Me: *answers ringing phone* Good morning, XYZ Bookshop. How can I help you?
Customer: Hang on, I’m about to sneeze. I’ll call you back. *hangs up*
Even though I work in a bookstore, I still get excited about our post Christmas sale. Quite a few of our books that we haven’t been able to sell and can’t return to the publishers get reduced to bargain prices. So when I saw a copy of This Is Not A Drill sitting in our ‘Bargain Books’ section at a steal, I bought it without even thinking about it.
In this young adult (YA) novel, Emery and Jake are two high school students who are volunteer French tutors in a first grade classroom at the local junior school. One morning they find themselves involuntarily in the middle of a deadly hostage crisis – Brian Stutts, a returned soldier from Iraq, has walked into their classroom with a gun and is demanding to be allowed to take his son. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Stutts is drunk, agitated and highly volatile. Despite their own personal differences, Emery and Jake must work together in order to keep things calm – both the children and Stutts – as well as try and find a way to get help and get everyone out of the situation alive.
This story is told from Emery and Jake’s alternating viewpoints. This allows us as readers to see how each of them deals with the situation in the classroom, as well as providing two differing points of view on their shared, personal history together. Having two main characters, and therefore two main narration ‘voices’, also allows the novel to appeal in equal measure to both a male and female audience. This novel is definitely thought provoking and highly relatable to the YA reader on many different levels.
In this day and age, where gun-related crimes are prevalent in the media, This Is Not A Drill deals with some very topical and very real issues. How many times have we read about a gunman finding his way into a school in America? How many times have we seen footage of law enforcement surrounding a building where a gunman has gone on a shooting spree? Even closer to home for me, this novel made me think of the Martin Place Siege that took place in Sydney the week before Christmas last year. This novel also deals with the issue of PTSD in returned service men and women, and how it can be difficult and damaging, not just to the individual, but also to their loved ones. It leaves the reader thinking that a lot more needs to be done in order to help those who suffer from PTSD.
This novel was both suspenseful and thought provoking, two things that are not often found side by side in many YA novels. It is certainly something I hope to see more of in this genre! At only 222 pages, this novel is an easy read and will likely appeal to even those reluctant readers aged 12+.
If I could live anywhere in the world, I would live in London. I have been there a couple of times and it is such a vibrant city that is always brimming with energy and life. As such, I am also a bit of a sucker for a story set in London.
That is what initially attracted me to reading Paper Chains.
Hannah and India are two women in their late twenties who are running from their pasts, each with their own secrets. Hannah has left her Sydney life behind her, and is intent on punishing herself for the things she has done. India, a Perth girl, is living the bohemian dream of wandering through Europe, and fixing up the broken people in need that she meets along the way. She too has a big secret that she is running to avoid, however she knows one person in particular needs to hear it. This secret is sealed up in an envelope and is also making it’s own bohemian way across Europe. The two women have a chance encounter in London and ultimately form a friendship that changes both their lives.
Although both characters are Australian, and that there are quite a few flashback moments throughout the novel, the majority of the story takes place in London. For me, it is always a thrill to read a novel and be able to accurately picture the settings and surroundings because you have been there yourself.
Ultimately, as clichéd as it sounds, it is a story about the two main characters ‘finding themselves’. However, I feel it is so more than that as well. It is a story about relationships, the importance of other people in your life, and how different people deal with the curve balls that life sometimes throws at them.
This is a bittersweet story, and that is precisely why I really quite enjoyed this novel. Paper Chains made me feel both uplifted and depressed at the same time. There are moments of happiness and sadness that are so well balanced you can almost believe that this story actually happened. Any fictional story that makes you forget for a while that it is in fact fiction… well, that takes a talented writer to be able to do that. It is full of clever humour and poignant moments, and the characters of Hannah and India are written in such a way that their unique struggles are both very real, and to an extent, very relatable.
I read this book over my summer break, and it definitely makes for a good summer read. I would definitely recommend it for lovers of Liane Moriarty, Monica McInerney and Cathy Kelly.
EDIT: Good news for any Americans out there! Paper Chains has just been picked up by Harper Collins U.S. and will be published next year! Exciting! Read Nicola’s announcement about it here.
Me: *answers phone* Good Morning. XYZ Bookstore. How can I help you?
Customer: Are you open Monday – Wednesday and Fridays 9am to 5:30pm, Thursdays 9am to 9pm, Saturdays 9am to 5pm, and Sundays 10am to 5pm?
Customer: Ok, thanks. Bye. *hangs up*
Me: *looks blankly at telephone*
to control or influence (a person or course of action).
