Violence 101

Image result for violence 101"I read this one a month or two ago at the encouragement of one of my NCEA students, and I can totally see how it would appeal to a teenage boy! It follows a 14 year old called Hamish, whose life of crime has led him to a juvenile detention centre, where he quickly establishes himself as king pin.  Unlike most books about troubled teens, Hamish doesn’t have any underlying trauma that has led to his offending – unlike the other kids at the centre – and basically he’s just too clever for his own good (and fancies himself as too badass).  Ultimately he is able to face up to his past behaviour and start to reflect on how he can turn his life around, but not before putting everyone around him through hell first!

Mrs Battleship

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What a spectacular, tiny little book. Tim Tipene is a kiwi author who survived a childhood of devastating abuse at the hands of his parents. As the result of some truly exceptional teachers, he came to understand what love and kindness look like, and was able to make the choice as an adult to live a completely different life to the one he was born into. This short, incredibly easy to read novel delivers what could in another context be called horror stories, in a humourous, touching way.  It’s so easy to read my daughter, who is 7, polished it off in one sitting; her takeaway was that life is hard, but it’s also funny, and you can overcome anything if you have kind people to show you how.  Not a bad message…

What I Lost

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How good is the cover of this book, it gave me total chocolate cravings!  Which is ironic, cause it’s a book about anorexia.   The main character, Elizabeth, has gone from a very normal size down to about 100 pounds in the space of 8 months, so her parents forced her to check into an eating disorder clinic. Well, her doctor and her dad thought it would be a good idea, her mum seemed to prefer Elizabeth at her new size…. The book itself isn’t perfectly written – in places you can feel the author trying to say the right thing and give you the appropriate insight – but overall it manages to paint a pretty grim picture. It definitely gets you into the head space of an anorexic teen, which at times is quite frightening.  Definitely worth a read, although I do worry about the risk of spreading risky eating habits with a book like this; it’s not glamourising, but I reckon there’s a risk it could put ideas into readers’ heads.

Every Last Word

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Oh my God I loved this book SO much. I’ve been sneaking off to read it at every opportunity, and as a result I ended up finishing it in less than 48 hours.  My obsessive reading is somewhat appropriate though, given this stunningly put together novel centres on a teenage girl with OCD.  However, it’s not the type of OCD that’s often depicted in books and films, where people have to, for example, wash their hands over and over again.  Instead, Sam has what is called ‘Pure O’, where her obsessions take place largely in her head. She becomes fixated on certain ideas or people and simply can’t move them out of her thoughts.  This is clearly an exhausting way to live, and anyone with even mild anxiety will be able to relate to how the negative thought cycles kick off.  The story is told in a really delicate manner, and the writer doesn’t lean on cliches, nor does she over-dramatise Sam’s problems. It’s also got a really compelling romantic plot line, and definitely didn’t resolve itself in the way I was expecting!

Dear Evan Hansen

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This book left me feeling depressed in more ways than one.  The subject matter – anxiety and suicide – are hardly cheerful anyway, but the main issue was that I’d been holding out to read it and I just… didn’t enjoy it. I’m not sure if I’m the problem, because I don’t cope well when a character totally messes up over and over again and simply cannot see their way out of an obviously stupid situation (see, for example, Mr Bean).  Also, reading about other people’s anxiety does sometimes make my own anxiety just that much worse! Whatever it was, I found myself skipping most of the book as I could see where it was going and knew exactly how it would end. (I was right.) The part I enjoyed most, weirdly enough, was the narrative from the point of view of Connor, the student from Evan’s class who takes his own life, thus setting off the insane chain of events in Evan’s life which are the main focus of the book.  There seemed to be more depth to that character, despite only taking up maybe one fifth of the book itself, and his back story was fascinating. Oh well, perhaps they’ll make one of those partner stories from his point of view and I can indulge myself in that!

They Both Die at the End

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Spoiler alert: the title does not lie, they really do both die at the end. It’s definitely worth reiterating this point, because the book is so lovely and the characters so compelling, you really do spend the entire novel hoping the prediction is wrong.  Sadly, ‘Death-cast’, a mystical service that predicts who will die each day, is never wrong. At midnight phones begin ringing all over the world as “deckers” are notified they will die sometime in this 24 hour period. They don’t find out how or exactly when, but they know that their time is definitely up, giving them a chance to say their goodbyes and squeeze in a few bucket list experiences.  There is also an app that’s been designed to allow people to make a ‘last friend’, someone to spend the final hours of their life with if they don’t have anyone else. It’s this app that bring the two main characters of the book together, Rufus and Mateo. Rufus is an orphan whose family were recently killed in a car crash. He’s been up to not much good lately as he’s pretty mad at the world, and finds himself alone on his last day because he has to escape the police.  Mateo is alone because his father is in a coma and he lost his mother the day he was born. He also suffers from severe anxiety which essentially stops him leaving his house, and he doesn’t want to burden his only friend, Lidia, with the news of his imminent death.  Rufus helps Mateo leave his apartment and go to the hospital to say goodbye to his father, but what then follows is a beautifully delicate, emotionally charged connection between the two boys.  It’s so glorious to read a story about two young men who are complex and rounded, representing both the tough and angry and the fragile and sweet side to teenage boys (and acknowledging that all boys are all these things rolled into one delicate package).  I really loved this book and hope I might be able to convince some of the boys at school to give it a go, too.