Friday, May 28, 2010

Book Review: Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, by Gabrielle Zevin

Trailer for the Japanese film of Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, I only know about six words in Japanese (Ichi, ni, san, shi, konnichiwa, and moshimoshi - one, two, three, four, hello, and hello-on-the-phone) plus some titles, but it looks pretty.

When Naomi Porter wakes up in hospital, having fallen down the front steps of her high school, the last thing she remembers is James Larkin accompanying her in the ambulance, telling the staff that he was her boyfriend. She remembers nothing from the last four years, but she knows she isn't twelve any more, and James quickly tells her that he is not, in fact, her boyfriend. In fact, they aren't even friends. But Naomi doesn't remember any of her real friends. She doesn't remember her parents splitting up, or her half-sister, Chloe. She doesn't remember the meaning behind the songs her best friend, Will, puts on mix CDs for her. She can't remember why she liked her boyfriend Ace, why she chose any of her hobbies, or why she wrote about her weight and the food she ate in her diary.

But life must go on, and Naomi has to learn how to live as the girl she is now, and struggle against all the things that other people expect her to be - the same girl as before, an invalid, a mysterious blank slate. Naomi finds that she doesn't remember why she hates her mum and her dad's new girlfriend, Rosa Rivera - and when she finds out, she doesn't feel it. She doesn't want to work on the yearbook any more, she wants to join the drama group, and she wants to split up with Ace - and date James instead.

When I picked up this book I was intrigued by the memory-loss plotline, but having read and watched several fictional depictions of amnesia that just didn't ring true, I was prepared for the worst!.I am delighted to say that I was absorbed from start to finish - Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac is just stunning. It ticks all the boxes: avoiding cliché, making Naomi's amnesia believable, strong characterisation, poignant scenes, humour, moments of confusion and panic brilliantly captured, twists, turns, and an ending which isn't quite expected, but makes perfect sense. This was one of the precious few books that I read last year that I found hard to put down.

After reading it I had to rush out and read Gabrielle Zevin's other YA novel, Elsewhere, which I enjoyed but unfortunately not as much as I did Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac. I will give it a proper review of its own, but essentially my problem with Elsewhere was that it seemed to be pitched for younger readers, there wasn't anything wrong with it, the concept is fantastic, I just couldn't engage with it in the same way as I did with Memoirs. I wonder if I'll like Gabrielle Zevin's adult books better. The Japanese film adaptation of Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac is out now in Japan, entitled Dareka ga Watashi ni Kissu wo Shita, which means "Someone Kissed Me", fingers crossed it comes out here at some point!

You can read an excerpt from this book or listen to a clip from the audio book here.

The BookDepository

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Book Review: Green Fingers, by Paul May

Kate is not happy about moving to the countryside, leaving her friends behind, and having to start over at another new school, but she's just a kid, what can she do about it? She really wants her parents to be happy, but she finds reading so hard, and the teachers think she's stupid. Dad loves the new house, and insists he will be able to fix it up and make it into their ideal home, but he lacks the DIY skills and one disaster follows another. After much arguing, Mum decides she can't cope with it, and she is needed at work back in London, so she leaves.

Suddenly Kate realises that she has to do something. She has to try to learn to read and to make things better at school, and she also decides that she will do her bit towards making the new house a home and sort out the garden, which her Mum was attracted to when she first saw the house, but remains a mess. With the help of her new friends, Louise and her grandfather Walter, Kate plans to create a beautiful garden and save her family.

I read a lot of teen/YA fiction but I hadn't read any younger children's literature for a long time, and when I decided to read this short novel as it has similar themes to the YA book I am writing, I didn't expect to be absorbed by it. To my surprise I loved Green Fingers! The characterisation is great, lots of serious issues are explored but the tone is optimistic, and I kept turning the pages and cried at the end! Kate is a sympathetic, determined girl and I really enjoyed my time with her. It's nicely modern too - Kate's Mum has a job in the city that she loves, whilst her Dad works from home on his computer and takes care of the children.
I think it is just the right length, although I was sad to leave the characters and put the book down.

I think this book is aimed at 8-13 year old children, and it strikes me as a particularly good book for reading aloud. There are illustrations at the start of each section and chapter, these were drawn by Sian Bailey. Paul May has written seven other fiction books and seven non-fiction books for children, and on his website he says that Green Fingers is his favourite book. I would definitely recommend this to my own cousins!

The BookDepository

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Book Review: The Misfits, by James Howe

12-year-old overweight department store tie salesman Bobby Goodspeed and his best friends Skeezie (reformed school terror), Addie (tall, clever and female) and Joe (gay) have always been the outcasts at school. It's a situation they are all pretty accustomed to, but one day rebellious Addie brings up an idea at one of their Forum meetings: they should create a new party to run in the student elections. Things do not run as smoothly as she imagines, however, as she tries to convince the popular DuShawn Carter to run for president, and they have to go up against Brittney Hobson, who has been class president three times running. Bobby also has to deal with his relationship with his father, his co-worker Mr Kellerman, and his feelings for Kelsey, a girl in his class with a crush on Joe!

