The Wonderling: A Sweet Steampunk Fairytale

2017 seems to be the year for gorgeous children’s fiction and Mira Bartok’s The Wonderling is no exception. The Wonderling is simply one of the sweetest children’s books I have come across. Set in a Victorian-esque world where the boundaries between species have become less distinguishable, a new group of people called groundlings – a group of people with the traits of humans and animals, or indeed various animals – are treated as second class citizens. In this world, young abandoned groundlings are sent to Miss Carbunkle’s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures, only to be treated as little more than poorhouse slaves.

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Arthur, the fox groundling with a heart full of song

It is here that we meet a young fox groundling, at first without a name, only a number – Number Thirteen. However, in amongst all the misery of his life at Miss Carbunkle’s, Number Thirteen finds a friend, Trinket, a small kiwi bird-like groundling who not only gives him a name – Arthur – but also a sense of hope and self-worth. The two escape Miss Carbunkle’s, but it is here that their story really begins. With magic, song and friendship, Arthur finds himself caught up in a much bigger plot to remove music from the world, and must try to stop it before it is too late.

The Wonderling has many beautiful lessons to teach children about the power of music and song, the value of self-worth and personal discovery, and how our lives are transformed by the friendships we make. One of the sweetest moments in this book is when Arthur and Trinket first become friends and Trinket declares almost instantly that not only does Arthur deserve a name, but one with great power and history behind it. Her insistence that Arthur is worth more than he ever thought himself to be is one of the most consistent themes of the book, forcing the reader to see the negative effect of bullies come up against the power of friendship and self worth. The defeat of the bullies by Arthur’s growing friendships and self-worth is an important message for children to see. Whilst the book is fantastic in nature, it’s messages of hope and friendship are beautiful and necessary for children to see in an increasingly tough world.

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Arthur and his friend Trinket

Each time I recommend this book to someone, I describe it as “if Charles Dickens and Tim Burton came together to write a steampunk Wind in the Willows”. There is something utterly enchanting about the sweetness of this novel, and the loveliness of Arthur’s kindness in the face of bullies and ongoing adversity in a society that views him as less than a person. Again, there is a message here for children about difference, as ultimately the many differences of the groundlings who band together to help Arthur are the thing that saves music from those who wish to destroy it.

The beautiful illustrations drawn by the book’s author Mira Bartok that are sprinkled amongst the pages, add even more beauty to the book. I have popped some of these gorgeous sepia sketches throughout this review to just give you a snippet of how lovely this story is. It is the kind of children’s book that has all the makings of a classic children’s book and I sincerely hope that every child who reads this book falls in love with sweet Arthur, Trinket, Peevil and the rest of the groundlings and their friends as much as I have.

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Mira Bartok’s The Wonderling is available in all good bookstores now. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores.

Thank you once again to Walker Books Australia for sending me a copy of The Wonderling. Please note, whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

 

 

© Hayley New 2017

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“NEVERMOOR”, The Word On Everyone’s Lips

I was an intern at Hachette Australia when I first heard the word Nevermoor. The manuscript was being passed around the office with excitement. The first time someone told me I should read it, I was in the print room, binding some documents, and the Head of Sales (my now boss) asked if I had read it yet. When I said no, he promptly told me I needed to read it as soon as possible – it was going to be something incredible.

The first time I actually got the chance to read Nevermoor, it was a few months later – I had just gotten my job as Sales and Product Coordinator at Hachette, and was handed a proof copy of Nevermoor by my friends in the Children’s Department after I had been helping them mail out gorgeous hardback proofs to media and booksellers and was asked again if I had read this book. I was promptly handed a proof copy to read after admitting I was probably the last person at Hachette not to have read it.

I devoured it in about 48 hours.

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Jessica Townsend, the 32-year-old wonder behind Nevermoor

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow is the debut novel from Jessica Townsend, and it has become a phenomenon well before its release. “Nevermoor” is probably the most used word at Hachette after “book”. Booksellers have been talking about Nevermoor for months. Fox bought the film rights nearly a year ago, and book nerds the world around have been eagerly awaiting the release of the book that has caused so much excitement.

