Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Fallen, by Charlie Higson

I'm running out of ways to get across just how good this series is. I'm just blown away by the skill with which the simultaneous stories have been kept alive, even when two entire books can pass before the reader is reunited with a particular character. I love the way the chronology jumps around, posing questions then answering them, slowly revealing more pieces of the puzzle.

The Fallen, the fifth book in a series that will eventually have seven, sees the kids of the Natural History Museum teaming up with some new arrivals from the Holloway supermarket crews on a new and dangerous mission in the name of science. Maxie, Blue and their fighting crew arrive, fresh from their Palace escape just in time to rescue the inhabitants from an onslaught of grown ups. Suspicious of their impeccable timing and convenience, Justin, the leader of the museum asks them to earn his trust and prove their intentions by leading an expedition to find drugs over near the M4.
Together. they set off on an expedition to Heathrow to a business park that used to house a pharmaceutical company on a search for drugs, medicines and scientific equipment to aid their quest for a cure.

This book carries on the themes of scientific advancement and evolution from the last book as the remaining kids continue to learn more about the disease and start to recognise the evolving characteristics and behaviours of the adults. St. George and Shadowman are almost conspicuous by their absence, though we know they're out there somewhere, rampaging and observing respectively.

The narrative is kept to a pretty straightforward two in this book. We follow life in the Museum in the absence of the foraging party and the foragers on their ill-fated journey. Maxie stays behind with her friend Maeve and helps to re secure the museum and look after the younger kids. She becomes good friends with Brooke and demonstrates her skills as a fearless leader, little suspecting that there is a dangerously damaged (not to mention murderous) saboteur lurking on the rooftops of the Museum.  Meanwhile, Akkie, Blue, Mick and Ollie from the first book are leading the expedition party along with Einstein the chief scientist, his assistant and Lettis, a small girl dedicated to the recording of events. They're accompanied by an assortment of younger kids along for the ride and the glory, softened though they are by a year off the streets in the safety of the museum's galleries. Meanwhile Ed is out there in London, now with The Kid and Small Sam and a green fuzzed Grown Up in tow, attempting to come good on his promise to find Sam's sister Ella. A girl he has never even laid eyes on. He has to use the burgeoning information network that is beginning to become established across London to find his way. Maybe he'll even find out what happened to DogNut.

This is the first book that really starts to scrutinise the disease itself. If it really even is a disease. There's a whole host of revelations about its source and its effects, its escape from controlled environments so many years ago. Much of what's revealed in this book tallies up with Wormwood's ramblings from previous instalments-It's where Einstein and his scientists really start to learn what it is they're up against. There was a few chapters towards the middle of this book, specifically during the expedition to the Heathrow labs (where the adventurers see some of the disease's first hand effects) where I thought that this series had gotten away from Higson a little bit. It seems for a moment that it has escaped from gripping Survival Horror to full blown science fiction and for a while it seems it's just got too weird. But it quickly gets back on track. There's a time and place for normal and the apocalypse isn't it.

The Fallen starts to fill in some of the gaps that we were left with at the end of The Sacrifice. It starts to demystify much of the apparently delirious babble spouted by the mysteriously powerful Wormwood, the furry green adult that appears to have been domesticated by The Kid. His talk of parasites, jungles and The Green are clarified in a very Tod Browning-esque pop-up-theatre performance of the bizarrest kind. When two anomalies are telling the same story it sounds a lot more convincing- an adult that can speak and think and a bunch of mutant children that seem simply impossible can't both be lying about the same thing. As ever, the prose is pacey and electric- Higson strikes the perfect balance between getting across the bits you need to know without festooning it with unnecessary details. His decision to base the origins of the disease in science rather than the supernatural also wins him points from me. The Fallen raises the game really. The main groups of kids have been established (with a few odd-shaped additions in this case) and now all that's left is to bring their separate narratives together. The reader really gets the sense that things are heating up now. Some of the kids are starting to crack; they're turning on each other, losing their grip. The gaps between reality and the imaginary, between adult and child and human and inhuman are starting to disintegrate. As the kids start to gather information, to gain knowledge, there are more and more things that need explanations.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Sacrifice, by Charlie Higson

The Sacrifice, Charlie Higson, The EnemyThe Sacrifice is the fourth book in The Enemy series and we have a pretty established cast of characters by now. This breaks the pattern of the preceding books in the series in that it doesn’t introduce a new cast, instead the book begins to further develop those we have already met. This is where Higson has woven his web, now he’s beginning to pull the strands together. London, the World for what matters, is becoming smaller as contact is established between the groups. Community is reborn in a fashion. This book sees a watershed in the narrative where the focal point of the series ceases to be coming to terms and coping with the new world, instead shifting to making sense of it and the pursuit of answers.

