Sunday, 26 November 2017

A Review of It Only Happens in the Movies

It Only Happens in the Movies is a novel by Holly Bourne, author of the Spinster Club series. Audrey is in the second year of sixth form, and a new job at a movie theatre. She's coping with her parents divorce, and her ex-boyfriend dumping her after their first time having sex. Her brother has moved to University, and she's feeling increasingly distant from her friends. When she meets Harry, she assumes he's trouble, and everyone else tells her that, too. But he could be just the type of trouble she needs.

This was my first Holly Bourne book, and this was the book I needed five, even ten years ago. So much of my life mirrors Audrey's. A dropped interest in drama? (Mine was because of a bad teacher, but still.) Painful first-time sex? An impending move of my parents when I went to Uni? (Mine was because of them moving voluntarily, but it was still so weird to come home to a different house in a place I didn't know, and just feeling so uneasy with something they were so excited about.)

Audrey has a huge, justified, hate of romance movies, but she also obviously did like them once. Many fans of these movies know they are unrealistic, but enjoy them as a form of escapism. Audrey never does assume fans of these movies are idiots themselves, so I'll give her credit for that. And I like her point that they give as unrealistic an idea of women as they do of men. In fact, I'd love to see a romantic movie with a protagonist with the insecurities that she lists. I think it could be a way to give more rounded characters in them. Also, I love that she has a passion, but she dropped it because of her ex-boyfriend. Ehh... She loved drama and wanted to go to RADA, obviously with a dream of acting professionally. Why would she give this up because of a arsehole like her ex?

Because he is, in fact, a total arsehole. The first word Audrey uses to describe Harry is "fuckboy" but this applies more to her Milo. He dumped her for after they attempted to have sex for the first time, which they stopped because it was too painful for Audrey. And the manner in which it happens is almost sexual assault. Sure, Audrey does say yes but her body language starts saying no during it. This is why we need education on consent in schools - to let people know that they should check in with their partner throughout sex, and be aware of their physical cues during it. Even if this wouldn't stop Milo, Audrey would realise that what he did was just awful. But she still displays attraction to him in the first part of the book? Surely, as soon as someone does this, that is grounds for "fuck him, I'm just going to try extra hard to enjoy life to make him suffer."

Alice, Becky and Charlie are Audrey's best friends, who exist to be her best friends. Alice gets some decent development, and manages to be the most supportive best friend ever. Leroy is Audrey's other best friend, and is well fleshed-out for a side character. He has a boyfriend, also into drama, and is a gaming YouTuber with a specialism in Mario Kart.

Harry is a total flirt, every movie cliche rolled into one. However, he knows when to tone down his teasing based on the tone of someone's voice. And at one point, he pulls "you're not like other girls, are you?" on Audrey, leading her into a rant that everyone needs to read. But after she explains how it's "sexist bull..." he apologises. And no "I'm sorry if," a genuine apology. I was rooting for you. However, thinking back on it now I can see a lot of things he did were problematic, and I don't think he and Audrey would have worked long term, even if he hadn't cheated.

There are some problematic terms used in this book, but I think it's more Bourne drawing on her own experiences about what teenagers say and think. Also, there is a lot of girl hate in the book. I actually don't mind a slight amount of bitchiness, since there are some nasty people in the world, and teenagers should learn how to deal with that. But I wanted to find out that Jessie feels guilty about splitting up a family and that's why she acts cold towards Audrey and Dougie. I was expecting Courtney to find out how Milo treated Audrey, after which she dumps him. I want to hear that Rosie doesn't automatically see Audrey as competition. I want to know about Mariana's hourlong commute from a poorer area and the large family she has to support, which is why she's determined to run such a tight ship, so she keeps her job. In real life, everyone is going through things you know nothing about. I know that books can't develop every minor character that exists, but I like to imagine how their lives are when we don't see them on page.

I think I would recommend this book to people who like movies, even romance movies. Like I said, there's no judgement from Audrey about people who do like them, and the book itself is more of an affectionate parody. I also think this is one book where the target audience of teenage girls will get a lot out of reading it, not that it can't also be enjoyed by people outside that demographic, either.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

A Review of Ink

Ink is a novel by Alice Broadway, and it is short-listed for the Books Are My Bag 2017 Reader's Award in the Young Adult category. In Leora Flint's world, everyone is tattooed when they have a significant event in their lives. When you die, your tattoos are preserved forever in your skin book, if you are deemed to have lead a worthy life. If not, you are forgotten, and your skin goes up in flames. People without tattoos are called blanks, and they were exiled long ago to a different part of the land. Upon the death of her father, Leora starts to learn that her world is not as simple as she always thought.

