Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The State of Grace, by Rachel Lucas

The State of Grace is a ridiculously charming story about a teenager with Asperger's attempting to navigate being 15, something that's difficult enough at the best of times. Grace has to navigate first romances, perfect little sisters, mum's bitch best friend, absent fathers, not freaking out at school and generally exhausting herself by interacting with other humans and trying her absolute hardest to minimize her difference at school.

“Sometimes I feel like everyone else was handed a copy of the rules and mine got lost.”
Not trying to steal any thunder from the ASD community, but who hasn't felt like that at some time? Part of the reason why I loved this book is that it's just such a good coming of age story- of dealing with all the crap that happens when you're 15 and you're too young to do much about it but mature enough to know that there's nothing you can do; thus, angst and rage.

One of the biggest factors for me in whether or not I will like a contemporary is the voice of the protagonist. It's really hard to write authentic, believable dialogue spoken by teens who conceivably could exist in real life. Not a problem here at all- Grace is such a solid, likable, understandable girl, she's funny and believable and honest on the page in a way that offers readers a real insight into the realities, difficulties and triumphs of being a person with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

I think this is the first time I've read a contemporary novel with a) a girl MC with ASD b) A novel where an ASD character is not using their 'powers' to be some kind of detective and c) An autistic character with ROMANCE. So all kinds of goodness there.

So. 15 year old Grace lives near the sea in North-West of England who lives with her younger but more independent, confident and generally more capable sister Leah, her mum, and technically her dad too but he's often out on adventures being a wildlife cameraman. On his latest jaunt, things in Grace's life have started to come apart at the seams. Her mum has a horrible new best friend, Eve, who is exerting her bad influence in really damaging ways. Leah is falling in with the wrong crowd at school. Grace is being bullied by the usual suspects and is trying really, really, really hard to not let it get to her.

I loved that this book had at its centre a really solid female friendship. Anna has been Grace's best friend since primary school, much to Grace's wonder and surprise and she has been by her side most of her life, despite being clever and pretty and well liked. It's kind of heat breaking how convinced Grace is that Anna deserves better, how inevitable she feels it is that someone more deserving will come and take her away. But Anna is a doll and an absolute Model BFF and this is not a book about a rocky patch in a friendship, it's about exciting first kisses and first romances and sharing it all with Anna because Gabe Kowalski is the most popular boy at school and he is genuinely, definitely into Grace.

One of the book's greatest successes is placing the reader in the head of somebody with ASD. The overwhelming noises and smells, the feelings of inadequacy, not understanding people's meanings, not being able to show that you're listening or trying to find signals in the faces of others. It was a really illuminating reading experience- Grace is frequently frustrated that she cannot express herself well, that everybody else seems to find being human so easy and for her it is an almighty struggle. However, she never feels sorry for herself and she is never a victim. She has her friends, her horse Mabel; therapy and friend, and her interests, just like everyone else. She's really relateable. The book also makes the reader painfully aware of how autistic people are treated, that sort of casual, barely there ableism. People talking about her when she's in the room, that assumption that Grace is inherently a problem, the reason her mum doesn't work. Like I say, it was illuminating and very revealing.

I would absolutely recommend this to literally everyone. Not only is it an eye opener into the world and life experiences of others, but it's a funny, compelling and thoroughly enjoyable story about a wonderful friendship and the thrill and horror of first romances, of trying to get things right, making mistakes and learning life lessons. I honestly think it's one of the best contemporary romances I've read in years.

Fir, by Sharon Gosling

This book is a brilliant, YA combination of Stephen King's The Shining meets the terrifying, snowy, forest-gonna-get-you atmosphere of Until Dawn meets the houses have memories and will show you what they know of James Herbert's The Secret of Crickley Hall. But in Sweden, with a frosty side of conservation and Northern mythology thrown in too.

Firstly, the narrator of this book is just right up my street. Surly, un-affectionate, sarcastic- hello Swedish me. I don't think we ever find out the name of the narrator and once you've read this, you'll realise why that's significant and incidentally, super clever...

