‘Dear Evan Hansen’ by Val Emmich

(I was very kindly sent a proof of this book by Penguin ahead of it’s release. My opinions haven’t been affected though.)

I first learned about the story of Dear Evan Hansen last summer, and I can’t tell you how I stumbled across the story, but I found myself listening to Ben Platt’s performance of Waving Through A Window on ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers’ and I was hooked and have been hooked ever since, for so many reasons. It’s a powerful story that I’m so happy is now in book form (and coming to the West End next summer!).

If you aren’t familiar with the story, Evan Hansen is a 17 year old high school student who has a hard time connecting with the world around him. On the advice of his therapist, he begins to write himself letters everyday. ‘Dear Evan Hansen, Today is going to be a good day and here’s why…’ When he prints off one of these letters at school one day, Connor Murphy takes it and pockets it. What ensues is a lie that was never meant to happen, but may have given Evan a shot at what he’s always wanted – a chance to fit in.

There’s a reason this story resonates with so many people, because at its very core it is a story of acceptance. There are countless people who will feel a connection, on some level, with Evan and feel like their story is being heard, and that’s incredible. Although I’ve never seen the musical, I did find myself placing the songs from the soundtrack as I went along. And although I can’t comment on how well Val wrote the novel, I felt a huge connection with it either way.

It’s a book that will genuinely leave you gripped, no matter which kind of books you usually read. You’ll be hanging on by a thread as you try to find out what is happening throughout the story, and even if you know (vaguely) what is about to happen, you’ll still feel it – I can attest to that. It’s a book that packs an emotional punch, and you should not underestimate it – it’s certainly not a heavy read, but you should be prepared for just how much of a rollercoaster it is.

Fans of any kind of YA novel will find themselves in this book, and I really mean any novel – it’s required reading for anyone and everyone. If you can’t, like me, go and see the musical, please read the book. It’s a story that deserves a place in the world today and a story that deserves to be heard.

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I Was Born For This by Alice Oseman

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(This book was sent to me for review, but my opinions haven’t been affected in any way!)

This particular review is long overdue, but I hope it’s worth it!

Angel Rahimi cares about The Ark a lot. So much so that care is probably an understatement. She’s a fully paid up member of The Ark fandom, and decides to go to a gig in London with an internet friend she’s known for years, but has never met in real life. Jimmy Kaga-Ricci is a member of The Ark, and owes a great deal of his life to being part of the band. What a shame that much of his life is up in the air at the moment. And yet, Angel and Jimmy are unexpectedly pushed into each other’s lives, facing what reality and the world could offer them with.

Readers of anything I’ve written before on Alice Oseman’s books will know that I really, really like Alice’s style of writing. She writes incredibly relatable books with stories you can get behind and characters you really connect with emotionally. All characters, though for me especially Jimmy, give us a lot to think about and chew over when we consider real world implications of the issues drawn upon in the book, like mental health or internet friends – it’s one of the only books I’ve read where the idea of friends online having equal status to those in person comes up as a topic. It brings together lots of people from lots of different backgrounds, and it’s a hugely fun book to read on the whole. I was certainly gripped.

If you’re a fan of Alice’s previous books, you’ll love this. It’s a fun, action-filled book about a boy band but not about a boy band. Really a great read for anyone searching for a great YA read – in fact, I’d suggest it’s a great book for anyone looking to start reading YA too! And as I’ve said about Alice’s books before, I can’t wait for the next one!

I Was Born For This #YAPlaylist

Hello! Today I have a really exciting post to share with you all – it’s my turn on the I Was Born For This #YAPlaylist blog tour.

If you’re anything like me, music is hugely important in your day to day life, whether you’re listening to music at home, at work, in the car or on the train to work, wherever it’s hugely important. So, to celebrate the release of Alice’s fantastic new book following star band ‘The Ark,’ YA bloggers from across the internet are sharing songs that Alice has picked for the playlist that fit with the book and adding one ourselves too. So, here we go!

Alice, for my stop on the tour, has chosen Burnished Bronze by Labyrinth Ear, and here’s why!