This book focuses primarily on two related stories and on one apparently separate one. The Sacrifice continues the chronology, following immediately after the events of The Fear. It begins to look at the development and evolution of the adults and the disease that has changed them beyond recognition and turned the world upside down.

After being taken in at the Tower of London, the Kid and Small Sam are keen to get back on the road to the Natural History Museum in search of Ella, Sam’s sister from whom he has become separated. Nice guy Ed, star of the second book isn't keen to let them go as it would mean going through the No Go Zone and that’s just suicide. However, they slip away after encouragement and persuasion from Tish, a green-clad girl that Ed rescued from grownups. The three of them head off towards Kensington. Their journey and their eventual (unexpected) destination is one half of the main story, and we find out what some divergent characters from The Dead  have been getting up to for the last year.

Realising that they have put themselves in danger by leaving the tower and reluctant to lose any more kids after the disappearance of DogNut, Ed sets off with a small rescue party of loyal fighters to find Small Sam and The Kid. Stopping off at the Houses of Parliament, he discovers the existence of a sort of information exchange between settlements of kids and the hunters that destroy adults on a mercenary basis. It’s here he meets Nicola at Westminster and learns not only that DogNut passed through recently, but that Small Sam and his friend are not on their way to the museum at all, but have seen sighted near St. Paul’s Cathedral. He also learns of David’s settlement at the Palace and the expatriates that have fled his regime. Ed’s group’s pursuit of Sam and The Kid and their dramatic rescue make up the other side of the group-based story.

Separately, Shadowman has continued to track The Fear singlehandedly through London, observing them, learning their behaviour and gathering intelligence on them. The adults are beginning to display some signs of organisation- setting traps, using weapons, displaying a herd mentality- survival of the fittest. Naturally this disturbs Shadowman greatly. I really liked the accidental lapses in Shadowman, when he catches himself off guard almost feeling proud of The Fear, impressed by their strength and organisation. I'm increasingly intrigued about Shadowman’s character in general. Inherently mysterious, he’s obviously an incredible survivor, intelligent and resourceful and he’s demonstrated both a detached and hardened exterior and a surprisingly heroic side. He's a contradiction and an enigma. What intrigues me most is his peripheral nature. The main story wouldn't be hugely different without him, but the amount of time invested in his narrative makes him seem incredibly important. I look forward to seeing where Shadowman is going.

Another aspect of this book that really caught my imagination was the religious themes. Being a huge extremist, Mad Matt, Pope of the religion of The Lamb really has change to flex his crazy muscles in this book. His pomposity, his arrogance and his fundamentalism lead him to make some really dodgy decisions- decisions that are not seen only in Theocracy but in Military rule too. But I liked that the scared 14 year old showed through sometimes. It’s something not communicated very often- that religious extremists might have a scared and confused person inside that just wants someone to tell them to stop. Is it important that the two primary themes are evolution and religion in this book? Is that intentionally polarised? Is Wormwood, the monster living underneath St. Paul’s some kind of bridge between the two? I honestly can't wait to find out.

Not as character driven as the previous instalments of the series, The Sacrifice definitely gives the reader the sense that things are heating up. The adults are evolving, the settlements are all up to their necks in their own problems and conflicts. David is trying to take over the physical World, Matt the Spiritual one. The politics of power have remained dangerous and contaminating throughout. The kids are starting to ask questions about the disease, they’re starting to get a grip on the new world, establish an order, get things organised. But unfortunately so are their advisories. The adults in this fourth book are truly terrifying. They've stopped simply being gross and dangerous and have become eerie and uncanny, automatons in some cases. It’s just getting weirder. I'm continually baffled by the breadth of the narrative in this story and the skill with which the separate strands are all developed, reigned in then combined. To have so many plates spinning and to still leave the reader gagging for more is a pretty incredible feat. I'm sad already to have passed into the concluding half of the series. Two more books to go!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell, Fanfiction
18 year old Cath is one half of twins. Stuck together for their whole lives, her sister Wren is her best friend- though she is more outgoing than Cath, more confident, flirtier, more popular and prettier (if that can be said of identical twins) they have always come as a package. When Cath and Wren start college, Cath assumes they will be living together, sharing a room as they always have. Wren drops a bombshell on her sister- they won't be rooming together. Wren wants to meet new people, go out, and have the "Real College Experience". Cath just wants to keep out of the way, get through her classes and write her wildly popular Simon Snow fanfiction from the comfort of her room.

