August- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

The device, or computer you’re looking at, is stoically emitting a soft electric light, and my words, mere dark pixels in a sea of white, make a message. And then the email  from Peter flashes at the top your screen, briefly dragging your attention away as you connect with the words of a person miles away, without any physical strain. In Station Eleven, the human population is scarred by a pandemic, the horrific Georgia Flu. Those who remain, do not waste their breath on trying to maintain the internet. Or electricity. and running water. They simply can’t: when 99% of the human race is decaying, the chances are that the people who do know how to harness the wind turbines, or restart the grid, are dead. And everyone who is left, is battling for survival.

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This was an incredible novel, because it made you start to appreciate what a miraculous world we live in. Yes, you’re reading this whilst stuck in the airport because your plane was delayed, but isn’t the mere thought of heavy panels of metal levitating into the sky and transporting us wherever we want to go in the world, in an under an day, fantastic? When the world is put into a context where all of these modern inventions are suddenly taken away, the luxury of our society suddenly becomes apparent, especially when St. John Mandel returns to a thread of storyline set before the disease, which creates a sharp contrast. I liked that part of the novel because it followed a famous actor Arthur Leander. His life was portrayed in a way that was fascinating because I felt that at times, it was genuinely similar to the alien lifestyle of a modern day celebrity. There were however, parts which I thought were not realistic, like his recklessness in interviews where the  PR manager let him spill his secrets to a random journalist.

Do not be fooled into thinking this novel is a glittery tale about middle aged actor trying to pull himself together; the other part of the plot is dark and thrilling. We are twenty years into the future, in a world desolated by the flu, and we follow the Shakespearean actress Kirsten on her journey travelling around settlements in America, as part of the Travelling Symphony. In a world where there are no laws and no one to enforce justice except leaders of the small societies, the desperation that many people face in the wilderness takes threat and danger to a completely different level.

I absolutely loved this novel, the writing style was surprisingly beautiful and eloquent, and variance between the cruel reality of Kirsten’s world on the road, and the puzzle of the glamorous Arthur Leander’s life worked perfectly. Definitely put this on your TBR list, especially if you’re interested in young adult, fantasy or science fiction.

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The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt

It’s a classic. Not a vaguely successful novel that is dubbed a “modern classic”. Published in 1962, this exhilarating and wonderful read has been translated from its original in Dutch, and has continued to delight generations internationally.

It is set in a fictional world that is bursting with knights galloping on horses, glorious castles and looming forests. It is a fabulous tale about chivalry, and is reminiscent of King Arthur and the Round Table. Tiuri, 16, has been training his entire life to become a knight, and only has one more night, which according to tradition must be spent in silent contemplation in a chapel, until he marches through the city and is officially knighted. There is a woeful cry for help, and Tiuri is drawn to the voice, and the moment he inquiries how he can help, he knows that he is risking his career forever. Yet the mysterious stranger asks him to deliver a secret letter, to the King of land he has never even visited before. Tiuri is honour bound to accept, but as he sets off on his monumental quest, peril follows closely behind in many forms, whether it’s vicious robbers, ruthless assassins or spies.

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This was a fantastic novel; there was a steady flow of action to keep me interested and the world in which Tiuri is so familiar with, is charming. In an a
ge full of iPhones and emails, it was refreshing to encompass oneself in a place where there isn’t even any electricity, so that you can pretend even for a short period of time it doesn’t exist. As for the writing, I am unsure if this is merely as a result of the translation by Laura Watkinson, or if it is the intent of Dragt himself, but it seemed at times sentences came across as stilted and brief. The writing would have been improved if
Dragt had indulged herself in more elaborative detail, but it was adequate to read nonetheless. It is worth bearing in mind though, that it was written over 50 years ago, and therefore the taste of the audience that Dragt was presumably writing for, has most likely changed dramatically.

This is not the most challenging read, but will enthuse those readers looking for a light Summer holiday read, where one frolicking through mountains and fields and through dangers. One that note, the man sent to assassinate Tiuri, Slither, who is th email source of angst and menace, does not feature often, and when Tiuri’s path is crossed by thieves, he is “surprisingly” set free and let off lightly. This does add a slightly genteel edge because you feel as though the protagonist is often cushioned from danger. That aside though, this is  a delightful tale about a teenager whose monumental quest not only sees him through multiple kingdoms, but through the process of changing from an aspiring boy into an experienced young adult.