Nevermoor is the story of Morrigan Crow, a young girl born on an unlucky day, and subsequently blamed for all local misfortunes. The curse also means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on Eventide. But, just before the worst is to happen, Morrigan is whisked away by a strange man called Jupiter North, who takes her to safety in a secret magical city called Nevermoor. In Nevermoor, Morrigan is put forward by Jupiter to contend for a place in the Wundrous Society – the city’s most prestigious organisation, but in order to join she must compete and succeed in four trials against other children, each bearing an extraordinary and magical talent. Morrigan, bewildered by it all, has no idea what her talent could possibly be. However, to stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good and avoid the death prescribed to her outside the city, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests.

It is hard to find the right words to describe how utterly brilliant this book is. Jessica Townsend has weaved the most magical world since Harry Potter, and made me fall in love with characters in a way I haven’t for a long time. I won’t lie – I have a bit of a crush on Jupiter North, even if I am not supposed to, but even more than that I love Morrigan and all she stands for. Morrigan is the kind of hero that defines the magic of children’s fiction, and one that I wish I had when I was a child myself.

Comparisons to the brilliance of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter are thrown about in regards to a lot of books, but rarely are they as true as when they are said about Nevermoor. Jessica Townsend has herself said she owes a lot to J.K. Rowling :

“I get this weird feeling that as a children’s author, I’m supposed to be coy and evasive about admitting Harry Potter as an influence. That even now, 20 years after the publication of The Philosopher’s Stone, I somehow ought to be denying the hippogriff in the room that is this massive literary touchstone. Pretending I wrote Nevermoor in a cultural vacuum.

Well, I didn’t. Nevermoor was influenced by everything I’ve ever read, watched and loved, and that absolutely includes Harry Potter. I’m part of the lucky generation that queued in bookstores at midnight for Order of the Phoenix after an agonising three-year wait. As a series, Harry Potter lit my imagination on fire and made me see the scope of world-building that was possible in children’s literature. I refuse to be dispassionate about something I love so much.”

– Jessica Townsend, ’20 years of Harry Potter: five local authors assess the cult of the boy wizard’, Sydney Morning Herald, June 16 2017

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Jessica Townsend with a copy of the soon to be published Nevermoor

For me, it is impossible to read Nevermoor and not acknowledge Jessica’s paying tribute to Harry Potter, largely because reading Nevermoor for the first time felt incredibly like reading Harry Potter for the first time – full of magic and excitement and so much joy. Nevermoor makes you feel like a child again, in all the best ways. I keep comparing it to childhood favourites of mine – Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and Roald Dahl – because it feels like a classic right away. Children will grow up loving this book and its characters. Young girls will grow up looking to Morrigan as a role model the same way I grew up idolising Hermione Granger – and that makes me so incredibly happy.

I am incredibly lucky to have been a part of the community of people who have read Nevermoor before its release, and even luckier to be working with the team behind Nevermoor’s publication. Seeing how much love has gone into seeing this book flourish has been so wonderful, and it makes me even more excited to see Nevermoor go out into the wild and into the hands of children (and adults alike!). Books like this come around very rarely, and I am so glad that I have been able to see this book bring smiles, laughter and a spot of Wunder into the lives of everyone who has read it thus far. I can’t recommend this book enough, and when it is released in just over a week, I beg you to go and get your hands on a copy as soon as you can. You won’t regret it.

 

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Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Lothian Children’s Books, RRP $16.99)  is available from October 10th 2017 in all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Please note that whilst I work for Hachette Australia, I was not in any way asked or obligated to write this review. All opinions expressed in this piece are my own unless expressly stated otherwise.

 

 

 

© Hayley New 2017

A Monster Calls: Film Review

Very rarely, you experience something that feels like a punch to the gut. That feeling of a thud, followed by a deep resounding reverberation through your stomach, and then your chest, and all you can muster is a gentle ‘oh’ that leaves your mouth more as an exhalation than as a word.

I have had this particular feeling very few times in my life, and I have never quite had that feeling while watching a film before. That is, until, I watched A MONSTER CALLS.