This is the first of a planned series, but I want to review this book on it's own because I'm a rebel against my own rules. Well, they're more guidelines, really.

Ink had a cover that caught my eye instantly, and a blurb that put me off. It made it sound like a standard YA dystopia. However I gave it a try and learnt an important lesson: judge a book by it's cover, not it's blurb. Okay, that was tongue-in-cheek, but I swear that for me covers are a better way of telling if I'd like a book than the blurb.

My first credit is for Leora having an ambition, and it's one that actually makes sense in her world. She wants to be an inker, someone who designs and applies people's tattoos. However, women inkers are rare, and people express doubt that a man would want to be inked by a woman and question her feminine style. If there is something I would like to see less of, it's sexism even in a fantasy or future world.

Leora has a good relationship with some of the men in her life. I know that we need to show more girls supporting girls, but I think it is also important to show people that boys and girls can be friends. She gets on well with her mentor, Obel, is friendly towards her friend Verity's brother Sebastian and has a burgeoning crush on Oscar. Romance in general is not at all important in this book, a refreshing change. She also has a good if rocky relationship with her mother, and a supportive friendship with Verity.

It's one of only a few dystopias I've seen give a large amount of attention to school. Leora hangs out and revises like any normal teenager might. Obviously, school is an important way that dystopias brainwash people into believing their line of thinking. During one of Leora's school exams, she's asked to describe how life would be different if the blanks still lived among them. Isn't that telling? Leora writes that "society would be divided. It would be hard for such diverse groups to live together without conflict." If human history has shown us anything, it's that there is truth in that, but if some cities in recent times are taken into account, it's that it doesn't have to be. The future that I would like to achieve and work towards is one where diverse groups can live side-by-side.

Bad points - there is about a two long paragraph section where Leora describes herself that wouldn't be out-of-place in a young adult contemporary. You know the sort - "Who would want me? I know for a fact I've never [turned anyone's head]. I've got to be the only sixteen year old on earth who's never been kissed by anyone. I'm not the right kind of pale... I'm more of a dull grey. My breasts are too small to be curvy and I'm sure my bum is too large to be skinny." I won't quote the whole thing, you get the idea. Credit where credit is due, though, she doesn't have the whole world telling her she's beautiful while she thinks this. I understand that insecurities are part of growing up and a teenage protagonist who doesn't think she is pretty is good for girls to read about. But one of the things she complains about it her mousey brown hair, and I just have to wonder how reading that so much makes people with that hair colour feel. Some of the prettiest people I've ever seen had hair of light brown. I remember how I used to feel when protagonists described their brown hair and eyes as boring. I feel like it would be better if we could point out the positives about appearance-based attributes.

There is also a story in their world that functions as a fable or fairy tale, about why they have their marks. In it, there a two sisters, and one is "as beautiful as she is good" and people travel from miles around to see her, and she marries a prince and her marks appear magically on her skin. People often forget that her sister exists, because she's not as pretty as her sister. Of course, she turns out to be a witch and curses a large part of the land. Also: Leora is descended from the sisters in the story. Is that not the most overdone twist in fiction?

In fact, there are stories periodically inserted into the novel, telling some of the myths of the land. Many are creative and interesting, but one is literally Sleeping Beauty. However, it does end with the line "She told him he shouldn't kiss sleeping girls." I'm so happy that was included!

Here is a good article from the Guardian that details some of Broadway's mindset as she came into writing this novel. It's an interesting read. The ideas of faith, religion and questioning your beliefs are done subtly, but they are also important to the story and handled well.

I recommend this one if you like dystopias. Many of the standard tropes are at play here, so if you generally dislike dystopias, nothing here will change your mind. However, if you do enjoy dystopias, you may like this.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

A Very Potter Day - Harry Potter: A History of Magic at the British Library and the House of MinaLima! 3/11/17

At The British Library, from 20th October 2017 to 28th February 2018, there is an exhibition going on about Harry Potter and the History of Magic. It's main focus is how myths and legends from our world influenced Harry Potter. So, I didn't expect to be able to go. But long story short, an advert for it appeared in Dad's paper, and I talked him into it like the mature 25-year-old that I am. Although it didn't take much talking. I'm not dragging him along, here. He hides it well, but he's almost as into Harry Potter as I am!

Under a cut due to a large amount of pictures! I didn't get many from the exhibition itself, for reasons I explain below, but I did get some nice ones from the House of MinaLima!