Who should judge YA awards?

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The Alex Award, the Carnegie Medal, Michael L. Printz Award and the Bookseller YA Book prize. Just a few of the most prestigious YA awards on Earth, prestigious to such an extent that if any young adult author was bestowed one, happiness and pride would be positively emanating from their being. Yet who should be on that committee: who truly deserves to have the right to decide which authors can smugly plaster ‘award stickers’ across their novel’s front covers, and others be content with the trudge to the longlist? When the award is related to Young Adults, there are many controversies as to who should be in charge of making the final decisions.


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Who makes up the actual audience of YA books? 

When considering who should be the judges of a YA book award, it is essential to consider the intended audience, because what appeals to elderly women will probably not coincide with the interest of teenage boys. Of course, young adult books are read by a vast amount of teenagers, but that isn’t the full extent of it; ultimately the actual audience must be taken into consideration, as the novels must be judged against the suitability for the audience. Yet today more adults from across the age spectrum are immersing themselves into the genre too- does that mean that having adults as adjudicators is wrong though? Because if they aren’t the direct target audience, then the novels aren’t aiming to please them, and shouldn’t their opinions then be ignored? Definitely not! If there are enough people from a certain catergory interested and engaged in that type of novel, then what they think is just as important as young adults.

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Who is judging YA awards right now, and why?

Right now, the vast majority of prizes are awarded by a committee of adults. This irritates me, because surely it should be the reverse: that most of them should be awarded by adolescents, with only a sparse number of adults on each judging board? Generally what appeals to teens, regarding their experiences and perspective on the world, will be different from that of an adult- this can affect what aspects of novels engage and please them.I only mention this, because for example, toddlers can’t decide who wins picture book prizes, as they are not objective enough yet. This situation is not similar, and is  unique because of the entire intended vs. actual audience dilemma, and which would be the better in terms of decision making.

As for the why, well I feel that all we need to do is look at the YA Bookseller award’s committee: the judges are embellished with impressive titles, like Director of World Book Day, Director of the Hay festival and columnists from famous newspapers like the
Guardian Weekend. The point is, these people are leading industry figures, and thus have a certain type of status- something which appeal to some people as it can warrant their final decision as more reasonable, if any dispute should come of it like it did with the book that won the Carnegie, The Bunker, a few years ago. Even if the choice is controversial, it is widely accepted because they have these fool-proof CVs. This is most likely intended because when comparing the judgement of a  person with an accolade of impressive experience that of a student, unfortunately people are often prejudiced to vote against the student.

Naturally this is merely a hypothesis, but I think that teenagers are being excluded from judging committees because they aren’t renowned in literary circles and haven’t built a name for themselves. (I must mention that with this particular prize, teens themselves are involved with the final standings, but I am referring to prizes in general, not the YA Bookseller prize in particular). The frustrating element is that this doesn’t mean young adults can’t spot a decent novel, just because they haven’t personally edited 25 themselves! Similarly, despite the unescapable fact that most young adults haven’t been a senior librarian for over 5 years, it doesn’t mean that they are any less adept and useful as part of the judges board. As a whole, young adults cannot gain the qualifications to become “renowned enough” to be a judge and have these various required occupations (such as librarian) that are after sought after if you would like to apply, because they are actually previously engaged with a marvellous pastime called school.

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What am I suggesting as a solution?

I suggest that more teenagers become involved on judging panels, and that their view is represented fairly with the majority of awards. This is not disrespecting the previous outcomes of awards in the past, because it is clear to see that amazing novels have been shortlisted previously, but I believe that introducing a contrast in age on the committee will involve in offering differing perspectives, the younger generation’s perspective, and will change the outcome these honours for the better. I think that we can initiate this change by nominating adolescents with a keen passion for reading to be on the these boards, and perhaps one day our point will get through!

So what do you think of this idea? Do you think that more young adults should participate in judging the winners of prestigious YA awards, or are you satisfied with the current state of affairs?

