Thursday, 26 February 2015

The 100, by Kass Morgan

Following a Nuclear disaster (known afterwards as the Cataclysm) the remnants of the human race escaped the uninhabitable Earth for a new life in the stars. 90(ish) years later, a group of 100 juvenile criminals are being sent back to their deserted planet to explore and to determine whether or not it is now safe for re-settlement. Kind of like Wall-E, but with shady teens instead of adorable robots.

The inhabitants of the crumbling space colony live miserable lives governed by The Council- the judges, juries and executioners. They are divided into three sub crafts that are joined by bridges; Phoneix houses the social elite (scientists, doctors, politicians), Arcadia is the sort of middle class and Walden houses the families of the lowest social order. The population is strictly controlled as food, water, materials and oxygen are in low supply. The Council have taken to issuing incredibly harsh punishments on anybody they deem to have threatened to social order or the survival of the human race. Usually it's death. Life on the decaying space-city is becoming more and more unbearable and brutal.

The narrative follows several dispensable young convicts destined for Earth, whether they want to go or not. Clarke is a trainee doctor condemned for Treason- she's angry and she has secrets. Wells is the Councillor's son, who deliberately jeopardised the colony in order to ensure a one-way Earth trip. He feels guilty for landing Clarke, the girl he loves, in prison and has vowed to protect her. Glass escapes the Earth shuttle at the last minute, making a break for her boyfriend Luke- love's star crossed young dream. The last protagonist is Bellamy, a muscled hot-head who forces his way onto the mission to protect his little sister, Octavia.

The plot jumps back and forth, revealing the secrets of each character as they explain why they were confined and the circumstances of their arrest. And they do explain it. It's not slowly and naturally discovered over time through a well crafted structure- it's pure exposition. Massive chunks of flashback in each character's story- Here be Secrets. The narrative  moves around, showing the perspective of the four protagonists, but it's still told in the third person. I found that the tone and the style of the writing never really changed to suit the subject, so it was hard to tell at the beginning of each chapter who we were following. The third person style meant that there was no real character coming out of these sections as the reader never gets a proper insight into the characters' heads. We don;t get to hear the story told in their voices and that kind of bugged me- having to constantly check who I was following all the time.

I really, really like the concept of this novel. So the re-settlement of an abandoned Earth isn't a new idea, but sending out a bunch of condemned teens, alone and frightened, as the first scout group seemed to have loads of potential. I was anticipating a tense survival scenario full of drama, cavernous ruins of well-known landmarks, division and friction and themes about the nature of power and the responsibilities of leadership. The very elements that make Charlie Higson's The Enemy series so ridiculously compelling. Once the 100 get to Earth, there's a faintly Lord of the Flies-esque battle for power with some of the more Alpha lads, Clarke whizzes round patching people up and Bellamy struts around being muscly and bad tempered. Where the plot should have really picked up the pace- it just sort of fizzled out and became a flaccid love triangle dilemma for Medic Clarke. They marvel at the weather and the naff musical hyperbole reaches a deafening crechendo. See what I did there.

It is the beginning of a series, so the ending is left open. Well. To be honest there isn't an ending. The first book in most series' is self contained, but not this one. It's not the first of a trilogy, it's the first third of a story. I don't think I'll be bothering with the rest.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Girl at War, by Sara Nović

Girl at War is a powerful and brutal debut novel that tells the story of a young girl's coming of age and her struggle to make sense of her shattered identity. Everything- family, home, friendship, belonging- is touched and shaped by the Yugoslav wars, no matter how much peacetime elapses.

Beginning in Zagreb in 1991, narrator Ana Jurić is a cheeky, scampish 10-year-old, living with her parents and sickly baby sister in a small but love-filled apartment in Croatia's capital city. She spends her days furiously cycling with her best friend Luka (whom 10 year old Ana assumes she'll marry), playing football and generally being carefree and inquisitive. But 1991 is the year that civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, shattering Ana's blissful childhood. Normality is eroded by rationing, hunger, stories of 'fallen' towns and cities, air raids, snipers and sand bag walls. As unease begins to settle in amongst the different ethnicities in the neighbourhoods, suspicion and danger grows daily and Ana and her family need to take dramatic, dangerous risks just to have a chance of survival.