I had mixed feelings about this book. I felt it had a good, strong message - it inspired a national "No Name-Calling Week" in school in the USA - and I liked that it didn't go for the cheesy ending. I felt that Bobby was an interesting character, however, I thought that I would have liked to know more about the other members of the group and the school in general, and to see more of Bobby's emotions, it took a long time for me to feel emotionally "hooked" by the story. I think it's the type of story that would make a good film, being as focused as it is around one major event. However, there is a sequel, or 'companion', Totally Joe, from Joe's point of view (obviously), which I am looking forward to reading at some point.

I would recommend this book for 10-14 year olds, the writing isn't really sophisticated enough for older teens or adults, the message may seem a little forced to cynical minds.

The BookDepository

Monday, May 03, 2010

Book Review: Pretty Things, by Sarra Manning

'Indie-emo hybrid' Charlie has decided that he and his best friend, wannabe-footballer's wife-type Brie - who thinks Charlie should be her boyfriend and doesn't believe that he's gay - will be spending their summer avoiding boredom and trying to get the best roles in the play their drama workshop in Camden will be putting on. Daisy is a lesbian, serious about acting, and learning to express herself through art. Infamous heartbreaker Walker wants to be a film director and wants to find out what it's like to be an actor.

But Walker, having gotten on the bad side of Lavinia, is picked as the male lead. Brie is the female lead, and is terrified. She doesn't understand the play - but she does have an amazing memory. Daisy was hoping to get the lead but instead she has to play a character she hates, and spend time with Walker and Brie, both of whom she cannot stand. Charlie falls for Walker, but Walker likes Daisy, and it's not so much a love triangle as a huge great mess...

This book was a fun read, I did enjoy reading it, but I'm afraid that I didn't like it as much as the other books that I have read by Sarra Manning. It is told in alternating chapters by all of the four main characters - e.g. the first chapter has Charlie as the narrator, the second Daisy, and so on. I thought the characterisation suffered from this - I never really got to know any of the characters deeply, I felt I was learning only superficial things about them - especially in the cases of Charlie and Daisy. The story didn't have so much emotional impact, and I was disappointed as Sarra Manning's other novels have always hooked me emotionally. It also lacked a real twist, I could tell how things were going to work out quite a long way before the end. I don't normally mind this but I was hoping for one with this book for some reason! The characters are appealing and there are a few laughs, so I think it would make a good holiday/beach/plane journey read for anyone all the same.

The BookDepository

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Book Review: Diary of a Chav: Trainers V. Tiaras, by Grace Dent

So much for ramming the word iPod into every sentence since last June. On Christmas Day, fifteen-year-old Shiraz Bailey Wood is given a pink leather diary with a lock and the first book in the Diary of a Chav series begins.

It's a tough year for our pink-hoodie-and-gold-hoop-earring wearing heroine. It turns out Shiraz's best friend Carrie Draper actually got an iPod for Christmas, and has now decided that she wants a boyfriend. She plans to make Shiraz walk up and down the road with her until the boy she's got her eye on notices them. Shiraz's sister, Cava-Sue, now she's at college studying Drama, has stopped wearing tracksuits and has started wearing dresses and black eyeliner. At school, the Mayflower Academy - the Superchav Academy to the rest of Essex - new English teacher Ms Bracket keeps talking about how they should try to get some GCSEs. Shiraz doesn't think she needs any, she'll just get a job until she goes on Big Brother and becomes rich and famous, but the teachers say that's unlikely, and then, as if it couldn't get any worse, she has to go on work experience!

Trainers V. Tiaras is one of the funniest books I've read. I laughed several times just on the first page, and made several of my friends read the first few pages so they'd know what I was laughing at. After a few chapters, I wasn't giggling so regularly, but by then I was really into the story and liked the characters, so I finished the book within a couple of days. Grace Dent treats all her characters with generosity and creates realistic people out of the stereotypes. Shiraz is a character who is confident but aware of her own flaws, and I was cheering for her as she tries her best to sort her life out and keep her family together. There are five other books now in this series to follow on from this one, and I will definitely be checking them out.

I think adults will laugh as much as teenagers, and there are pop culture references in there that teens might miss but adults will probably get and vice versa. International readers may want to do a bit of preparatory googling to find out about the whole chav phenomenon.

Some people will say that the humour of Trainers V. Tiaras will date, however, The Funniest Two Books I Have Ever Ever Ever Read, French Letters: The Life and Loves of Miss Maxine Harrison and French Leave: Maxine Harrison Moves Out! by Eileen Fairweather (reviews for these forthcoming), were published in 1987 and 1996 respectively and reference Thatcherism and ordering clothes from catalogues. Remind me to re-read Trainers V. Tiaras in ten years and we'll see.

This series has been bestselling and Shiraz has attracted thousands of fans, some of whom refuse to believe she's not real! You can find out more about her, her author Grace Dent and all the books on the Shiraz Bailey Wood website.

The BookDepository


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