I’ve been pretty writing my second book this month, but I’ve still managed to fit in quite a bit of reading: mostly YA, and much of it really excellent.
I started off with Ink by Alice Broadway, which came out at the beginning of February. The first part in a trilogy, it’s a brilliant YA novel about a community who tattoo their achievements and experiences onto their skin so they can be remembered in ‘skin books’ after death, and fear the ‘Blanks’ who don’t do the same. I’d been looking forward to this for ages, and it was just as good as I’d hoped: lyrical, atmospheric and completely original. (It also made me reeeally want a tattoo.)
Also released this month, History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera is a beautiful (and HEARTBREAKING) story about a 17-year-old boy, Griffin, dealing with his ex-boyfriend Theo’s sudden death, complicated by the presence of Theo’s new boyfriend. This is one of the best depictions of grief I’ve read in fiction: it was moving without being emotionally manipulative, and I kept getting these weird ‘oh my god, I can’t believe Theo’s actually gone’ pangs. I was really quite devastated by it – I had to take to my bed like a Victorian lady.
Radio Silence by Alice Oseman was another one that had been on my radar for a while, as I’d seen so many people recommend it. It took me a while to get into it, but by the end I loved it: a slightly offbeat story about a girl, a boy and a strange podcast, with a diverse and very relatable cast of characters. American Street by Ibi Zoboi was also excellent: a gripping story of a teenage girl, Fabiola, who leaves Haiti to live with her aunt and cousins in Detroit, and gets into a complicated and dangerous situation trying to help her mother, who is denied entry into the country and sent to a detention centre. The characters were excellent, and there’s a thread of magical realism that is seamlessly woven into an otherwise gritty contemporary story.
A very pleasant surprise this month was Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen. It was mentioned here – a very good article about the Carnegie Award overlooking BAME writers – and I thought it sounded interesting, but I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. It’s a very dark middle-grade novel about a young boy who lives on the 17th floor of a tower block with his mother, who is very depressed and never goes out, and how he survives when buildings start collapsing around them. It reminded me a little of My Name is Leon at first, then quickly became this intriguing and atmospheric sci-fi/post-apocalyptic tale – really, really brilliant.
My Catalan read for February was also a YA novel, L’efecte Calders by Santi Baró. Set in 1977, it’s about a 15-year-old boy named Xavier who befriends Pere Calders, a real-life Catalan writer, who is spending the summer in his town, Llança. I felt at times that the characters read a lot younger than 15 (his classmates start two rival secret clubs; Xavier is perhaps unrealistically gullible for his age) but it was fun and very well-written. I also started Tant que nous sommes vivants by Anne-Laure Bondoux, just to sneak in my French read of the month before February ends. Good so far!
The non-YA novels I read this month were also quite YA-ish… First was The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters by Nadiya Hussain. I’ve never read a so-called ‘celebrity novel’ before and to be honest, I mostly bought this one as an angry response to a nasty article in the Guardian accusing her of “taking up space” (and partly because it was co-written with Ayisha Malik, who wrote Sofia Khan is Not Obliged) but I actually quite liked it! It was fun, and though a couple of the characters (feminist Bubblee, social media-obsessed 16-year-old Mae) strayed dangerously close to becoming caricatures, others were nuanced and well-drawn, such as Fatima.
Finally, I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (which is possibly one of my favourite book titles ever). I’d only read Jackson’s short story The Lottery before, which I liked, and I wanted to try this before the film comes out later this year. It was very good: dark, clever and understated, with an extremely strong voice. Much like The Lottery, it deals with mob mentality very well – it kind of reminded me of seeing pile-ons on social media, despite being written in 1962.
Some other stuff I’ve been enjoying in February:
Un Estrany Poder, the new album from Catalan group Els Amics de les Arts (and their best yet).
Many Francophone films – particularly recommend Keeper, Le Nouveau and Elle.
Parks & Recreation – I’m re-watching it for the first time since it ended, and it is just as wonderful and joyous as I remember. The world needs some Lesley Knope right now.
Pancakes! Mostly today, Pancake Day, but also several other times this month. One can never have too many pancakes.