The novel is told from Cath's perspective as she struggles to meet people, struggles to want to meet people really, and struggles to cope with her classes and her confusing, unmanageable skills as an author. She's a brilliant, lovely introvert that any "keeps themselves to themselves" person will not fail to relate to. She's not a random, quirky dream girl, nor a secret, untapped beauty. She's just a normal 18 year old that prefers her own company, worries about her mentally ill dad and experiences quite intense anxiety in social situations. Or changing circumstances. Or anything unfamiliar. Cath knows her anxiety is out of control- she won't even go to the dining hall- won't even look for it, for fear of being in the way, not knowing where to stand, doing it wrong. Her fear of appearing ridiculous dominates her behaviour and she escapes into her online persona, her elaborate and insanely popular stories about Simon Snow, a fictional boy wizard.

Cath is finally forced out of her Wren hangover by her fierce older roommate Raegan and her boyfriend/ex-boyfriend Levi, who become a constant presence in Cath's room and life. Raegan forces her to stop living on peanut butter and cereal bars and makes her go eat in the dining hall. She takes her to parties. Levi walks her home from the library, studies with her and gives her emergency rides into town. Gradually they start to chip away at Cath's loneliness and a real affection develops between the three of them.

I felt like I really understood Cath. Her awkwardness around boys (or humans generally), her assumption that everybody thinks she's weird. Her desire to be on her own with a book or her computer somewhere that she feels accepted. There are so many novels written about beautiful, outgoing hero types- it's about time we had some regular, introvert heroes that prove that it's your qualities as a person- kindness, understanding, patience, that make you important, not your bravery or your glamourous-ness. She represents every person that has ever felt abnormal for shunning company, or having a crap time at university. For every person that worried and fretted through "the best days of their life". Anybody that struggles to do the things that their peers find so easy, like socialising. Everybody that's ever had a passion that others don't understand.

The empathy and the emotion just ooze from the pages. It would be so easy for this book to veer into sickly, twee, fairy-tale romance, geeky-girl-bags-the-guy territory, but the sheer understanding in the author's voice stops that from happening. It's a story told with such fondness and wry humour that the reader can't help but root for Cath (and Levi) all the way. The book covers the awkwardness and the sheer exhilaration of early stage romances- I loved all the little details that Cath observes, her reactions to the minute and the overpowering. The book spends a lot of time thinking about the power of reading and the compulsion of some to write. It's a cathartic, liberating process for Cath, and reading is a shared, revealing experience. My absolute favourite scene was where Cath reads The Outsiders aloud to Levi- it's a book that means a lot to me. I even got goosebumps reading it second-hand through Cath. The idea that the shared experience of reading a powerful book together is the catalyst, the exact moment when two characters begin to fall in love is amazing.

Fangirl deals with so that is relevant to the lives of Young Adults- accepting that relationships change as you get older, the power of forgiveness, the fear of the unknown and the pressure to make new friends. Importantly, it also shows that growing up doesn’t have to mean growing out of the things you love, but it's learning how to develop a sense of balance for the future; that is the true life skill. I absolutely adored this book. Absolutely brilliant and would recommend it to anybody as a warm, funny and emotional coming-of-age story.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Fear, by Charlie Higson

The Fear, the Enemy, Charlie HigsonThe third part of Charlie Higson's The Enemy series sees the small, isolated pockets of survival beginning to forge links and communicate with one another, making allegiances and deals. The Fear marks the beginning of the rebuilding of something like a working society. Building a society doesn't happen overnight though, even when the social architects aren't being pursued and murdered by cannibalistic, disease rotten adults...

Ed and Dognut, a main and a peripheral character from the last book have created a safe haven at the Tower of London under the military guidance of Jordan Hordern, the War Game obsessive from the IW museum. Separated from the other half of the Bus/Imperial War groups in the Fire and the battle of Vauxhall Bridge, The Dead ended with them fleeing a group of Sickos by floating an abandoned pleasure cruiser across the Thames. Ed, who it turns out is something of a natural leader has looked after the group with Dognut as his friend and second in command.  A year after the blaze and the battle, Dognut is getting restless and beginning to wonder what happened to Brooke, Wiki, Justin and the rest of the group that managed to navigate the chaotic and panic stricken crush across Vauxhall Bridge.

