If I Stay – Gayle Forman

‘I realise now dying is easy. Living is hard.’

After a fatal car crash that leaves 17 year old Mia barely alive If I Stay lets us follow her through her as she questions whether to comeback, after being certain she has lost both of her parents. Mia has a choice to make. As she watches her family and friends come to terms with the disaster she has to decide will she stay? Or will she let go into the unknown…

As with many other people I because aware of this novel because of its film release (due later this year), I’s heard good things about the novel and the film looked brilliant. We’re guided through the novel by Mia herself as she struggles to watch the rest of the day unfold. All she can do is watch and listen. Her family, friends and boyfriend are all willing her to come back and it’s up to Mia to decide if that’s enough.

Although I like the idea, the novel didn’t particularly stand out to me. The novel is fairly short and sways between the present and past and gives us a good insight into Mia’s life before the accident. I found it hard to connect to the story, of course it made me sad but I didn’t feel a deep rooted connection to Mia or the characters around her. That said, I did feel an incredible connection in relation to how she felt about her music and the prospect of being a musician and this added to the sense of tragedy. If anything I would have loved more insight into her love of music and her hopes and dreams, although maybe this was intentional.

Forman has ventured into a question that few of us will even consider answering, if I could chose would I live or die? For many of us we would instantly say I’d live, but would we? This is not the first novel of its kind, however, it is the first for young adult readers, it makes them think. I makes the reader consider a life without their loved ones and the choices and sacrifices that are made every day. I wouldn’t say that the novel is morbid in that respect but it deals with death in quite a straight forward way, for Mia it appears to be more of an escape. It also raises the question of life after, we have no idea how Mia will be affected by her injurys if she decides to survive. Will she play Cello again? Will her dream of going to Julliard be snatched away from her as her parents were? Is her younger brother Teddy, who she adores, still alive? As I said it is a novel full of questions and what if situations.

If anything I’d say that the book could have been longer. Although well written, there was so much crammed into the book that at times I felt rushed through. I wanted to know the smaller details, memories and possibly more about more minor characters in the novel to give them a bit more life within the novel. Also what about afterwards? If she decides to die, does she meet her family? If she lives do her dreams come true? I guess to an extent this leaves us to make up our own minds but I wish this was included in the novel. 

 I give this novel 3 stars ***. I liked the idea and found Mia to be a nice character but failed to interact with her as a person. I also found that I was hungry for more at the end of the novel and felt that it could have had a better ending or more to it maybe? If you’re looking for a shorter read that raises questions then If I Stay may well be for you.

 

Review by Chloe Metzger 

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Dear Thing – Julie Cohen

How could one selfless act make you feel like a monster?

One baby. Two mothers.

Dear Thing…

It’s not every day that your best friend offers to carry a child for you, a dream that looked like it would never come true. This is the case for Ben and Romily, friends since university and inseparable. In the midst of another miscarriage for Ben’s wife Claire, Romily offers to carry a baby for them and to donate her eggs. While at first all goes to plan and runs smoothly it isn’t long until Romily’s feelings develop into something more. While carrying the child of the man she has loved for years she starts to dream of the impossible…keeping a baby that she knows isn’t hers to keep.

I loved the fact that this novel is bold in the face of a tricky subject as well as being believable. A lot of the time novels about surrogacy are quite fluffy and don’t have the complications that Dear Thing has. The relationships are real to us because frankly it could happen to anyone, Romily is sure that the reason she is doing this is because she wants to help her friend after everything he’s done for her. We know she’s battling with her feelings and so does she but I find the character to have remarkable strength and she becomes so real to us because she’s honest. Cohen has done an incredible job of breaking taboos, breaking this image of a ‘natural mother’. Romily does a great job in her own non-conventional way but so does Claire, Cohen highlights a mothers struggles, triumphs and the thoughts most won’t speak out loud.

I’ll admit the character of Jarvis threw me a little and to some seems like a plot device but I liked him. I feel like without a new character and relationship dynamic the novel could have quickly got boring and left the characters weak. On that subject I have to say that Posie is my absolute favourite character because there is nothing like the honesty of a child that always listens. What Cohen has done so well with these relationships the way the characters relate to each other, this isn’t a novel full of happy endings and rainbows, there are times when you feel deep sadness for them or even happiness.

This novel is one that makes you think, not judge, a rare thing in these types of literature. You know what makes sense but reading through you begin to question and in a sense live through the situation and it’s not all black and white, there are a million shades of grey and just as many ways the novel could end…you’ll have to pick up a copy to find out though!

I’m giving this novel 5 stars *****! I absolutely loved it. While it’s thought provoking it’s not too intense on the ready the pace is gentle and fairly steady meaning that if you have a tonne to do (which I did when I was reading it) there are places you can stop, although I warn you, you won’t want to! This is an incredibly well-crafted novel, thoughtful, realistic and bold, go grab a copy now!

