coming of age novel

All posts tagged coming of age novel

Banned Books 2019 – SEPTEMBER READ – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Published October 28, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don’t live to see the morning?

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before – and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Collins delivers equal parts suspense and philosophy, adventure and romance, in this searing novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present.

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the ninth banned book in our series for 2019! Apologies for the late posting of this review, life has been quite hectic for both of us recently. As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. Here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of the year:

OCTOBER: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn- Mark Twain

NOVEMBER: To Kill A Mockingbird- Harper Lee

DECEMBER: Revolutionary Voices- edited by Amy Sonnie

But back to this month….

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

First published: 2008

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2010 (source)

Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: It’s strange to think that it’s been over ten years since The Hunger Games was first published. I still count it as a relatively recent release but it’s crazy to see how the time has flown and how much has changed in the world since it first came out. The Hunger Games is an interesting one when it comes to banning books. One on hand, you can see why some people might have a problem with it – the theme of multiple teenagers fighting to the death in an arena with one survivor might not be to everyone’s taste. I have to agree that there is violence and of course, quite a few nasty deaths but when it was challenged in 2010 I don’t think this was anything remarkable or unique from what readers could find elsewhere, especially with the advent of the internet and social media.

CHRISSI: I can’t believe it’s been so long since it was released! This is one of those books where I can sort of understand why it’s banned. However, this book was never marketed as a child’s book. It’s in the Young Adult genre and I’m pretty sure that most young adults can deal with the content in The Hunger Games and much more besides. Sometimes real life can feel just as scary (although hopefully nowhere near as violent!)

How about now?

BETH: For the most part, I don’t think there’s any need to challenge The Hunger Games for the reasons that it is sexually explicit or unsuited to the age group. Firstly, Katniss lies down with Peeta (to keep warm I hasten to add!) and has a bit of a kiss and a cuddle. I really don’t see anything terrible about that. Particularly as this IS a young adult novel and a large proportion of that audience hanker after a bit of romance and a sympathetic male lead. Whilst we’re on the topic of young adult fiction I don’t see why it’s inappropriate for the age group. I agree the story is incredibly brutal and horrific in points but when are we going to stop wrapping kids in cotton wool and shielding them from all the bad stuff in the world? No, The Hunger Games isn’t a part of real life (thank goodness!) but that’s precisely my point. It’s a fantastical world that we can escape from whenever we like – we just have to put down the book or never pick it up in the first place. No one is forcing anyone to read it, it’s personal choice. It may be unsuitable for younger readers, that’s true but that’s exactly why it’s labelled as YOUNG ADULT FICTION.

CHRISSI: I think there are far more violent games, stories and films on the internet. Yes, the subject matter is intense and it’s not exactly ‘nice’. Yet I can guarantee that every young adult that reads this book will know it’s not real life and will be able to handle a bit of escapism. I mean, come on! In my opinion, although it’s not fluffy content and it is tough and violent, it’s fiction and people know that!

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: I loved The Hunger Games when I first read it and I still love it every time I crack it open again. It’s not just a tale about fighting, violence and terrible deaths. It’s a coming of age story about loyalty, love, friendship, family and justice and the lengths someone will go to in order to protect everything they hold dear. It looks at a regime that has frightening echoes of things happening right now across our own world and it’s about real people who go above and beyond in the bravery to try and survive. I’ll always be a fan.

CHRISSI: I really enjoy this book every time I revisit it. I love the story line and think the characters are awesome. It’s a story I can take something from each time. I’d highly recommend it, if you haven’t had the chance to read it yet.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s personal star rating (out of 5):

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COMING UP IN OCTOBER ON BANNED BOOKS: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Banned Books 2019 – AUGUST READ – Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher

Published September 2, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

There’s bad news and good news about the Cutter High School swim team. The bad news is that they don’t have a pool. The good news is that only one of them can swim anyway. A group of misfits brought together by T. J. Jones (the J is redundant), the Cutter All Night Mermen struggle to find their places in a school that has no place for them. T.J. is convinced that a varsity letter jacket exclusive, revered, the symbol (as far as T.J. is concerned) of all that is screwed up at Cutter High will also be an effective tool. He’s right. He’s also wrong. Still, it’s always the quest that counts. And the bus on which the Mermen travel to swim meets soon becomes the space where they gradually allow themselves to talk, to fit, to grow. Together they’ll fight for dignity in a world where tragedy and comedy dance side by side, where a moment’s inattention can bring lifelong heartache, and where true acceptance is the only prescription for what ails us.