Skipping forward, the story picks up Ana's new life as a University student in 2001 New York. Witnessing 9/11 from Manhattan itself she's convinced that disaster and death will follow her forever. Despite passing for a legitimate American and having spent over half of her life in the States, America has never felt like home to her. Ana can never escape her memories of the war and the traumatic events of her past, no matter how much she tries to move on. She keeps secrets from her tutors, from her boyfriend and even from her sister, the sickly baby rescued by aid workers and raised almost entirely in the US. Struggling with her identity, coming from a country that no longer exists and having lived so long an outsider, Ana makes the decision to return to Croatia after a decade away hoping to feel a sense of home at last. She's craving answers- what happened to Luka? To her parents' friends? To her city? She lands  having never technically set foot in Croatia before, tasked with the impossibility of coming to terms with her nation's turbulent history and the events that splintered her childhood and destroyed her family years before. 

Jumping periodically between 1991 and 2001 and gradually filling in the horrifying gaps in Ana's life, Girl at War is a frank, generous and beautifully lyrical novel that shows how history makes irreparable impressions on an person, but does so in a way that isn't overly sentimental or sensational. The prose is gorgeous and it flows seamlessly; it's violently upfront in places, but glows with warmth and nostalgia in others. All through the novel the author really captures the confusion and the brutality of such a recent war, the fact that it was all televised too. It seems insane that such horrific war crimes could have been committed so recently, yet still be consigned to history. It's the year Beauty and the Beast came out for crying out loud.

I found the voice of Ana to be so compelling and I was just staggered by her continuous strength. As a child, she's a roguish, rough-and-tumble, barefooted Scout Finch type that really demonstrates the invincibility delusion of young children, as well as their adaptability. To Ana the war is barely a reality- yes it's altered her life somewhat, some people she knew have gone away to fight, but she normalises things quickly and just gets on with her life. Even when the most horrific things happen to her, she runs and she survives, doing what she needs to do. The brutality and the horror that she experiences is shocking, and the character's strength and bravery is unbelievable. Not because she's a hero or a savour of any type, she's not really exemplary in any way, but she's able to carry on which is remarkable. Nović does an incredible job of showing what effect war has on the anonymous civilian, the normal, everyday people that survive and have to live with their memories forever.

This is a brilliant, brilliant book- it's hard to believe that such accomplished writing can be from a debut novel. Whilst the story can't be described as enjoyable as such, it's absorbing and urgent and brilliantly told, and it's impossible to put down. It left me feeling quite guilty of knowing so little about a war that happened in my lifetime, and staggered by what survivors must have gone through.

Enormous thanks to Susan de Soissons @Savoy67 at Little, Brown Book Group for the review copy. 
Girl at War is out on the 21st on May 2015

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Ghost World, by Daniel Clowes

The problem with being relatively new to a medium is catching up on all the 'Cannon'. I think Ghost World is quite comfortably in that zone. It tells the story of two off-beat, intelligent and acidly sarcastic high-school friends who are languishing at home, not really knowing what to do next in that awkward phase where it feels like your childhood is over, but your exciting, exotic adult life seems kind of slow to get going. Sometimes it's too many options that freaks a person out, sometimes it's the lack of any options at all and sometimes it's the very idea of an important decision.

Enid Coleslaw is cynical and impulsive and best friend Rebecca Doppelmeyer is more mainstream; blonde and responsible, with less anger and resentment. Together they spend their empty days wandering around their anonymous American town full of strip malls, burger joints and record stores, slagging off popular culture and making fun of the people they encounter while contemplating what they will do with the rest of their lives. As the story begins, they are inseparable; they know all of each other's embarrassing stories, crushes and sexual encounters, all of each other's secrets and histories. They speak every day and depend on each other for support with pretty much everything. There's something incredibly self indulgent about them, a lack of attention to consequences and effects. It's a last fling with youth, and it's very bittersweet.

A love triangle of sorts emerges between the girls and their mutual friend Josh, an easygoing lad whom they enjoy teasing and sparring with. They both seem casually interested in him, but also playfully entertain the notion that they might be gay. For fun, if nothing else. Themes of identity are pretty important to the book. The idea that identity is flexible (Enid goes through many, many looks and claims to loathe herself) and that it can evolve over time. 

As the story unfolds Enid and Rebecca start to develop tensions over boys, ambitions and life in general and they drift apart. Enid thinks perhaps she'll go to college. Becky isn't sure. Everything that once seemed solid doesn't look so stable anymore. The friends struggle to build identities separate of one another, until the day that it finally happens and the intimacy they once shared is gone. 

The artwork is a really classic black, white and turquoise-y green that gives it a really stark appearance, but really helps to anonymise the town, to characterise the identity swapping Enid and create a really mundane world. It's not fussy and it allows the reader to focus on the characters and their lives.

