Book Review: Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

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Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne  

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Publishing Info: August 2015 by Usbourne Publishing

Pages: 434

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

All Evie wants is to be normal. She’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the girl-who-went-crazy. She’s even going to parties and making friends. There’s only one thing left to tick off her list…

But relationships are messy – especially relationships with teenage guys. They can make any girl feel like they’re going mad. And if Evie can’t even tell her new friends Amber and Lottie the truth about herself, how will she cope when she falls in love?

I met Holly Bourne a couple of years ago at a talk and got this book signed. She wrote ‘Normal = overrated’ and I am so thankful to her for that message. I have only just got round to reading this book. I’ve been catching up on all the books I didn’t have time to read during my degree, and I wish I’d read this one sooner. A few times I picked it up, read the first page, and put it back on the shelf because I wasn’t sure it would be for me. I don’t very often read contemporary books, I’m more of a fantasy person, and I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy the writing style. But here we are, and I finally read it, and I’m so so glad I did.

The writing style is quite conversational, which is what put me off reading it, as I’m not always a fan of this style. However, I ended up very much enjoying the style of writing. Holly Bourne captures the voice of the main character brilliantly and the style works well for the book. At time the writing got a bit rambling but I didn’t mind too much.

What Bourne did so well is show Evie’s thought processes. Evie has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which has sadly been very stereotyped in our society and a lot of people have misconceptions about this condition. Bourne didn’t fall into clichés and it was clear she had done a lot of research. It was eye opening to see the thoughts that might go through the mind of someone with OCD, and also how that can spiral into relapse.

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Book Review: The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

Genre: General Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

Publishing Info: May 2013 by HarperCollins (kindle edition)

Pages: 320

Star Rating: 5/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’

There are books you can’t stop reading, which keep you up all night.

There are books which let us into the hidden parts of life and make them vividly real.

There are books which, because of the sheer skill with which every word is chosen, linger in your mind for days.

The Shock of the Fall is all of these books.

The Shock of the Fall is an extraordinary portrait of one man’s descent into mental illness. It is a brave and groundbreaking novel from one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.

 

The Shock of the Fall wasn’t what I expected. It was more. It was a rollercoaster of emotions and sometimes I felt like I was drowning in the words but I couldn’t stop reading. The words, so simple, but drew me in so much and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget this book.

I read the kindle edition, and I think it would be better to read it in paperback. It was fine reading it on kindle, but I think the experience of it would be better in physical copy. There are images and different fonts used, which I think would be easier to see in paperback.

There isn’t exactly a plot, so to say. It’s mostly the narrator, Matthew, talking about his past and life. He is mentally ill, diagnosed with schizophrenia in the book. It was a real delve into the character’s mind, of how his thought processes work and how he conveys things in his writing (the narrator is writing their story). I really felt like I was seeing things through his eyes. I was in his mind, feeling his thoughts and feelings.

I didn’t realise when I bought it, that it would be so much about grief, and I think if I had known I may not have read it. But I’m glad I did read it. I cried through a lot of it. It’s a far cry from my own life, but the loss of the sibling and the emotions and feelings were close to home for me. It made me incredibly emotional reading it. I guess that’s a good thing, because it must have been a realistic portrayal of grief, for the emotions of it to have made me stop reading for the tears in my eyes and streaming down my face blurring the words. I’m glad I finished it to the end, even though I found a lot of it upsetting.

I would full heartedly recommend this book. Though, I would warn that as it deals with grief and mental health it isn’t an easy read. But totally worth it.

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Publishing Info: September 2009 by Penguin UK (first published 2007)

Pages: 297

Star Rating: 5/5

Back Cover Summary:

You can’t stop the future.

You can’t rewind the past.

The only way to learn the secret is to press play.

Clay Jensen returns home to find a strange package with his name on it. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and first love – who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

Hannah’s voice explains there are thirteen reasons why she killed herself. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.

All through the night, Clay keeps listening – and what he discovers changes his life…

Where to begin. I don’t give five star reviews much. I have to love a book so much it hurts. A five star review, to me, isn’t about a book being perfect. A book can’t be perfect, it’s impossible. A five star book is one that will stay with me forever.

I’ve wanted to read this book for years, and finally found myself opening the cover a few days ago. I don’t usually write a review right after finishing a book. I give it a couple of days to let it sink in. But today I’m writing this review having finished Thirteen Reasons Why half an hour ago.

The book uses the dual narratives of Hannah and Clay as he listens to the tapes Hannah left behind. It was hard to get around my head that Hannah was dead before the book even started. Isn’t there any hope? Can’t Clay save the day? No. This isn’t a book about saving someone, it’s about exploring what happened to them to make them give up.

Hannah’s voice really popped out of the page. It was haunting, imagining her voice replaying through those tapes. Asher managed to capture her voice excellently since we only get to know her through her voice on the tapes (well, there’s some of Clay’s memories of her, but we don’t see those through her eyes so it isn’t the same). I thought the mix of the two narratives worked well for the format, with Clay’s actions and his reflections on what he was hearing mixed into the tapes. It means you get to see his thoughts and responses to what he’s hearing in real time, as he’s hearing it. It wouldn’t have worked so well any other way. However, I would have liked to know Clay’s character more. By the end of the book you know nothing about Clay, except the parts of his life that relate to Hannah. Which, in a way, makes sense because to me Hannah was the protagonist of the story, not Clay, even though she was already dead before the book started. Clay was just a vessel to carry her story. But Asher could have breathed more life into his character. I got a bit of a sense of what he’s like, but not much. But maybe that’s not important for this story. Would it add to the value of the story if we were told unnecessary details or back story about Clay? No, actually, it probably would have distracted from the point of the story. So maybe it doesn’t matter.

I’ve read other reviews about how the reasons aren’t really reasons why someone would commit suicide, how Hannah was whiny and needs some perspective etc. but actually that’s the point. And highlights the problems with attitudes to mental health in our society. You can never know exactly what someone is thinking and feeling. We only hear what Hannah wants us to know on the tapes. We know nothing else about her life. A lot of little things (and bigger things) can build up to make you feel really awful, so there might have been more to it than what was on the tapes. We don’t know. We have no way of knowing. Those are the things she picked out to talk about, but that’s not necessarily the whole story. There isn’t always an explanation or reason for the way you feel. Sometimes you don’t even understand what you feel, never mind why you feel that way. Maybe this is Hannah trying to understand herself as well, to understand why she’s gradually felt worse.

Another thing discussed in other reviews I read was not getting enough emotion from Hannah, but I can see how someone who has got to that point may actually be quite detached from their own story. Hannah has already given up when she is making the tapes, she’s already made the decision to kill herself and it’s like she’s relaying her life from the other side of a glass screen. Nobody reached out to her, and so maybe the tapes are a last attempt to save herself, to go over what has happened to her, to get it out her system. But it doesn’t work, it just reminds her of all the ‘reasons’ to kill herself. There are so many interpretations to this story, because there are so many unknowns. All we have to go on is the tapes, and what Clay remembers about some of the events.

I think this book has an important message (or many messages, actually) – about how our actions influence others, and how even though it may seem insignificant in the context of the rest of that person’s life it actually has a bigger impact than you’d think. About how all it takes is someone to notice, to listen, to reach out, to tether someone to this world. Every action has a consequence.