Fireflies in December – Jennifer Erin Valent

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‘The summer I turned thirteen, I thought I’d killed a man’

It’s the middle of a hot summer in the southern states of America, Jessilyn’s only concerns are the idiotic boys that her mother invited to her thirteenth birthday party and how to make the mysterious new worker her Daddy employed fall in love with her.  Although Jessilyn knows the summer won’t bring her any joy nobody could describe the heartache the summer will bring. After her best friends parents die in a horrific fire he father decides to take in the young girl, something any respectable man would do, right? Wrong. The child is a young African American girl called Gemma, who with nowhere else to go welcomes Jessilyn’s fathers offer. Unfortunately this creates outrage in Jessilyn’s small town as people are disgusted at the decision to treat a young black girl the same as his white daughter. It is through Jessilyn’s eyes we see the vile nature of southern racism at its height.

For a debut novel I found Valent to have a true talent. There were no big loopholes in the plot and everything seemed to blend together seamlessly. The characters did come alive and with her vivid descriptions of the southern heat and scenery it was easy to imagine the world he had created.  I found Jessilyn to be a great character, she wasn’t too mature and out to make a difference she was just a normal young girl thrown into chaos.  The novel did remind me somewhat of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and in some ways I thought it was even better. For example after all of the novels I have read that are based around this time it is the only novel to show the true extent and horror of the Klu Klux Klan. It shows these disgusting cowards for what they are, liars, murderers and hypocrites. It also shows the extent of what the groups would do at the time. I know from previous research on the topic how ruthless the KKK could be. Thousands upon thousands of African Americans were murdered every single day many of these were children as this didn’t matter as they claimed it was their ‘duty’. It is Jessilyn’s courage and spunk that enables her to be able to defend both herself and Gemma when they face horrific violence. It must be pointed out however that the family themselves are not completely angelic and selfless. Although Jessilyn’s father does not care about the towns perceptions of him and only wants to do what is right, her mother is not as eager to displease her neighbours and become the talk of the town.  It is in this scenario that we can see both sides, the family wants to do the right thing but they are punished for it as if they are traitors.  In light of this the novel does have a fair bit of humour even in the darkest of times. Valent has made sure to show normal everyday life for a family in this situation meaning that despite the terrible prejudice they face, there are also times where they can laugh together.

Overall I found the novel to be a brilliant read and would gladly pass this on to any of my friends. I have given this 4 stars, not because there is anything missing it is just my view that perhaps the ending could have been a little different or maybe we could have had an epilogue a little while after to show any change in the town.  I definitely think that this novel should be taught in schools to highlight the ruthlessness of the KKK and the hardships faced by those having to live in these circumstances . In this instance Valent has achieved something rare, she has dared to show reality, something which many are too scared to do.

 

Review by Chloe Metzger

Moving on

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L-R Charlee, Me, Lucy, Melanie, Daisy at Headstart pub night! 

Many of my dedicated followers will have noticed that I have dropped off the radar for the past week or so. Fear not I am back with some fantastic news!! I am now a student of English Literature and Creative Writing at Kingston University! I did it! With a mention in my local paper may I add (even though they got some of the info wrong it was still nice). I ended up getting a B in English Literature, A in Extended Project and Distinction star, Distinction, Distinction in my Music Practice diploma. The best thing? After being up most of the night I got a lovely little text from Kingston at 7am saying congratulations I have been offered a place, which turned in into a jumping screaming girly girl. I will be moving up in 3 weeks and let me assure you the shopping is now well under way and I have some amazingly interesting text books! Luckily I stayed in Kingston 2 weeks ago on a summer school thing for potential students (see above) and made some wonderful friends (oh and won an iPad!). This means I now feel super excited and confident about going to uni!!! 

