Does my Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Published: 1st August 2005Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Pan Australia
Pages: 293
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

The slide opened and I heard a gentle, kind voice: What is your confession, my child? 
I was stuffed. The Priest would declare me a heretic; my parents would call me a traitor… 
The Priest asked me again: What is your confession, my child? 
I’m Muslim. I whispered.

Welcome to my world. I’m Amal Abdel-Hakim, a seventeen year-old Australian-Palestinian-Muslim still trying to come to grips with my various identity hyphens.

It’s hard enough being cool as a teenager when being one issue behind the latest Cosmo is enough to disqualify you from the in-group. Try wearing a veil on your head and practicing the bum’s up position at lunchtime and you know you’re in for a tough time at school.

Luckily my friends support me, although they’ve got a few troubles of their own. Simone, blonde, gorgeous and overweight – she’s got serious image issues, and Leila’s really intelligent but her parents are more interested in her getting a marriage certificate than her high school certificate!

I thought I would like this more. I didn’t dislike it, but it wasn’t the amazing book people made it out to be. It felt clunky and uneventful, and while there are great moments that shine through, the moments that falter stand out more.

The dialogue was…awkward. Conversations didn’t feel natural and Abdel-Fattah uses a lot of them to explain everyone’s back stories or Amal to educate the character (or us) about various topics and situations. They never seem to talk about anything else. The language was stilted and while what they are saying is valid and important, it doesn’t sit comfortably in the story. I don’t mind being told these things, but I think a more seamless inclusion was needed. This includes the excessive amount of metaphors and examples used, I understood that Amal wearing the veil sparked a need to educate the people around her but I felt overloaded with them.

I enjoyed the parts where Amal talks about why she wants to wear the veil and why it is important to her. I loved that I got to dislike the principal because of her own opinions and prejudices, no matter how subtle they were. And I liked Amal not putting up with anyone’s ignorance or preconception; her confusion, real or mocking, over why there is a problem at all is wonderful.

What was weird was being late reading this, it feels so old but it wasn’t at the time of course. I did not realise this was published in 2005, I thought it was the early twenty tweens, not the mid-2000s. The benefit of this however was I did enjoy reliving 2002 when Big Brother and Craig David were hot topics of discussion, I even think a bum bag reference was made which was fun.

It wasn’t all bad. There are some good moments like Amal’s frustration of being the token Muslim and I enjoyed getting to read about Muslim practice and faith. But it remained an average book, one I couldn’t connect with and whose clunky writing never let me fall into the story completely.

You can purchase Does My Head Look Big in This via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Published: 15th April 2014 (print)/15th April 2014 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/Recorded Books
Pages: 355/8 hours 22 minutes
Narrator:  Laura Knight Keating
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.

I didn’t really like this book but I am not going to tear it apart because I was more confused than anything. Confused why it’s so loved, confused why people love Peter, and confused because it was a strange book where nothing happens.

The premise is reasonable, but the execution was unsatisfactory. I understood the sister dynamic that Han was aiming for, the loss of a big sister when she moves, the little sister relationship and the adoration of the cute boy next door, but something was missing. There was family charm and Han explains the relationship well, I just never felt it.

The narrative was boring and I struggled to make myself finish it. The fact I was on a 17 hour flight with little else to do is the only reason I kept going. With the only plot point this forced romance and a small mystery about the letters, it wasn’t much to hold onto into terms of depth and interest.

I am seriously going to have to watch this movie now because I did not get the adorable Peter vibe from this book. I got the Peter is a tool and he is annoying and cannot fathom why people think he is a sweet, charming person? This relationship between them is fake, and even when Lara Jean convinces herself she likes him for real, it still felt fake. I did not believe for a minute they actually liked each other like that. They may have become friends, may have got to know each other better and like who they were, but there was no romance. The triangle was unrealistic and the whole thing felt unbelievable. And Peter remained unlikable.

With no character growth I felt nobody learnt anything, and I seriously cannot mention the anticlimactic ending enough because the point of this novel is that ending and it fails. It doesn’t even sit like an open ended, audience decides thing, it just ends.

I actually had an ending in mind based on how Han had constructed this which would have been a great ending to a lacklustre book, but it never happened. I actually felt betrayed that this perfect ending was practically laid out before us which never eventuates. It would have made everything worthwhile if that had happened, but alas, it ended on a strange cliff-hanger (if that’s what we can call it), for book number two. I don’t really think I will be running out to read it, but if I find myself on another 17 hour flight with nothing to do I might pick it up.