This was one of the first songs I put in the I Was Born for This playlist! I’m not sure how closely the lyrics really relate to IWBFT, but it was the image of ‘burnished bronze’ that made me put it on the playlist. It made me think of The Ark’s beautiful life being ‘burnished’ – polished over and over so it shines – at the expense of the happiness of the band boys. Something, something, metaphor. Either way, it’s a lovely song, and the electronic vibes fit perfectly into the playlist!

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/7anBm6BhrYLVIHfrmi5ah0

So, now I think it’s my turn to share a song from a band or artist I love at the moment as well! This is especially difficult because I love a lot of music at the moment but I think I’ll stick to a favourite of a while now – Swim by Fickle Friends. 

This song is a really catchy, feel good song which I heard for the first time about last year, and I remember thinking it was a great song especially for the summer. I also think the band are really underrated and if you haven’t heard of them I certainly think you should know of them! In a way, it might even remind you of the main characters from I Was Born For This as well. Take a listen and see what you think!

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/3ed180hoyUcF6wVqOqmm3O

Thank you to Alice for stopping by today, take a listen to all the other songs from the #YAplaylist and stay tuned to find out what other songs are making their way to that playlist.

Myths, mistakes & other inner debates about naming The Goose Road

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Hello! Joining me on the blog today is Rowena House, and I think I’ll say no more and let Rowena take it away!

 


Journalist me: why did you chose The Goose Road as the title for your book?

Author me: I wrote the story under the working title of The Butterfly’s Wing, which is a metaphor I borrowed from the founder of modern chaos theory, Edward Lorenz, who once asked, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” in order to explore the mathematics of how microscopic disturbances in complex systems like the weather have immense knock-on effects.

In my original story, the actions of my protagonist, Angelique Lacroix, caused terrible, unintended consequences, but my editor at Walker felt that was too cruel to her as a character, and too shocking to the readers, so I let this element of the plot sink beneath the surface in later edits. That meant The Butterfly’s Wing didn’t work as a title anymore.

So your editor told you to change both the book and the title?

She asked me to change them, yes. But that’s one of the great things about working with an editor: they see things in your story that you don’t. They also understand their readership far better than a debut author. Also, I absolutely agreed with her that there’s no point whatsoever in having a title you have to explain to the reader. That defeats the whole point of a metaphor.

Where did The Goose Road come from, then?

I’d read a lot of First World War fiction and poetry while researching the background to the story. The Western Front in 1916 was a terrible place to be. The full weight of industrial-scale artillery shell production was crashing down on soldiers of both sides. So for the new title I went back to the soldier-poets for inspiration.

In 2014, the Imperial War Museums had published a wonderful collection called First World War Poems from the Front, edited by Paul O’Prey. I drew up a long list of possible titles from imagery in these poems.

Is that where the title came from?

No. In the end, none of them were right.

OK. So The Goose Road came from where, exactly?

I wanted the title to have more than one meaning. I wanted it to work on different levels. In the story, Angelique’s flock of Toulouse geese go on a journey, so unlike The Butterfly’s Wing the final title has a literal meaning. I’d also been deeply moved by Pat Barker’s incredible Regeneration Trilogy, The Ghost Road especially, which is the third book. I think it’s probably the most powerful novel I’ve ever read in my life.

Then you chose The Goose Road because it chimed with a book you admire?

Partly, yes. It’s a small act of homage. But The Goose Road has a third level of meaning as well.

Which is?

There are sad themes in Angelique’s story, as you’d expect from a novel set during the First World War, but there’s also hope, love and forgiveness, and the cyclical nature of history. I wanted to hint at these ideas, at the sense of continuity. How the road goes on…

You’re spinning this out deliberately, aren’t you?

That’s what fiction writers do. Writing a novel is tough, you know. It’s not like knocking out some short news report.

Journalist me: *rolls eyes*

Author me, grinning: I first found a reference to The Goose Road in the enigmatic result of a Google search for Paul Evans’ Field Notes from the Edge which said,“They are part of a mystery of birds and water that travels way back into our culture, certainly to the origins of English. This is a thousand-year-old riddle … to the ancestral north across the sea – which the author of Beowulf, the first great poem in English, called: the swan’s road and sometimes the goose road.”

Intrigued, but unable to fathom what this excerpt meant, I bought the book, hoping that this thousand-year-old riddle might somehow be connected to the West Country witchcraft tradition of the North Road, which is a myth I threaded into my story.