Deciding that he wants to be some kind of hero and knowing that it will never happen as second in command at the Tower, Dognut launches an expedition to explore what remains of London and look for his friends. He takes along some of the other Tower kids that have become separated from friends or family. He also takes Courtney, whose real reason for setting out on this mission is her feelings for Dognut. Their journey takes them to various London landmarks turned settlements and their progress is watched closely by several often unobserved groups, some friendlier than others. It's clear though that there is some kind of news grapevine in the world- a way to exchange information.

Meanwhile, King David the dictator at the Palace has decided that in order to take over the whole of London, he needs allies and he needs fighters. David sends out the Jester, a couple of younger kids and Shadowman, a mysterious drifter to go and bring some new recruits back to the palace. A large chunk of the novel is dedicated to the wanderings of Shawdowman- his observations and discoveries about the Sickos that still roam the streets are neither heartening nor pleasant. David sets about getting his allies in his own way- mostly by making promises he has no intention of keeping.

This book really demonstrates the differences in the lifestyles chosen and maintained by various groups. There's the Houses of Parliament that elect a leader and vote on everything, the Natural History Museum that dedicate themselves to research and understanding, the Military set up at the Tower, Buckingham Palace that's run as a dictatorship and various renegade bands of savages and/or mercenary hunters. It's almost like London has become a tiny planet, a whole entity made up of small, independently ruled countries that need to cooperate that are subject to various differences in culture and management.

Taking place roughly at the same time as The Enemy the chronologies of both books collide so many of the events depicted in The Fear are quite familiar, we might just see it from a different angle or from the perspective of a different character. We find out more about the mysterious Jester, the patchwork coat kid that enticed the Waitrose group to Buckingham Palace. We find out who the silent girl in the infirmary at the Palace is and what she's been through. We find out more about the remaining adults and what they are evolving into inside and outside of the No Go Zone.

This third book continues to expand on the themes that have ran through the series; the corrupting influence of power, the disease of unchecked tyranny and gang mentality, the 'art' of politics and negotiation, the desire for power, dealing with loss, fear, guilt, responsibility. It truly is a brilliant story that provides loads to think about. There are definitely parallels with the real world, particularly the behaviour of previously ordinary people when they realise that nobody is watching, nobody is threatening to hold them to account. There are more brilliant characters, breath-taking prose and loads of suspense and as ever. 

Monday, 13 October 2014

The Dead, by Charlie Higson

The Dead, the Enemy, Charlie Higson
The second book in Higson's The Enemy series, The Dead takes place about a year prior to the first book, and focuses on the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of the horrific illness that turns previously normal adults into snarling, pus filled, cannibal zombies.

It starts with main characters and best friends Jack and Ed fighting off hoards of their former teachers at their secluded and exclusive boys' school. They're part of a group of surviving students holed up in one of the dormitories- after convincing their remaining group that it's not safe at school anymore, Ed and their friends set off for the countryside but Jack is determined to see his home again. On their not-as-straight-forward-as-they-would-like way out they rescue a second group of boys from the school chapel and gain a solitary girl, the French master's daughter Frederique. When the group are ambushed on the edge of town by a group of young, not-too-diseased adults, they sustain some pretty heavy losses and it all looks set to end for the boys. Even when it's life or death, Ed struggles with the idea of killing. He just can't seem to make himself do it. Fortunately for him, at the last second they're rescued by a coach driven by what seems like a healthy adult. Seeing strength in numbers, the group team up with the coach's inhabitants; a couple of primary aged kids, three attitude-heavy rude-girls and a couple of older kids. The stay for the safety and for the ride but it all goes quite spectacularly wrong for their driver.

The Dead populates the familiar tourist attractions of London with more settlements of kids- mostly in this instalment the Imperial War Museum. Where better to hole up during a Zombie apocalypse than in a building dedicated to warfare and weaponry? I loved how meticulously researched the museum sections are the references to the particular exhibits and galleries added more than the necessary detail and authenticity to the book and it really ensured that London played its part properly. The Oval and the Arsenal stadium also feature a little. This second part of the series also introduced environmental dangers- it's been a long time since fire was able to rage completely out of control but that's the reality now for these kids, and being burnt to death is no more pleasant than being eaten alive.