You can purchase To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

More Than Friends by Liv Devereaux

Published: 5th September 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Self Published
Pages: 47
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult/Short Story
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Dana and Hope used to be best friends in elementary school. When they got to high school they lost touch. Dana got busy with soccer and Hope found a boyfriend. When they are paired up together for a project, Dana and Hope get the chance to get to know each other all over again. They’ll realize that both girls have changed in the last three years of high school. 

I picked this not looking at the page length, rather by the summary. I could easily see this as a full novel though, Devereaux easily could expand this into something longer, the bones are there. As is it is sweet, a bit rushed and easily solved, but at 47 pages you can’t expect anything but happy coincidences and easy solutions.

Despite this, it was a nice story, and even though it was short it felt established and rounded and a satisfactory read. Dana and Hope were good characters, the dual narration offers two perspectives and two stories, a great chance for readers to see the misunderstandings and hidden secrets which make young romance so lovely.

I would read this again if Devereaux expanded this into a full novel, but for the time being it was a lovely story about young love and repairing friendships.

You can purchase More Than Friends via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Truly Devious (#1) by Maureen Johnson

Published: 16th January 2018 (print)/16th January 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Collins/Harper Audio
Pages: 416/10 hours 12 minutes
Narrator: Kate Rudd
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult / Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym, Truly Devious. It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.

I finished reading this book and immediately wanted to read it again. I don’t mind waiting for the next one, I will live on the excellent cliff-hanger for a year if I have to, it will give me a chance to go back and relive the wonderful clues because even that cliff-hanger had clues once I thought about it. It’s divine.

Johnson knows how to write a good mystery and is great at writing a mystery that doesn’t feel too intense or overly complicated. She balances the mystery and the regular story wonderfully but blends them together marvellously.

There are the red herrings, plus my CSI brain went over the top and I already have a suspect for the 1930s case, not so much for the current one. I love that nothing is what it seems and what might just be a shy or reclusive character is now a suspect. Having a mystery around a bunch of teenagers is a great premise and in a grand old school with grounds and hidden tunnels is a prime location.

Johnson is new to writing these kinds of mysteries but she already a master at creating a fascinating and captivating mystery filled with unique characters that have quirks and fantastic personalities. Stevie is a great character, she is passionate and a tad obsessive about the Ellingham mystery. Stevie loves true crime podcasts and detective books which drive her passion and thinking processes. But I also love that she has her own flaws; she has anxiety, she isn’t the friendliest and she is often lost in her own world. It was refreshing to read about a character like her, driven and focused and perplexed by other people.

One thing I adored was listening to it as an audiobook. Rudd does a fantastic job and the tone and voice of Stevie is natural and flows seamlessly. As with all of Johnson’s books there is so much of herself in these words. The story is written the way she speaks and tweets which was a delight, plus Rudd’s voice sounded like Johnson’s which, for me, was like having Johnson herself in my ear which made it even more wonderful.

You can purchase Truly Devious via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository Audible

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Dymocks

 Fishpond | QBD

 

The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

Published:  26th September 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
  Imprint
Illustrator: Sarah Kipin
Pages: 281
Genre: Young Adult/Short stories
Format: Paperback
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, these tales will transport you to lands both familiar and strange—to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse.

Things to love about this book: fantastic fairytales, beautiful illustrations.

This collection of stories was a divine read. I definitely loved some of these more than others, which sounds like I hated some, but I didn’t. I just adored some A LOT. There is great diversity in the style of stories and the surprises are brilliant and are incredibly clever.

The fairytales have the timeless era setting which makes them everlasting. There are sneaky characters and innocent victims, but there are wonderful tricksters with ulterior motives and who buck against their expectations.

Bardugo abides by the rule of three when it comes to fairytales. It’s great to see that fairytales are not just old tales we’ve retained or reimagined, they can be new stories as well. I love that fairytales keep being created, they are not a long ago genre we must be satisfied with only retelling the ones we already know. These new fairy tales are beautifully written and beautifully illustrated which makes them even more magical.

One thing that must be mentioned as many times as possible is the beautiful designs that border the pages. They creep their way around the pages as the stories unfold, adding an extra dark and sinister layer as they go. Perfect in their revelations and their foreboding.

If you love fairytales you will love this. It was dark and sinister, and all the creepy, unexplained magical things of the original fairytales. This is set within the Grishaverse of Bardugo’s other books but there is no need to have read them before starting this as it makes no difference if you’re coming in blind.

You can purchase The Language of Thorns via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Wordery | Angus and Robinson | Dymocks

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

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