Instead what I found was a beautiful book, which weaves together the roots of our language and culture with nature and our lost wild places.

The thousand-year old riddle is this: “Silence is what I wear when I walk the earth or make my home or stir the waters. Sometimes my beauty and these high air currents take me above the houses and the power of clouds lifts me over nations.”

The answer to this riddle is the mute swan. The swan’s road – or goose road – is their migratory flight path which links Britain’s flooded meadows and winter waterways to our ancestral northlands across the sea.

In fact, this mythical road seems to be older than a thousand years, dating back to the period when the people we call Anglo-Saxons lived in the fens and estuaries of Northern Europe.

“Swans and geese are often interchangeable in the language of legends, part of a lexicon of birds and trees that carry meaning between culture and Nature,” Paul Evans says in his book.

He ends the chapter on mute swans and greylag geese thus: “Across the Bifrost goose-steps the greylag; she shakes thunder from her wings and wipes her beak in the water, the world bigger, more wondrous and hers again.”

Journalist me:

*pauses*

I like that.

And your title.

Thanks. Me too.

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The Goose Road by Rowena House is out now. 

My favourite extract from A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars – Guest Post by Yaba Badoe

Hello! Today I’m very excited to share this guest post from Yaba Badoe, author of ‘A Jigsaw of Fire And Stars,’ sharing her favourite extract from the book. I need to give little introduction, I’ll let Yaba take it away!


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My favourite extract from my debut YA novel, A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars is the short opening chapter from p1 – 3.

   This extract is crucial to the story because it introduces, Sante, the heroine. Sante was a baby when she was washed ashore in a sea-chest laden with treasures. It seems she is the sole survivor of the tragic sinking of a ship carrying migrants and refugees. Fourteen years on she’s a member of Mama Rose’s unique and dazzling circus. But, from their watery grave, the unquiet dead are calling Sante to avenge them.

    I love the opening of A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars because it plunges a reader straight into the drama that propels the novel and resonates through its narrative: the scuttling of a boatful of refugees and migrants who are making the deadly sea crossing from Africa to Europe. I wanted the reader to feel the panic and fear inherent in sudden death and destruction. At the same time my aim was to hint at something larger than an individual instinct for survival and self-preservation. I like to think that in moments of crisis, when death is imminent, my characters might choose to preserve what is most precious to them. In A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars the life of baby Sante is saved as she’s thrust into a precarious future with the blessings of those she leaves behind in the sea.

 

    I’ve spent most of my working life making documentary films for television. So not surprisingly I’m a huge fan of cinema. Nothing excites me more than the opening sequences of a film at the theatre. Once the lights are out, I experience an exhilarating rush of emotion at the possibility that if I’m in the hands of a good storyteller literally anything can happen. Maybe that’s why I made the opening of A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars as dramatic as it is. Whether it’s a rooftop chase in the old city of Cadiz or refugees doing everything in their power to save the life of the youngest of their number when their boat is sinking, nothing thrills me as much as visualising a scene. Once a scene in my mind, I then try to describe elements of it in a way that will keep a reader reading.

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Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard

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(Potential spoilers ahead! Be warned!)

Heading into every year I try to look at the books that are set to be published in the year ahead, and there’s always a list worth a small fortune that ends up being compiled as result. This, for rather obvious reasons, was one of the books at the top of my list. Having read Sara’s previous book A Quiet Kind of Thunder, a book which completely blew me away, I was very excited for this book too – rightly so, as it turned out!

Eden McKinley’s best friend Bonnie is a model student, consistently getting straight-As and on track to become Head Girl. But then she goes on the run with her secret boyfriend, the last person Eden would have expected. The police begin the search for her and Bonnie is worried knowing that she’s lost her best friend, physically and emotionally too, but best friends never tell, right?

Of course, whatever description I gave of the book there does it a complete injustice. To begin with, I found myself being reminded of ‘Me & Mr J’ by Rachel McIntyre on the basis that both focus on student-teacher relationships within the plot. What’s different about Goodbye, Perfect is that it’s taking a new dynamic – we’re seeing the relationship, however anyone else sees it within the book, from the impact that it has on people around her. This is really interesting. We get our whole sense of Bonnie’s character almost solely through how she interacts with the other characters within the book, and by the way, the use of systems like messaging within the book was perfect.