It would be quite easy to dismiss Ghost World as being morbid or bitter, but I think there's something pretty universal about it that appeals, and not just to the ennui-leaden. It's about change, really. How inevitable change is and how confusing it is when it happens. Everybody has that friend that they thought they would be friends with forever, but who drifts off into obscurity, and that's really relatable. It's not an uplifting read, but it's clear that there's a future for them both, and potential. And that's about the best one can hope for.

Say Her Name, by James Dawson

A brilliant, spine-chilling take on the Bloody Mary-lives-in-the-mirror legend that is genuinely scary and ridiculously tense. This is the first James Dawson book I've read and I ordered the other two straight away and put the 3rd on pre-order. That's how good it was.

The novel starts 13 years ago with 15 year old Taylor Keane rattling around in her family home- just out of boarding school for the holidays. Alone in the house, she goes to investigate a persistent drip, drip, drip noise in the bathroom and is never seen again.

13 years later, Bobbie Rowe and her prestigious girls' boarding school friends have snuck some local boys in for Halloween and are sharing ghost stories in the hut at the end of the sports field. As ever, the legend of Bloody Mary comes up- they argue about the details, but they know that Mary was once a Piper's Hall lady like them, that she was a weird loner and seeing a boy from the village- and that she killed herself.

Out of her depth with the elite kids of the rich and famous, Bobbie keeps quiet, sticking to best mate Naya, the glamorous American, like glue. Bored by the same old stories and well aware of the illegality of the company, she wants nothing more than to go back to her room and finish off her book. So she's as surprised as anyone when she finds herself volunteering, along with local eye-candy Caine and Naya to prove to mean-girl Sadie that the legend is kid's stuff, nonsense. Saying "Bloody Mary" five times into a mirror, surrounded by candles at midnight cannot possibly summon Mary into the real world. It's kid's stuff.

Needless to say, Mary is very much a reality, leaving threatening notes for her three latest victims, visiting them in dreams, sharing her life and her misery. Haunting them, getting stronger and more dangerous as the days tick by, testing their sanity and their nerve to the limit. Pursued by an anguished and occasionally corporeal spirit, Naya, Bobbie and Caine are embroiled in a furious race against the clock to uncover the secrets surrounding Mary's disappearance in the 1950s in order to set her spirit free and hopefully to avoid meeting the same fate.

James Dawson is a ridiculously talented author- not only does he write realistic teens (more difficult than it seems), but he also treads an unbearably enigmatic line between benevolent misery and malevolent fury when it comes to the character of Mary. Is she a tragic, forsaken victim or a vengeful and merciless killer? The reader knows as much as Bobbie does, as she begins to dig into Mary's past. Her findings get creepier and creepier, and even though the reader is never sure how they should feel about Mary, it's clear she's pretty bloody terrifying.

I loved sassy, carefree Naya, she complimented Bobbie's logical, methodical investigation well. Bobbie and Caine are really relatable, easy to read characters- they're incredibly solid and really believable as regular teens against the world. They're so likable; half resigned to their early demise but still going all out to fight to the end. I liked how they switched between being goofy and flirty, then being annoyed with themselves for flirting in such a life or death crisis...then giggling about it. I loved how normal they were and how realistically they reacted to being in a paranormal, unchartered territory situation. Their dialogue and reactions were absolutely spot on, which I find I always look for in books for teens. When authors understand teens, it really comes across in their writing; their characters don't seem awkward or forced, there's no cringey slang or try-too-hard modernisms. I spend all day every day surrounded by teens so it's easy to catch out teen characters that don't really work.

Say Her Name is a credible combination of The Ring and a traditional ghost story slash detective tale, with added bullying issues, schoolyard politics and position-of-trust abuse thrown in. It's a breathless, tense and brilliantly pacy read that has an absolutely huge appeal. I loved the ending, which I don't want to give away...but the idea that doing the right thing, the thing that anybody in their right mind would consider the noble and brave thing, and it possibly turning out to be horrifically dangerous and wrong is terrifying.

Students ask me for horror books all the time, and much of the time I'm stumped, because they're often not actually anywhere near scary. I think this book is going to be getting checked out a lot in future. I'd definitely recommend it to horror film fans, or readers looking for a good supernatural chill.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Company of Ghosts, by Berlie Doherty

Talked out of running away from home and a new step-dad, Ellie finds herself agreeing to spend two weeks on a deserted, wild island off the coast of Scotland. Setting off with Morag, a girl she hardly knows from her Orchestra and Morag's family, Ellie is torn between excitement and worrying whether she is intruding.

