Several months ago when hosting a moderately successful open mic on Masculinity, I was struck by the number of young men who wished to contribute but feared ridicule. One pointedly referred to the event as a ‘trap’, obliquely accusing me of coxing out male vulnerability for spectacle. So pervasive is this crisis of masculinity, that Grayson Perry the author of The Descent of Man exasperatedly reassures his male readers that “no one dies of embarrassment”.
I can quote Margaret Atwood till I’m blue in the face but the stubborn resistance of masculinity has tuned out most women reducing their legitimate concerns to white noise.
Grayson Perry, an artist and once overtly masculine man with a penchant for cross dressing, takes on the burden of educating his fellow men on ingrained patriarchy. In the first third of the book he takes the masculine ideal of “the Default Man”, white, middle-upper-class heterosexual man, and demonstrates its irrelevance to the majority of its gender, and why it is unwilling to forgo the advantages it has violently wrestled from others.
Grayson, puts together a helpful primer on gender. Alluding to how male privilege being largely unchallenged in the modern era has paved the way for the election of Trump, the perfect embodiment of the illogical assumptions of toxic masculinity.
Since men appear reluctant to forgo their dominion, Grayson appeals to the inevitable existential crisis if men continue to cling to outdated gender roles, whilst forward thinking women adapt and learn new skills developing male traits if necessary. The Descent of Man is almost guaranteed with automation in the fields of finance, engineering, medicine, law and accounting, with men only dominating in computing and janitorial services.
The toll of masculinity on men makes up the core of the book. Its vice-like hold on emotional intelligence, stunting men into believing in a pecking order dominated by “alpha men” and their emblems of success. Despondency at failing to achieving masculine ideals is endemic, and the absence of emotionally outlets provide fertile ground for violent movements ranging from white supremacy to ISIS. What does one say in the face of statistics that prove suicide is the lead killer of men under 45? He honestly navigates the assumption that a feminised man is a sexual turn off, removing another stumbling block for the progressive man.
Grayson has higher aspirations for men he wants for us to stop seeing them as cardboard brittle, inflexible and unable to change. As he says “ they pretty much have the same brains as women”.
The Descent of Man is an accessible must read for men everywhere and will go some way in eliciting empathy for those caught in the unforgiving and unreasonable expectation of masculinity.
Since I’ve always championed the merits of reading comic books and graphic novels, I was ecstatic to see some choice additions in our new stock. I devoured, in quick succession, Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie based on David Bowie’s early life, and Neil Gaiman’s Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire. After briefly surfacing to join the world, I dove back into three more graphic novels and revisited one from before. The result? I had no idea which one of them to choose for an in-depth review as I had greatly enjoyed them all.
Upon closer inspection, however, I noticed a similarity: they all focused on growth through journeys. Visually, most featured simplistic drawing styles (although Robert Hunter’s Map of Days has some mind boggling compositions in it) and limited colour palettes.
Isabel Greenberg’s debut The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, put her on the map in 2013, along with her love of stories and the art of storytelling itself. In it we follow a storyteller separated from the woman he loves due to an uncanny phenomena. He is from the North Pole and she from the South, but the effects of the magnetic field cause them to repel each other instead of being in each other’s arms as they crave. The solution they settle on is to simply spend their lives with each other with the distance between them acting as a part of their day-to-day life. To while away the time they tell each other stories. The novel begins with her asking the storyteller to tell her how he came to her, one she has heard many times but has not yet grown tired of. It’s easy to see why. The storyteller launches into his tale and we are treated to one of the best life histories ever written. He travels the world encountering distant lands and strange creatures like ogres and warrior nations like the Hals and Dags that inhabit Early Earth. Along the way he experiences divine intervention (both helpful and hindering) from the god Birdman, and his children Kid and Kiddo.
The three gods make a return in Greenberg’s second graphic novel, The One Hundred Nights of Hero, joining a new cast featuring Cherry and her lover Hero. When Cherry’s diabolical husband makes a twisted wager with his friend Manfred over whether he can seduce Cherry in the time he is away, the two women must band together to save Cherry and keep their relationship a secret. Hero decides to tell Manfred (and later the guards and anyone in the vicinity of the castle are added) a story every night to stall the seduction. In the tradition of The Arabian Nights, Hero keeps Manfred (and us) enthralled with her interwoven stories that eventually put both women in danger and save them as well. While both graphic novels take place in the same universe, The One Hundred Nights of Hero is a standalone story and is actually the one I read first.
Both books show off Greenberg’s superior storytelling ability and her love of the medium as well. Sporting primarily black and white pages, there are well-placed splashes of colour that accentuate the dramatic moments of the story and help make her pages beautiful and expressive. Both are odes to storytelling, containing multiple stories within a frame tale, all of them gripping and highly imaginative. In her simplistic drawings Greenberg manages to convey great amounts of emotion and just as importantly, moments of quiet and contemplation, allowing the reader to absorb the events in each panel fully.
Where Greenberg’s books have small pops of colour, Robert Hunter’s Map of Days is a technicolour explosion on each page, as his complicated compositions take on a creation myth of his own making. Gone is the god with the head of a bird and his children, instead we have nine celestial siblings who each create a corner of the universe and retire. The ninth sibling is responsible for creating Earth and becomes obsessed with the Sun. Later an unnamed narrator discovers a way to the being through the grandfather clock in his grandfather’s house and he soon must navigate his way around the being as the first living creature the sibling has seen in years.