 

Review by Chloe Metzger

Just what kind of mother are you? – Paula Daly

 Your friends daughter goes missing.

She was your responsibility and you forgot her.

Just what kind of mother are you?

 

Lisa is the same as any other working mother, she’s stressed, she’s frazzled, she has a job to keep going as well as her three children and husband. Anyone can understand things slipping her mind occasionally, except what she’d forgotten was to pick up her friends child. The next morning she finds out that teenage Lucinda never went home, now she’s missing and it’s all her fault. As the days carry on and the search for Lucinda dwindles people start to point the finger.

I stayed up all night reading Just what kind of mother are you? I cannot put it down became literal, when it got to 3am and I couldn’t take in any of the words I decided to call it a night, only to wake up the next day and begin again. The best thing is that it really keeps you guessing right until the end and even if you take a sneak peak at the last page you have no idea. Daly has done an incredible job of keeping suspense throughout, the novel never gets boring and you may find yourself cancelling those Friday night plans to get to the bottom of what happens to Lucinda.

The multiple narratives that Daly uses work fantastically well. I’ve always been a fan of using more than one perspective to show the reader the bigger picture. You get to see the characters in the eyes of others as well as themselves which I think is really important in these types of novels, no one is innocent. This also relates well to the dynamics of the relationships between the characters and adds to the suspense. I particularly loved the unknown narrator which is used at time, frankly it’s chilling.

The characters were also spot on and incredibly realistic. You could actually imagine each of them, it’s as if you actually know them. Daly is also incredibly good at not making people simplistic, she understands real people. Lisa was an incredible character, she was frazzled, she blamed herself and she made mistakes which makes her seem normal to us. The only fault I could find was that at times her relationship with her husband seemed too passive at times, however, this did pick up over the novel.

I want to give this novel 5 stars *****, the characters and the plot are seamless. The pace is perfect and there are constant twists and turns. I dare anyone to read it and say they are bored because this is fantastic!

 

Review by Chloe Metzger 

The Second Life of Amy Archer – R.S Pateman *****

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Your daughter has been missing for 10 years, she’s standing at your door and hasn’t aged a day.

For the past 10 years Beth Archer has been struggling to cope with the disappearance of her daughter, Amy. Although slowly rebuilding her life Beth is reluctant to let go and makes annual visits to psychics, one of which tells her ‘the little girl…she’s coming soon’, although not as she expects. As a young woman, Jenny, stands at her door claiming that she knows Amy is alive and introduces her daughter Esme, who has a chilling resemblance to Amy and memories that no one else can understand, they claim she is Amy reincarnated.

The novel really is full of twists and turns, although the concept of reincarnation is not one that I had come across in a novel before I absolutely loved it and it was a daring move to place the use of psychics within a crime novel.  It’s hard to believe that this is Pateman’s debut novel. This novel is more than just a thriller it’s engaging, stimulating. As a reader I didn’t just get to know the characters I considered theories of reincarnation, afterlife as well as getting stuck into Beth’s mind as she confronts something that none of us could even imagine.

The character of Beth has received some criticism but I personally thought she was a great character. She reminds me of real life mothers who I have seen portrayed in the media, blames for their children’s deaths or not being careful enough. She is distraught and desperate for some or any connection with her daughter, as I believe any mother would. The pain radiates through the pages as she struggles to deal with the ten year anniversary of Amy’s death as well as Esme’s claims and intimate knowledge of their family life prior to the kidnapping.

Your thoughts mirror Beth’s, is any of this real? How could this ever work or is this all just a clever and devastating ruse to ruin her life. I have to admit that at times I found Beth’s character to be selfish and incredibly fragile but then I considered how anyone would react when faced with this situation. Even if you have to put the book down (which I wouldn’t recommend) it’s simple to fall seamlessly back into and read continuously for hours.

I want to give this book 5 stars *****! I can’t even begin to describe how much this novel excited me, it’s so refreshing to find a novel that is not only full of original ideas but also taps into a complex set of characters. The only other thing is that I would have liked to have known a bit more about Libby, but this may have hindered the plot, so I think it’s for the best. I was also fortunate to talk to the author (who is also lovely!) and discuss the ending, which has received mixed opinions but in my opinion you’ll absolutely love it!

 

Review by Chloe Metzger

The Silver Linings Playbook – Matthew Quick **

When Pat is finally released from ‘the bad place’ he is relieved but also knows that despite his belief in silver linings some things don’t quite add up. Quickly we are introduced to a host of characters, his loving mother, hostile father, a new therapist and mysterious Tiffany. None of this matters to Pat, however, as all he wants is to get his wife Nikki back.

