Birthday by Meredith Russo

Published: 31st May 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Usborne Publishing Ltd
Pages: 300
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

Meet Eric and Morgan.

Born on the same day, at the same time, in the same place. They’ve always shared this one day together, but as they grow up they begin to grow apart.

Everyone expects Eric to get a football scholarship, but no one knows he’s having second thoughts.
Former quarterback Morgan feels utterly alone, as she wrestles with the difficult choice to live as her true self.

Both of them are struggling to be the person they know they are. Who better to help than your best friend?

Told on one day every year, over six years, this is a story about how change pulls people apart… and how love brings them back together.

This book. Oh my gosh, this book. Birthday is an absolutely beautiful story that in part broke my heart and moved my soul.

I am not going to lie, it was heart wrenching and painful to read at times but Russo does a superb job getting you inside the minds of Eric and Morgan, especially Morgan. We feel their pain and anguish and the discovery of self when not a lot was being said and anything LGBTQIA was a punchline or a flippant insult. The same is said for the sexism because there is plenty of that as well. It’s full of the harm of toxic masculinity and the pressure and heartbreak boys are put through in order to live up to what they are “supposed to be”. It was incredibly sad, even in fiction, to read about how these characters were told off for saying they loved each other and weren’t allowed to cry.

Russo captures the derision of a town obsessed with football coupled with the reality that it is the only way out of a place that is dying. The dead end existence of their small town is well explained and the catch-22 of hating football but knowing it’s the only opportunity you’ll have to get into a good university and escape was a refreshing approach to other US novels where football is simply the town obsession for no reason (I mean it is a bit of that too). At least Russo makes it evident there is no real escape otherwise and the way this plays into both character’s choices and mentality is amazing.

Structurally I love how this story is laid out. With one day each year we see the lives of Morgan and Eric, their alternate views on same experiences and different lives as they start to grow up. Every year that passed for Morgan made me hurt, but every year that passed I saw how much Eric was still a loyal friend. Even with this one day we still discover how the rest of the year has been, it never felt like we were missing information of chunks of time. It was incredible how through one day over many years we get to see the whole lives of these characters and see their lives unfold.

I cannot praise this story enough. It is full of pain and sorrow, the confusion of being a teenager and the failure of the adults, but it is also about the power of friendship – especially friendship struggling under the damaging rules of society, bigotry, and ‘being normal’. There are many content warnings obviously such as parental death, self harm, homophobia, depression and bullying, but there are also moments of pure joy and the love, exploration and value of true friendship.

It’s a brilliant book because being inside Morgan and Eric’s head makes you angry and sad, and this isn’t even the distant past – there’s no exact year stated but with references to VHS video cameras, YouTube, and getting Netflix in the mail it’s not that long ago. It’s relatively recent in the scheme of everything and the story does an amazing job in showing how damaging this whole mentality can be while also showing there is always hope and there will always be people who love you and surprise you. I loved this book even though it made me hurt and I think even though it covers some tough subjects it’s an important story to tell and being an #OwnVoices story I think there is even more power and importance in these words.

You can purchase Birthday via the following

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An Absolutely Remarkable Thing (#1) by Hank Green

Published: 25th September 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Dutton
Pages: 343
Format: Paperback
Genre: Science Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

The Carls just appeared.

Roaming through New York City at three AM, twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship—like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armour—April and her best friend, Andy, make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day, April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world—from Beijing to Buenos Aires—and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the centre of an intense international media spotlight.

Seizing the opportunity to make her mark on the world, April now has to deal with the consequences her new particular brand of fame has on her relationships, her safety, and her own identity. And all eyes are on April to figure out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.

I waited a very long time for this book and it did not disappoint when it finally came. I was excited to see what Hank Green’s stories would be like given his love for science fiction as well as his internet experience and what I got was an absolutely remarkable story (I had to I’m sorry!).

Green pulls you along with intrigue and a casual writing style that you fall into comfortably. There’re also so many twists and turns that keep you guessing throughout that it’s hard to put it down for want of knowing what is happening next. The mystery of the Carls and their influence on the world plus April’s involvement and the impact it has on her life is so gripping and astounding it really shows the highs and low of internet fame.

You can certainly see Hank’s years of YouTube knowledge and experience coming through, also perhaps in part his experience of internet fame, maybe not to the extent shown in the book, but it feels like it stems from truth. I liked how we are shown the best and absolute worst of the internet and it never sounded exaggerated or unbelievable. Parts of this story also reminded me of Ready Player One which was delightful because I adore that book, but I think that’s just my mind seeing similarities.

I loved the complicated, flawed characters and their friendships and connections with one another. April’s friendship with Andy, as well as her relationship with her girlfriend, could be just as complicated and messy as the drama surrounding the Carls. Human nature is on show and the behaviour of society felt real and scary and the imperfectness of these characters was refreshing in a way.

The ending was the best kick in the guts you could ever want and because so much has happened you don’t even know how to process it. After going on this wild adventure and all that happens my mind pretty much short circuited when it finished and then the intense desire of not only wanting but needing the sequel kicked in.

You can purchase An Absolutely Remarkable Thing via the following

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My Shadow is Pink by Scott Stuart

Published: 1st April 2021Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Larrikin House
Illustrator: Scott Stuart
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

My Shadow is Pink is a beautifully written rhyming story that touches on the subjects of gender identity, self acceptance, equality and diversity.

Inspired by the author’s own little boy, ‘Shadow’s’ main character likes princesses, fairies and things ‘not for boys’… he soon learns (through the support of his dad) that everyone has a shadow that they sometimes feel they need to hide.

This is an important book for a new generation of children (and adults alike) which exemplifies the concepts of unconditional love, respect and positive parenting.

