New girl Toria Grand has been dragged away from her home and her friends to a festering seaside dump thanks to her dad's new job. Starting a new school on the first day of sixth form, she just want to get in, get on and get out, preferably to uni and away from Brompton on Sea. Resigned to stares and whispers, attempting to be innocuous, not saying anything weird and not coming across as Needy McDesperate, Toria soon finds herself adopted into a misfit bunch of the strange and the odd- Brompton's most colourful characters that dare to have some personality.
The narrative follows Toria through an incredibly eventful year of her life; through her first real boyfriend, her first sexual experiences, some really intense, unbreakable friendships, a tragedy that will full blown slay the reader and some impossibly tough decisions, much soul searching and a total identity meltdown. Some reviews have criticized this book for dealing with so many issues (anorexia, self harm, homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality, it flirts briefly with racism and alcoholism) in a way that seems unrealistic. I disagree completely. Some people's lives are straightforward, some people's more riddled with issues and hiccups and questions that aren't easily answered. I don't believe for a moment that James Dawson set out to write this book with a tick-list of issues to get through.
I really identified with Toria, even though I am supposed to be a proper grown up now. Everything from wondering why an established group of friends are hanging around with you...and are you actually friends or do they just tolerate you and are you actually accepted as part of the group obsessing and second guessing. Everything from being murdered from the feet up by a new pair of Docs to an annual re-read of Harry Potter- I get this girl. This is 17 year old me. Only without the green hair and weird pink pompom jacket. Actually scrap that, it's 27 year old me.
All of the Above is funny (so SO funny) relatable and incredibly endearing. I haven't encountered such a lovable and eclectic cast of characters for years. I loved them all; The Luna Lovegood-esque Daisy with her bushbaby eyes and funny cartoons; the fib-filled Beasley who will one day be handsome but right now has to deal with liking boys; pretentious his-and-hers hipsters Alice and Alex (admittedly the thinnest on the ground character wise); filthy mouthed fuscia haired Polly and her magnetic personality and beautiful boy-band dream boat Nico. Almost every single character felt real enough to have been part of my own school-days weirdo crew. AOTA reminded me of that moment when, as a teen you realise that all the grief you get from the popular kids and the hard gobby kids isn't because you're inherently weird, it's because you don't conform to their standards of ordinary and that's threatening to people that want to blend in and move with the herd. It's a while before you realise that you wouldn't have it any other way. It's so liberating and this book captures that so, so perfectly.
I absolutely loved this book. It will ruin you emotionally in all the best and worst ways and the whole entire spectrum of feels are in there. I loved how Toria's story is full of conflict and confusion but so fluid and natural at the same time. I love the idea that anybody, anywhere can fall in love with somebody of the same gender, much to their own surprise, as easily as the opposite that they've always gone for. It's very Willow Rosenberg (she says something about not liking women, just a woman in particular") I love that one of the characters points out that it's not about boys or girls or biology or who's got what, it's just hot people that are hot for different reasons. It's much better than the social norm, in many ways.
I have no doubt at all that the voice in JD's head is and has always been a teenage girl, because there is literally no other explanation for his uncanny ability to get inside the heads of teenage girls. I love the dialogue in his books- for one it's hilarious, but it's so incredibly authentic and natural, which is next to impossible to pull off. See also: Non Pratt for exceptional teen dialogue. He writes the conflict and the angst, and the being annoyed at yourself for being such a conflicted angsty cliché . The feeling of knowing that 6th form is coming to an end and you're staring over the edge of the unknown precipice into adulthood and it's probably the scariest, most unknowable mystery what's down there.
I like that it's so much more than a girl meets boy story. It's more than a new girl in school story. It's more than a coming of age story, or a "my friend died young" story or a story about finding out who you really are. I love that there's no ending, because when is there? Things change, they don't necessarily end. Most of all I loved Toria and how well she handled everything that adolescence threw at her. She followed her heart (how naff does that sound) and ended up happier and a better, more secure person for it. She was willing to shut her eyes and go for it and I admire that in a person.
TL:DR it's an amazing, funny, tragic story about teens and the things they have to deal with and my love and admiration for James Dawson knows no bounds.