I have a NetGalley addiction. I check the site at least twice a day, and I request something nearly every single time I’m on there. I’ve tried – oh, I have TRIED – to stop myself, but there just doesn’t seem to be anything I…
Twenty years ago, Sammy Went was taken from her home in Manson, Kentucky. She’s now a photography teacher called Kim Leamy, living in Australia, completely unaware of her forgotten past until her long-lost brother Stuart tracks her down. Flying back to America, Kim and Stuart…
I was lucky to be invited to Stripes YA Afternoon Equali-tea back in January, where I picked up an early copy of Proud. Since Proud was announced last February, it’s been my most anticipated release of 2019, so I’m so excited to be able to tell you that this collection of LGBTQ+ stories was just as delightful as I’d expected it to be.
I’m going to share my thoughts on each of the individual stories, as that’s how I’ve worked out my overall rating for the collection, so if you’d rather pick up your copy of Proud without knowing too much about the stories included I’d suggest looking away now!
Dive Bar by Caroline Bird:
Dive Bar – the first inclusion in the collection – is a poem that I just really didn’t understand? I’ve never been a huge fan of poetry though, so I’m probably missing some aspect of it that would make it make more sense to me… But as it stands currently I don’t have strong feelings about it either way. 3/5
Penguins by Simon James Green:
Absolutely glorious. Accompanied by art by Alice Oseman, Penguins is one of my favourite stories in the collection. I haven’t read any of Simon James Green’s other novels yet, but I found myself laughing out loud at multiple points as Cameron’s attempts to come out were constantly thwarted by the gay penguins at the zoo. 5/5
On The Run by Kay Staples:
Kay Staples spoke at the Stripes event, so I’d already heard her read the first page or so of On The Run, but it still made me chuckle when Nicky shared the story of how they ended up running away from home… to a Travelodge. Glamorous! 4/5
The Phoenix’s Fault by Cynthia So:
Another story I was already slightly familiar with was The Phoenix’s Fault, the concept of which grabbed me when Cynthia So introduced her story at the Stripes event. This is a world in which the phoenix and the dragon are the marriage symbol, and Jingzhi is expected to audition to marry the prince – searching for a wife based off of whether their phoenix responds to his dragon. I had an idea in my head of how this story was going to go, so I was pleasantly surprised when it went a completely different direction! I’m hoping that So will revisit the world she creates in this short story, because there is so much more potential here. 5/5
As The Philadelphia Queer Youth Choir Sings Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’… by David Levithan:
Not a fan of this one. I can see what David Levithan was trying to do – each characters innermost thoughts are justified slightly different on the page, so you can read the piece as a whole or read each character individually – but it just seems a bit too artsy, taking away from the impact of the message that he’s conveying. 1/5
Almost Certain by Tanya Byrne:
Another brilliant story. Orla is painfully cool – obsessed with music, constantly hanging out at her local record store and getting personal recommendations from the owner – but she’s also plagued with anxiety. When Mal introduces her to the music of Reeba Shah, she knows she has to get past her apprehensions and go to the gig, but although she gets to meet Reeba she still doesn’t get to see her perform. Almost Certain is a great reminder that having an LGBTQ+ identity is just one facet of a character and doesn’t have to be their whole story. 5/5
The Other Team by Michael Lee Richardson:
When a team are told that they can’t play in a league match because of their transgender teammate, they decide to play anyway – even if it they won’t get any points and it won’t exactly ‘count’, it’s the principle. A funny cast of characters from a new voice who’s certain to have a bright future ahead of him. 4/5
I Hate Darcy Pemberley by Karen Lawler:
A lesbian Pride & Prejudice retelling? Yes please! I really enjoyed the over-dramatic high school scenes and how brilliantly they mirrored the high society drama of Jane Austen’s novels. I’m glad that Karen Lawler decided to take the prompt of what pride meant to her so literally. However, if a reader hasn’t read Pride & Prejudice yet it might go right over their heads, as the supporting cast of characters aren’t thoroughly introduced.4/5
The Courage of Dragons by Fox Benwell:
I’m sad to say that The Courage of Dragons was my second least favourite story in the collection. I absolutely loved The Last Leaves Falling and have been looking forward to reading more of Fox Benwell’s writing, but this story just didn’t appeal to me. I loved the concept – a non-binary kid and their group of friends overthrowing the school’s gender-conforming bathrooms and legislation – but the Dungeons and Dragons aspect of it just didn’t translate well (and I love D&D, so I can’t believe I’m saying that!). However, it was accompanied by the most beautiful piece of art in the entire book, so that was a redeeming feature. 2/5
The Instructor by Jess Vallance:
The Instructor is a predictable story, but it’s so very cute. A girl’s father is a plumber, and he gives one of his clients a reduced fee in exchange for his daughter getting free driving lessons from the instructor. 4/5
Love Poems to the City by Moira Fowley-Doyle:
My favourite story in the collection, and I would give this 10/5 if I could. Moira Fowley-Doyle’s language is beautiful and poetic, and the story that she tells – of two girls who aren’t necessarily in love, both with separated parents, campaigning for the right to marry – is passionately told. I cannot recommend this one enough. 5/5
How to Come Out as Gay by Dean Atta:
Another poem to round out the collection. How to Come Out as Gay is far more straightforward than Dive Bar and I enjoyed it a lot more. 4/5
So there you have it! Overall, Proud gets a rating of 3.8 (but I round my ratings up, so that makes it a four star read!).