When circumstances lead to Ellie and George, Morag's brother alighting on the island alone, two strangers begin to become friends. At first Ellie is unimpressed with the corrugated iron cottage, the lack of electricity or running water, the mice, the draughts...but as George shows her the island's secrets and hideaways, the lagoons, lighthouse and smuggler's cave, its wild beauty and mystery cast their spell on her. Before long she is an enamoured with Wild Island as he is. On the second day George nips across to the mainland to pick up supplies. He doesn't come back.

Marooned on the wild and hauntingly beautiful island, Ellie begins to believe she is going mad from loneliness- hearing sounds that aren't there, seeing shadows that can't exist and feeling icy kisses on her sleeping cheeks. For days she puts it down to isolation, tiredness, the wind, the sea...but after a while she cannot hope to ignore the presence of a ghostly young woman who seems to be trying to say something to her.

Ellie feels abandoned by her newly remarried mother and her estranged but beloved father who has moved hundreds of miles away- then she is literally abandoned by the family with whom she is supposed to be going away. I think a lot of readers will be able to relate to Ellie- her grief at the separation of her parents, her struggle to fit into her new life, how much she misses her dad and her frustration at not being able to express herself properly. I think the way that she keeps her head and remains rational, making the best of everything and trying to enjoy her own company are really admirable too.

The segments where Ellie wrote to her dad and drew, sketched and painted the landscapes, her surroundings and all the things she was discovering on her adventure really gave an insight into Ellie's character. She's incredibly brave, firstly, to be able to stare her fear in the face and to quash it by capturing it in paint or ink. She's sensitive and creative and her actions towards the end of the book shows how much she will risk to help someone.

The Company of Ghosts is a really accessible book- I think primary aged kids would even enjoy it. There's something really universal about a good ghost story, and this is full of sadness and intrigue and suspense. Towards the end a dual narrative emerges, the story of the ghost and her tragedy, that winds itself into the present day seamlessly. Also, because the ghost in this book is a tragic, benevolent spirit it removes any real horror from the equation. So no nightmares, no grisly murder victims wanting revenge etc...

It's a well constructed and pleasantly readable book, atmospheric and genuinely chilling in places- the revelation of the ruined shell of the boat, the Spectre  on the previously empty lagoon was brilliant. I liked the characters and the evolving relationship between Ellie and George, and the vivid descriptions of the island and its secrets. It's obviously written by somebody who has quite a mastery of language and plotting...but for me it lacked that little spark of special that makes a Carnegie candidate stand out from the crowd.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Rocket Girl, by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder

I think the story of this comic is that a teen NYPD cop from 2014, Dayoung Johansson needs to go back in time to the 1986 to sabotage/prevent a scientific breakthrough at Quintum Mechanics. If she's successful, her technologically advanced future world will cease to exist because the tech that the world is based upon will never have been invented. It should never have been invented. 2014 shouldn't look like it does. She doesn't seem massively fazed by her task of destroying everything she's ever known in life, but maybe that will come later.

A bit of a fish out of water, Dayoung needs to do some serious damage to Quintum Mechanics' R&D and avoid getting arrested by the 1986 police. There might even be time for a spot of damsel-in-distress rescuing and some superheroics. I loved the end couple of pages where Dayoung gets her 1980s outfit on and really digs in to life in the virtual stone age.

The style of the book is incredibly kinetic and the artists have created the movements of Rocket Girl's jetpack beautifully, the lights of New York (both overground, underground, present and future) whizzing by in a blur- but I found the pace and the movement kind of made the story hard to follow. In places the panels kind of jump around all over the place, all different shapes, sizes and orders and I had to go back in several places and re-read parts.

I found myself too noticing more and more the amount of open mouths in the artwork- and the more I noticed, the more I looked for, and the more I found, the more it irritated me. Totally irrationally, of course. Other than that, the artwork is gorgeous- moody blues and purples and I loved the contrast between 1986 and 2014 New York. Though 27 years have dramatically changed the appearance of the city, all its technology doesn't seem to have gone far to solving its social problems.

If I'm honest I don't think the story or the concept really grabbed me- I get that it's a vol 1, so things are only just getting started, but I'm not sure if I'd go looking for vol 2. I didn't really understand Dayoung as a character, so I struggled to warm to her really. A beautiful looking book, but I can't sat it's one of my favourites.