Based on Patrick Ness’ book of the same name, A MONSTER CALLS follows young Connor, a boy coping with more than any child should have to deal with – the impending loss of his mother. His world is punctuated with the calming sound of pencil against paper, sketching and illustrating his pain and everything he cannot possibly say.

Then one night, at precisely 12.07am, the Monster arrives at his window.

I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot than I have to, because this film is best experienced free of prior knowledge. Whilst I am generally an advocate of reading the book before watching the film adaption, I think this film is perhaps most powerfully felt by a viewer who knows very little of the story before going into the theatre.

A major factor is the power of this film is the art direction and styling of the film. There is so much thought that has gone into every square inch of colour and movement overseen and the vivid colours play such a role in how we react to Connor’s story. The use of watercolour like animation to depict the Monster’s telling of stories is strikingly beautiful and brings a warmth to the film that is often cut short by the harshness of Connor’s reality, making us value the incredible moments of escapism even more.

However, the thing that struck me the most in this film was the use of silence. Only one other film has used silence as masterfully as A MONSTER CALLS does (in my own viewing experience that is). So much of this film is brought to us in diegetic silence, as life often is for a child who is forced to deal with situations such as those Connor is placed in. So much is left unsaid, and in those moments we see Connor and the people around him more clearly than dialogue could ever allow. And those moments of silence are allowed to breathe in a way most films don’t allow. There is no overwhelming soundtrack trying to fill those moments with pop songs, just simple orchestrations and muted sounds that let the fullness of the emotional response to the action exist without interruption.

A special mention, of course, needs to be made of the acting skills of Lewis MacDougall who plays Connor. Placing a child alongside such magnificent actors as Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver, and having them not only hold their ground, but blow them out of the water, is brilliant. There is a rawness and vulnerability to MacDougall’s performance, and more than once I cried simply as a reaction to the change in his eyes alone.

Liam Neeson plays his part as the Monster brilliantly, his voice lending itself perfectly to the storytelling and wisdom of the Monster. My only concern about the Monster is that people will see the Monster and won’t be able to unsee its physical similarities to Groot (of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY). I will say though that the design work and animation is far more intricately detailed than that of Marvel’s Groot, and I think that may help distance the two from each other in the audience’s mind.

I was incredibly lucky to be invited by Walker Books and Entertainment One to see a special press screening of A MONSTER CALLS in a small theatre setting. The intimacy of the space made the film even more affecting and of the fifteen or so other people there, there was not a dry eye in the house when the film ended. Every grown man in that room wept more than once, and when the film ended, everyone sat there for a moment in stunned silence, hit rather forcefully by the emotion and power of the film. It was incredible to see this film garner such a reaction.

I highly recommend that everyone see A MONSTER CALLS on the big screen – a film as powerful as this deserves that. More than that, if you can see this film in a small cinema, you should, if only to feel the intimacy of this film more intensely. This is a film that will never leave you, and I can’t imagine a film more perfectly depicting the loneliness and pain of childhood loss than this.

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A MONSTER CALLS is released in cinemas 27 July 2017.

Thank you once again to Walker Books Australia and Entertainment One for inviting me to see a special press screening of A MONSTER CALLS.

 

Please note: I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

 

© Hayley New 2017

‘The Cut’ & Brexit: An Interview with Peirene Press’ Meike Ziervogel

Peirene Press are masters of translated European fiction that speaks to the heart and soul of a particular moment in time. Last year, Peirene Press took a leap and began the Peirene Now! Series, commissioning short novels about current events that are heavily shaping our world today. Last year’s breach was one of the most introspective novels I have ever read, taking the experiences of refugees in the Calais refugee camps and turning them into incredibly heartbreaking short stories. In 2017, Peirene Press have published the second book in the Peirene Now! Series – The Cut. The Cut is a brilliantly written exploration of Britain and the people who voted in the Brexit referendum and uthor Anthony Cartwright gives equal space to both sides of the debate, whilst weaving a complex web of human relationships.

