‘Replica’ Lauren Oliver

Moved to write about ‘Replica’ the very moment I have finished it!  I have been longing for something a little different in the world of YA writing, and this was it!  2 books in one, the same story told from 2 very different viewpoints.  This I suspect was probably so hard to write to make it work, but it was seamless, clever and rather than being repetitive really did add to the whole story, making it feel complete.

I read the Lyra side first.  Kept in a research station on a private island Lyra’s life is one of uncertainty, control and experimentation.  She sees clones, or replicas, some more ‘viable’ than others all created for an as yet unnamed purpose.  During a sudden and violent attack, Lyra and a boy clone known as 72 manage to escape into a world they are utterly unprepared for.  During their escape, they are found by Gemma and Jake.  Gemma tells the other side of the story, essentially the same, but each with their own individual revelations and interpretations.  Gemma knows there is something strange going on in her life.  Cosseted beyond anything that is reasonable by her far too overprotective parents, Gemma starts to explore more of her family history, and her father’s secretive connection to a research facility called Haven.  Determined to find answers she travels to Florida and the Haven centre, and the stories of both girls become interlinked.

Although reflecting the same essential basic story, the 2 sides are told in different voices, with very different perspectives.  I wondered if this might feel repetitive, but it was anything but.  The stories developed together in a way that felt complete – filling in gaps and giving another perspective.  There is also burgeoning romance for the two couples, which I felt was introduced really well.  Important to the story, but not overwhelming and feeling pretty true.

You can probably tell I loved this book!  Some of our students will baulk at the size (it is 2 books in one after all), but I can see this being very popular.  It is also very visual, and could make a great film.

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‘Between the Lies’ Cathy Macphail

Another tense read from Cathy Macphail ‘Between the Lies’ has the reader hooked from the start.  Schoolgirl Jude has disappeared, and the first that is heard from her is a desperate text to Abbie – yet another teen misfit.  Suddenly Abbie is thrown into the limelight, organising publicity and a vigil to get Jude back to her family.  However, this book takes us on a very twisted journey, and just when we think we have the measure of the characters and where the story is going, we realise just how wrong we were.  With mounting paranoia, the story takes on some very dark undertones, and as I was reading I couldn’t see quite where it was going to end.  We get drawn in to the web, trying to work out along with the characters where the lies end and the truth begins.

I enjoyed this immensely.  There were times I feared it was in danger of getting a bit silly, with each layer getting more involved and complex, but I really liked how the ending was handled.  Some students may find it a bit sudden, but I thought it had great impact because of that.

‘Stargazing for Beginners’ by Jenny McLachlan

Well, I can’t deny that recovering from surgery while waiting for radiotherapy is giving me loads of time for reading! I confess I’ve missed reviewing a couple, but am taking a look at ‘Stargazing for Beginners’ here.

Meg, a self-confessed science geek, longs to reach for the stars and become an astronaut.  This isn’t some pie-in-the-sky ambition, she is seriously committed.  However, when her hippy Mum disappears on a sudden volunteer mission, Meg is literally left holding the baby (baby sister Elsa).  To add to the stress, an imminent NASA competition sees Meg going up against cool boy and rival Ed to win the trip of a lifetime.  With unpredictable but lovely Grandad, and an even more unpredictable Pongo the dog in the mix as well, Meg’s Mum really couldn’t have chosen a worse time to leave her to cope.  Meg doesn’t have many friends to help out (so many stories seem to feature the misunderstood teen geek,who turns good in the end).  Meg has a tough time all in all, but ultimately a group of misfits thrown together find a way to rescue Meg, and get her to the competition – no spoilers!

I enjoyed this read, although found it a little frustratingly unbelievable at times.  I do think our students, however, will all recognise at least a little bit of Meg in themselves, even if most of the adults are portrayed as irresponsible and a bit daft.  It’s quite light, and I think I’ll be suggesting some of our Yr7 students give it a try.

‘Paper Butterflies’ Jennifer Niven

‘Paper Butterflies’ follows June through various points in her life across the years.  June lives with her Dad, his wife and her daughter.  June’s mother we learn died some years before we first meet her, and inevitably this had a huge impact on June’s life.  However, from the very first scene we find Kathleen ( June’s stepmother) forcing her to drink a huge amount of water and not allowing her to go to the toilet, resulting eventually and despite her very best efforts in June wetting herself on the bus to school.  Ridiculed and constantly bullied by classmates even from this early age of 10, June also faces bullying and secretly sadistic behaviour at home.  June’s Dad never witnesses anything, and fails to spot what is going on.  Unsurprisingly, June does have moments when she retaliates, and this ends up labelling her as unpredictable, and occasionally violent herself.  From the very first moment we have enormous empathy for June, suffering dreadfully at the hands of an imaginative abuser.  This child who lost her own mother very young is subjected to degrading humiliations at the hands of a person who should be caring for her.

