us, the reader, and seriously it’s difficult to remember that she is a fictional character. Her personality is so colourful and she is searingly honest about how her life is divided in two: the Garden Heights Starr and the Williamson Starr but at the same time naive about what she is sacrificing by having it so. In this way, Starr is brilliantly realistic – she is hyper aware of reality but at the same time just wants to fit in and initially doesn’t want to rock the boat. I loved reading about her relationships with her friends and family, the conflict of feelings she experiences when she becomes witness to the worst crime, and also how she bravely finds her voice. 

Being two different people is so exhausting. I’ve taught myself to speak with two different voices and only say certain things around certain people. I’ve mastered it.

And Starr isn’t the only standout character. Every other character felt fully formed – not one of them felt like they were trotted on to depict ‘Label X’ and then shown the exit never to be seen again. Instead, all of the secondary characters were given backgrounds, page time, interaction with the protagonist and most importantly, an original voice. Khalil is a good example – his death is what sets off the chain of events that make up the plot. I wouldn’t be surprised if this character wasn’t fully formed, I mean it happens often enough in books. But not THUG, no siree.. Even though Khalil is ‘on screen’ for a couple of chapters, his presence is felt throughout the book and Thomas makes you care about him and want justice for him which contextualises Starr’s response to her experience.

The drug dealer. That’s how they see him. It doesn’t matter that he’s suspected of doing it. “Drug dealer” is louder than “suspected” will ever be.

The same goes for the other characters. They were all distinct and real – and honestly I would be happy to read a book where Kenya is the protagonist, or Maya, DeVante, Khalil, or even freaking Uncle Carlos. Because Thomas writes in such a way that makes you care – you want to know these characters intimately, you want to know their history, how they got to where they are. A shout out here to the portrayal of Starr’s parents. I’ve often complained about absent parent syndrome in YA but this is most certainly not the case in THUG – not only are the parents present but they are parenting hard. I really liked how realistic Mr and Ms Carter were, the latter’s past was always acknowledged but never glorified, and their own difficulties were also made clear; they might be parents but they are also people.

That’s the hate they’re giving to us, baby, a system designed against us. That Thug Life.

I also want to mention the setting. The contrast between Garden Heights and Williamson was stark but not overdone – everything about Thomas’ writing is very much show not tell. The deprivation of Garden Heights was clear but the sense of community in spite of this was palpable to me. It felt like a real neighbourhood, one with the entire spectrum from young to old, ordinary to eccentric. I loved how Thomas showed us the best, like when the community band together in times of need, as well as the worst, like the gangs and turf wars that tear it apart.

This is bigger than me and Khalil though. This is about Us, with a capital U; everybody who looks like us…

The crowning glory of The Hate U Give though is the subject of the novel – a shooting of black boy by a white policeman, something that is sadly all to common these days. Thomas deals with the topic so deftly, she puts the big questions to us, specifically, ‘just because a person isn’t a saint, is that enough to condemn him to death?’ Thomas takes the narrative beyond the usual black and white and lays out the grey for us. At no point does THUG shy away from the big issues it grapples with whether it’s police shootings, casual and institutionalised racism, social deprivation and crime etc.

That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us.

In short, The Hate U Give taught me A LOT. It’s difficult to overstate how much of a landmark this book is – both in the publishing world but also, personally to me as a person of colour. I became very conscious of the fact that I’ve ‘experienced’ casual racism, and how it’s important to confront it rather than excuse it for the sake of keeping things cordial because this only serves to normalise such behaviour. In case it’s not obvious, I ADORED this book and think it should be made into a required text! This is one of those times that the book not only deserves the hype but surpasses it. And if you needed further convincing, I’ve already got both my sisters to read it with very positive results! The Hate U Give is out on 6 April but I recommend having it on pre-order 😉

Have you read The Hate U Give already? Or have it on pre-order – if so what about THUG are you most looking forward to? Let me know in the comments below!!