The Cut is the first novel I have seen, let alone read, about Brexit. Whilst the Brexit vote and recent General Election in the UK have been heavily documented by the media, The Cut is the first literary take on the effects of the vote and the implications for the British public. The book itself was funded by a kickstarter campaign that raised £6,745 ($11,412 AUD), so it is clear that this is a book that people not only wanted to read, but wanted to have a hand in producing.

I was lucky enough to interview Meike Ziervogel, founder and commissioning publisher at Peirene Press, about The Cut. A writer herself, Meike grew up in Northern Germany, before moving the the UK in 1986. Our interview is below…

***

HAYLEY: First of all, thanks for taking the time out to discuss The Cut with INWORDSANDINK. So, how did the idea for the Peirene Now! Series come about?

MEIKE: Peirene’s specialises in translated fiction. This means that we can only choose from what is already out on the market in another country. Over the last few years, we started to realise that there are sometimes urgent issues we like to see addressed in literature but we couldn’t find a story about it anywhere. So we decided to set up a series of commissioned novels responding to pressing topics that are concerning us and our readers right this very moment.

HAYLEY: How important was it to you to commission a novel about Brexit?

MEIKE: The referendum has been one of the most important political events in the UK this century. It concerns us all.

HAYLEY: Why did you decide to commission the novel after Brexit rather than beforehand (as a speculative novel perhaps)?

MEIKE: Brexit hasn’t happened yet. So I commissioned the novel – and the novel was written – before Brexit, but – of course – after the decision to leave the EU.

Before the referendum I lived in a bubble. I assumed there would be no Brexit – ever. The outcome of the referendum was a shock and a wake-up call for me. I suddenly understood that I live in a divided country. I commissioned Anthony Cartwright to create a literary bridge between the two Britains that opposed each other on referendum day.

HAYLEY: What about Anthony made you decide he was the person to write this book?

MEIKE: I wanted a story that would make me see what I previously wasn’t aware of. Anthony comes from the Black Country where many people voted for Brexit. His four previous novels are all set in Dudley. Emotionally and psychologically he understands the area and he empathizes with the people who voted ‘no’ to the EU. Moreover he is a very good writer. Before I commissioned Anthony I read his fourth novel, ‘Iron Towns’ and I enjoyed it. I could see that Anthony would be bring the right sensibility to the subject matter.

HAYLEY: How did you negotiate what this book would discuss? What was that process like?

MEIKE: Anthony’s remit was to create an artistic response to what had become apparent during the referendum – the division of this country into two halves. Initially we discussed possible story lines. Then we had editorial meetings after each draft, discussing and refining the story line, imagery and characters.

HAYLEY: What about this book really spoke to you about pre- and post-Brexit Britain?

MEIKE: It was only after the book had been completed and I could take a step back from it – read it like a reader and not as an editor –  that I realised how Anthony’s subconscious had thrown up the perfect image for the situation in our country. We, i.e. both sides of the divided country, The Remainers and Brexiteers, are in bed together. We have a relationship – a troubled one, yes but we have to live together. We can’t get away from each other. In The Cut neither Cairo nor Grace want their relationship to end badly. We – the Remainers and the Brexiteers – have to be careful that our relationship, too, doesn’t end badly. I believe that neither side really wants that to happen.

HAYLEY: As someone who was born in Germany, what does a book like THE CUT mean to you? What about it speaks to your experiences as a European immigrant in a country that has rejected the EU?

MEIKE: I have dual nationality. I have lived all my adult life in the UK. This is my home. I, too, need to change, in order to change the political situation. I can no longer excuse my lack of political engagement. And so I have now become a member of the Liberal Democrats and I campaigned for them during the last election.

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The Cut is available in all good bookstores, or directly from Peirene Press. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Peirene Press for sending me a copy of The Cut, and to Meike for taking the time out to answer my questions. Please note, whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

© Hayley New 2017

A Gilmore Girl’s Guide to Culture: A Review of Brodie Lancaster’s ‘No Way! Okay, Fine’

I love a good feminist essay collection/memoir, especially when a book like that talks about topics of particular interest to me. From Clementine Ford’s Fight Like A Girl, to Lauren Elkin’s Flaneuse, the last twelve months have brought me some brilliant feminist non-fiction, and now Brodie Lancaster’s No Way! Okay, Fine has made its way into that beloved collection.