June manages to escape from the house as often as she can on her bike.  On one ride she comes across some empty caravans, and a young lad with the unlikely name of Blister.  They form a strong and enduring friendship, and although June tells Blister some of what goes on in her life, she never tells all, trying to keep it away from the world she and Blister have created.

Moving backwards and forwards in time, we have glimpses of June finally exploring her dreadful experiences, although I did not see quite where these would bring her.  For most readers this kind of abuse will be so far outside our experiences, thankfully, but each time June retaliates we understand where this is coming from, even when this end up in the most extreme destruction.

This is just the kind of read that our students will love, and will stay with them long after finishing.

‘Holding up the Universe’ Jennifer Niven

I had already read & enjoyed ‘All the Bright Places’ and a student had then recommended Jennifer Niven’s next book for teens, ‘Holding up the Universe’.  I was looking forward to this one, and it didn’t disappoint.

Libby was once dubbed ‘America’s fattest teen’, but look beneath the obvious surface, and you find there is much more to Libby, of course, than her size.  Returning to high school after a long time away,  she meets Jack – the boy everyone wants to be friends with.  His laid-back charm and good looks, however, hide a secret he keeps even from his own family. When they meet both their worlds change.

This is written in short chapters alternating between the two main characters, so we see the story from both perspectives.  Somehow, this elevates the story above the usual teen-angst books, of which there are plenty.  This is also a very visual tale, and I wouldn’t be surprised if film rights haven’t been snapped up already.  The characters don’t always make good decisions, and the peer pressure every teen feels around the world is vividly described.  However it is also a story of finding your individual strength, as well as a realistic developing relationship.

I can see this is going to be hugely popular, and will be recommending it to our students!

‘Dune, Dock, and a Dead Man’ Carolyn L Dean

Sometimes I just need something very light and relatively undemanding to entertain me, but not needing a massive amount of work on my part.  Why do I feel the need to excuse this read from that horribly named genre ‘cozy mysteries’?  Probably something to do with that horrible label!  So, I admit this happens to be number 2 in the series (yes, I did read No. 1!).  Amanda has now managed to get her run-down, inherited B&B in Ravenwood up & running, but once again all is not as quiet as it seems in the Oregon seaside town.  A stalker is warned off, but is then found dead in mysterious circumstances, and Amanda helps investigate to clear her friend’s name.  This title even includes a recipe at the end!

Click here for details on Amazon

Yes, it’s light.  However, the writing is competent and I enjoyed this equivalent of a reading holiday, and I will read the others in the series when I am in need of another break!

‘The Boy with Two Heads’ Andy Mulligan

I loved ‘Trash’ so much, that this was an obvious choice while waiting for my next Carnegie read to be available.  This book is described on the front as an ’emotionally-charged black comedy/thriller’ which really does sum it up pretty well.

Richard is in year 6. He’s had a difficult year – he was the only person there to witness the death of his beloved grandad. To make matters even more tricky, a growth appears on his neck that develops very quickly into another, fully functioning head – a true part of him, and yet at the same time not.  ‘Rikki’ is loud-mouthed, rude and opinionated.  He also has a tendency to turn violent.  He seems everything, in fact, that Richard is not.  Together, though, they prove brilliant on the football field, and have to find a way to work together to thwart the plans of  the scheming Dr Warren.  In a pretty surreal ending Richard/Rikki and their friends (plus a teacher) end up trying to evade capture by trained commandos in wildest Wales.  Using the story of Icarus as inspiration, they escape, make peace with their Grandad, and are reunited with parents.

There is a huge amount of anger in this book, which made it an uncomfortable read for me at times.  However, we all grieve in very different ways for those we lose, and I can see representations here of bottling up, anger, lashing out, that we can all feel.  I loved some of Rikki’s sharp observations – he really does speak with honesty if hugely unpleasant and truly offensive at times.  Still trying to decide on the target audience for this book – although the main character is in Yr6, I’d suggest older students would be better able to understand the extremes shown in this book.

In all honesty I can’t actually decide if I enjoyed this book.  It’s very unusual mix of comedy, horror, fantasy and friendship.  A unique read.