There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake

The title is correct; I can certify that this novel does involve lies. A plethora of them, in fact. And all these lies revolve around a deaf teenage, Shelby, who lives with a bolshy, and strangely overprotective mother. Shelby is harshly restricted by the strict rules and precautions that she is entitled to follow- but she understands that Shaylene just wants her to be safe. However, once Shelby is admitted into hospital, following a horrendous car crash, her previously sheltered life begins to reveal the seemingly implausible lies that have clung to her throughout her life. And each layer of deceit is peeled away, Shelby’s world is spun ever faster into the oblivion of the astonishing.

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I thought that this novel was relatively engaging, although I thought that there wasn’t enough momentum to motivate me as a reader in the first half of the novel. There was a delightful contrast between the whimsical magical world called “the Dreaming” and the harsh, terrifying world that Shelby predominately inhabits. However, I was more drawn to the magic orientated world: I found myself impatiently waiting for the reality chapters to be finished, hurriedly reading them, so that I could reach the more appealing thread of storyline.

The characters were arresting, but were not particularly relatable or appealing to my sense of affection. Shelby’s mother is frankly psychotic for incredibly poor reasons, and also is brimming with confusing character inconsistencies. Shelby was courageous and smart, yet occasionally I perceived her to be over emotional, and that she made several times some peculiar decisions that I would question. It must be admitted though, that the ending was wildly unpredictable, and that it wouldn’t have ended so unanticipated if it wasn’t for characters’ bizarre motives.

There Will Be Lies is a devious type of novel; riddled with mystery and erupting with twists, you are guaranteed to surprised, if not only by portrayal of a deaf protagonist. Have you read There Will Be Lies- do you think it deserved to win the Carnegie Medal?

Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

A playful, charming, yet striking anti-war novel on the lives of children growing up during the war.

This novel is a follow-through sequel to a prized and beloved trilogy; it is so highly regarded it’s practically a national treasure. Can you guess the novel yet? I’ll offer one word; the Psammead. No? Alright a few more; grumpy, sand fairy and wishes. Yes, that is correct. The Five Children on The Western Front tells us what takes place after all the children from Five Children and It have morphed away from their adolescent selves and are fully fledged adults. Anthea is no longer a naive little girl; she’s at art college, Jane is a nurse, Cyril’s off tending to that awfully impractical First World War and Robert is (a scholar) at Cambridge. The Lamb is no longer a sweet chubby baby, but a mischievous 11 year old, who is always keeping his younger sister, Edith, in check. The two youngest miss their other siblings’ company, especially the magical stories about the queer Psammead, that they were often told.

Except suddenly he is no longer merely the figurehead of far-fetched tales: he surprisingly reappears in their sand pit. It is the perfect excuse to distract the siblings from the gloomy war, yet it turns out that the Psammead is no longer a wish dispensing machine, and he actually has a vaguely serious purpose behind his resurrection in their lives.

I have mixed feelings about the Psammead; sometimes he is a moaning, whining creature, which can get tiresome, whilst on other occasions he is veritably sweet and charming. He has a complex character to say the least; a lot of attitude from such a small being that’s for sure. Through the Psammead, the Lamb and Edith are introduced to the brutal nature of war; they experience it from every point of view- soldiers in trenches, nurses, those left in the country and more. But soon it becomes apparent that the youngest siblings don’t require these adventures to experience the impact of war. Eventually it wriggles it’s talons into the Pemberton’s lives, and brings the reek of sadness with it.

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I admit it. I haven’t read Five Children and It. Yes, it is utterly frustrating, and I really ought to have read it before hand, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. So…despite this slight setback, I loved this novel. I wholeheartedly adored it, for so many different reasons; it preliminarily was simultaneously light hearted, making it an enjoyable fun novel, whilst having also having more serious undertones. I have been enveloped with heavy, hard hitting novels that scream about the outrage of society in general recently, and so it was massively relaxing to be enjoy a more vivacious novel. Having said that, when I was feeling in a more receptive mood, I appreciated the anti-war cries and the solemn messages about character that were being emanated. So this novel essentially can bend itself to your emotional needs. Importantly, it displays a touching account of the war, that is made hugely personal through our connection to not only one, but actually nearly all the characters. Not an easy feat to carry, so I applaud you Saunders. Also, it was impressive to see the story undertake metamorphosis; at first it is bursting with innocence and naivety but soon experience crawls in and before you know it we are struck with aching issues like the cruelty of war. We reach a point that none of the children can return from, not with without shedding the blinds of the innocent. This was executed masterfully; I was so easily engrossed in the story (I read this novel in a day) and I felt like the storyline was unforced and flowed beautifully.