For the first half of the novel I still considered the cast of The Enemy to be the main characters and was waiting for this bunch to meet up with them. However, as the story progresses Ed, Jack, Frederique and the rest developed brilliantly and hacked out their own corner of the story, their own roles and their own share of the reader's concern. I liked how different best mates Ed and Jack were; one insecure about his appearance (due to his birthmark) but brave; a natural leader. Ed is good looking but struggles with the idea that he might be a coward and afraid he's not a survivor. Their difference, opposing reactions, opinions and coping strategies create loads of friction that kept them unpredictable and dangerous. I really liked the character of Chris Marker in this book. One of the original dormitory boys, he's always reading, even during an attack. He takes charge of the museum's library and starts thinking about what is surely one of the most important (if not entirely practical) questions; if the World is crashing down and society has collapsed, who is preserving and protecting the accumulated sum of human knowledge? Surely without this knowledge any future civilisation starts at year nought. That's a loooong walk down the road of progress before you get Internet again.

This book does a brilliant job of filling in the gaps left in the story of The Enemy and creating a richer, more complex and infinitely more dangerous world. Though for the most part the narrative follows a completely different cast of characters in similar but definitely different scenarios, there are a few individuals that cross over from the pages of the first book. I love the feeling of that sudden burst of understanding when you as a reader put two and two together and join up the dots. We learn more about David King, knowing that he will eventually become the little dictator in charge of Buckingham Palace. We learn the origin of St. George, the dangerously intelligent grown up that led the siege on the Waitrose supermarket in the first book. We can see Higson expertly pulling the strings of his world, revealing links and connections between the scattered bands of kids and their increasingly decayed assailants.

In all honesty, I can't praise these books enough. So far this series is genuinely tense, it's properly chilling and there's no heroic immunity. Higson will and does kill off a main character every now and again. Being central does not make you safe. The quality of the prose is brilliant. Unnecessarily brilliant. It's already full of bum-clenching tension, gore, anarchy, tyranny and brutality; there is absolutely no need for it to be skilfully and intricately written. But it is. The imagery is second to none and the keenness and accuracy with which the streets of London are rendered is pretty amazing. Higson seems to have a really good understanding of how people (kids especially) tick. He knows what scares them, what motivates them, how far people will go to get what they want. He sort of sneakily raises questions about power and government, about how those that seek power almost always turn out to be inherently evil and that those who have responsibility thrust upon them against their will are always better, fairer, more beloved leaders. The idea of religion and its value/lack of value in real everyday survival is raised in this book too. It's possible that Small Sam, snatched by the grown ups in the first book is about to become a God...

Brilliant. I've bought the rest of the series- I need to see how the big arcs pan out.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Gone, by Michael Grant

Gone, Michael Grant
On an ordinary day in November, every resident of Perdito Beach over the age of 15 vanishes. Poof- into thin air. The students at Perdito Beach middle school don't know what to make of it initially. One minute their teacher is talking about the Civil War, the next the chalk is falling through the empty air and he's gone without a trace.

It's the different reactions to this brave new world that drive the story. How do 14 year olds cope when they're given the reins? To some the reality of a world without adults means unrestricted fun, every kid for themselves and no responsibility. To some it's a death knell; with no police, teachers or grown-ups the tyranny of 14 year olds is unstoppable. To protagonist Sam Temple it means that everybody is looking to him to sort it out, to lead, to make decisions and tell everyone it's going to be okay. Just because of the one heroic thing he did once, the rest of the town looks to him for answers.

When Perdito Beach is suddenly taken over by the charismatic and smooth talking Coates Academy student Caine Soren, social order quickly starts to disintegrate. To begin with he assigns jobs, looks like he's the guy to keep Perdito Beach ticking over until the grown ups return. But as the hours tick by, Caine reveals his paranoid, power hungry self, and it becomes clear that the supernatural powers that some of the teens are starting to develop are going to land them in grave danger. Caine cannot have challenges to his authority and the Perdito Beach kids (even the Coates kids) are either with him or against him.

When Sam discovers that the town is encased in an impenetrable electrified barrier, he has to ignore his impulse to run and take his rightful place as the leader of the resistance. With his group of friends turned fugitives, Sam, Quinn, Eldilio and Astrid the Genius (along with her severely autistic younger brother, Little Pete) have got to find the cause of the FAYZ, the origin of the strange mutations that seem to be giving them mysterious and dangerous powers and stop Caine's reign of cruelty and terror.