No Way! Okay, Fine is the first book from Richell Prize shortlisted writer Brodie Lancaster. A brilliant feminist essay collection/memoir/pop culture criticism novel, No Way! Okay, Fine is a book that was desperately needed by newly minted “adults” in Australia. This book spoke to my own experiences of growing up in a way that a lot of similarly classified books by international authors have not, and I was incredibly grateful to find a voice that shared beliefs and experiences like my own in this book.

Brodie discusses topics as varied as body image, coming of age stories, the idea of home, living and working abroad as a young person, feminism, Kanye West and the Kardashians, taste hierarchies and family. Each chapter of her book details an honest and incredibly down to earth viewpoint (or in many cases, series of viewpoints) of a topic that will resonate not only with young Australians, but readers of nearly all backgrounds. Despite prefacing her opinions and experiences with the fact that her work comes from a middle class white female, there are moments and ideas throughout this collection that could easily speak to a number of varied experiences.

Perhaps one of the thoughts from her book that resonated with me the most was Brodie’s take on how public pop culture tastes are categorised and judged, especially in terms of deeming a person’s likeability based on their tastes. It paralleled some of the thoughts vocalised by author Brit Bennett at this year’s Sydney Writers Festival, namely that of the dismissal of young girls as valuable tastemakers despite the fact that a significant amount of popular culture is shaped by their wants and desires. “What are young men and boys into?” asked Brit Bennett, “No-one knows. But if I ask you what young women and girls are into right now, you could probably list a bunch of things.” Brodie’s chapters on Kanye, the Kardashians, One Direction, and music particularly speak to this. Brodie’s recounts of her teenage desire to get in with the boys sees her try to replicate their tastes at multiple times, only to find that her own tastes are just as valuable if not the popular tastes themselves. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it isn’t just a valid a taste choice – a lesson this book dishes out without any remorse.

Brodie Lancaster’s writing itself is brilliant. I could not help thinking that she and I would be great friends, just from reading her writing. With a heavy serving of Gilmore Girls references for all possible situations, I found myself reading No Way! Okay, Fine late into the night and loving every bit. Her down to earth approach to writing, with a clear cut sense of self and desire to be true to her style, makes Brodie one to keep an eye on, and I would highly recommend No Way! Okay, Fine to any and all readers looking for the perfect place to start a love of local non-fiction.

 

Brodie Lancaster’s No Way! Okay, Fine (Hachette, RRP $32.99)  is available from 27 June 2017 in all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Hachette Australia for sending me a copy of No Way! Okay, Fine. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

 

 

© Hayley New 2017

“Do You Hear Me?”: A Review of Larry Tremblay’s ‘The Orange Grove’

Please Note: This review discusses suicide bombings, terror organisations, and violence against refugees, particularly children. In light of recent and ongoing attacks happening worldwide, I understand if this review is distressing as a result of its sensitive subject matter and I understand if you are not currently in the right emotional or mental space to continue to read this review. I have approached my review of The Orange Grove with the deepest respect for all victims of suicide bombings, terror attacks and other acts of senseless violence, and I send all my love to the victims of these attacks worldwide.

 

Larry Tremblay’s The Orange Grove is one of those books that change you. It fundamentally changes how you think and feel about a major contemporary issue. But it is also a book that makes you feel conflicted about that change, largely because that issue here is suicide bombings.

This book follows the story of young twins Ahmed and Aziz, who live with their parents and grandparents next to the family’s orange grove in the shade of the mountains. However, when their grandparents die as a result of a bomb being dropped on their house, the family is forced to confront the violence of the country’s civil war. A local militant group comes to the house to recruit one of the boys to strap on a belt of explosives and detonate it on the other side of the mountain, taking not only the lives of the believed bombers of their grandparents house, but also their own life. The catch: their parents have to decide which of their nine year old sons to sacrifice for the cause, the healthy Ahmed, or the terminally ill Aziz.