Trouble, by Non Pratt

Trouble is the story of 15 year old Hannah Sheppard, an ordinary year 11 girl that's currently grappling with physics and French, spending her weekends getting drunk with her mates at the park and flirting with anything that moves. Joining her as co-narrator is Aaron Tyler, the mysterious new boy who transfers, suspiciously, in the middle of his GCSEs to Hannah's school. He's promised his parents he'll try to make an effort to make friends and be normal, but he just wants to keep his head down and get through year 11. It's obvious he's running from something, but he hides his secrets well.

Hanna's normal teen life goes up in a haze of smoke when she finds herself pregnant, single and in quite a lot of trouble. An embarrassing situation for the daughter of a Family Planning Nurse. The book follows her through her pregnancy as she navigates the minefield of hormones, antenatal classes and English Language exams and learns some choice lessons about loyalty and friendship. Not least when Aaron, whom she has slowly been growing close and closer to, steps in and untruthfully declares himself the baby's father. Or "Her fake baby daddy", as Hannah likes to call him.

I loved seeing Hannah and Aaron's relationship develop- they're so different as people but both have such bravery and strength. They're incredibly compelling characters and it's evident from the start how much they need each other to battle through their teen years. They both have secrets that they're withholding, but it's not the mystery of these secrets that keeps the reader enthralled; it's the characters. The dual narrative is brilliant and works wonderfully. Each character has an identifiable voice and personality- you don't really needs the names or the use of a different font for each character as you can tell them apart easily. Hannah is sarcastic and chirpy (until she realises she is pregnant, obviously) when she becomes kind of nihilistically droll. Aaron's intelligence and heart show through his narration easily; he's wonderfully cynical and manages to be mature and naïve at the same time. He has a strength of character that is a joy to read and both of them genuinely made me laugh out loud. I loved just how recognisable and mundane their everyday dilemmas were; parents that care too much it seems like smothering, flaky mates, being too fat to retrieve your flip-flops...It's so easy to feel like you know these kids and you've either been there or are currently going through something similar.

An honourable mention has to go to the supporting cast too; supporting in every sense too in this case. Dirty Old Man Neville was a creation of comedy genius- it's nice to see that some of life's most valued and most trusted friends crop up in strange circumstances. Ivy, Hannah's nan was just the nicest and most supportive Nan ever; she held everything together the whole time. Little sis Lola was adorable too. Trouble proves that minor characters don't need to be cardboard cutouts. Hannah's family felt believably dysfunctional and flawed, and as characters they were incredibly well developed- just enough, choice details, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps with bits from their own families. Genius.

For me there were two main things that really stood out of this book- one is how dead-on the representation of teenagers is. It doesn't try too hard to be gritty or sexy, it's just normal. Teens reading this will instantly recognise pretty much all of the characters and a great many of the situations they find themselves in. Adult readers will just be glad they're not a teen anymore, because ugh. Like The Inbetweeners, this book shows that teens are not some mysterious, unknowable sub-species of adults, but they are quite often scared, usually under pressure from somewhere, insecure and bit lame sometimes. Pratt really nails the language and behaviour of real teens- it doesn't try too hard to use slang and texting or anything like that, which so often unravels a book- but the cringes, the cliques and the schoolyard politics are referenced enough to be real, but subtly enough that it's not actually about being a teen. It's about growing up and facing your responsibilities and that usually happens long after teen-dom. The other thing that I actively noticed whilst reading is the tightness of the structure. The prose never seems sparse, far from it, but there is no fat to be trimmed at all. The plotting is tight and punchy and never for a single moment does the reader wonder why this paragraph exists or why this character is mentioning this event, or what the point of this character is. There's no dead weight at all and I think for a debut novel that is pretty remarkable.

To sum up Trouble then; it's an incredibly tightly written, compelling story about making tough decisions and growing up instantly. There are some excellent, memorable characters and it's consistently (very) funny and moving. I loved Hannah and Aaron, loved how they developed and what they managed to do for each other- it's not a morality tale and it's not a fairy story either, it's a genuinely touching story about families and friends sticking together and being supportive.
 It's not by accident that it's been nominated for everything; the Branford Boase, the Carnegie Longlist, the YA Book prize either. Brilliant- I'd recommend to any readers over the age of 14 (because it's a bit sweary in places and a bit TMI in others- not unrealistically, but y'know. Some things you don't want to be explaining to a year 7...

