History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Published: 17th January 2017 (print)/17th January 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster/Recorded Books
Pages: 294/9 hrs and 35 mins
Narrator: Tom Picasso
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   – 1 Star

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

When I realised Silvera had another book out I picked it up instantly because I adored They Both Die at the End, but it didn’t take me long to realise that this book and that book are vastly different in terms of enjoyment.

I kinda see the point. Theo is already gone, and we flash back and forward to how the memories Griffin has are all that’s left versus how he is living his life now. But on the flip side – it’s boring. Even listening to this at 2x speed did not help me get through this faster. Every time I thought I was close to finishing I still has ages to go.

It was definitely a combination of a few things. I didn’t have any connection to these characters, they weren’t one dimensional exactly but at the same time there isn’t any depth or emotion to them that I could find substance in.

There’s emotion of course, we get descriptions and experiences of their time together and how Griffin feels after Theo is gone but it only ever felt like words. The story takes place so close after his death yet I kept thinking it was months afterwards the way everyone behaves and how hollow the words felt.

There’s a little bit of “mystery”. Theo’s death is a slow reveal and we find out gradually what happened, all the different layers and circumstances, but at the same time it meant nothing. Even the eventual reasoning didn’t make sense and at times the circumstances and the behaviour between Wade, Griffin and Jackson felt unnatural and clunky.

Good points: Silvera portrays compulsions well with Griffin’s behaviour about counting and routines. His OCD is not a focusing factor, but it isn’t treated as a background feature either. It butts into scenes, affects interactions, and has flare ups based on experiences and events but being OCD isn’t the focus of Griffin’s story which was nice. It wasn’t about him having OCD and Silvera keeps the balance of it being a part of Griffin and not the point of the story well.

I cannot understand how someone who wrote They Both Die at the End, a beautiful, philosophical, amazing book also wrote this. I know this came first and writing evolves, but they both came out in the same year and the shift from this to that is drastic. I’m now wary with his other books because knowing it could go either way I’m going to have to do a little bit more research than picking up a book based on author alone.

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Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Published: 7 July 2020 (print)/7 July 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Sourcebooks Casablanca/Dreamscape Media
Pages: 427/13 hrs and 11 mins
Narrator: Joe Jameson
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Wanted:
One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.

I adored this book but I have found it incredibly hard to write a review for it which is always a weird experience. The set up for Luc and Oliver’s fake dating is interesting and realistic in that it is a wild idea that needs persuasion and rules which I loved because it is an inherently strange thing to start to do and seeing it being set up like a contract was great.

Having there be a semi long term date to aim for meant there was a solid investment in these boys that wasn’t the following week and it gave plenty of time for the plot to unfurl and have all the wonderfully devilish chaos, drama, emotional toil and evolution of feelings one needs for such a sweet story as this.

What I liked about this is the drama comes from two messed up people, one more open to admit they’re messed up than the other, and seeing the pair of them grow and learn, become comfortable with themselves and each other, but then also have to face their own fears breaks is brilliant.

Luc’s wall to suppress his feelings and not look any deeper than the surface is slowly broken down beautifully and the way Hall has built up his character for the reader means you understand him quite quickly but also have so much more to learn about him.

Oliver seems perfect from the start as we see through Luc’s eyes, but he too is broken down into more complex pieces and realise he’s putting up a wall and façade in his own way.

The story itself was well told, we explore the depth of their lives and see friends, colleagues and families in a way that makes them full, rich characters and you see the worlds in which they live where a fake boyfriend would be a necessity at times.

I loved the use of mirroring scenes and the in-jokes are incredibly cute. I love these boys and their unorthodox relationship and friendship and seeing them try to act naturally around one another when they are both a small mess is highly endearing and entertaining.

I haven’t read many (maybe any?) fake dating stories but this is a fantastic one because Hall gives it time to be convenient, messy, complicated and heartfelt and as the days and weeks and months go by the relationship between Luc and Oliver reshapes itself multiple times which benefits them both as people, but still leaves you wondering whether they will stay together in the long term.

The writing is amazing, the story is clever and funny, full of love and heartbreak, vulnerability and hope. For all the extra plot and life happening around them it all comes back to the focus around these boys which is perfect because they are delightful even when they’re being fools, which to be fair is a lot of the time.

You can purchase Boyfriend Material via the following

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Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

Published: 5th September 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Open Road Media
Pages: 183
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

When Liza Winthrop first lays eyes on Annie Kenyon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she knows there’s something special between them. Soon, their close friendship develops into a deep and intimate romance. Neither imagined that falling in love could be so wonderful, but as Liza and Annie’s newfound sexuality sparks conflict in both their families and at their schools, they discover it will take more than love for their relationship to succeed.

This was a beautiful story to read. I found whenever I stopped reading I longed to come back. Garden tells the story of Liza who is reminiscing about meeting and becoming friends with Annie before a mysterious incident happens that has kept Liza from contacting her.