What I liked most about this book was its sheer accessibility. There are no long sections of description, no philosophising and no extra baggage weighing down the plot. It's fast paced, relatable and full of realistic, funny characters that act in ways that are both believable and understandable. It's proof that you don't need to make things complicated to produce a breathless, exciting story. Each chapter begins with a countdown until Sam turns 15 and "poofs". Throughout the whole book, there's a frantic, desperate feel that genuinely prevents the reader from putting the book down. Its pace is kind of phenomenal.

I loved how relatable the kids in the book were. The panic, the fooling around, the sarcasm all felt completely genuine. The 'bro' relationships and the sometimes tense, sometimes inseparable links that that sort of friendship means. The potential for good and evil that exists in everybody was really well realised and the author did an excellent job of showing how the characters found out what type of person they were in the heat of the moment; hero or coward, leader or follower, traitor or ally. I loved how the characters struggled with themselves when their true self was revealed trough their extreme circumstances. It's not until your mettle is tested that you really know who you are.

In summary then Gone is an exciting and frantic action story that looks at how people cope with extreme situations, how they manage to rise to the challenge or disappear under the pressure. The book looks at the behaviour of bullies and of heroes and how gang mentality works in the face of a situation that seems to have very few real consequences. It looks at how far some people will go to get what they want and how far some people will go to do what is right. There are some giggles, some really good characters and lots of really authentic 'best mate in crisis' dialogue. Fans of Alex Rider and The Enemy would love it. It's basically Under the Dome meets Lord of the Flies. But with X-Men style mutations...

Friday, 3 October 2014

Sisters, by Raina Telgemeier

Sisters, Graphic Novels, Raina Telgemeier
It’s the summer before high school and illustrator slash protagonist Raina is stuck between a fidgety little brother and a moody younger sister in a rundown old van with no air conditioning. Raina and her family, minus dad, are on a weeklong road trip from their home in San Francisco to a family reunion in Colorado. Dad is flying to meet them later in the week. As with all hot, small spaced based scenarios, tempers rise with the temperature. Though they have their artistic talent in common, Raina and her little sister, Amara, argue over everything. Living in a cramped apartment doesn't make their differences any easier and there is almost always some huge drama in the home- pet based, space based, art based...

The book jumps backwards and forwards, showing the road trip and the reunion in the present and some of Raina’s past memories, mostly revealing in greater detail her love/hate relationship with her sister. She shows how desperately she wished for a sister when she was little and then what a disappointment (to her) it turned out to be when she got what she wished for. Their differences are made evident- Amara is a stubborn and fiercely individual nature lover, whilst Raina is a confused outcast that loves art and music.

The illustrator book's artwork is expressive, endearing and constructed almost entirely of images and dialogue. It’s effortlessly funny and endlessly relatable. Anybody that has (or is) a sister is going to find themselves nodding along in sooo many places. It shows the particularly contradictory nature of sistership: You can scream and yell at each other, demand punishments and seek revenge, but at the end of the day, differences notwithstanding you’ve always got each other’s backs.

Throughout the book, Raina spends a lot of time tuning out the noise of her everyday life. It is the 1990s after all and the Walkman is king. Music for Raina offers an escape from the chaos of her family and a break from the incessant chatter of her sister. But as the road trip turns homeward, it becomes clear that Amara, though younger, has got a better idea about what’s going on between their parents than Raina has, and Raina starts to pay more attention to what's going on around her.

Sisters is an absolutely mirror-perfect representation of family. It takes a closer look at difficult (and evolving) sibling relationships, the difficulty of facing challenges at home and what it means to be a family. I loved how the author brought reality into focus. In itself, the story is quite mundane. It's an ordinary picture of ordinary life, but the narrative is crafted with such love and skill that it becomes pretty extraordinary. There are themes of belonging and of being true to yourself, of love and forgiveness and patience, but it never really tries to hammer home a message in any way. It doesn't need to because I think any reader would 'get' this book.

I love that Sisters can be read by today's kids and they will relate to it. But it can also be read by people my age (mid/late 20s) and can be an absolute nostalgia fix. The battery Walkmans and trashy "girl's mags" are hilariously familiar and mobile phones and 3G are conspicuous by their absence. But it's not a story that's tied to the idea of being in a certain time; it's a story about being a family. Loved it- it's smart, funny and really endearing as well as being brilliantly structured and completely relatable. I love Graphic Novel autobiography.