The novel covers Pats recovery and attempts to follow his hope of being reunited with his ‘love’ Nikki but he can’t understand why nobody speaks about her any more and why his therapist won’t let him speak about her and instead steers the conversation to Tiffany. Despite this Pat will not give up and continues his rigorous technique in the hope of finally ending ‘apart time’ and seeing Nikki again.

I felt very uncomfortable with the way people with mental illness were portrayed in the novel. At points they were portrayed as violent, manipulative and selfish. I didn’t feel like this was fair or appropriate. It also showed the characters as ‘broken’ and a clear misunderstanding from all those around them. It would have been nice for someone who is not suffering from mental illness to have understood Pat. I feel that this just adds to the myth that everyone with a mental illness is unstable.

I only give this book two stars. I didn’t feel it was realisitic and frankly it upset me on a personal level. The story seemed to be focused on the erratic thought process of Pat and although this was interesting the character of Tiffany really annoyed me. I wouldn’t recommend this book to any of my friends, it’s not that bad but it doesn’t particularly stand out in my mind.

Looking for Alaska – John Green

One of the things John Green is incredibly good at is making me cry. Not in a personal way, although if I was to meet the incredible man himself I may cry tears of joy. After reading The Fault in our Stars (see the review here, now knows as TFIOS) I ended up discussing it with friends, one of which said to me ‘You have to read Looking for Alaska, you have to’ luckily he had a copy and lent it to me. I was hooked, as will you be.

The novel opens with Miles , a character which I could connect with at first. I wasn’t sure of his quirks, remembering last words? What’s that about? It’s all part of Greens brilliance and something that I can’t reveal to you.  I was slightly sceptical at first, Miles appeared to be a nerdy loner being shipped off to boarding school but for some reason I kept on reading. Before long we are introduced to Colonel and Alaska, a beautiful and complicated girl which often leaves Miles (now nicknamed ‘Pudge’) scratching his head.

Once the other characters had been introduced I couldn’t put it down for my life. I was obsessed with the characters, Alaska in particular. I’d been forewarned that I was going to cry at some point in the book and so I thought I was safe, surely I wouldn’t cry like I did at TFIOS? A note to the girls reading, don’t read and wear make up because you feel like you’re at school with Pudge, Colonel and Alaska. The chapters are a count down which aids your curiosity but I mistakenly thought I knew what would happen. I was far from wrong.

There are reasons why this novel is much more than just Young Adult fiction. Green has created another master piece which isn’t afraid to ask questions bigger than what you would believe. Themes of love, heartbreak, confusion, religion are all explored in a non conventional way and you know what, Green doesn’t treat teenagers as idiots.  The ideas that come alive both ‘before’ and ‘after’ will make you think for days, which as my readers will know in my eyes means its a fantastic book.

It’s hard to believe that this was in fact Greens debut novel, with the great heights he is reaching with TFIOS, this is almost as good. I will give this book 4 and a half stars as it’s definitely going to be read read and will stay on my shelf for a long time.

Others of my kind – James Sallis

Jenny Rowan has spent years re-building her life. After being kidnapped at the age of eight by a paedophile and kept under his bed for two years, she finally managed to break free and ends up living in her local mall. It takes 18 months for the urban legend of ‘mall girl’ to be found and placed in the state care system after she can’t even remember her real name. We meet Jenny yeas later after she’s built herself a life an career until her past starts catching up with her. 

Although I fell in love with Sallis’s style and generally the way he writes I didn’t really understand the meaning of the novella. It was as if there were so many avenues that Sallis could have taken and so many unanswered questions remained at the end. The story moves quite quickly and you can generally assume that this is building up to a key part of the story. It wasn’t until after I finished I realised that there isn’t a  huge moment in this novel, instead, the plot actually seems to reflect the personality of the protagonist. 

I found the character of Jenny to be sweet but I don’t feel like I really knew her throughout the novel. The changes were almost too quick and despite knowing her back story the reader doesn’t have a relationship with her. The novel doesn’t focus on Jenny’s past, which although others say is one of the perks I found quite disappointing. I also didn’t understand the relationship between Jenny and Jack, it didn’t really make sense to me. They just seemed to be thrown together and get on instantly, it didn’t seem real or likely. As did Jenny’s relationship with Cheryl, while it highlighted Jenny’s open and caring nature, this also seemed rushed. That said Jenny’s empathy for the squatters was what, for me, showed her as the ‘good person’ she is described as on the back of the book. 

 Overall I enjoyed the short story and it was interesting but it could have done with more suspense and what I believe to be more reality. I’m going to give this 3 stars ***, I did enjoy it but I found it difficult to follow. For example Sallis also brings in some sort of political agenda, one which I struggled to understand. While it relates to Jenny’s past I wish it had added more suspense rather than just being there as an issue and a link. 

 

Review by Chloe F Metzger 

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