Love, Frankie by Jacqueline Wilson

Published: 17th September 2020Goodreads badge
Publisher:
RHCP Digital
Pages: 432
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

GROWING UP. FALLING IN LOVE. COMING OUT.

Frankie is nearly fourteen and teenage life certainly comes with its ups and downs. Her mum is seriously ill with MS and Frankie can feel herself growing up quickly, no thanks to Sally and her gang of bullies at school.

When Sally turns out to be not-so-mean after all, they strike up a friendship and are suddenly spending all of their time together.

But Frankie starts to wonder whether these feelings she has for Sally are stronger than her other friendships. Might she really be in love?

Frankie doesn’t want Sally to just be her friend. She wants her to be her girlfriend. But does Sally feel the same?

I picked this up because I was looking for some LGBTQIA books that were directed at younger audiences and while this does have a storyline of a hopeful romance, it honestly falls short. There are a lot of things to praise Wilson for, she shows a strong character who deals with her sick mother and stands up to bullies which is good, but this wasn’t the coming out story I was expecting.

That’s not to say it isn’t there at all. There are a few major themes playing out through this narrative from illness, bullying, as well as a young girl trying to work out if she loves her new friend. Wilson combines all of these together well so we see and understand the pressure Frankie is under concerning her mother and the girls at school, but also her own internal struggles she has to come to terms with.

I found myself becoming worried for Frankie and what Sally’s intentions were for her, I didn’t want to read about any homophobic slurs, especially since Frankie is so unsure herself and since the blurb wasn’t matching up with the story I was reading. However Wilson brings it together in a slow but sure way and you see the start of a story between these girls where there is something more than friendship on the cards.

This story is young adult but it is very much aimed at the low end with younger readers. There is drinking and talk of drugs but none are actually done and there is never a feeling of long term between Frankie and Sally, more is placed on the long lasting friendship than the romance. But it is still an important story about young girls of thirteen and fourteen discovering who they are.

While it feels unresolved and open, the ending is positive in its own way. Not to have Sally outed if she isn’t ready is an unspoken hurdle but there is a light in the future for both girls. The story ends in hope for Frankie and for her mother as well which is a good decision from Wilson given the young age of her main character. For young teens trying to work out their own sexuality it is a stepping stone to show how small steps can feel like big steps and at this age there doesn’t need to be definitive answers or pressure. It just wasn’t the full experience I was looking for and it fell flat in terms of voice. I may have forgiven it if it fell into the junior category, but bumping this into the YA group I wanted a strong voice and writing style that felt less childlike.

You can purchase Love, Frankie via the following

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Those Other Women by Nicola Moriarty

Published: 19th March 2018 (print)/25 April 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
HarperCollins Australia/Wavesound Audio
Pages: 448/11 hrs and 52 mins
Narrator: Louise Crawford
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★  ★  – 4 Stars

Poppy’s world has been tipped sideways: the husband who never wanted children has betrayed her with her broody best friend. At least Annalise is on her side. Her new friend is determined to celebrate their freedom from kids, so together they create a Facebook group to meet up with like-minded women, and perhaps vent just an little about smug mummies’ privileges at work.

Meanwhile, their colleague Frankie would love a night out, away from her darlings – she’s not had one this decade and she’s heartily sick of being judged by women at the office as well as stay-at-home mums. Then Poppy and Annalise’s group takes on a life of its own and frustrated members start confronting mums like Frankie in the real world. Cafés become battlegrounds, playgrounds become war zones and offices have never been so divided.

A rivalry that was once harmless fun is spiralling out of control. Because one of their members is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And she has an agenda of her own.

This is a fascinating contemporary story about social media, modern parenting and the vindictiveness people are capable of when they feel justified in their actions. One thing I loved was Moriarty’s choice of narrators. Through the first few parts it alternates between Poppy and Annalise but when we get to see a third party, through Frankie’s eyes, I was amazed how I suddenly saw the previous events through different eyes. I could see how horrible Poppy and Annalise were being and it was a fascinating example of untrusty narrators and how perspective changes intent and meaning.

There are surprises and stereotypes that take sharp turns just when you think you know what is going on, a skill Moriarty is quite good at. She brings new twists to old clichés and I loved that it brought more depth and life to this story and the characters as a result. There is no relying on well-known tropes but Moriarty does play on them to her own advantage. In doing so it adds another level to the narrative and it reinforces the notion that people’s lives are complicated and there are a lot of different lives being led with problems of their own. Jumping to obvious conclusions is detrimental and damaging and it was fantastic to be drawn in myself and have it thrown back at me for my own assumptions. If you pay attention there are hints and clues that come to light after your whole viewpoint has shifted. This muddies the waters as more information doesn’t necessarily make things clearer but it definitely made it more intriguing.