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As well as my results and failing my driving test (again!!) something lovely happened in the past week. I spent my five year anniversary with a cozy day in and pizza with my lovely other half Alistair. A lot of people have an idea that because we have been together so long that we are the perfect couple. We will both tell you straight that we are not, we drive each other absolutely crazy! Although you know what they say, opposites attract and in a lot of ways that is what we are. Normally I wouldn’t bore you with my love life but without Ali I wouldn’t be going to uni. Before I met him I wasn’t going to uni and didn’t believe I could with his encouragement as well as my family and friends) I am now starting in 3 weeks! We’ve had a rough old time in the past especially with my illness but he is honestly my rock at the low points.Image

Ali and I at a We Are the In Crowd concert back in April. It is so much fun to go and see bands together, especially when he lets me stand on his feet! 

I called this piece moving on because I truly am. I can feel myself changing in a good way. I have some exciting things for the rest of the summer and I am in talks about an internship with a big writing company (if I get it then you will hear more!). As well as all this my new band No People Club have been doing really well,getting a lot done as a three piece before we find our bassist and drummer in London. This is important because when For All That Goes broke up I lost my faith in music but now I feel like a stronger person and singer with that behind me.

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L-R Ben, Me, Ali

No People Club having fun! 

 

So that’s it for now! I will have a review up for you in the next few days! Also I may abandon The Green Mile because I am SO BORED. New updates soon! 

 

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

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‘Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book’- Hazel

This novel shattered my heart into a million pieces and made me laugh more than I have in a long time.   From the first pages The Fault in Our Stars I was laughing and I fell in love with the character of Hazel.  I loved her brutal honesty, her train of thought and just how normal she tries to be. It wasn’t until I finished the novel that I realised just how much of a good job Green had done at getting into the head of a sixteen year old girl with terminal illness. There were no flaws in her monologue, decisions or actions. I felt that Hazel was real, at first I was a little taken aback with how mature she was about dying but this is not uncommon in novels of this kind. These types of novels have been dubbed ‘sick lit’ by the press which I think is just pathetic and immature. The novel isn’t out to ‘glamourize’ death or terminal illness and I think it is an insult to the tireless research authors. In a nutshell this novel is about falling in love, having hope, excruciating loss and life after death.

 

I’ll admit that at first I was incredibly sceptical of the love life between Hazel and Augustus. I rolled my eyes a little when the beautiful boy turned up to take her troubles away. Usually I would have been able to put the novel down at this point but Greens charm made it so that I could not walk away ( I seriously mean that, I took my Kindle EVERYWHERE until I had finished). There is something unique in the relationship between Hazel and Augustus. Some may be sceptical but how do we know how we would act if we were in love and time was running out?

The one way I can tell if a novel is worth reading and passing on is if the characters are still walking around my head a week after. You wonder endlessly about them, as Hazel does herself in regards to her own favourite novel, An Imperial Affliction, with that ending (see now you have to read it to understand what I’m on about).  I still think about the characters and have endless questions for Mr Green if I ever had the pleasure of meeting him. The characters really do come off the page, I feel like they were my friends and at certain points I had to stop and fight off tears by the pool side (especially as I had an outburst of ‘No!’ with absolute agony in my voice making my family look at me very strangely the day before). It felt like just as you were getting to know the characters and thought you knew how they were going to act and what they were going to do you were thrown off balance and had to revaluate what you previously thought. I feel that the relationship between Hazel and Augustus has been portrayed in a very interesting light. Green has not set out to prove that a teenage love lasts forever, nor does it make everything better which I believe adds to the magic and reality of the novel. It is not only the relationship between Hazel and Augustus that is explored within The Fault in Our Stars there is the relationship between Hazel and her parents. It is rather incredible that Green has not stuck to the stereotypical parents in many aspects. I cannot spoil the plot for you but Hazel’s mum is not as clingy as she seems.  Green has instead portrayed an emotional father and a mother who is not pressuring her to pursue endless treatment; she wants her to have a life. It is because of her parents that she finds herself in the support group for cancer and although she hates it by the end you can see their logic and the effect of Cancer on the family unit, they deal with it the best they can. The reader also experiences the world through the eyes of a cancer patient and Green goes as far as to make a point out of the Cancer Perks which the characters themselves do at times find amusing, for example Augusts’ driving skills.