So take a chance, pick up this novel and enjoy a comedic, memorable and above all heart-warming wartime novel. Have any of you read Five Children and It- what are your thoughts on the novel? Have you in fact read that novel and Five Children on the Western Front- which one did you think was better?

Lies we tell ourselves by Robin Talley

An eloquent, impressive and poignant novel about the integration of black students into the previously segregated Jefferson High, Virginia, 1959.

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Sarah is one of the ten black students starting at Jefferson High this year; after years of persistent battling in court, she’s finally going to get the best education possible. But the abuse she and her friends receive when they start is overwhelming, and they all feel a wave of despair when it doesn’t even start to cease. And then Lindsay Hairston catches Sarah’s eye. The daughter of the state’s most influential pro-segregation journalist, and Sarah can’t stop thinking about her. And now Sarah isn’t only afraid of what society will think of this aching desire, as tendrils of disgust and fear are already writhing around her own heart. Because not only is she afraid of everyone’s opinion, but startlingly, she’s frightened of what she is feeling, too.

Firstly, this is a novel which admirably recreates and explores the racial tension that society strongly felt at the time. It is an arduous topic to write about, especially to such high standard, so that Talley deserves credit for that. But occasionally I felt that the plot became slightly flat because Talley got so caught up in the issues she was writing about, that there was less of a drive in certain parts of the novel. It is told from the alternating viewpoints of Sarah and Lindsay, which enhanced the novel because it was useful to see the contrast between the two characters’ lives.

Sarah, the protagonist, is a resilient, intelligent and kind character, which is fortunate for her, because everyday at school she faces physical and mental abuse. In fact, soon after you pick up the novel, you will find yourself cheering for Sarah as she starts to forge her own destiny out the prejudices she faces.

The title is smart; it relates to the rest of the novel because every chapter title is a lie; the lies the various characters tell themselves. I thought that this was a clever touch because often the title of a novel is seemingly irrelevant, detached to the actual content of the novel that follows. On the other hand, there was one major fault; eventually, the chapter names became increasingly similar, to the point of sharing the same meaning with previous titles i.e ‘Lie no. 11 If I keep pretending everything will be alright’ and ‘Lie no. 15 Pretending will make this go away’ or “lie no. 17 I give up” compared with “Lie no.19 There’s no use fighting”. I understand that at one point there will only be a limited amount of options, but I doubt that it is not so limited that there is a lack of variation in this when performing this smart idea.

The themes in this novel are obviously racial tension and violence, (as there are several aggressive episodes in towns and public places throughout the novel where the black and white students are locked in confrontation), and then, there is LGBT+, as Sarah finds herself falling in love with Linda. Truth be told, I was disappointed with this aspect of the novel; admitted, there were instances when thoughts were uncovered showing that they both had feelings for each other, but there were only a few romantic moments, and most of the romance was lost in the  violence towards the end, or two characters lamenting about how sinful and evil they both apparently felt they were. I wasn’t convinced in the end that they were going to become an interracial lesbian couple because there were only a few instances where they honestly faced their feelings.

This novel is great if you have an interest in civil rights, or historical YA fiction. This topical novel is definitely one to watch, and overall is a great debut! Also, please note that this appeared first on the Guardian’s site. So have you read this novel? What did you think of it?

 

Happy 1st Blogversary to the Ink Cloud!

Hi Inkers! Can you believe it? It is The Ink Cloud’s first birthday?! The very first birthday indeed, and because of this, I am holding an honorary tea party *passes cups of tea around* and you as my dedicated Inkers, are all invited! As you can see, there is plenty of scones, cake and sandwiches, (but mainly cake, but let’s face it, it is the most scrumptious choice by far) so let me begin proceedings by chatting about this past year:cake!.gif

Firstly, I have learnt a lot about how to write book reviews! It sounds crazy, but honestly practise does actually have its benefits; it might make you a tiny bit better. I looked back recently at what I’ve posted a year ago, and even this short space of time later, it seems slightly laughable. (I hope this is in fact not because all my blog posts are utterly hopeless, but because I was a bit inexperienced to start off with!)