Speaking of impacts on other people, there’s a beautiful line about relationships that Connor says around halfway through the novel. It goes something like, “Being in a relationship means considering their whole lives, not just the part with you in it.” Connor and Eden’s relationship was one of the key highlights of the book for me. There’s always a certain beauty to reading romances written well, and for me their relationship was an absolutely essential component of the book, second to Bonnie’s disappearance to begin with, I doubt the book would have worked without the two being as close as they were. Valerie was right when she said Connor wasn’t quite like “other 16 year old boys.” This aspect of the novel is really hard to try and explain without spoiling, so my advice here is read the book and try and tell me it’s not one of the best fictional relationships you’ve ever read (alongside Steffi and Rhys’ from A Quiet Kind of Thunder of course!).

I do want to mention the ending. Again, I’m trying not to spoil the book, but whilst I’m not entirely convinced the book could have ended in any other way without doing the story justice, I’m a little sad we didn’t find out what happened to Bonnie post-Glasgow. That, of course, is representative of their then broken down relationship, but on a personal note I would have liked a little more detail of what happens. Then again, as the book points out, people and life aren’t always that straightforward!

I loved the book, and can’t recommend it enough to you. If you’re in need of a great YA book that genuinely will keep you coming back for more, look no further. On with book 4, Sara?!

Writing about real life (sort of) – Guest Post by Will Hill

Hello! Today it’s my turn on the YA Shot Blog Tour, and I’m very excited to welcome After the Fire author Will Hill to the blog to talk about writing about real life. I’ll leave it up to him to take centre stage from here!


My latest novel, After The Fire, was inspired by something that took place in Texas in 1993. Between February and April of that year, the American authorities (principally the FBI and ATF) laid siege to a rural compound owned by an extremist religious sect, the Branch Davidians, after a gunfight had erupted when they attempted to search the property. It ended in a fire that destroyed most of the compound and with more than eighty people dead, including the cult’s leader, David Koresh.

Footage of the fire and the final assault by the federal agencies was televised all over the world, and the incident – which became known as the Waco Siege – sparked huge debate in America over the authority of the US government, the freedom to practice religion, and the right to bear arms (swhich could – sadly – easily lead you to conclude that not a lot of progress has been made in the subsequent twenty-five years).

I was – and still am – fascinated by cults, and I had known for a long time that I wanted to write a story set inside one. When I was reminded of the Waco footage I had seen when I was a kid (after a visit to a museum in Washington, DC) the bones of what would eventually become After The Fire fell into place really quickly. But there was a problem. What happened in the Texas desert in 1993 was a terrible, defining moment in the lives of a great number of people, and many of the survivors who lived through it are still alive today. I could not reconcile myself with directly retelling the most traumatic event of their lives as entertainment.

There have (obviously) been tens of thousands of historical novels, and many of them have been based on hard subjects. The winner of last year’s Carnegie Medal (the brilliant Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys) was based on the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in 1945, in which more than nine thousand people perished. But Waco was only twenty-five years ago, and many of the people who survived it were children. Some have chosen to tell their stories in the years since, but many of them haven’t. And it was very clearly not my place to speak for them.

Instead, I drew from other cults that have believed in an imminent apocalypse and from those men (they’re almost always men) who have used fear and manipulation to control other people. I created a belief system distinct from any of those practiced by religious sects in real life, and nothing like the one practiced by hundreds of millions of Christians around the world.

I read everything I could find on Waco (including the US government report into the siege and the remarkable work of Dr. Bruce Perry, who treated the young Branch Davidian survivors) because if I was going to write something inspired by this dark, tragic moment in modern history, I needed to know as much as I possibly could about it. I couldn’t leave getting things right to chance.

So the end result is this: the Lord’s Legion are not the Branch Davidians, John Parsons is not David Koresh, and Moonbeam didn’t exist until I invented her. As I say in the author’s note at the end of the novel, After The Fire is a work of fiction. But like a great many stories, it came from something real, and it was vital – after deciding that this was a story I was going to tell – to treat that source material with the respect it deserves.

I’ll leave it up to the readers to decide whether or not I succeeded.

After the Fire is available now. 

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