I’d like to say another huge thank you to Stripes, for allowing me to read an early copy of Proud in exchange for a fair and honest review. This is the second anthology they’ve curated (the first, A Change is Gonna Come, being just as successful) and I’m looking forward to finding out which gap in the market they’re going to be tackling next. Keep up the good work!
New girl Anna Clark moved from Birmingham to Scotland to escape something terrible that happened in her past. But you can’t outrun your demons quite that easily, especially not when they’re plastered all over social media for the world to see. While the other students…
‘When my sister was eight years old, she disappeared. At the time I thought it was the worst thing in the world that could ever happen. And then she came back.’ It’s hard to share my thoughts on The Taking of Annie Thorne without getting…
‘Is this what marriage is like? she wonders. A constant balancing act between infatuation and impatience.’
At first glance, it appears as though The Flower Girls is going to be a pretty cut and dry thriller. A girl disappears from a hotel on New Year’s Eve, and when a terrible storms starts raging outside it’s a race against time to try to find her – and the person responsible for abducting her.
Hazel is terrified that the finger of blame will be pointed her way, because she has a secret. Her real name is Rosie, and she’s one of the infamous Flower Girls: the moniker given to her and her sister, Laurel, who was convicted of the brutal murder of a toddler when she was just 10 years old.
Rosie was unable to be tried – as a 6-year-old she was too young to face trial – but even the trauma of seeing what Laurel did to the poor girl caused her to wipe it from her memory, the entire day a completely blank space in her mind.
Hazel’s life is good now. She’s in a long-term relationship with a man called Jonny, who she thinks is preparing to propose. She gets on with his teenage daughter, despite the fact that she’s definitely not old enough to be her mother. She doesn’t want all of that to be ruined.
But when an author staying in the hotel recognises her and forces her to come clean to the investigating officer about her identity, Hazel is catapulted back into the spotlight – and back into Laurel’s life, too.
The Flower Girls is more than just a mystery novel, it’s an exploration of the meaning of family. Laurel is abandoned by her parents and her sister, but their uncle Toby supports her throughout the years, representing her over and over again as he regularly tries – and fails – to get her released from prison. Meanwhile, Hazel finds herself a new family in the form of Jonny and Evie, telling Jonny the truth about her past and feeling pleasantly surprised when he accepts her anyway.
It’s also the perfect starting point for many different moral discussions. Can a child truly be evil? Or held accountable for their actions in a legal sense? Is it more important to examine biological or sociological in these kinds of cases? What exactly constitutes a life sentence? My mind was racing at multiple points while reading The Flower Girls, and I found myself needing to put it down to gather my thoughts into some kind of order. These were topics I’d thought about before but was examining in a completely new light, and I loved the fact that Alice Clark-Platts took a basic idea and elevated it to such heights.
The way the story is told is genius, too. The first half of the book is propelled along at a breakneck speed, as the search for Georgie is extremely time-sensitive. Meanwhile, flashbacks are laced throughout the unfolding events, throwing us back in time to when Hazel was Rosie and the original crime was committed. I was eager to know what happened in both aspects of the plot, and I found myself racing through the present day chapters to dive back into the past, then wanting to get back to the present as quickly as I possibly could.
It’s been a while since I’ve been this captivated by a thriller, as they seem to have become so repetitive and predictable in recent years. Although there were some twists I saw coming throughout The Flower Girls, the ways that they were revealed were fresh and interesting, and there was a big twist that had my jaw dropping open and made me want to reread the entire book with this information in mind (something I’m still considering doing).
I requested The Flower Girls from NetGalley on a whim, because it seemed like the kind of book I’d probably enjoy, but I didn’t have my expectations too high because I was sure it wasn’t going to impress me. I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this story, and I’m planning on going back and exploring some of Alice Clark-Platts previous releases to see if they’re as good as this one.