Anyway- the teen narrator and her parents move from their comfortable urban life in Stockholm to a remote tree plantation out in the far Northern wilderness of Sweden. Bought for a song from the previous owner when he abandoned the enterprise, Mom and Dad Stromberg are determined to make a fresh start in the lumber business. Their daughter is not exactly thrilled by the prospect and resents her parents for uprooting her. Right away, things aren't what they expect. For one there's an expedition of schoolkids out on a conservation trip with a woodsman named Tomas who warns the family off felling the old growth forest. Unmoved, the dad is determined to cut it down- this is a lumber plantation after all. Tomas takes the opportunity to take the Strombergs out into the Firs to show them the ancient woods and to attempt, in a vague, semi-supernatural fashion, to educate these townies about things that they don't understand. Unseasonable quantities of snow start to fall, cutting the Strombergs off from civilisation and forcing Tomas to cut the trip short, leaving the family with the creepy inherited housekeeper Dorothea.

Dorothea was amazing. Wizened, hunched, scuttling around like an omnipotent beetle, she is key to unlocking the plantation's secrets. Thoroughly unpleasant and filled with superstition, the narrator is constantly hindered and sabotaged by Dorothea as she turns detective, attempting to piece together the plantation's recent and more forgotten history- Polaroids in the desk drawers, ledgers in the study. They tell of accidents, fires, mysterious disappearances going back over the decades. Dorothea has been here through it all and must know what's out there.

I loved the atmosphere of the plantation and its surroundings, particularly the forest; it's one part sinister, one part magic and one part self-preservation- it feels like it has the right to protect itself. There is something fascinatingly primeval about old, old woodlands- who knows what forgotten things still linger there. The trees whisper to one another in between the chapters, demanding what is owed them, threatening and waiting. There are shadows in the forest and they are closing in.

I loved the family dynamics of the book- frayed somewhat by the upheaval from the beginning and going downhill from there. Shortly after the narrator starts to think she sees things, wolves, children, moving in the trees- resentment and tension continues to build between her and the parents that don't believe her. Is the isolation getting to them? Or is there really something supernatural in the snow? There's blood and footprints, teeth, claws and a gusty, windy song that seems to stir the branches. The dad tries to blindly continue with his plan, the mum gets more and more manic and deranged, talking to a ghostly boy. It all adds to the horror and unreality, all contributing to the atmosphere, constantly forcing the reader to decide what's real and what isn't. I bloody love an unreliable narrator and a shaky, is-this-the-real-life foundation of a supernatural or maybe not story.

The narrator's story closes with a grim discovery, a narrow escape and all the plantation's secrets exposed- the parents are satisfied that this is a mistake, they're going back to Stockholm and what a stupid idea this all was. But that's not where the book ends. The appendix blows the whole thing wide open- it's a glorious twist at the end that utterly chills the reader and leaves you demanding to know what happened. What happened in the hours after the narrator's story ended? What happened to Dorothea? WAS IT ALL REAL?? I am normally in two minds about open, mysterious endings like this, but Fir left me reeling.

A thoroughly satisfying, creepy, atmospheric chiller for readers that loved Say Her Name by Juno Dawson, haunted house narratives and anything involving obscure mythology and/or the oppressive darkness of the Scandinavian winter. I will definitely be seeking out more of Tiger Stripes' Red Eye chillers and cannot recommend this enough.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry

I think I went into this expecting the wrong thing, but I stayed for the beautiful prose, the incredibly well created Victorian setting and the infuriating characters. My problem normally with historical fiction, 19th century set specifically, is that the creation of the world is so flimsy and artificial, it's usually just best to read some actual Dickens or Wilkie Collins. The Essex Serpent, however, builds an England of the 1890s that is both authentic and subtle, its ambiance and characters seem believable and fit beautifully into the world. The prose was simply gorgeous, and that's what kept me reading.

