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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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

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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

BooktopiaDymocks

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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

The Lightning Thief (#1) by Rick Riordan

Published: 1st March 2006 (print)/ 13 January 2010 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Disney Hyperion Books/Penguin Audiobooks
Pages: 375/10 hrs
Narrator: Jesse Bernstein
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  ★  ★  – 5 Stars

Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can’t seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse – Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy’s mom finds out, she knows it’s time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he’ll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon a mystery unfolds and together with his friends—one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena – Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods. 

From the minute I started this book I was hooked. I have wanted to read this for literal years and I’m so glad when I was finally able to it was as great as I’d always heard it to be. Riordan’s voice is fantastic and Percy is a character that shines on the page. Starting as a twelve year old it was a surprise since I’d always thought him older but it worked well because the naïve and inexperienced but enthusiastic mentality works well, Especially as Percy starts to learn about who he is, what he is capable of and the hidden world in which he lives.

I love the Greek myths as a general rule and the explanations and justifications Riordan uses to explain them in our world is fantastic and makes complete sense. I almost wanted to live in such a world. The modernisation of the ancient figures is incredibly clever and the chance to hear more about the well known gods, but some lesser ones as well is great as Riordan doesn’t focus solely on the big well known names.

I cannot understate how clever this book is. The locations of Olympus, the Underworld and how seamlessly the gods have infiltrated our world is amazing. As Percy learns we learn but the writing connects it to the story so there are never clunky exposition and everything is told through a character naturally in dialogue or through experience by Percy himself. What is clever is how Riordan has used real learning issues like ADHD and dyslexia and made it into an advantage for Percy and those like him. There’s a reason, it has a purpose. I loved the reworking of issues into advantages for a secret life.

There is adventure and danger, plenty of chances for Percy and others to be heroes and we see the start of this new world. I practically dove into book two after finishing this one. It held strong from start to finish and I loved every minute of it.

You can purchase The Lightning Thief via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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