“He has a lot of sway over other people.”
synonyms: influence, affect, persuade, win over, convert
Now, even though this is a young adult (YA) book, I will admit it is probably not one that I would have picked up and read if it wasn’t for our lovely Pan Macmillan rep at work. She gave me a copy of this book without telling me what it was about, other than she thought it was the most underrated YA novel of 2014, and that it’s “like a John Green novel, but better.”
I think what she meant was, that it is like a John Green novel in that a slightly off-beat protagonist goes about their life with a ‘well, what can you do ‘ type attitude, only to have their world turned upside down by a member of the opposite sex, with whom they end up falling in love. And it’s true – Sway is definitely like a John Green novel in that way.
But in every other way it is completely different.
And definitely better.
Jesse Alderman, or ‘Sway’ as he’s known, is a high school student who has a talent of being able to obtain the unobtainable. He is able to get people the things they want, at the right price, naturally – completed essays, fake IDs, alcohol and a date with any girl in school. He does this through a network of contacts, favours and the ability to be able to talk his way into or out of any situation. He could probably sell ice to eskimos. School doesn’t interest Jesse – it is merely the location where he conducts most of his business transactions. He moves through life with an almost clinical coldness in order to avoid getting close to anyone except his best female friend and business associate, Joey.
However, everything threatens to unravel when Kevin, the captain of the school football team (who, to put it lightly, is a bit of a jerk) hires Jesse to get the school’s gorgeous do-gooder, Bridget, to become interested in him. Jesse strikes up an unlikely friendship with Bridget’s kid brother, who has cerebral palsy, and suddenly Jesse finds himself developing a bond him. Then to Jesse’s further surprise, while completing his assignment for Kevin, he begins to learn a lot about Bridget and her life, and finds himself falling in love with her. Maybe, Jesse has kept other people out of his life for long enough.
This is a contemporary and realistically gritty YA novel is written from Jesse’s point of view. As such, it is cynical, straight to the point, and full of truth and sarcastic humour. His views and observations of the world are clinical, harsh and sometimes quite depressing, but always realistic and logical. But as soon as Bridget comes into the picture, he is forced to confront a lot of his own demons and finally see that maybe it is worth feeling something after all.
Our Pan Macmillan rep challenged me not to like this book, and being the person that I am I cried, “Challenge accepted!”
And try I did.
From the first page to the last, I tried to not like this book.
And I failed.
This book has the kind of writing that I felt was missing from John Green’s novels – it’s realistic, smart, funny and brutal in it’s honesty and it’s themes. The character of Jesse is excellently written, and immediately you feel like you have gotten inside his head, seeing things the way he sees them. This is the kind of YA novel we have been waiting for without realising it. Ultimately it is the writing that makes this novel such a compelling read. It is definitely my pick for most underrated book of 2014.
Even though this book is a YA novel, I would definitely only recommend it for ages 16+ due to the nature of some of the themes and references in the novel.
Holly Black is most well-known for her Modern Faerie Tale series, and her co-authorship of The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi). So, before I opened her latest young adult (YA) offering, The Darkest Part of the Forest, I knew I would be in for a fantasy/paranormal type novel.
Hazel and her brother Ben live in an odd little town called Fairfold, where the local residents live in a peaceful co-existence with the faeries of the forest. Hazel dreams of becoming a knight and vanquishing evil forces, while Ben dreams of harnessing his otherworldly musical abilities. The town attracts many tourists who want to experience the magic, and occasionally one or two tourists will fall prey to a faerie’s tricks. The locals know how dangerous and unpredictable the fae can be, but they know how to guard against them.
The main tourist draw card in the town is a glass casket that lies in the darkest part of the forest. Inside the casket lies a sleeping faerie boy who has been there for as long as anyone can remember. Hazel and Ben grow up imagining what it would be like, and what kid of adventures they would have if he were to awaken.
However, none of the townsfolk, not even Hazel and Ben, are prepared for what happens to Fairfold when he finally does.
The thing I loved the most about this novel was how it completely flips stereotypes around. Ben is the more emotionally driven character, and the one who pines and obsesses over an unattainable love interest, whereas Hazel is the strong, heroic lead character who wants to save the day. I loved the character of Hazel, another strong lead female in the YA genre. Of course it wouldn’t be a YA novel if there wasn’t a bit of romance thrown in as well – Hazel and he brother’s best friend Jack, and Ben and the sleeping faerie prince.
This novel toes the line between Children’s and YA genres, which is really the only issue I have with the book. When I first picked it up, I thought I was going to be getting a great offering in the Children’s genre. The more I read, the more I realised it was definitely a YA novel! However, that being said there were times in the novel where I had to roll my eyes a little at how young and childish some parts were. It’s almost like Black couldn’t decide which audience she wanted to write the book for.
I would recommend this novel for the older readers (14+) who enjoyed Black’s other novels when they were younger.