Following the death of her abusive but somehow still loved husband, intelligent young widow Cora Seaborne discards the shackles and corsetry of London society and departs for marshy, coastal Essex. Cora departs, accompanied by her oddly independent and (to us) obviously ASD 11 year old son and his nanny/her companion Martha. 

Exploring the local area and enjoying her new freedom, Cora's peaceful period of recuperation is forgotten when she discovers a local rumour; a mythical, fearsome serpent engaged in a murderous rampage further up the estuary. The villagers are adamant that the serpent is to blame for a string of recent deaths and disappearances and that it represents a divine judgement upon them. A keen natural historian and Mary Anning superfan,Cora is determined to learn more and so departs from Colchester to Aldwinter to stay with the local Priest William Ransome, a friend of the dandy philanthropist Charles Ambrose. Cora is determined to discover the serpent, but William is resolutely convinced that it does not exist- a superstition of the locals and nonsense. Their burgeoning friendship is an unlikely contrast of faith and belief versus logic and reason from unlikely and contradicting angles. Naturally, they are attracted via their very oppositeness.

William has a radiantly consumptive wife, obsessed with the colour blue, and an interchangeable line up of children- his daughter Joanna is the only one really developed as she dabbles with witchcraft early on and is caught up in a The Falling esque collective fit of hysteria at school. He and Cora develop an odd relationship founded on mutual respect, a love of lively conversation and a burning desire that apparently lay undetected in either for an unlikely period of time.

I mostly liked the novel's collection of secondary characters and felt on the whole they were meticulously created and arranged, despite many of them having no proper function. I liked Banks, the Prophet of Doom and spearer of moles, he was such an odd, rural weirdo and brilliant touch of local superstitious colour. I liked the impish, gifted surgeon Dr. Luke Garrett, utterly and hopelessly in love with Cora, but I found her treatment of him pretty damning. Of course she has every right to not return his love, but she teases him and leads him on so much, his anguish was obvious and I sympathized with him enormously. His loss of his surgical gift is a tragedy- the book explores certain medical advancements of the late 19th century with a healthy mixture of wonder, suspicion and disbelief. Garratt's friend and colleague Spencer, doctor and philanthropist was a charming and endearing character, hopelessly rich and with no idea what to do with his money. I loved how Social Justice Warrior Martha managed to turn him onto the cause of poverty and slum clearance- she too knew he was in love with her, but dealt with it in a much more upfront, commendable and ultimately more effective manner.

I wasn't keen on Cora. She was a huge tease, exploiter of people's good natures and not a particularly attentive parent. She was jealous, flighty and rarely considered the feelings of others or the consequences of her actions. She was always described as "striking" despite her mannish clothes, which I read as "beautiful but doesn't know it". Yes she's curious, unorthodox and progressive, but I just couldn't warm to her. Martha, on the other hand, was an absolute queen. Slightly snide, upfront, getting stuff done, campaigning for what she believes in and fighting for change. I liked her suggestion that firm friendship and camaraderie were much more valuable and rewarding than romantic relationships. Go Martha. Speaking of Martha, I really liked the book's stance on contemporary social issues; the idea of the "deserving poor" will be so familiar to readers it's almost satire (Don't give the underclasses anything nice, they'll only break it or sell it for fags/booze/sky TV/tattoos)

Personally, I think the hype might have killed this for me- I think I went into it with the wrong expectations. I was looking for something wildly atmospheric, chilling and with either the Gothic supernatural of Frankenstein or the satisfyingly corporeal "case closed but what a ride" of The Hound of the Baskervilles. I think this just wasn't for me...