I’ll be honest. It was hard to read this book. Not because it wasn’t a good book, but because it was a brilliant book about something that is terribly and heartbreakingly real – the problem of violence committed by people who believe that their violent acts are justified and necessary.

I want to make it clear that in no way does this book justify suicide bombings, or indeed any other act of violence. Instead, it makes readers think about the term ‘victim’ in a more nuanced way, including those who are deliberately misled and coerced into committing acts of violence on behalf of organised terror groups in that victim label. When one of these boys walks over the mountain to blow himself and the believed perpetrators of his grandparents death, he is just as much a victim of the violence as the victims of his explosives belt. Especially since he and his family have deliberately been misled to think that the other side of the mountain holds military warehouses that are used to destroy the citizens on the orange grove side.

The other side of the mountain holds a refugee camp.

After sacrificing their son for what they had been led to believe was an act of rebellion against military brutality, the family is then left to live with the knowledge of what their son’s death was really for – the push for power by the leader of the local terror group. And that makes any reader’s heart break. You know from the way this family speaks to each other, how they love their community and how much they want peace, that they had no idea they were being misled. You can’t help but realise they are just as much victims as any person on the other side of the mountain – pawns in someone else’s game.

I am always interested in reading books from the perspectives of characters that have traditionally been rendered as side characters or background noise in novels. By taking this family, particularly the two boys Ahmed and Aziz, and positioning them as both perpetrators of violence and also victims of the local terror group, Tremblay has forced us to take a more nuanced look at how we view acts of violence worldwide. The victim/perpetrator binary is a far too simplistic way to discuss these events, and by breaking down the binary and forcing a discussion about the long lasting effects of these events on both sides of any act of violence, we are better positioned to consider solutions to these acts.

Beyond the violence, this book is about brotherhood, about the bond between Ahmed and Aziz, and about the love they have for each other. Both of them is scared for the other, and yet, it is the sacrifice of one brother in the name of the other that ultimately defines this book. I won’t reveal which brother dies, but I will say that perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the whole book comes from the brother who survives. For anyone who reads this books, you will find that the last section of this book from the perspective of the twenty year old survivor who leaves his home country for a better life is the hardest to read. Living with survivor’s guilt, and the knowledge that his twin died killing innocent people, it is the monologue that concludes the book that perhaps gives the greatest insight into the devastation of victimhood and pain. The final words that echo after the turn of the last page still haunt me:

“Do you hear me?”

Because we don’t often hear the people on the other side, the people who have been consistently demonised by media because of their actions. Yes, terrorism, suicide bombing and other acts of violence are awful events, but we are never the only victims. And we need to be careful about who we blame for these events. After reading this book, it is clear that in the circumstances of The Orange Grove, the leader of the local terror group deliberately lying to local families is the one who is responsible for all the pain, violence and death – but in real life, it is not always so simple to see this. So we need to be careful. Not all people who press the button want to be there, and not all of them know who they are ‘fighting’.

This is an extremely complex and compelling book by a Canadian author whose work I will continue to follow, and I encourage you to read this incredible book if only to challenge your conception of the victim/perpetrator binary. As always, I want to make mention of the incredible work of the translator of this novel, Sheila Fischman, who translated this book from Quebec French into English for Peirene Press. Without translator such as Fischman, so much work from non-English speaking writers would be lost to us and I am incredibly grateful for their work.

Of course, the experiences shown in this book do not represent the circumstances of all terror attacks or suicide bombings, and in the wake of recent events, I feel it is especially important to make it clear that this book is not representative of the backstory of every instigator of violent attacks. But, nonetheless, I think that this book should be read as part of our self-education, particularly at a time where media representations of the ‘other’ are becoming increasingly political and difficult to navigate.

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Larry Tremblay’s The Orange Grove is available from June 2017 in all good bookstores, or directly from Peirene Press. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Peirene Press for sending me a copy of The Orange Grove. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

 

 

 

 

© Hayley New 2017

“With All His Aching Heart”: A Review of ‘RELEASE’ by Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness is one of those authors whose name you know even if you have never read a single one of his books. You have seen his books in bookstores, in your libraries and even in the hands of your friends. But if ever there was a time to pick up a Patrick Ness novel, it is now.