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Only Ever Yours, by Louise O'Neill

Following the death of the ‘Old World’ due to rising sea levels and the resulting loss of land, society has rebuilt itself, dividing into ‘Zones’ ruled over by the Father. All naturally occurring citizens of Zones are men and boys- the women, or eves as they are now known, are bred and reared in a sinister and decaying school, before being divided at the age of 17 into three factions; the companions, prized ‘wives, but not quite’ chosen by the men, the concubines, for entertainment and pleasure, or the chastities, the teachers that rear the next generation of eves.

Combining the super-patriarchy emancipation of The Handmaid’s Tale with the Social Media justification fest of The Circle and the appearance based hierarchy of the Uglies series, Only Ever Yours is a pretty convincing, eerily familiar version of what’s to come. Here we see genetically engineered girls of the future bickering and backstabbing behind a fake smile, ruthlessly clawing their way to the top of the rankings by whatever means necessary in order to be at the top of the social pile.

freida, the narrator of the story is a 16th year eve, designed to the highest standards of beauty but told from her design date that there is room for Improvement. Starvation diets, endless hairstyles and wardrobe changes, manicures and gym sessions; a good eve exhibits self-control. They’re dosed up on sleep medication, have their weight controlled by kcal blockers and are kept under the watchful eyes of the chastities. The eves are told that thinking makes them ugly, that prettiness is practically next to godliness and being pleasant, willing and passive and above all desirable is the only thing that matters. The eves are publicly ranked online in order of beauty and behaviour and their only long term purpose is to produce sons and make their husbands happy, before being terminated at 40.

frieda has recently and inexplicably been dumped by her one true friend, the previously loyal, previously leader-board topping isabel. We never find out a huge amount about isabel, other than she has changed a lot over the last year, becoming withdrawn and opening herself up to ridicule and ruthless harassment from the other eves. Inseparable since childhood, frieda is hurt by the distance isabel suddenly places between them and out of loneliness and desperation, she throws herself into unwise and dangerous friendships with the other alpha girls, the top ten eves, including the queen bee and #1 ranking megan.

The School is a highly-pressurised hotbed of resentment, psychological torture and cloak and dagger social sabotage. Classes are no better; the eves take a weekly foto for their online rankings, parade their tanned limbs and tight torsos for each other’s scrutiny and are subjected to ruthless public comparisons between each other in class. The eves are encouraged to point out each other’s flaws and make suggestions for Improvement. The book really casts light on the feigned behaviour and the predatory instincts of the schoolyard; the constant “I don’t want to be judgemental but she’s really fat/ugly/pale etc”.

I really liked the ideas at the heart of this book- the power-hungry girls who will feign concern, encouragement and friendship one moment and then back-stab, twist the knife and post a video of it online. It caricatures an appearance-obsessed society that needs constant online attention to validate one’s existence. In many ways it’s an absolutely razor sharp satire of our modern obsessions with perfection, celebrities, online ego stroking and humble bragging. Any reader who has ever been to a school will identify with the social politics, the underhanded efforts to rise in the esteem of the big social players. Starting rumours, inviting confidences, fishing for secrets. Using information as currency. It’s done well, it really is. megan is like Regina George to the power of a trillion and she’s thrillingly evil, but she’s acting exactly how she has been conditioned. She’s either playing the game incredibly well or she really believes in the values of her society.

As sharp and as witty as the book’s message is, I found myself getting quite restless towards the third act. The Inheritants (the sons from the Eurozone) have come to sample and examine the eves that that they are to choose from…it goes on for a while- frieda seems to have a connection with the alpha male Darwin, son of one of the Euro-Zone’s most powerful men. As their relationship peaks, it’s not hard to guess where it’s going. Once it had dawned on me what lay ahead for her, I really wanted frieda to do something outrageous and to make some sort of active stand against her world; she’s proven herself to be defective in the eyes of society and I would've liked to have seen her fight back against that society more, rather than concede to it. She’s shown she’s no conformist, so why the change? The difference that she has is accidental and I wanted her to embrace her malfunction. I guess I found freida quite frustrating; she knew that her life was a game and she couldn't really decide if she wanted to play or not. I found her lack of conviction a bit disappointing. Maybe I'm too used to protagonists inciting a rebellion- so perhaps the ending was too subtle. It just seemed like there should have been more to the story.

Only Ever Yours is definitely a thought provoking book, certainly one to seek out if you enjoyed the Uglies Trilogy and the questions that raises about appearances and social worth. It’s like a modernisation of Stepford Wives, with a bit of Brave New World with the technological excess of the 21st century factored in. A good read, even if the pace is slightly off.