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the eighth banned book in our series for 2019! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. Here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of the year:

SEPTEMBER: The Hunger Games- Suzanne Collins

OCTOBER: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn- Mark Twain

NOVEMBER: To Kill A Mockingbird- Harper Lee

DECEMBER: Revolutionary Voices- edited by Amy Sonnie

But back to this month….

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher

First published: 2001

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2004 (source)

Reasons: racism, offensive language, 

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: It might be quite clear from our Banned Books Challenge so far that Chrissi and I are against banning or challenging books but we always enjoy checking out stories that have caused a bit of a riot and dissect whether they had good reason for a challenge. I can safely state that without exception, we have found no good reason to ban or challenge a book. Perhaps limit it’s availability in school libraries if there are very young children around – we agree on that but otherwise, we shouldn’t limit literature for anyone. Many reasons we’ve found for challenging a book can be quite exasperating and there’s been very few that we can see why some people may have had an issue. In Whale Talk, released in the early 2000’s, the reasons that they’ve given, I cannot really deny. Yes, there is racism in the book and it might offend people. Nevertheless, I think it’s still important to show different people’s attitudes (no matter how wrong we might personally find them) so we can carry on talking about an important, abhorrent issue.

CHRISSI: I think this is one of the rare books when we can actually get on board with the reasons for banning/challenging the book. There is pretty offensive language in the story- nothing which I’m sure teenagers/young adults haven’t heard before. However, it’s undeniable that it’s there. So would we want our young people to read it? Some may find it anyway and might not be offended by its content, compared to what else is around! It does also include racism. I don’t always think it’s a bad thing to educate young people on racism, but I’m not sure this is the right one to do that with.

How about now?

BETH: As I mentioned in the previous answer, it’s important to talk about racism in the past and in the present. It hasn’t gone away and sadly, some people’s views haven’t changed on the matter. The other reason for challenging is offensive language. Normally, when we get a reason like this I retort with something like: “Where was the offensive language in this book?!” In Whale Talk, I have to admit there was bad language. I wasn’t particularly offended by it but I understand why some people might be. However, it is a book marketed towards a specific audience of young adults and you aren’t going to be able to shelter them from bad language in the real world, as we’ve said many times on this feature before.

CHRISSI: Like I said, I can see why, but I don’t think it’s something that should be taken away from people. As Beth mentioned, it’s targeted towards YA and I’m sure there’s worse language within peer groups or on social media/films. Not necessarily a solid enough reason to prevent them from this book.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: This book was only okay for me unfortunately. I appreciated what Chris Crutcher was trying to do and I really liked the main character, T.J. but it wasn’t a narrative that really grabbed my attention or stuck in my mind as memorable. I thought it did raise some important issues though and I can understand why many readers would really connect with it.

CHRISSI: 

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Probably!

CHRISSI: I thought I was really going to like this book, but for me I didn’t gel with the author’s writing style. I think it brings to light some important issues, so I believe it should be tried!

BETH’s personal star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

 

COMING UP IN SEPTEMBER ON BANNED BOOKS: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Short Stories Challenge – Stars Of Motown Shining Bright by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Published March 29, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s Stars Of Motown Shining Bright all about?:

Two fifteen year old girls have fallen in love with the same man and risk their friendship by both travelling to see him for an evening. However, all three end up getting a lot more than they had bargained for.

What did I think?:

I can’t describe exactly how much I love this collection of short stories, my first experience of the tour de force that is Julie Orringer’s writing. Of course as with other collections, some stories are better than others but in this particular case I think I can say that each story so far has touched me in some way as I was reading. In Stars Of Motown Shining Bright our two main female characters are fifteen year old Lucy (our narrator) and her friend Melissa. I think at school we may have all had a friend like Melissa – supremely confident, perhaps slightly arrogant and extremely emotionally manipulative. Lucy is the quieter sort who always feels a bit inferior in comparison to her friend with her fashionable clothes, general demeanour and complete assuredness in everything she does.

As the story begins, the girls are about to go on a overnight visit to see their mutual friend, Jack Jacob whom they both have a huge crush on. Lucy however is quite excited for a different reason. She feels that she has finally “got one up” on her friend as she has recently lost her virginity to Jack when he came back to their town a little while ago. Lucy can’t wait for Melissa to find out and feels immensely proud that Jack has chosen her as the girl he wants to be with. Perhaps the reader may see this coming but this is not quite the case unfortunately for poor Lucy (yes, I must always champion the underdog!).