I was surprised to find that the novel did not depress me, yes it made me sad and I felt heartbroken but it also made me appreciate the struggles of people with Cancer as well as inspiring me.  As a writer who is researching terminal illness I found Green’s ability incredible as well as his empathy with his characters.  There is a point in the novel which I found to be both beautiful and brutally honest in regards to the previously mentioned ‘Cancer Perks’. I will not spoil the plot for you but I will say that Green makes it clear that even when you have Cancer the world can still screw you over, making the characters more normal. I will give this novel five stars ***** it really is a unique novel and I urge everyone to read it or at least try it.

 

Review by Chloe Metzger  

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne

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In the horror of war, it’s the innocence of children that breaks your heart.

I honestly felt that through every single page of the book, I already knew the ending so I didn’t cry but oh my, this book is a beauty. The novel centres around nine year old Bruno, a normal young boy from Berlin with big dreams of becoming an explorer. All is going well for Bruno apart from his ‘Hopeless Case’ of a sister irritating him until one day he is told he will be moving away from his beloved Berlin. After moving to ‘Out-With’ Bruno is beside himself with no exploring to do, no friend to play with and the only mystery being the odd fence beyond the garden…who are the people beyond the fence. As time goes on there is a lot Bruno does not understand, even more so when he meets Shmuel, the boy on the other side of the fence. Why can’t they play together?

The magic of this novel is that we truly see the Holocaust through a German child’s eyes. Bruno does not understand the things that are going on around him. He does not understand what The Fury is or who the rude man who came to tea was that made them move to Out-With (you guessed it, Hitler himself) . Although at time as an adult reader I could pick out little holes in the plot such as wouldn’t Bruno be enrolled in Hitler youth seeing as his father is a high ranking officer? Wouldn’t he have been brainwasher to some extent into having a hatred for Jews? It is possible that he is simply too young to understand or even that his parents have tried in some ways to keep him out of political matters. On the other hand however we do see Bruno’s sister Gretel who is a few years older getting more and more interested in the war as she gets older, so I cannot hold it against Boyne at all.  Despite any flaws I have to admit that the friendship between the boys is rather remarkable and do hold that brutal childhood excitement and honesty. It is obvious that Shmuel is rather anxious and less likely to speak his mind than Bruno, however, there is still the energy of having a childhood friendship between them despite the terrible circumstances they face.

As a novel about the Holocaust I do feel that this is a great novel for children more than for adults. In the novel you do see the effects of war, the treatment of all those who suffered but in a way that doesn’t give children nightmares. I believe that this is the type of novel that should be introduced in schools and then read again in later life, as the novel will go on to touch the hearts of both adults and children alike.  I have read novels like this before and although this is fictional it is remarkable just how well Boyne has created this horrific world through the eyes of an innocent boy. What I also found within the novel was realism based on human relationships, there were political disagreements that caused the break-down of a family, lying and cruelty but amongst all this there was the relationship between Bruno and Shmuel. It was interesting that despite their circumstances they could still have a quite normal friendship, they dream together, makes plans and talk about the homes they miss so much. It is the friendship and bond that reinforces the message throughout the book that people are all the same. In the same way other modern classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Boyne has magnified the flaws of a specific time period and it’s ideals through the simplicity of a child’s point of view and it works remarkably well. Once you reach the ending (if you don’t know it already) you will understand the bittersweet heartbreak that this novel causes to all who read it.

Overall I give this novel 4 stars ****. I think that it was incredibly well written and gets into the mind-set of a child perfectly making you truly realise the horrors of war. I am only not giving this 5 stars as I felt that the introduction of Shmuel took a little too long in my opinion, that said however I do understand that the novel is for children and gives them the background needed. I would recommend this book to you all. Truly heart-breaking and beautiful.

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne

Review by Chloe Metzger