I have also had so much fun reading some of your comments and having conversations with everyone. I truly really appreciate it; it is so encouraging for me- please keep it up! In fact, soon I will be posting a book review of an absolutely awesome novel which I never would have dreamed of reading if it wasn’t recommended by one of our fellow Inkers. It does show that if try something new you may be surprised…

As you may be guessed, I have always loved reading, but there has been so much work on this year, that making finding time to pick up a book was at difficult. But, fear not, thankfully this blog has nudged (well, more like shoved) me to do my duty and post reviews.To find scraps of time, in the car and in between meals, to read! So yes, I understand, all my posts have been reviews so far but… BIG REVEAL… this will change! I am going to proactively try to mix things up a bit, now that The Ink Cloud is one year old (*smug grin*). And that is the fabulous thing about having your own blog; you can do whatever you want with it.

I am going to go. Your tea is probably getting chilly, and I know your only here for the cakes anyway. But before I leave, please comment on how many years you’ve been blogging for, and what kind of things you would like to see appear this blog in the future. Thanks!

 

Book of the Month June- The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick

An astounding, sharp novel, with a twist (literally…) I adored this smart novel- the concept behind it was original and I loved the refreshing style using the short stories: the book is split into four stories, and each one has a completely unique storyline, set in various stages of our time on Earth, including the future:

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The first story, Whispers in the Dark, is set in the stone age, and is written in lyrical prose, which is a contrast to what is normally found on YA bookshelves. It was interesting. Except personally I found that the language was too simplistic, although this may have been intentional on Sedgwick’s part because it is told by a girl whose community haven’t formulated language yet. Still admirable what can be illustrated with few words though.

The second quarter, called The Witch In Water, is set in the Puritan times and opens with the funeral of the protagonist’s mother. It is during this time period being accused of Witchcraft was common practise, and when a replacement priest starts to dominate the town, the unsuspecting girl is put on trial for being a witch.

The next story is the Easiest Room in Hell and personally my favourite out of the four. This was because it was took place in a 1920s lunatic asylum and was a bizarre, yet slightly unsettling setting. It follows the work of a new doctor, as he not only befriends one of the inhabitants, but learns of the dark secrets lurking between the asylum’s walls.

The final story is The Song of Destiny, which is set on a spaceship. It is set in the distant future and is not only an incredibly philosophical tale, but also brimming with mystery. This is because the meagre number of passengers onboard the spaceship is starting to rapidly deplete- but clearly these deaths are not natural. There is a murderer onboard the ship. But who?

The best thing about this novel is that it is written in a way that these quarters can be read in any order, (that’s 24 different combinations,) and it will still make sense.

I enjoyed reading these short stories because they were completely self-contained, and each one was entirely distinct to the others, both in form and style. This means that the stories can not only be enjoyed as snippets of a wider message, but as creative stories in their own right.

Each quarter has a slither of information linking it to the next, (whichever next story you may choose that to be) and this aspect is ingenious and fabulously well-thought through.

Most notably, the spiral is a core motif in this book, recurring continuously, as it reminds us of the continual nature of the universe; after you read this novel, you start to notice them everywhere! I chose this novel to be the book of the month because I think that this is one you can read again and again and you will still find intelligent nuggets of information you didn’t notice the first time around. Also, it is utterly unique to any other book I have encountered before (which is quite a few). So it definitely deserves credit.

The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

An optimistic, thoughtful and fresh novel which oozes the reassuring theme that the role of a being the superhero, the one that snatches at salvation as it slips through everyone else’s fingers, actually can be left to someone else.