Jack Jacob is revealed as the kind of boy you really shouldn’t be touching, even with a ten foot bargepole and, for a time, it seems like the girls will not be able to see him for the slimeball that he most definitely is. Julie Orringer really surprised me by creating a heroine in Lucy that any woman reading this short story will love (and this story could have gone a number of different ways). Lucy does so much more than hold her own though – she grows up within such a short space of time, develops serious self-respect, teaches Jack a brilliant lesson and even manages to “save” Melissa in the process.

I was slightly concerned about where the story may be going when a certain instrument in a glove compartment is mentioned and was on the edge of my seat by the dramatic finale. However, it ended in the most perfect way and should remind all young girls in close friendships that a despicable man who seems to have no concept of decency or how to treat people is not worth the risk or their precious time. There are a lot of themes in this tale which the author explores throughout the entire collection, for example, teenage sexuality, coming of age, friendships and strong, female independence, all of which Julie Orringer writes about with incredible beauty and enthusiasm. Great story, great characters, great message… more please!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Charm For A Friend With A Lump by Helen Simpson from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Author Interview – Alexia Casale on her new YA novel House Of Windows

Published November 23, 2015 by bibliobeth

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ALEXIA CASALE – A BIOGRAPHY

Shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize. Longlisted for The Branford Boase Award. A Book of the Year 2013 for the Financial Times and Independent.

A British-American citizen of Italian heritage, Alexia is an author, editor and writing consultant. She also teaches English Literature and Writing.

After an MA in Social & Political Sciences (Psychology major) then MPhil in Educational Psychology & Technology, both at Cambridge University, she took a break from academia and moved to New York. There she worked on a Tony-award-winning Broadway show before returning to England to complete a PhD and teaching qualification. In between, she worked as a West End script-critic, box-office manager for a music festival and executive editor of a human rights journal.

She’s not sure which side of the family her dyslexia comes from, but is resigned to the fact that madness runs in both. She loves cats, collects glass animals and interesting knives, and has always wanted a dragon.

Alexia is represented by Claire Wilson of Rogers, Coleridge & White.

Her debut novel, The Bone Dragon, is published in English by Faber & Faber, and in German by Carlsen.

Click on the books to get to the link for GoodReads!

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For my review of The Bone Dragon, click HERE.

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For my review of House Of Windows, click HERE.

Interview with Alexia Casale

I’d like to welcome Alexia to bibliobeth today and thank her very much for her time in giving this interview.

1.) House of Windows is a very different book to your debut The Bone Dragon. Did you set out to write such a completely different story or was it an idea that developed over time?

I started working on a version of House of Windows when I was thirteen, long before I thought of the pieces of story that became The Bone Dragon. Returning to this ‘old’ project after The Bone Dragon allowed me to start as I mean to go on by showing that I plan to write all sorts of books, across all sorts of genres: it’s the story and characters that attract me to a book, not the genre or readership. But I love that Faber took such trouble over the look of House of Windows so there was a connection between the two, at least with appearances!

bibliobeth (“Both the covers are absolutely beautiful, designed by Helen Crawford-White.”)

2.) Our main character in this novel is Nick and his story reads like a “coming of age” epic. Is he based on anyone you know and was it hard to say goodbye to him at the end?

Nick, or a version of Nick, has been living in my head since my early teens so I doubt I’ll ever be rid of him. The thing that’s changed is that he’s no longer demanding that I write his story: he’s out there between the pages to meet other people, so he doesn’t take up my time creatively any more. But he’s not gone, just like Evie’s not gone. I guess it’s like former colleagues who’ve become friends: it’s all fun now, rather than mostly hard work!

Different bits of Nick are based on different people. There’s a certain amount of me in him, as there is with any protagonist, then there are bits of various people I went to University with, and bits and bobs of family members and family friends… The people we meet and know and love and hate are how we understand how people work. No matter what a writer says, that’s the resource we all draw on to create characters.

3.) You paint a beautiful picture of Cambridge in the novel, a city that you know well. Did most of your research for this novel involve having to re-visit and why in particular did you choose to set your story here?

Going back to Cambridge is always wonderful and it was fantastic to have an excuse to revisit some of my favourite places in the University and the town. Mostly I went to take photos in case I needed them for publicity or promotions stuff – I’m hoping to make a book trailer once YA Shot is over! Cambridge is so close to my heart that I didn’t need to re-visit. That’s why the book had to be set in here: I had all the passion and joy in the place that Nick needed and it was a lovely thing to share with him. I got to fall in love with Cambridge all over again through him, sharing all the little details of one of my favourite places in the world.