The Essex Serpent is undoubtedly a beautifully written, incredibly competent novel, filled with interesting characters with vivid personalities, progressive attitudes and suitably Victorian flavours, but one that ultimately left me disappointed. I wanted an eerie, haunting, atmospheric tale- unreliable narrators and was it real or was it all in the mind...There are sub-plots about unrequited love, social justice, the advancement of medicine, women's rights and superstition, but it lacks a of main course. Other readers evidently adore it and I'm glad it has been a roaring success, but unfortunately I can't fully count myself among its many admirers.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Graces, by Laura Eve

I went into this thinking it would be the school royalty vibe of Mean Girls mixed with the funny but also serious but mostly really about relationships paranormal goodness of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But it's not. It's hard to say whether this book takes itself too seriously, or whether all its characters do. Both, possibly. It's slow. It's super emo. It thinks it's dark and deep and poetic but it's just plain pretentious. The repetition of coal black, coal bright made me irrationally angry.

River- not her real name, moves to a small coastal town after the sudden and mysterious disappearance of her dad. Her mum is so absent she might as well not exist, so let's not dwell. River quickly learns that resident within the town are a family, the Graces, with whom the entire population are obsessed. They are super attractive, glamourous, rich and rumored to be witches; two twins and a younger sister.
Fenrir: fit, smells of manly vanilla, everybody is in love with him and his luminous glow of buffness.
Talia: his twin. All incense, windchimes and headscarfs and floor length skirts.
Summer: younger sister. Attitude, black everything, too cool.

They are insular and private and never have any long term friends, never have anybody over to their giant mansion and don't invite friends to their parties so River is very surprised to be adopted into their clan. She becomes very close to the Graces, convincing herself that if she acts right, says the right thing and shows the appropriate amount of interest in magic she can become like them, thus solving all of her parental and poverty problems. There's some chanting and herbs, and the three Grace siblings all have different attitudes to the magic that may or may not be real. This book really lacks atmosphere.

River then, the narrator. I did not like her. She is a standard out-for-reinvention protagonist that's 'not like other girls' because she's so unique and different and she wants to get to know the *real* Graces, not the glamourous, mysterious witchy ones. Joke- that's exactly what she wants, but has calculated that the best way to go about it is to carefully curate her behaviour , opinions and action to seem like a genuine, interesting, unique person. Also- 'not like other girls' girls can just stop happening already, there are an infinite variety of girls.

However, an unlikable main character does not necessarily make a book bad. She is (naturally) obsessed with Fenrir, but hides it well. So well everyone feels betrayed when it comes to light. Her every action, thought and verbalisation is calculated to appeal to the Graces, to seem cool, different and fascinating. We are subjected to a constant inner monologue of her second guessing every action, an analysis of how well she performed in every encounter or conversation. She is insecure and naive, and the Graces like her because they believe her to be the carefully constructed role she plays. I'm not saying there aren't people like that; there most certainly are, but when you combine a drab, neurotic narrator with three other irritating, pretentious hipster characters, add very little plot- it does not end up as an enjoyable read. The writing is by no means bad, that's what's so annoying. There's obviously talent there, but I felt that this book did not showcase it well.

I liked Wolf, the Eastern European cousin, but he doesn't feature enormously. He is honestly the only character I felt even remotely interested in. He is the individual around which most of the book's plot (what amount there is) focuses around when it attempts to become mysterious.

I was expecting a big twist at the end but was very disappointed. Not just because I saw the switch-a-roo that-explains-all-the-stuff coming, but the outing LGBT* relationships and characters as a plot device left a very nasty taste in my mouth. It's not a plot device. It's just not. Even annoying characters deserve better than that.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Riverkeep, by Martin Stewart

A coming-of-age, fantasy adventure in a magical, Scotland-infused world swimming with threats and danger, magic, wonder and myth. We follow Wulliam, son of the Riverkeep and soon to be Riverheep himself, who embarks on a dangerous downriver journey to save his beloved Pappa when he becomes possessed by a river spirit. The Riverkeep’s job is to tend the river, keeping the waterways free of ice in the winter and removing and administering to the dead when they are found. Abandoning his post at the river and letting it freeze over for the first time in centuries, Wull’s only hope is to get his father to the sea, then, somehow hunt down and kill a legendary water monster whose bodily tissues and fluids are said to have healing properties and other restorative powers.

Along the river, Wull, for whom time is of the essence, meets and reluctantly accumulates some hangers on. First is Mix, a sprightly, chipper girl that has a gift for thievery and seems very easy to like. Then Tillinghast, a man who is made of straw, herbs, skin and consciousness that provides most of the comic relief with some oddly placed knob jokes. Then there’s Remedie, an on-the-run witch lady, prim and proper, cradling her strange, wooden baby. They're a motley crew, taking up too much space in bäta, a kind of (possibly semi-sentient) ceremonial rowing boat with eyes.

As they make their way down the river, far beyond Wull’s usual territory, the characters encounter various obstacles, fights, deadly creatures and other hostiles. They are forced to depend on the unique skills of one another for survival. Mr Pent and Mr Rigby, the duo of hitmen employed by the snivelling Mr Rigby reminded me of Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar from Neverwhere, a book whose influence on this one is evident. (Reluctant, slacker hero; impish girl sidekick; impossible quest to slay a mythical beast; grotesque brutish hitmen; verbose conman with certain, post demise talents- I realise Neverwhere is basically the Odyssey, yes, but the similarities are too many to not be noticed).

I felt this book left a lot of unanswered questions. Why didn’t Mix eat? What were those tattoos? How did the Mormorach’s first victim’s face get all that way up river from the estuary? What happened to Bonn, Remedie and Mix? What was the Mandrake all about? What will Wull do now? Should he get some more whale oil while he’s in the city?

This was a strange read for me. I was very aware of the writing throughout- it’s a style that forces the reader to notice; very heavy on the metaphors and the mysterious, unexpected imagery. Riverkeep’s prose is very thick and gloopy, the world-specific dialogue swamping the reader. I found myself frequently putting this book down just for a bit of a breather and respite from the constant, somewhat domineering language. I’m not sure who this book is written for to be honest. I don’t think younger readers will persevere with the overwhelming language, the slow (but effective) world building and the gentle pace of the adventure. There are episodes of action and violence, but they are spread thinly throughout a 350+ page novel. I don’t think many readers will have the stamina to get very far with this. Tillinghast’s saucy Carry On-esque comments might raise an eyebrow or two, but they are so buried in the molasses of the prose that I’m  not sure they would be understood.

As interesting as the premise sounded, and as richly gifted in imagination and prose as Stewart unquestionably is, this one was not for me. If it had not been for the fact that it was shortlisted for the YA book prize, I think I would have DNF’d. Sorry. I am delighted that a high fantasy (of the non elf and dragon variety) has made it on to the YA book prize list, and I wish debut novelist Martin Stewart nothing but good luck and success with his subsequent novels, but Riverkeep did not turn me into a fantasy reader.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Chasing the Stars, by Malorie Blackman

Oh dear. I full blown love you, Malorie Blackman, but this was not good. I had heard the premise of this book at YALC last year- a super modern, feisty femaled, gender swapped Othello in space. Sounds good, right? Then it made it to the YA Book Prize shortlist and I was all WOOO! Sci-Fi on prize lists! Shut the air lock door! But then I read it and was so disappointed.

So Vee and Aidan are the sole crew of the Earth ship Aidan. Their parents and the rest of the crew were killed by a sudden, mysterious virus and the twins are on their Earthbound journey when Vee recklessly launches a rescue mission to a previously uninhabited planet that is currently under attack from Mazons, a bitter xenophobic alien race. After a daring, risky rescue, 22 survivors are snatched aboard. Tensions are high as Vee and Aidan realise they have just filled their ship with strangers capable of who knows what, and they have to adapt to being around people again after 3 years of solitude. Vee gets to know some of the refugees, sparking a connection with broody hunk Nathan quite early on. All goes well for a time, but the new crew members, just as they are adjusting to the prospect of freedom and sanctuary, begin to be picked off in a series of very puzzling 'accidents'.

The story is told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of Vee and Nathan. Sometimes this really, really works (see: Trouble, by Non Pratt; We Come Apart, by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan) but in this instance I struggled very hard to distinguish the voices. Despite the separate fonts, I still had to constantly check who was speaking because the voices were not particularly strong. Sometimes I had the wrong character entirely and then got thrown some anomalous context that made me realise I'd gone didn't make for a very fluid reading experience. I found both characters to be incredibly annoying, self absorbed, untrustworthy and untrusting to the point of mania and just so consistently clueless. They would always say one thing, then do another. "Let's keep our relationship secret" then they flirt outrageously and drop saucy comments and double entendres in front of the other crew, confident they are above notice. Vee constantly tells herself that she trusts Nate, then acts like he's the shiftiest guy ever. Or she's the most suspicious person ever. There's occasional hiding things from each other with good intentions, misinterpretation and then overblown falling out about it. The guessing. The second guessing. Nathan seemed emotionally manipulative, flip-flopping between simpering suck up and bitter, petulant child. He might also be a sex addict. Vee completely let him steal her agency and independence, which it is possible to retain, no matter how head over heels in love one claims to be.

I really liked the plot's parallels to the Underground Railroad and the introduction of info about the work of the Resistance towards the end. Early on, the book reveals a very divided society, made up of 'Elites' and 'drones'. The latter are an abused, subjugated underclass, consigned to backbreaking labour in jobs too deadly and places too remote to send regular people. The slavery parallels are obvious, but it's also a comment on penal systems, crime and punishment and the oppression of one group by a more powerful, more autonomous one. I liked this aspect of the novel a lot, and would like to have found out more about the Resistance, which emerges properly within the final pages. It is hinted at earlier, but only ever mused upon in one character's thoughts.

I'd worked out part of the "Twist" quite early- I'm not sure if it's because I watched Red Dwarf  as a kid or because it's a bit obvious that something isn't right- even if my guess was *slightly* off...I won't say. As for the murder mystery element- it felt a bit Sunshine but with a less crazy motive. I couldn't help but feel that the identification and capture of the murderer took a back seat to Vee and Nathan's steamy action and all their juvenile squabbling and dramatic trust issues. In between the two of them taking turns to blow hot and cold on each other, I kept forgetting there was a rampant murderer on board because it's the least tense thing ever. It's a bit predictable, in that it's the least likely character, but is one of the few that has been adequately fleshed out.

The book features one of the most fatal cases of insta-love I've ever read. Yes- I get that sometimes people feel strong emotional connections very quickly after meeting a person. I guess it's rare, but it's not impossible. But this is two infatuated teenagers, who seem to think that going overboard on the insta-love is OK, as long as you constantly comment about how ridiculous and dangerous and out of character is is, how you never thought it would happen, how silly you feel to be a slave to your own urges in this way. It's a bit embarrassing. The kissing scenes go over very, very well trodden ground, all 'darting tongue', 'wandering hands' and earlobe nibbling...the sex scenes are a bit too explicit for younger readers, but too clichéd for older ones- so I'm not sure who this is really aimed at. At least in Othello, the secret marriage takes place before the play begins so we're spared the Love is An Open Door part of the relationship.

Whilst I definitely don't think this book is for me, and I don't think it was crafted particularly well, it's hard to say if the most frustrating elements (the constant trust issues, the blowing hot and cold, the willful ignorance, the misguided self-sacrifice, the 'let's just look longingly at each other and not say our actual feelings' are the author's fault. Possibly it's Shakespeare's fault. I do think this falls well below Malorie's usual standards. I think it had a lot of potential in the setting and the concept, but the whole thing was lacking the polish and the emotional impact of Malorie's other works. Which is such a shame, because she is an enormous, glorious talent and inspiration and arguably one of the founding mothers of the UKYA landscape. Chasing the Stars was frustrating for all the wrong reasons. Rather than being enraged by injustice and prejudice, I found that I was mostly frustrated at the boring space-talk, the well-trodden romantic trails, the uninspiring murder mystery and the irritating characters.

