The Manifesto On How To Be Interesting – Holly Bourne

51yfbnkl2kl-sx316-sy316I had avoided reading Holly Bourne after I tried to read Soulmates at publication in 2013 and found I couldn’t associate with the characters. About a week ago I was looking through my shelves for something I’d had for a long time but not read yet and landed on The Manifesto On How To Be Interesting. 

My first impression was it would be a contemporary makeover story about a frumpy glasses-wearing girl who, with a new  haircut, becomes the most popular girl in school. To some extent it is exactly this, but what I hadn’t counted on is that it would be an insightful and heartfelt parody of those stories.

The main gist of the story is that Bree is constantly being rejected by publishers for her book, so her English teacher suggests it’s because she isn’t writing about things that are interesting. In order to become a better writer Bree decided to infiltrate the most popular group in the school and discover what makes them interesting, and gain life experience along the way.  I saw so much of myself in the main character, Bree. She’s a girl who lives on the outskirts of society, spending most of her time reading, writing or criticising the modern world with her best friend, Holdo. She’s wealthy and goes to a private school but is down-to-earth and completely relatable. Part of the story’s charm is it could have been set anywhere and the interpersonal dynamics would have remained the same.

“Do you think maybe your writing isn’t going anywhere because you’re unhappy? Because you’re not living the life you could? A life worth writing about?”

The book is glittered with pitch-perfect comments on the constructs of high school society and hierarchy, especially popular boys who, as Bree’s Mom puts it “…have never once not got the girl, so they’re never scared of losing the girl. And if they’re not scared of losing you they’ll screw you about”. There are theories aplenty here; about how life is easy for attractive people because that attractiveness is valued more highly in society than the people themselves. It questions how much ‘attractive’ and ‘interesting’ really interlink, and challenges how we are supposed to interpret those ideals.

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Bad Girls With Perfect Faces – Lynn Weingarten

61qmmo2b6uxl-_sx324_bo1204203200_Bad Girls With Perfect Faces is the second book from Lynn Weingarten. The first book, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls never really appealed to me but when I read the synopsis I was instantly intrigued. I picked it up on my birthday weekend and ended up reading the whole thing in a couple of hours in a waiting room.

The story follows Sasha and her best friend Xavier, who is trying to get over his toxic relationship with now ex-girlfriend Ivy. Ivy is your typical beautiful, perfect, manipulative character who is hell bent on getting what she wants. When Ivy reappears and persuades Xavier to give her another chance, Sasha knows she needs to do something to convince him Ivy is dangerous. In this media age it has become more and more easy to become tangled in somebody else’s life, and thats what Sasha does.

It’s told mostly from the first person viewpoint of Sasha and the 3rd person narrative of Xavier, however there are unnamed sections in between. There were so many times when I thought I knew what had happened, who had done it and who was talking. I changed my mind so many times and still didn’t get it right.

The pace builds slowly, like a stoking a fire, but when it really gets going it rages out of control. There’s so much to love in this book. It made me sit and think about how you can never really know who somebody is or how they’re going to act, and I thought about how we just fill in the blanks with our assumptions, and how that can go so wrong. The book touches on depression and mental health, and actually asks a lot of existential questions about how we should live our lives. It exploits a lot of moral grey areas and you have to ask: and what point would you have stopped helping your best friend? Who is in the right? Is anyone ever really innocent? There’s so much you can get out of this book.

It really made me reflect back on when I was a teenager and my relationships with my best friends. Although the way we present our relationships to the world has changed, how we feel about each other and the pressures of growing up really haven’t, and I think about this whenever someone says that YA isn’t for adults. What young adults are reading and experiencing now, people like me in their 30’s are reading and reflecting on and I don’t think there’s as much of an emotional gap as people believe.

One thing that bothered me is the prevalence of the use of drugs and alcohol. They’re 16/17 and there’s no voice saying you shouldn’t be drinking or doing drugs. I know that teenagers push the boundaries in terms of experimentation but it’s just, normal. It’s easy to see why young people get mixed messages when doctors give them drugs to help with everything then tell them they can’t use recreational drugs, or alcohol until they’re 21. But that’s another story.

Goodbye, Perfect – Sara Barnard

9781509852864Goodbye, Perfect tells the story of Eden, whose 15 year old best friend Bonnie has run away with a man. And not just any man; their Music teacher Mr Cohn. This is the first YA book I’ve read in 2018 and I actually loved it. I have to admit that it’s not something that I would normally have picked up myself, but a friend gave me the advise that it’s like Me and Mr J by Rachel McIntyre, which I also loved.

I really like the idea of the position that Barnard has put her main character, Eden, in. The focus of the book isn’t actually about what Bonnie has done, but about the impact that it has on those left behind, and the moral and legal arguments that surround it. I think the unbiased presentation of every side of the argument is very clever and demands empathy.

The story is mostly told through Eden’s first person narration, but there are visual conversations between her and Bonnie over text that just felt spot on. The book is split in to ‘days missing’ and has newspaper articles at the beginning of each chapter that sheds light on what society as a whole thinks about the situation too. This, along with the reflection on previous conversations that have taken on new meaning to Eden, keeps the pace of the story moving quickly.

The more I read the more I was thrown back to my teenage years, how you feel that you’re an adult because your own body and the world are basically telling you are. Even school is preparing you to be one. Except you don’t realise or understand the emotional responsibility that comes with that until you actually are an adult. I connected with the story instantly and felt a real nostalgia for the fierce loyalty and love I had for my best friend. I understood how I would have felt if she had run away too (I’d have told straight away, just for the record, I wouldn’t have been able to live with the guilt).

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Me And Mr J – Rachel McIntyre

512fcn0cb0l-_sx324_bo1204203200_I really loved this book! It’s a brilliant story that shows the isolation that some children feel, and the way they become vulnerable to those who are in a position of power. There is the saying that it takes a village to raise a child and I think that shows here, if every adult in Lara’s life had taken an interest in her in a responsible way then it should never have come to her putting her emotions into an unhealthy attraction.

I felt the issue was dealt with really well, and the ending was the only way it could have ended – it’s a good lesson for those who think that crushes on teachers always stay innocent. I think it deals with the ‘he loves me and age doesn’t matter’ vs. the ‘she led me on even though she’s a child’ scenario really well and seeing it only through Lara’s eyes makes it all the more devastating; I constantly wanted to scream at Mr. Jagger!

It puts forward all of the debates and arguments about bullying and its emotional effects, but also how the modern world affects the choices teenagers feel they have about solving them because of what they see in the media.

It’s a controversial read, but very compelling.

Reviewed for Electric Monkey