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King’s Chapel in Cambridge from The Backs (photograph provided by author)

As for the ‘character’ of the University, most people imagine Cambridge is posh and snotty and that it takes itself very seriously, but that’s only true of some aspects and some people. The thing I’ve tried to capture is how Cambridge is a world unto itself and everyone plays along because it’s fun… but we all get how daft it all is. Take the language: you have to learn it because everyone stops speaking English at the gates, but that’s not a hardship because it’s basically a very silly game you all get to bond over. So what most people probably see as a way of excluding the rest of the world is more about building a sense of community around fun and not taking yourself or the whole Cambridge life too seriously. I really hope that comes across. But the bottom line is that Cambridge is beautiful and fascinating: the key aspects of most compelling settings.

IMG_4756-001Trinity Hall, Jerwood Library from Clare Bridge, Cambridge (photograph provided by author)

4.) You touch on some emotional subjects in this novel, in particular the relationship between Nick and his father. Do you think that if their relationship had been better Nick would have been a different person as a result?

Definitely! Nick is emotionally unintelligent and maybe he always would have been, but a loving, healthy family dynamic would doubtless have mitigated his natural cluelessness: it’s hard for someone who doesn’t naturally ‘get’ people if there’s no one to help him figure those things out. If even one of his parents had helped him learn how to relate to other people, he’d have lived a very different life. He’d still be super-smart but maybe if he had been busy having a social life and doing something other than studying and more studying, he wouldn’t have gone to Cambridge at 15… Which is not to say that Nick isn’t responsible for his own choices, but he is still a kid. He gets a lot of stuff wrong but I appreciate how little help he’s had in getting it right. Nick isn’t written to be likeable, but I really hope people will grow to understand him. Even if they still think he’s spiky, difficult little smart arse, I hope they’ll also empathise with him by the end of the story.

5.) Are you working on anything now and can you tell us a little bit about it?

Many things! I’m writing a WWII adult historical novel. And a psychological thriller in a similar vein to The Bone Dragon. And also the first in a potential series.
But obviously the main thing is YA Shot until November!

bibliobeth: (“I actually cannot wait!!”)

IMG_4992-001The Bridge Of Sighs at St John’s, Cambridge (photograph provided by author)

Now for some quick fire questions!:

E book or real book?
Real book EVERY TIME. As a professional editor, ebooks are too much like work.

Series or stand alone?
Depends. Series for fantasy. Standalone for thrillers. Series for historical. Standalone for literary/contemporary. Series for crime. Sometimes. Oh, I don’t know. Just give me all the books and an eternity to read them.

Fiction or non-fiction?
Fiction for pleasure every time. As a researcher, I’m hardly anti non-fiction, but getting the most out of non-fiction is always hard work. Books are sometimes just for fun.

Online shopping or bookshop trawling?
Online at the moment because of time and energy issues! But I LOVE secondhand bookstores. Many of my happiest family holidays of a kid were spent in Hay-on-Wye (aka Bliss-on-Earth).

Bookmarking or dog-earing?
Bookmarks for reading. Dog-earring for permanently marking things I think are amazing. Dog earring for recipe books.

Once again, a HUGE thank you to the lovely Alexia Casale for her efforts in making this interview possible. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next and be assured, I will definitely be reading it.

House of Windows was published on 6th August 2015 by Faber Children’s Books and is available from all good book retailers now. I also highly recommend her debut novel The Bone Dragon which was short-listed for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.

House Of Windows – Alexia Casale

Published November 22, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

‘The body is a house of many windows: there we all sit, showing ourselves and crying on the passers-by to come and love us.’ Robert Louis Stevenson

Nick hates it when people call him a genius. Sure, he’s going to Cambridge University aged 15, but he says that’s just because he works hard. And, secretly, he only works hard to get some kind of attention from his workaholic father.

Not that his strategy is working.

When he arrives at Cambridge, he finds the work hard and socialising even harder. Until, that is, he starts to cox for the college rowing crew and all hell breaks loose…

What did I think?:

Alexia Casale first drew me into her magical little world with her first novel The Bone Dragon and her latest YA effort, House of Windows, cemented me completely as a loyal and admiring fan. I think I should mention that it’s a very different novel to The Bone Dragon but this is in no way a slight to the author’s writing. In fact, I was left in awe by her accomplished style and undeniable talent in making me feel so much for a fictional character that is, to be perfectly honest, not a particularly likeable person at the start of the novel.