Release, the newest book from Ness, has been published this month, and it is a total gem. The book follows Adam who is having one of the most confronting days of his life. From friends moving away to family issues to relationship crises to workplace harassment and down to his own struggle to feel loved by the people around him, Release unabashedly tackles some of the most poignant themes and issues of being a young person with eye opening clarity.

Release carries with it echoes of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, a deliberate choice acknowledged by the author both in his author’s note and in the opening line of the novel – “Adam would have to buy the flowers himself.” I have never been the biggest fan of Mrs Dalloway, but Ness’ homage to the classic is brilliantly done. Much like Mrs Dalloway, Release takes place over the course of a single day with flashes of the past colouring the book in vivid detail. More than that, it is a carefully preserved flash of what it is like to be a young person in a world that is often still stuck in the past.

Release also owes a debt of gratitude to Judy Blume’s infamous Forever. The frank and somewhat explicit depictions of sex, discussions around loss of virginity and the boundaries of love and sex in relationships are crucial in the telling of this story, particularly when it comes to Adam’s ability to recognise and define his own attachments to other people. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing X-rated in these pages, but I would not recommend this book to younger readers. In my opinion, Release fits more aptly into the category of New Adult fiction than young Adult fiction, but I leave this up to your own judgement.

What made this book different from the typical Young Adult/New Adult novels I have read about young love, sex, and identity, was the strange yet stunning intertwinement of the ghost storyline into the book. At times, the sudden break in Adam’s storyline and shift into the perspective of the faun spirit following his Queen seemed abrupt and weird, yet it was entrancing all the same. Stemming from the news of the death of a local girl at the hands of her meth-head boyfriend, the spirit storyline brought with it the same sort of power as Adam’s storyline, as Katie, the young dead girl, confronts the people she knew in life, including her murderer, to enact her final judgements upon them. Paralleled with Adam’s grief and difficulties with his family, the spirits give the reader a chance to see what anger could have done to him in his times of pain, and what vengeance he could enact on the people who hurt him. However, it is Adam’s choice to be vulnerable and open to love that makes him fundamentally different, and what inadvertently ends the rage of the spirits.

My one criticism of this novel is the open thread left regarding the sexual harassment Adam faces at work from his boss. Seeing the struggle Adam has with the imbalance of power and the potential consequences of reporting his boss, alongside his own father’s doubt about the legitimacy and basis of the crime is one of the parts of this novel that really got at me, and so I would have liked to have seen some closure regarding this particular event. The novel ends with Adam’s co-workers pledging to help him get justice for the harassment, but ultimately, I think that I would have liked to see more done here. In saying that though, the conversation Adam has with his father about the sexual harassment and blackmail is one of the most heartbreaking discussions I have read in fiction lately, especially when it concludes with Adam’s father blaming Adam’s homosexuality for the advances from his boss, and final admission that he doesn’t love his son unconditionally – “You have know idea how much I work to love you”. Those words were a punch to the gut for both Adam and I.

Ness’ prose is exquisite. The ease and pulse of the writing meant that I devoured this book in just under 24 hours, whilst taking in every detail described. I felt at home in this story, despite some of the unfamiliar territory it covered. I felt as though Adam’s friend Angela was my own friend, and honestly, I did see a lot of my own friendships in the close bond that Adam and Angela shared. The friendship between them is one of the big standouts of this novel for me, and I think that is what held this novel together so well in amongst all the chaos of the events themselves. I think it is fair to say that this is a coming of age story for people who have already taken their first steps in adulthood, and reading this book with that perspective only enriches the story that Ness gives us in Release.

This is a novel that I will be passing onto friends, and I highly encourage you to get out and get your hands on a copy of this moving and tender novel. You won’t regret it.

Release

Release by Patrick Ness (Walker Books, RRP $24.99) is now available in all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Walker Books Australia for sending me a copy of Release. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

© Hayley New 2017