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Mike is on the cusp of graduating, and is savouring the meagre time he has left with his friends. Admittedly, the Summer that is stretching ahead is pitifully unwanted; with his crush Henna travelling to Africa, his compact group of friends will methodically unravel, leaving it to be bland and uneventful holiday. This period of time is therefore precious, and when these supposedly memorable last weeks are tainted by the arrival of Nathan, Mike is unimpressed, as well as the fact that it’s happening. And whatever it is, it might as well as happen after he graduates; he doesn’t want the indie kids getting the school blown up. Again. Mike’s not entirely sure what is going on, but who ever is? All anyone ever can say is that the indie kids are in some way responsible; in the meaningless town squashed in the middle of nowhere, bizarre things take often place, and it’s always the indie kids which save them all. They are always the saviours who, with hippish names like Satchel and Finn, eventually wrench them from the jaws of doom, like they did with those vampires a few years back. So when random pillars of blue, and glowing policemen riddle daily life, Mike just gets on with it. After all, he has only a few weeks left to enjoy his tight friendships, and he’s not going to let this get in the way.

I enjoyed certain aspects of this novel, yet overall it wasn’t particularly outstanding. I loved the two plots that happened simultaneously throughout, and the different tones they had, because this gave the novel some variety. On the other hand I wasn’t that keen on the style of the majority of the novel; this was because the writing felt light, in the insubstantial sense of the word, and was frequently diluted with various airy metaphors. This novel would have also been improved greatly if the characters all didn’t simply “say” things when they spoke, too. It was the only verb he used, and frankly, after a chapter, it got monotonous. Also nothing happens. Except that Mike gets jealous of Nathan the whole time, and most of the novel is illustrating how slightly needy Mike is yet everyone loves him anyway but he can’t see that. Also, I understand that Ness is taking a slightly John Green approach, and is telling the story from a point of view of someone who has an intimate group of friends that are all equipped with seemingly under-represented characteristics, for want of better word, but I feel like it is slightly excessive; Mike has severe OCD, his best friend is gay, his sister is recovering from anorexia, his father is an alcoholic and his mother is so wrapped up work that she is neglectful to her children.

It’s too much. Way too much to take in.

I don’t think highly of this novel, which is disappointing because I enjoyed More Than This   and A Monster Calls. But, they are not on the same page, or even planet. This novel seems like a wispy project which was started on a sunny holiday, then ignored and completed between stitches of time. It waffles on and nothing happens. The plot is non-existent, although the underlying message was charming.

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One by Sarah Crossan- May BOM

This beautiful novel, comprised of lyrical free verse, will make you reconsider everything you knew about friendship, sacrifice and freedom.

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Tippi and Grace are sixteen, and after a lifetime of homeschooling, they’re going to an elite private school, with their space paid for by the government. They’re grateful; they come from a suffering family who can barely afford to pay for all their medication. They’re are lucky too; this new opportunity would not be possible if they couldn’t only take up one space at the school. Some people might marvel them, other shrink away in disgust. But one thing is clear; these two twins are beyond the group of ordinary they desire to be in. Tippi and Grace are conjoined.

I absolutely loved this novel, and the way it is written in free verse so that it resembles a trail of thought. I think that this is a very effective way of writing because it shows the reader that the two girls are in fact separate entities, each with their individual desires despite their shared body. Also, because of this original style of writing it is more striking and memorable, and because not many author care to experiment with forms of verse anymore and stick only to conventional prose.

I thought that the plot was well executed; Crossan immediately makes us engage through pathos, as we see from the start the sacrifices each girl makes for the other in order to have a happy, compromised life, and that, in turn if something effects one person, there is a knock on effect for the other. I have only ever heard of one other book about conjoined twins, but it seemed to serious and heavy for my liking. Here, Crossan deals with delicate issues too, but she makes them as relatable as they can be. For example, Tippi and Grace go to school for the first time; high school. Everyone can remember that in one form or another, and can relate to that daunting experience even if they didn’t have the issue of being the centre of attention. Also, Crossan does not weaken the plot at any point in order to make it more bearable on the reader’s behalf; it is extremely emotional as we see their family battle against poverty, suffer with an alcoholic father and bear the injuries of given to them through the public eye.

This is an amazing book; I would definitely recommend it because it is short and concise, without babbling on at all! It investigates such an unusual crazy condition perfectly and has an utterly breathtaking story. Tell me now; why wouldn’t make this book of the month?