The story centres around Nick, a young boy who is so intelligent that he is about to embark on university life at Cambridge, no less, at the tender age of fifteen. Unfortunately he does not endear himself to anyone at the beginning – outwardly, he’s a bit of a smart-arse and tends to show off about how intelligent he is which is an annoyance to everyone he meets. But as the story continues, we begin to realise that Nick is a sensitive, sweet soul that just wants a niche to fit in and friends he can call his own.

When we meet Nick’s father, Michael, we understand a lot more about his character. The reasons behind his social awkwardness, his difficulty with people in general and his tendency to shut away a lot of his feelings are laid down in black and white. Michael is a workaholic and often absent in his son’s life, leaving a lot of Nick’s upbringing to family friends and leaving him to navigate the scary world of university almost completely alone without the advice and support that he should be providing. I really connected personally to Nick’s problems with his father and found him both enraging and exasperating. In fact, I referred to him in my mind as his father, genetically speaking and nothing else.

Despite Nick’s issues with his father, he manages to find a place of sorts in the university with the help of characters like Tim, Ange (beautiful, crazy fairy lady) and Professor Goswin who I had a real soft spot for. For the first time, we see Nick managing to open up, admit he is vulnerable and accept help in the unlikeliest of places. In the end, I felt like even though we can’t change what is given to us biologically family-wise, we can make our own family by surrounding ourselves with people who love and care for us and accept the person we are. The quote by Robert Louis Stevenson in the synopsis is a perfect way to describe this book, a coming of age epic that teaches us that there is nothing wrong with being ourselves and asking for help if we need it. Alexia Casale has written a simply stunning novel which slowly builds up to a narrative that affected me more than she will ever know.

“You’re not listening. Like so many people, you think that the important moments in the story of a life are big and loud, where really they’re small and quiet. Someone on the outside would think these moments unworthy of note, but you must recognise the important moments of your own life when they happen. It is very important.”

Come back tomorrow for my interview with the lovely Alexia Casale!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Joyland – Stephen King

Published June 17, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

College student Devin Jones took the summer job at Joyland hoping to forget the girl who broke his heart. But he wound up facing something far more terrible: the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and dark truths about life—and what comes after—that would change his world forever.

A riveting story about love and loss, about growing up and growing old—and about those who don’t get to do either because death comes for them before their time—JOYLAND is Stephen King at the peak of his storytelling powers. With all the emotional impact of King masterpieces such as The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, JOYLAND is at once a mystery, a horror story, and a bittersweet coming-of-age novel, one that will leave even the most hard-boiled reader profoundly moved.

What did I think?:

As mentioned previously (quite a lot) on this blog, I am a confessed big Stephen King fan, but I try to give impartial honest reviews on everything I read so here goes… To begin with, if I didn’t know this was a Stephen King book, I would think this book had been written by a different author. Sure, it has echoes of King, and a few classic King moments, but I wonder if he is trying something new? I’m not certain if it’s because it reads more like a murder-mystery novel than the usual supernatural offering we might usually expect from him. It’s the story of a young man called Devin Jones who takes a summer job at a theme park called Joyland (the “anti-” Disney, you might say). He is struggling to recover after the first love of his life has royally stomped all over his heart, and after making a couple of friends and a few drunken bonfires on the beach, he slowly begins to feel better.

What also keeps Devin’s mind occupied during this time is trying to solve the murder of a young woman who has her throat cut during the darkest part of the House of Horrors fairground ride. Although this happened fairly recently, her murderer has never been caught, and after one of Devin’s friends sees her ghost, Devin becomes determined to help her tortured soul. Once Devin decides to work full-time at Joyland, he manages to develop a bit of a name for himself, (no spoilers here!) and meets a young boy in a wheelchair and his mother. Both of them become very important to him, for different reasons… and he becomes desperate to give the dying young boy a full and happy life while he still has a chance.

Even though I claim that this doesn’t read like a classic King, he hasn’t lost any ability that he possesses to tug on your old heart-strings. Some parts are so beautiful and heart-warming, I was reminded of his recent novel, Lisey’s Story which I also found incredibly moving. What gives this story its strength is that it performs so many functions – it gives you a bit of mystery, a bit of a scare, a bit of sentiment, and even a bit of romance. And of course, the standard King humour is always there, just to avoid things getting a bit TOO serious. I have to say, I really enjoyed this, and, as always, look forward to the next novel. (Dr Sleep, follow up to The Shining, out this Autumn/Fall!!) Told you I was a fan.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars