Jane Hughes has a perfectly nice life, but it's all a lie. Five years ago, she and her three best friends took the trip of a lifetime to a retreat in Nepal but when only two of the group came back, Jane has run away from her past. Now, the truth is beginning to surface and Jane finds herself a target of a mysterious stranger who seems determined to destroy her life. If you're looking for an easy-read thriller then this is probably one for you - at times it's a little far-fetched and sometimes the leaps of faith you have to take to believe in the story were too much for me, but overall it was an enjoyable read with a few twists and turns, and an interesting exploration of the toxic friendships between Jane and the other girls. Despite myself, I was racing to the end to find out what happens, which is all you really want from a thriller, right?
Xing Li was born and raised in London, but she's never felt like she fits in. When her mother dies in a tragic accident, she is forced to live with her rich but poisonous Grandma, her strange Uncle Ho and meek Antie Mei. At school, she is bullied horribly and at home, she is bullied by her Grandmother. Her only friend is Jay, a mixed-race boy with a passion for classical music (who is also one of the loveliest characters I've ever had the pleasure of reading about). Your heart will break for Xing, as she tries to navigate the world without her mother to protect and guide her; the racist bullying she experiences will shock you to your core, whilst her home life isn't much better. Thankfully, there is a happy ending (I won't spoil it for you!) which, although a little trite and soppy given the characters' previous actions, is just what you want for Xing, who really is a sweet girl.
In the world of this young adult dystopian novel, citizens are singled out for showing poor moral judgement and branded as 'flawed'. They're not criminals, but they're treated as such (sometimes worse - since they are literally branded with an 'F' on a part of their body corresponding to their lapse in judgement); what was designed to stop corruption in the upper echelons in society has turned into a witch hunt, led by Judge Craven. Our protagonist, Celestine, is obsessed with being perfect - she's a Maths scholar who thrives on logic; she's the perfect student, the perfect daughter and the perfect girlfriend. Until one day, when she makes a mistake and finds herself facing the 'Flawed' courts, embroiled in political battles that she doesn't understand, and trying to work out what to do...
This book was so promising; I like the premise, where we face a society when people are 'branded' on social media for mistakes and blunders. However, it kind of fell flat for me - I really didn't like Celestine and not in a love-to-hate-her sort of way, and other characters weren't all that fleshed out. Judge Craven, for example, is so obviously a bad guy from the beginning despite Celestine's initial protestations and it seems ridiculous that he would be in the position of power he has given his behaviour and demeanour. The whole thing felt a little rushed to me; the bare bones of a really great story were there but it wasn't given the time to develop - the politics of the world weren't particularly nuanced and veered from not being explained at all, to being blatantly laid out for you so you go what was going on, whilst the love triangle that is set up is kind of ridiculous - she literally spies the second love interest across the room and decides they have a connection. The incident that sets the whole thing in motion doesn't really warrant the reaction it gets, and is also out of character for Celestine, but it happens to early on for you to establish the level of tension between 'flawed' and 'unflawed'. I wanted more from this novel, and despite the cliff-hanger leading to the inevitable young-adult-trilogy, I think I'll be leaving Celestine to fight this one on her own.
I'm a massive sociology nerd - my degree is in Gender Studies - and I'm a big fan of Aziz Ansari's comedy, which basically made this the perfect book for me. Contrary to the trend of most comedians, whose first books (and often subsequent ones...) tend to be memoir-led, Ansari used his book deal as an opportunity to undertake a massive research project into how dating has changed and the issues that our generation face as they try to find love in the modern world. It's absolutely fascinating, and I think something that everyone can relate to - whether you're single, coupled up or somewhere in between. We're facing a pretty interesting dating world - with Tinder leading the charge, but numerous other factors playing a part as well. I was genuinely hooked by this book, and it was written all in Aziz Ansari's signature tone of voice (I really love when authors can do this - Mindy Kaling is another one who I can really hear when I read her words) so it was not only informative but funny. It's a pretty hefty topic but it's a light read with plenty of anecdotes - I can't recommend this enough!
There's something completely loveable about this short story collection. It somehow managed to be gentle and yet very sharp and witty towards the characters, with an interesting mix of stories to get your teeth into. I devoured it in a day, but I think you could happily read one at a time over the course of a few days as they're all quite different and it would be fun to sit with each of them for a while. Each story is a sketch of a life, with no definitive ending, but they are evocative slices of time and are focused on intimacy in one way or another - whether that's sexual, familial or friendship. They are narrated by a series of young women in different circumstances - one who is forced to move to Germany and attend school there by her parents, one who has a one-night-stand that turns into something longer, one who gets a job at a sex toy shop (and has to lie about being a lesbian to get the job). They're entertaining and humorous, with a feminist bent that I really enjoyed - they weren't polemic, they just accepted feminism as a fact and worked with it. The titular story - Barbara the Slut - was definitely my favourite; you follow briefly the story of Barbara, a star student who cares for her autistic brother, but who also never sleeps with the same boy twice and is slut-shamed for it. It was quite obviously an adult take on the story - I'm not sure I've ever met a teenage girl who was mature as Barbara's inner monologue, but it was definitely thought-provoking.
I wish I had read this book as a teenager. As an adult, young adult books sometimes frustrate me - because teenagers are sometimes frustrating in how they see the world and that often jars with me. That's not to say their concerns and thoughts and feelings are not completely valid, but I've stopped identifying with many characters in young adult books and for that reason often get a little annoyed with them. Which is why I wish I had read this book as a teenager, because that wouldn't have been a problem at the time, and I could have fully enjoyed this book for what it is - which is quite brilliant. Evie has OCD, but she desperately wants to be 'normal'. She's started college and found new friends and begun dating, all whilst trying to hide her condition from the new people in her life. But as she tried to come off her medication whilst dealing with the usual ups and downs of teenage life, she finds herself on a downward spiral, unable to control the symptoms of her condition - and it's getting harder and harder to appear 'normal'. This book is a great introduction to a mental health problem that is wildly misunderstood (it's not just washing your hands all the time, or liking things to be neat and tidy) and has a great feminist angle to it, too - Evie and her friends explore feminism together and it's great to see them getting so passionate about gender equality. Like I say, I wish I had read this book when I was an angry, feminist teenager - I would have loved it even more then than I do now.