I'm sorry. I will still read all of your future books and still love all of your other books.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Paper Butterflies, by Lisa Heathfield

Paper Butterflies is utterly heart-breaking. It’s so compelling and beautifully written, but it hurts to read. Like a physical stab in the heart. It’s claustrophobic and terrifying- is there an idea more chilling than telling the truth and not being believed? To hide something because you know how far fetched and unlikely it seems, so suffer the constant, crushing repercussions of your secret, then to have that silence used as proof that your story is a lie?

The story follows June from her young childhood to early adult years, moving between the "Before" and the "After". We begin when she is around 10- her mother has died in the recent past and her dad has married a new wife, Kathleen. June’s step-mom is abusive. She plays vindictive mind games, she hurts and humiliates, she shames and verbally tortures, aided by her accomplice Megan, her biological daughter. June’s completely clueless father refuses to see what is right in front of his eyes, berating June for not trying hard enough, for being distant when all Kathleen has ever done is try to love her. 

June is black, like her late mom, which only increases her sense of 'otherness' in her white family, and in her mostly white school. She feels like a cuckoo at home and a target at school. Her torture from her stepmother and classmates seems never ending- she endured it with such tragic, silent dignity. I don’t want to romanticise her silence and imply it was the right thing to do, but she is so brave. So brave and so alone. As readers, as adults, as people who have not experienced this torture, it is easy to say that she should’ve spoken out; but the fear. The fear is shown so thoroughly and totally by the author- it rubs off on the reader. That suffocating, claustrophobic *dread* is profound and visceral. That fear of making the first step, of breaking the cycle. She tries so hard and so frequently to tell, early on. We see her repeatedly promise to speak up, only to lose faith in adult after adult. We say it’s brave to stand up and speak out, and of course it is, but June is a separate kind of brave- the kind that suffers unspeakable torment and hardship and persecution but refuses to be broken. 

Paper Butterflies is about how all those safeguards that we think protect us; family, teachers, grown-ups, society, authority in general, can fail a person so entirely. It's about the treacherous flexibility of truth, the gaps between how events can unfold and how they are perceived from the outside. Kathleen is a master of manipulation; she has perfected her craft and her persona in a Gone Girl like way. The book does remind us though to consider the cycle of violence and abuse; it reminds us that nobody is born evil. June is asked to consider- what made Kathleen this way? What must she have endured in her life to manifest this suffering on you? How must Megan have felt about her part in this? Who is really to blame?

The only reprieve she gets is in the form of her secret friend, Blister, and his eccentric family. The secret talisman that she can hide from her violated home, that will protect her for only as long as it is hidden. I loved Blister. I loved his carefree happiness, his trust in his own identity. He was utterly authentic and his mad, enormous Weasley-ish family was absolutely gorgeous. I don’t know what June would have done without them. Blister ensures that this book has a light in it; a sliver of hope to hold on to.

I don’t think I have ever felt more impotent, wounded rage on behalf of a character before. I’d worked out quite early what had become of adult June, but the route to that ending pretty much destroyed me. The unfairness. The injustice. That tiny sliver of hope just amplified the wrongness of the whole thing. This book is a testament to the craftsmanship and the skill of its incredible author. She forces us to walk the tiny, sliver of a line between hope and despair and we are so close to the despair that it will haunt us forever. I loved Seed, Paper Butterflies, though difficult and ruinous and devastating, is also an incredible, incredible novel. 

The YA book prize has, since its inception, never shied away from recognising and platforming tough novels, novels that other, more traditional kids' book prizes might discount as being too traumatic, gratuitous or bleak, regardless of the strength of the message or the quality of the writing. I am so glad the YA Book Prize included Paper Butterflies on its shortlist, it's absolutely essential. If the winner was decided on the strength of a readers' reaction, PB would win every time.