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There are books that defy normal praise, special books that are of their own making.
There is a problem in modern reading, especially for teenagers. They don’t do it, or enough anyway.
It seems they have as we all did back in the day a lot of other pressures and issues and a constant lack of time, that’s a problem always, time, we’ve only been allocated 24 hours per day and waste so much of it sleeping, let alone eating, or these days online. I’d ration online, make it cost a lot more, make it really precious and useful. In the old days it was, and I feel it worked better then.
Another issue is actually giving teenagers something they want to read, they all have so many different likes etc and maybe a lot of books are just too samey, too much angels and demons, too much love or lack of, too funny when they have a penchant for sad, too sad when they want a good laugh. Also, they don’t have or make time to focus on reading.
I see ways this could be made better, an idea I had recently was based on seeing hordes of lovely teens huddled outside their school as I went in to see the Librarian and Head of English to discuss ‘Reading for Pleasure’, something very obvious happened, I had seen them all engaged on their phones, I used to think they texted each other stood next to each other, I actually saw it in the past, but as it goes they are engaged in many ways via their access point their phones, sometimes you hear horror stories of them becoming ill and upset when not allowed to keep hold of their precious devices.
So, it was this simple, we should find a way of drip feeding them a story, hopefully one they do read and want to read more, I suggested we use a system like Parent Mail and What’s App, in fact I thought of WotzApp-ngNext as the sort of name for it. So, they get their page or most of a short story and have to ask for more, maybe by popping to the school library and getting a code or maybe by texting back to trigger it. It could just be it’s sent over a limited period of time and we hope they do bother to read. Maybe add rewards or one idea is they can actually order the whole book and maybe get a discount.
I think it could work and have set up a few trials to start very soon.
Then, I had an email from Carolyn McGlone who was at Fickling and always so supportive of fantastic books and bookshops, she was raving about a book, asked me to read it and look at setting up some school visits as the author is NW based and has a window of time soon.
So, we are now dying to tell you just how good this book is, it is beyond brilliant, it is jaw-droppingly good, it is a knockout and a belter, it is a shimmy and a sway around the senses and it will pound into your head in such a clever and profound way. It’s written in blisteringly paced free verse, akin to Sarah Crossan and Jason Reynolds, it is brutal and beautiful at the same time.
Louisa Reid is fairly new, she has two excellent YA books worthy of reading and recommending, she is very much able to convey raw emotion, sheer drama and personal insight with a touch like a feather accompanied by a drum beat of pace that keeps you reading.
The joy of verse fiction is that there is rhythm and rhyme but not as conventionally as pure poetry. The sparseness of embellishment allows the pure passion of the story to flow and you are taken on a journey inside so many places and heads in such a short space of time. It is very realistic, very emotive and very, very good. In fact, it is brilliant and deserves awards and praise and to be aired as a play/radio production or podcast soon.
We are with Lily, she’s just 16, has much to contend with, she’s podgy, she does have a lovely family and support, but they are poor and struggle and don’t have the nice things that she sees others have. She tries in school and she wants to fit in with her peers, but we soon see they are a bullying and divisive bunch and she has some horrendous situations in a rapid period of time, it is frantic and not easy reading, but superbly written. The ability of Louisa to speed up and then draw you to see detail and lament on things is divine, she is a pure wordsmith, she conjures every emotion and describes things with subtlety and grace and immense power.
I thought of several boxing analogies, she is like Cassius Clay at his finest both verbally and in style and substance, remember what he did to George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle, this is that impressive. So, we do find out how Lily is led to be educated and offered a chance to fight back by her loving dad helping her learn to box, their bond is beautifully written and the detail of what they both have to deal with is exquisitely written. We get a brilliant counterpoint of the situation seen by Bernadette the mum and her own immense struggles, and yet, she is always there and cooks, sews and supports immensely.
There are token and quite deadly friendships from school and then we meet Rosie and the girls at the gym, run by a fiery and persuasive coach in Jane. Lily trains, gets pain and yet also hope to give her the strength to overcome the situations she is constantly endangered in.
There is a huge honesty in this book, there are words used and things described that are not ‘nice’ but they are written with such humanity and care for the story being authentic and of the real world that unlike in some books when you groan at certain things, in this book you nod and feel the pain and brevity of the situations.
The delightful use of where the words are on the page to help lift and drop the flow and add a hidden rhythm of meter is superb.
We get real tension such as in the Spar where Lily and her lovely brother are in real danger and we get emotion and thought a plenty throughout.
And back to the points about reading and teenagers, this is exactly what they need to read, they can’t say it’s boring, they can’t say it’s not about them, they can’t say it’s too long as in real terms for 300 pages which is normally 70,000 words this is probably 10,000. But every word counts and that is why it is so good. It is profound, it transcends any category, it is just stellar.
Louisa gets all the nuances in; she is a seriously accomplished purveyor of feeling and depth of character and detail of observing everything.
As I said on twitter, it should be read out loud, it really is a story and Louisa has the perfect words to tell it beautifully. It is just like Ali swatting Foreman away with style and class, the power is in the movement not the strength of size or muscle.
Boys should read books like this, the portrayal of the boys who batter and bully Lily need to be read, also, the girls need to read to find out what it’s like to be ostracised and made to be so vulnerable by their actions. There is also, love, hope, tenderness and a real feeing of empowerment in this story.
The scenes with Rosie and her friends are a wonderful counterpoint to what it is like in Lily’s other normality. I think the book shows us that we all need a purpose and the support to deal with situations, we all can learn from seeing what others do and we all can become the best version of ourselves if we can empathise and understand that some things are right and many are wrong.
A few lines I saw and really liked…
‘sharper than snow
Letting me know
It isn’t over’
Waterfalls of fear’
‘next to you
I like the way I look’
And my favourite line is
‘does she eat sun for breakfast
Swallow moonshine for dessert’
Please folks find a way to get and read this book, pass it to any school library and especially pass it to teenagers and see if they can find just that little time in any day to read it, it may be a book that gets them on the path to read more and become the best, brightest and most brilliant them there ever could be, I hope so, I really do.