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

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

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

Dymocks | Fishpond | Amazon

Amazon Aust | Audible