This story is a great example of defying gender norms and being your true self, also a great book showing examples of positive parenting and accepting friends. Stuart tells us that our shadows show us what’s inside, who we really are no matter what is presented to the world.

There is so much to love about this story. The fear of liking things “not for boys” is explored so well and there are so many different interpretations of what this could apply to. Stuart doesn’t specify but instead explores how whatever the reason, a pink shadow is ok and a boy with a pink shadow is not something to worry about.

The narrative is told through rhyme which has a lovely flow and it fits in and around the illustrations so you can compare and appreciate each one as you read. The themes are easy to understand for kids and the feelings of acceptance and loneliness in a new place like school are explored well and succinctly. I loved the dad a lot. His shadow is big and blue but at the same time he is anxious for his kid on their first day of school but doesn’t prohibit what they want to wear.

The illustrations are wonderful. I loved the colour contrast and the expression of the different shadows. Stuart shows how they can be their own individual self but connected to a person as well. The pink/blue scheme was an interesting choice given the theme, but as a base starting point it was clear Stuart was using well known and established gender colours to show young readers in the simplest manner about gender identity and defying gender norms.

This is a beautiful book that made me tear up at the end because from the start where there is so much uncertainty and worry, with the dad saying things are “just a phase” I was curious where the story was going. But seeing him come out and be supportive in so many different ways was amazing. It is a super adorable story that doesn’t have anything too complicated in it, the message is simple – people can be different on the inside to other people in a lot of different ways and there is nothing wrong with that.

You can purchase My Shadow is Pink via the following

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I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman

Published: 3rd May 2018 (print)/3rd May 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Harper Collins/Harper Collins Audio
Pages: 395/9 hrs and 45 mins
Narrator: Aysha Kala and Huw Parmenter
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

For Angel Rahimi, life is only about one thing: The Ark – a pop-rock trio of teenage boys who are currently taking the world by storm. Being part of The Ark’s fandom has given her everything – her friendships, her dreams, her place in the world.

Jimmy Kaga-Ricci owes everything to The Ark too. He’s their frontman – and playing in a band is all he’s ever dreamed of doing. It’s just a shame that recently everything in his life seems to have turned into a bit of a nightmare.

Because that’s the problem with dreaming – eventually, inevitably, real life arrives with a wake-up call. And when Angel and Jimmy are unexpectedly thrust together, they will discover just how strange and surprising facing up to reality can be.

Angel is living her best life as an Ark fan and when she gets a chance to meet the band she gets more than she bargained for. I was waiting for Angel to step over her boundaries as a fan but Oseman balances the line quite well. It was interesting seeing Angel’s mindset switch from thinking she knows everything about the band and its members to suddenly realising they are messy and complicated humans just like she is. I love how this is so intimate and yet not at the same time. It’s a snapshot in time where two paths crossed and they changed each other’s lives. I love that it is that simple.

At the same time though, the story is so much more than it first appears. The exploration about identity and expectation, as well trying to find your place in the world is incredibly well done. I loved the complex nature of the characters and how it never felt cliché or stereotypical, the pressures and realities were there and seeing such depth in the characters and their emotions is something Oseman is so good at. You get to be inside the head of these characters and they become real. The two points of view offer great contrast between the experiences of both Angel and Jimmy. Even overlapping the same events it was interesting to see the different perspectives and inner monologues and reactions. Oseman shows us the darker side of fame through The Ark’s experience and how each member copes with the stress and struggle and we see Angel’s life as a fan and her obsession with the band and the affect it has on her life. Each character stands on their own and even through Angel and Jimmy’s eyes we see their lives and struggles too.

Aysha Kala and Huw Parmenter do a wonderful job as narrators; having such an intimate book is helped along by having the voices in your ear like these characters are telling you the story themselves. It also helps bring out the emotion because this story is filled with emotions and with two first person narratives and heightened emotional subject matter there’s going to be a lot of them.

I was curious how the story would end but I think Oseman has perfectly wrapped it up. I was unsure if there would be a sudden shift but I found myself surprisingly satisfied with how the book ended and I’m still a little surprised at the impact it had one me. Oseman has written some beautiful stories and this is another one to add to the list. The complication of emotions, fame, friendships and life all come together all at once and the seeing it play out and aftermath of it all is a beautiful journey to go on.

You can purchase I Was Born for This via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

The Tiny King by Tarō Miura

Published: 8th October 2013Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Candlewick Press
Illustrator: Tarō Miura
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Once upon a time there was a tiny king who lived in a big castle guarded by lots of big soldiers. Every day the tiny king eats dinner at his big table (he can never finish it all), rides on his big horse (he is thrown off every time), bathes in his big bath (not much fun), and sleeps, not very well, in his big bed. The tiny king is very sad and lonely, until one day he meets a big princess and asks her to be his queen.

I love the tiny king. The story is incredible sweet and from the cover to the story to the illustrations everything was wonderful. In a way the story gives off very adorable Alice in Wonderland vibes with a tiny king and a giant queen but without any of the marital problems.

Miura’s story is about a lonely king who finds companionship and creates a life filled with happiness and fun. It is super sweet and while it is delightful to see the tiny king live in his big world, it is more adorable to see his little life improve.

The illustrations are complete essentially to the charm. The tiny king in comparison to his large surroundings are fantastic and seeing him in his king bed but a fraction of the size, and his large horse and his large bath are fantastic. There are also tiny details in these illustrations that Miura has included that add a little more to the charm and delight.

There is a fantastic fairy tale element to the story and I loved the simplistic but heartfelt approach Miura has taken with this story.

You can purchase The Tiny King via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

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 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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