The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

The Bone Sparrow was one of the first books I read in 2017 and I’m ashamed to admit that I was shamefully ignorant of the refugee crisis in Australia beforehand. My knowledge is very Euro-centric and it’s something I need to work on. This book highlighted the human rights abuses towards Rohingya refugees from Mayanmar in Australia detention camps.

The narrator, a boy born in such a camp,  navigates the cruelty of the camp guards, the quiet depression of his mother, the fleeting safety of his best friend and the cynicism of his sister in a lyrical, child-like way. He reads to a local girl who sneaks in at night and watches as tensions rise within the camp with devastating consequences.

It’s a tragic story because it’s grounded in such a horrific reality. Endorsed by Amnesty International, Subhi’s story is one of millions of Muslim refugees around the world who are treated with cruelty and suspicion and are vilified by mainstream medias.

Of course, it’s also a story that needs to be told by refugees in their own words, and I’m seeking more and more diaspora stories written by people with that experience (if anyone has any recommendations then please let me know!) because it’s important that they tell their own stories.

Nina Is Not OK by Shappi Khorsandi

I was given this book on the London Bookshop Crawl by my friend Bex with very little idea of what to expect. I love Shappi Khorsandi’s comedy so the fact that she’d written it was a big selling point for me. Despite me having no idea of expectations this book still managed to surpass them.

Nina Is Not OK is about seventeen year old Nina, whose dad drinks himself to death when she’s nine, shortly after her boyfriend moves to Hong Kong. Her drunken exploits are notorious at college, she’s drinking more and more and insists she doesn’t have a problem. But she can’t remember one night in particular and the situations she’s getting herself in to are becoming far more dangerous.

I cried a lot reading this book. Personally, Nina’s path is one I narrowly escaped; my dad didn’t die of alcoholism until I was twenty, so I grew up very aware of the dangers of alcohol and skipped that whole teenage-rebellion-drinking-until-you-puke stage until I was a lot older than Nina and was angry enough to lash out at everything and everyone. I could have very easily been her.

The bits that got me in the story, though, were Nina’s thoughts on what might have happened if her dad had lived long enough to get help. It’s something that occurs to you daily when you lose someone to addiction and Shappi Khorsandi writes it very very well, as well as that weird juxtaposition between life then and now, and how hard it is to feel like you fit in to a life without that chaos and worry daily.

It was a much harder read than I was expecting, and is warn heavily for sexual assault, rape and talk of addiction and death from it. But it’s also very hopeful. Nina is not OK, but you feel like she will be.

It’s been a while!

Hello everyone! I’ve fallen off the face of WordPress for a while now; things got so drab and dreary over winter that I had zero motivation to take book review photos and now I’m about 40 books behind in reviewing! I’m hoping to get back in to the swing of things this week so I can share all of the wonderful books I’ve read since… November? I’ve also had the London Bookshop Crawl (haul above) to talk about which I really need to do because it was such a good day.

Bye for now, but hopefully I’ll see you soon!

Discworldathon: Colour of Magic read-a-long!

Hello! I’m hosting this month’s theme for Discworldathon: Wizards! A quick poll chose The Colour of Magic as our book for the month and it makes sense to start with the very beginning!

Fortunately The Colour of Magic is, against all tradition with Discworld novels, split in to four handy parts… one for every week in February! I know we’re two days in already but if we fal a few pages behind it’s no big deal. 

So, the month is going to be set up like this, with discussions going on on Twitter/Instagram under the hashtag #discworldathon, the readalong goodreads thread and/or here if people fancy it (wherever you like really!):

Week 1: The Colour of Magic

Week 2: The Sending of Eight

Week 3: The Lure of the Wyrm 

Week 4: Close to the Edge

The last weekend (25/26th) I’ll also be hosting a mini readalong of The Last Hero- the graphic short story about wizards trying to stop an old man from killing the gods.

I’ll mainly be posting on Goodreads and Twitter to save people’s timelines on here!

Finally, I’m also hosting a giveaway on twitter if you would like the chance to win a Discworld novel of your choice!

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I was warned by several people that this book would break me over the course of 700+ pages and they were absolutely right. A Little Life is a gut-wrenching epic that doesn’t let up the misery for even a second. I, of course, loved it because I love miserable books.

Note: it’s difficult to talk about this one without a certain degree of spoilers. I’ve not mentioned specifics or character names in relation to things that happen, but this review will give you an overall idea of some of the events that take place. Also TW for mention of child abuse and abusive relationships throughout this whole review (and book)

The story takes place over seven decades and largely focuses on four friends; Jude, Willem, Malcolm and JB. It’s a diverse group, in terms of ethnicity, sexuality and experience. Jude remains pretty much unknown to the others for most of the story but the narrative weaves in details about the horrific abuse he suffered as a child. We see the four of them meet at college and grow up to achieve their dreams- or not in some cases- whilst navigating the difficulties of a friendship with someone who is so clearly hurting, and remains the core of the group, but refuses to left anyone in.