The writing is easy to fall into and it flows beautifully as you read so you find yourself turning page after page. There was a lovely story being told and I loved the naivety, the passion, and the free spirited nature of these girls. The descriptions are beautiful and honestly it’s incredible how Garden has captured the growing relationship and the act of falling in love between these two girls.

It is of course also a heartbreaking story. For all the beauty and eloquent writing about two teens finding each other and falling in love there is the society around them intent on demonising them if they ever found out. It isn’t only Annie and Liza’s lives under scrutiny either and Garden does a fantastic job of capturing the whole story and all the players in it. Garden balances telling the story while also pointing out society’s failings remarkably well. It says so much but it works within the realm of the story world and never seems out of place or comes across as moralistic or pushy.

Garden tells the story in both past and present tense and the mixing of flashbacks and Liza’s present situation as she writes letters to Annie is incredibly well done. There are well placed clues and mystery around what separated these girls and as readers you’re caught up between watching them fall in love while also wondering what has come between them.

What I found amazing about the whole story is you never felt unsatisfied and it was sometimes surprising to be flung back into the present after having escaped so completely into the past through Liza’s words. I loved this book from early on and it stayed an amazing story throughout. From being a ground-breaking book of its time in the 1980s this story has held up and remains a fabulous and emotional story about first loves and the power and intensity they can have.

You can purchase Annie on My Mind via the following

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Who’s Your Real Mum by Bernadette Green

Published: 31st March 2020 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scribble
Illustrator: Anna Zobel
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

‘Elvi, which one is your mum?’
‘They’re both my mums.’
‘But which one’s your real mum?’

When Nicholas wants to know which of Elvi’s two mums is her real mum, she gives him lots of clues. Her real mum is a circus performer, and a pirate, and she even teaches spiders the art of web.

But Nicholas still can’t work it out! Luckily, Elvi knows just how to explain it to her friend.

This is a great story about what it means to be a “real mum” and how having two mums doesn’t make one more real than another. I enjoyed this story because it is playful and light-hearted even though it’s about a sensitive question.

Green’s approach to this was excellent because kids have questions, adults have questions, and whether or not they are right to ask those questions it’s going to happen. Having Elvi deal with Nick’s constant questioning about her “real mum” with humour and heart is a great way to point out to Nick and the reader that there is no such thing as only one “real mum”.

I liked how Zobel’s illustrations start to capture the more outlandish answers Elvi gives. It plays into the notion that Elvi’s mums are superheros in a way being able to do all these fantastical things with a great tongue in cheek that Elvi is completely messing with Nick. The use of blues against the brown and yellows in Zobel’s pictures highlight the fanciful answers and it’s a great way to show that both mums can do these things in Elvi’s imagination. I also liked how Zobel incorporates the more creative answers in and around whatever real life activing Nick and Elvi are currently doing whether it’s playing in the park or walking down the street.

Overall, it’s a nice gentle story that points out how impolite it is to even ask such a question, but the curiosity of kids covers this and Green shows a nice friendly and humorous response to Nick’s questions.

You can purchase Who’s Your Real Mum via the following

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If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Published: 3rd May 2016 (print)/4 August 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Flatiron Books /Macmillan Audio
Pages: 280/6 hrs and 59 mins
Narrator: Samia Mounts
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

A new kind of big-hearted novel about being seen for who you really are.

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?

Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl is a universal story about feeling different and a love story that everyone will root for.

I read this after Russo’s other book Birthday but while I liked this I think Birthday was a more powerful story. Even though some tough issues are raised here like transphobia, bullying, abuse and violence towards trans people, it was still a relatively minor part of the story. The main plot points are about Amanda at her new school, making new friends, falling in love and trying to reconnect with her estranged father.

There are stereotypes and easy roads taken to make Amanda’s story work which Russo admits to, but that is ok because this isn’t a story about Amanda’s transition (though we do get her full backstory through well placed flashbacks), this is about her life now and how she is navigating a new school, new relationships and her first love.

Russo’s author note at the end talks to her readers, trans and otherwise about how to approach Amanda’s story. She admits she took liberties and made the process seamless for Amanda where it otherwise shouldn’t have been to make the reader accept Amanda more easily, but she acknowledges that many other people don’t have such luxuries in real life. I liked this addition because it would be so easy to dismiss Amanda’s experiences because she had it easy and things were perfectly aligned for her, not to mention for people to assume this experience was universal when it isn’t. In doing so Russo makes the story afterwards the focus and Amanda’s life now rather than before where the main story lies.

Having said that, it isn’t a perfect road for Amanda – I hated that for the entire time I was waiting for the reveal about her past and for the town and/or her friends to turn on her. There are so many trans stories and they shouldn’t all end in revelations resulting in abuse and rejection but while some of Amanda’s story had rule bending, I appreciated Russo not sugar coating the entire experience.

Despite being #OwnVoices it still falls into YA tropes and stereotypes; it is cheesy and sappy at times, but if you’re after a sweet romance with the small town aesthetic that so many US YA books have then this is right up your alley.

You can purchase If I Was Your Girl via the following

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