The concept of having children versus remaining childless is confusingly a point of contention. This was something I was fascinated to read about because clearly there is an entire world of contention that I have been cut out of. The experiences described in this book will no doubt be familiar to some, certainly on both sides, and while I know of the general judgements and opinions, seeing it play out before me with Facebook groups and battles between mums and non-mums was a curious insight into a world I have never come across before. I’m hoping Moriarty took creative licencing with some of this because it was wild reading about these Facebook groups and what some of these women do.

Moriarty lays forth a story that has mystery and deceit, not to mention drama and emotional torment in her usual style. Crawford does a great job as narrator too. Her tone and pacing was great and didn’t distract from the story in any way. Overall it is engaging, captivating, a definite reflection of the modern parenting experience as well as the experiences of those left out of the conversation.

You can purchase Those Other Women via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

 

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

Published: 10th July 2007 (print)/22 December 2009 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon Schuster/Audible Studios
Pages: 294/6 hrs
Narrator: Sunil Malhotra
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★ – 1 Star

“Last week I cut my hair, bought some boys’ clothes and shoes, wrapped a large ACE bandage around my chest to flatten my fortunately-not-large breasts, and began looking for a new name.”

Angela Katz-McNair has never felt quite right as a girl. Her whole life is leading up to the day she decides to become Grady, a guy. While coming out as transgendered feels right to Grady, he isn’t prepared for the reaction he gets from everyone else. His mother is upset, his younger sister is mortified, and his best friend, Eve, won’t acknowledge him in public. Why can’t people just let Grady be himself?

Grady’s life is miserable until he finds friends in some unexpected places — like the school geek, Sebastian, who explains that there is precedent in the natural world (parrotfish change gender when they need to, and the newly male fish are the alpha males), and Kita, a senior who might just be Grady’s first love.

Why did I read this? I saw three one star reviews before I started but decided to see for myself. Yeah, no. One star is about right. Look, it isn’t the worst book I have read, but the fact it is trying to tell a trans story and if I, with my limited knowledge and experience, know that this is a terrible story then I can only imagine how any trans people reading it must feel.

I disliked this pretty early on. There is one sentence that told me this story wasn’t going to be right and it only got worse as it went along. The entire thing revolves around Grady and his attempt to be himself. Commendable, brave, all those things in a small town USA high school of course were going to be a challenge, but where Wittlinger has failed is she’s made these big emotional and social changes into small hurdles that all get overcome and resolved in the space of a few weeks and now everything is ok. I felt it brushed over trans issues quickly and at times barely mentioned anything about them at all.

Away from that, the characters themselves had no depth, they are forgettable, one dimensional, and honestly some of things coming out of their mouths is problematic on a whole different level. They are quick things, often said in a single sentence but stick with you. There’s racism, fatshaming, whatever it’s called where we’re still apparently making fun of people for “being a geek”, plus there’s a whole thing about trying to hook up with a girl who has a boyfriend. It’s as if Wittlinger needed to make everything around Grady nice so when the few bad things happen it stands out, but also have everyone around him be less somehow, so these key characters could feel superior. It felt weird and grubby at times and I hated reading about the mocking of these characters.

The one saving grace of this story is that it’s short. Malhotra does an ok job on narration, there isn’t much distinction in his voices for each character but I was too focused on the issues with the writing to worry too much about the voices. The stereotypes, the sexism, and the insensitivity throughout is astounding and it is evident Wittlinger has no concept of what being a boy means other than a short haircut and typical boy clothing. I am so glad I have read and know there are better trans books out there to enjoy because if this was my first point of call to books about coming out or an introduction to the trans community I would not only horribly misinformed but incredibly disappointed.

You can purchase Parrotfish via the following

 Booktopia | Book Depository

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Amazon Aust | Audible

10 Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Published: 1st October 2006 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Pan Australia
Pages: 278
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★ – 1 Star

At school I’m Aussie-blonde Jamie — one of the crowd. At home I’m Muslim Jamilah — driven mad by my Stone Age dad. I should win an Oscar for my acting skills. But I can’t keep it up for much longer…

Jamie just wants to fit in. She doesn’t want to be seen as a stereotypical Muslim girl, so she does everything possible to hide that part of herself. Even if it means pushing her friends away because she’s afraid to let them know her dad forbids her from hanging out with boys or that she secretly loves to play the darabuka (Arabic drums).

There are so many things wrong with this story. Ignoring the fact that there are plot holes and an unbelievable plot in the first place, I don’t think this told the story Abdel-Fattah was trying to tell.

One thing that irked me was that for a modern sixteen year old girl she gave out way too many personal details to a virtually anonymous person who gives no details back in return. She reveals so much to them and we know nothing, secret identity or not. This secret admirer could be anybody and it is her blind trust that they are genuine which annoyed me the most. Plus, on the truly petty side, her email doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Another thing was her hypocritical nature. For all her arguments against racist stereotypes she is rude and stereotypical herself against others. The only issue there is it isn’t classed as racism so it isn’t seen as bad. The comments she makes to some people are just as outdated and rude but she doesn’t see that there is a problem with it. The other thing she never has a problem with is that she is in love with the racist boy at her school which is problematic in itself.