I read somewhere that someone had described A Little Life as the ‘great gay novel’ and it’s true that queer relationships of many kinds are represented on page (some healthily, others not) but I think it would be a disservice to imply that people can come here looking for a happy ending. There are pretty much none. There are some beautiful moments, and I don’t want to give away any more than I need to, but the overall tone of the novel is not for people who love a bit of light fluff. I should point out that neither the book, nor this review, are #ownvoices on this subject so obviously take my opinions with the scepticism they deserve; but I felt the topics of coming out in the public eye were dealt with critically and well and a breadth of different ‘healthiness’ of relationships was represented. Perhaps we’re falling in to the territory of the ‘kill your gays’ trope but as the majority of the characters are queer and no death is designed to further the story of a straight character it feels like it fits within the tone of the narrative. (Seriously no happy endings here. Even misery-loving me was yelling at the page)

I did have one glaring issue with the book that I was unable to forgive though and it kind of tainted the experience for me. I understand that the book, whilst being predominantly in third person, embodies the point of view and inner monologues of each of the characters, mainly Jude and Willem, I thought it was completely irresponsible of the author to refer to a sexual act between a nine-twelve year old boy and a middle aged man as ‘sex’. It’s rape, either call it that or don’t name it. It actually made me really angry to see it put down on a page as ‘they had sex’ because I feel like that’s a gross misuse of a writers power to challenge these things. That word shouldn’t have been anywhere near that situation, for a writer as clearly talented as Hanya Yanagihara it should have been possible to write around calling it sex. It left a bad taste in my mouth and it kind of tipped the balance in to some parts being almost like trauma porn.

Still, it is an extraordinary book and I’m not surprised it’s such a bestseller, despite the length of it and how harrowing it is. It covers everything from abusive relationships to self harm to suicide to child abuse to child prostitution to sexually transmitted diseases to friendships to gay relationships (spoiler alert: not one gay or bisexual character contracts or dies from an STI which is a welcome break from a harmful stereotype there). It’s one that I would say needs to be experienced if the subject matter appeals- it would be triggering to a lot of people and like I said before this is not one for people who value happy endings. I loved it, but I am a depressing-narrative-enthusiast.

Blog Tour: The Dry by Jane Harper

‘I just can’t understand how someone like him could do something like that.’

Amid the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, it hasn’t rained in small country town Kiewarra for two years. Tensions in the community become unbearable when three members of the Hadler family are brutally murdered. Everyone things Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty.

Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke’s death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend’s crime.

The Dry is one of those books that grips you from the very beginning; throwing us straight in to the funeral of a young family that was, on the surface, a murder suicide as a result of economic depression within a small town. Returning home for the first time in year is Falk, who harbours a secret about his shared past with the friend everyone assumes killed his wife and child.

I found the setting of this one particularly interesting. The only way I can describe it is claustrophobic; Falk had got out but is drawn back in to the whispers and secrets of his small town home. The writing is beautiful and really draws you in to this crime mystery, without being sensational. It embodies small town drama whilst also being sensitive to the tragedy at the centre of the story.

I love a good crime thriller so I really enjoyed this one. It felt like an Australian Gillian Flynn novel; a gripping crime at the centre of something distinctly outback. 

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

I put off reviewing this one for a while because I am so torn on it. It’s a beautiful story about love and grief and the families we makes for ourselves… But it also falls dangerously in to a trope of killing off the only trans character to further the story of others.

Kitchen is a novel in three parts; Kitchen part one, which deals with Mikage, the narrator, moving in with Yuichi and his mother Eriko, who is a trans woman. Kitchen part two deals with Mikage and Yuichi’s grief and eventual love after Eriko is murdered in the gay club she runs. It is explicitly stated that she is murdered for being trans and I feel like the story never quite addresses that. Eriko is grieved quite profoundly by every character, but something that is a very real fear and danger for trans women across the world deserved to be more than just a passing paragraph before we focus on how her death affects her son and surrogate daughter’s relationship. So I have issue with the middle section. It is a book originally written in the 80s, but I don’t want to excuse something that could be potentially harmful to some readers.

The third part, Moonlight Shadow, also focuses intensely on grief but introduces entirely new characters. It’s almost a fantasy section, where a mysterious stranger allows a grieving woman to see her dead loved one one more time. 

Kitchen was an interesting read, especially with how it managed to be so immersive in Japanese culture within such a short book. It is beautifully written and translated, but regardless I think there are some very real issues that needed to be addressed.