The Flower Girls is going to be one of the biggest releases of 2019, I can feel it.
‘I sigh. it’s all so improbable. How can I be ‘an addict’? I’m seventeen years old. I always sort of aspired to a coke problem as I turned thirty, but never this.’
Lexi Volkov is in rehab, and she’s not fucking happy about it. Just because she turned a little bit blue after taking some heroin doesn’t mean she needs help, and she hates Nikolai for sticking his big fat oar in. She’s not an addict. Everyone uses drugs. Even Nikolai’s not opposed to dabbling with a bit of cocaine.
But Nikolai is worried, and Lexi can’t talk her way out of the Clarity Centre. She’s going to be there for almost three months, so it’s time to suck it up and start working her way through the ten-step program that they offer.
Step one? Admitting she has a problem.
Clean is bloody brilliant. So brilliant, in fact, that I’m going to use the ten-step program as inspiration and list ten reasons that I think this is the greatest novel Juno Dawson has written so far:
- It’s a masterclass in character development. When we meet Lexi she’s an absolute bitch. She’s aggressive, verbally attacking anyone that crosses her path, dropping more c-bombs than you can count. However, by the end of the novel she’s matured exponentially, but the shift is completely natural and believable.
- Every character is three-dimensional. There’s a fairly large cast of patients in the rehabilitation centre, and they’re all written with care. There’s Ruby, the binge-eater and Kendall, a transgender anorexic. Guy, who suffers from OCD, and Brady, the mysterious Hollywood hunk who immediately catches Lexi’s eye. None of them are unnecessary, and all of them will reassure and inspire readers in different ways.
- That does mean that it’s far too easy to get attached and root for the characters to get better. You’ll find yourself getting overly invested in their lives within a couple of pages of meeting them, and that makes reading Clean an emotional rollercoaster. Everyone has ups and downs, and I found myself sobbing at multiple points.
- However, the story ends on a hopeful note. I’m not going to give any spoilers as to where the characters end up, but I finished reading Clean with a smile on my face. It’s worth the emotional upheaval that you experience throughout.
- Addiction isn’t romanticised. Whereas some YA novels make addiction look glamorous – part of the lifestyles of the rich and the famous, something to aspire towards – Dawson rejects that dangerous portrayal. One of the greatest quotes in Clean has to be ‘Why can’t we be honest and say ‘drugs are boss until you almost snuff it, your brother abducts you and you start shitting the bed’?’. There’s nothing desirable about shitting the bed.
- On that note, Lexi’s fucking hilarious. I cackled with laughter more than I thought possible while reading a book on such a serious topic. ‘Little birds twitter just outside the window and I wish they’d shut up. What have they got to be so cheerful about? Beaky little twats.’
- For a book called Clean, the language is remarkably profane. I swear like a sailor, so sometimes I get annoyed with the lack of bad language in YA: it just doesn’t seem realistic or genuine when I think back to how my friends and I talked to each other during our teens. It’s a relief to meet a character who swears more than I do. If you’re opposed to reading bad language, this is definitely a book that you should avoid.
- Rehab isn’t treated as a miracle cure. Lexi doesn’t come out of Clarity with an unshakeable will, never to be tempted again, because that’s not how addiction works. In fact, there’s a character called Sasha who’s a regular at Clarity. There’s no magical fix that makes everything better, recovery is treated as an ongoing process. It’s obvious that…
- …Dawson has researched the topic carefully. Clean treats each of the conditions featured with sensitivity, and nothing is included for shock value. When attempting to write a book about something so serious it’s important to get it right, and it’s immediately apparent that Dawson has talked to people who really know their stuff.
- At the end of the novel there’s a support page, recommending helplines and websites that you can use if you relate to any of the problems featured in Clean. It’s vital to feature these kind of resources when writing a book which includes such sensitive issues, so I was very glad to see that included.
Honestly, I could go on. There are SO MANY brilliant things about Clean. It’s one of the best YA contemporaries I’ve ever read, and unquestionably one of the most unique: I can’t think of another YA novel set on a rehabilitation island!
If you’re interested in learning more about Clean, check it out on Goodreads. If you decide to buy a copy, please consider using my Amazon affiliate link: I’ll earn a few pennies from your purchase. Thank you!
Have you read any of Juno Dawson’s other novels? If so, which was your favourite and why?
‘It was our 9/11, our Princess Diana, our JFK. You’d always remember where you were when you heard about Being No. 1.’ Ten days after Jaya’s mother died, Beings started falling from the sky. Over the course of eight months 85 Beings fall, and no…