I understand she is hiding herself and can’t expose who she is, but she is also weak and a coward that even if she can’t say anything, she can’t even reprimand their behaviour in her mind. She can’t fume and get angry that she can’t tell these idiots off, we don’t see her have any emotion at all where she is fearful of revealing herself but also angry she can’t fight back against the racist behaviour. It would have made her a better character to know she was struggling with standing up for what’s right and trying to protect herself at the same time.

I hated that after an entire book about telling us how over reactive her father is about her social life and how she is a good girl who wouldn’t do anything wrong, she proves him right the second she is able to go out with friends. It was a waste of so many scenes making us root for her against her dad as it proved she really was just like he expected her to be.

As a main character she doesn’t feel fully formed, like she is still under construction. She talks about detention like she has been there all the time despite going for the first time, and her relationships with other characters are confusing. She has deep conversations with people she barely knows and doesn’t say anything to people she has been friends with for a while. Overall the dialogue is unnatural and doesn’t feel real. These aren’t conversations that real teenagers would be having, certainly not the way it’s been written. I will admit I skimmed some parts as the narrative becomes boring and cycles around the same things quite a lot. There are super cringy moments and eye rolling moments which highlight further how strangely this story is written.

This certainly failed in whatever goal it was trying to achieve. Hate is Such a Strong Word by Sarah Ayoub is a much better example of what Abdel-Fattah is trying to do and while it isn’t exactly the same, it’s a better exploration of the Lebanese experience in Australia with all the exploration of racism, fitting in, and teenage drama.

You can purchase 10 Things I Hate About Me via the following

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Pulp by Robin Talley

Published: 13 November 2018 (print)/13 November 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
HQ Young Adult/Harlequin
Pages: 406/11 hrs and 48 mins
Narrator: Stephanie Cannon
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

In 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend Marie a secret. It’s not easy being gay in Washington, DC, in the age of McCarthyism, but when she discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women, it awakens something in Janet. As she juggles a romance she must keep hidden and a newfound ambition to write and publish her own story, she risks exposing herself—and Marie—to a danger all too real.

Sixty-two years later, Abby Zimet can’t stop thinking about her senior project and its subject—classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. Between the pages of her favourite book, the stresses of Abby’s own life are lost to the fictional hopes, desires and tragedies of the characters she’s reading about. She feels especially connected to one author, a woman who wrote under the pseudonym “Marian Love,” and becomes determined to track her down and discover her true identity.

I loved this story. I loved how Talley created these two lives that shone on the page so well and their bravery and determination, passion and heart comes through. Talley has been remarkably clever with this story; dual narrators but if often feels like there are four. You get the story of Janet and Abby, but you also get each of their stories that they’re writing. We get snippets of the lives of their fictional characters and it was a great way to include each story and reflect on how they gained inspiration and changed their ideas. Told across two different eras it blends together beautifully and seamlessly, interconnecting and mirroring but each voice and experience unique.

The similar experiences mirrored back sixty years apart was clever and Talley has done a great job in cementing us in each era without needing to go into heavy detail or description. Fashions are included naturally; jobs, society and the general societal beliefs at the time comes through in dialogue and character actions and activities and this helped keep the story about the characters. Talley doesn’t set things up so we know we’re in the 50s, aside from the date to show a change we’re thrown right in and pick it up almost immediately based on the writing. It’s almost as if we’ve started reading right in the middle of Janet’s life, already playing out as we’ve arrived. The different worlds but same experiences are a great reminder of common experience and that young love, family drama, and outside forces happen all the time.

I enjoyed the historical aspect of the narrative because learning more about pulp stories and how and why they were created was a fascinating story to be woven into the fictional lives. Janet and Abby both offer perspectives about its purpose from both consuming it, as well as discovering it historically and seeing the evolution. It was a great way to weave in the romances and the friendships, as well as the personal dramas. They provide an escape, an outlet, and inspiration for both girls and their lives.

Nothing in this story felt like it was wasted. Every action, scene and conversation had intention and whether that was to bring depth to friendships, explain about lives and circumstances or the history of LGBTQIA struggles. The world that Janet lives in isn’t fun and even seeing the contrast with Abby’s where it’s more open and accepting, where her friends are out and proud with their various identities, the sharp contrast back to Janet where even the idea of holding another girl’s hand in a certain way would be enough to endanger you is shocking as you forget it wasn’t that long ago and is still happening today no matter how far we’ve come.

There’s so much going for this novel – the characters are likeable, it puts you into the world and each character feels established and unique. The story is slow but it builds into a story that is enriching and fascinating and one that was full of little surprises.

You can purchase Pulp via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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