Map of Days is a visual masterpiece; Hunter’s illustrations are lush and ethereal. His characters don’t show much emotion and there are no speech bubbles. Instead blocks of text dot the pages that are more image-centric. The end result is a dream-like narrative which the narrator relates to us from a point in the future. The images are motionless compared to Greenberg’s where there is constant movement from wind, water and falling leaves on almost every page. Map of Days allows for slower reading as we are forced to observe each panel on the page which shows a small change in the characters’ actions. The lack of in-panel dialogue also distances us from the events, reinforcing the distance the narrator has from this story as well. Many small grids and rectangular panels make up the neatly structured, orderly pages making for an immensely beautiful, contemplative story that is more than just fantasy.
Luke Healy’s How to Survive in the North was the last one I read and ended up being a strange combination of the previous two. The snow and ice (which naturally features in a fictional narrative of real life Arctic expeditions) is reminiscent of the icy landscapes in Greenberg’s work, and the limited four colour palette imbues each page with the richness of Hunter’s work. However while Hunter’s colours make for a warm, almost suffocating atmosphere on each page of dense flora and fauna, Healy’s use of colour helps bring the remote iciness of the Arctic into sharp relief.
Based on the diaries of Ada Blackjack and Robert Bartlett, Healy’s work traces their expeditions up north. Clean lines, not unlike Hergé’s for Tintin, dominate his pages, while his characters have minimal design. Healy’s characters are up against formidable odds in this story, facing shipwreck and polar bears in the middle of nowhere. Bartlett and Blackjack’s stories are being read by a fictional professor in the future who spends his sudden sabbatical in the university library researching their records. Healy sympathetically renders his characters and how they deal with their situations- even if their circumstances are self-inflicted- allowing for a fascinating recounting of historical events and the hardships one has to endure when undertaking such journeys.
Read together, these four graphic novels have taken me to strange worlds and back, giving me a greater appreciation for this genre and all its potential. Read separately, I’m sure they’ll delight any fan of visual narratives and wonderful storytelling.
Even if you don’t follow the news, stories of white police officers shooting African-Americans will most likely have made it to your Facebook newsfeed a number of times. Watching those harrowing videos and hearing about how officers are often let off with almost no repercussions, I was made aware of how I was unable to fully empathize with the struggles of the black community in the US, just like others might not understand how demeaning racial profiling at airports is. Thus even though my heart went out to those affected by the systemic biases of America, it was never truly put into perspective for me until I read The Hate U Give.
At its heart, the book is about the identity markers that unfairly disadvantage people based on characteristics they do not have any control over, the focus being on race. In her debut novel Angie Thomas explores the experiences and encounters of young black teens with law enforcement agencies and the way they deal with racially inspired fear, insecurity and suspicion.
When Starr was young, she was instructed by her father on how black people behave when stopped by the police. Four years later when she and her best friend Khalil are stopped by the police on their way back from a high school party in their ghetto, she remembers the significance of that lecture. No sudden movements, hands visible in the air, complete submission, an utterly depressing set of instructions because it presupposes that black people are always guilty until proven innocent. The helplessness Thomas portrayed reminded me of the times when Pakistanis and other brown-skinned folk get “randomly” searched and interrogated while crossing international borders, or the look of suspicion we might receive if our beards get slightly longer and too “Muslim-looking”.
What happens next is the crux of the book where Thomas depicts the shooting in a manner that highlights not only the horror of being on the opposite end of a bullet, but also delves into what an individual must go through when innocent life is taken away from them simply because the color of their skin is associated with criminality and is erroneously deemed dangerous. The story follows Starr coping with the loss of Khalil as she is exposed as the only eye witness of the incident. Her father had told her how evil the police can be and she is scared of coming out however she is repulsed by the media depicting Khalil as a stereotypical black drug dealer and gang member and later decides that silence will only grant the oppressors a free reign to continue oppressing her community.
Starr exists in two strikingly different worlds: her ghetto community and the upper class white majority school where she studies. As she navigates the two we experience how each community perceives the other; the subtle prejudices and misunderstandings as well as the desire to understand and find commonalities. The Hate U Give explores identities, the differences that at times dominate our relations with others, and what it means to belong to a community. In a world marked by politics of hatred and hysteria, with far right movements in Europe demanding to expel all immigrants, and the racial profiling of brown people all across the globe, The Hate U Give attempts to make us empathize with stories of suffering that are not necessarily confined within our territories. It is not just the story of Khalil and Starr, but of Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Micheal Brown, Trayvon Martin and thousands of other young black teens who are the victims of police brutality. Starr and her community’s interaction with the police humanizes America’s race issues and her journey from the point of Khalil’s death to when she raises her voice against the atrocity resonates closely with what we see of the Black Lives Matter movement and underscore this book’s importance and necessity in today’s day and age by helping us empathize with each other in more concrete ways.
As a child when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my standard answer, though irrational, was that I wished to be a cat. There was something so majestic and regal about them that if there had existed a way to become one I would not be human now. They say that one should write the book one has always wanted to read. With her bestselling novel, The Wildings, Nilanjana Roy has done my job for me. This extraordinary book has the power to suspend reality and draw the reader into a world that is both similar to their own, and yet wonderfully different.
Roy’s simple yet compelling prose takes the reader into Old Delhi where the smells and sounds of the city come alive before our very eyes. Soon we are transported to the little old Sufi shrine where much of the story takes place. While most know India as a country flooded by people, this is not the India of Roy’s creation. To her the city belongs to the animals of the region— the birds, mice, dogs and most importantly, the cats of Old Delhi.
The book follows the adventures of the dargah cats who spend their days hunting for food and basking in the sun. But something sinister is looming on the horizon, threatening to tear their world apart, and only one cat has the power to save them— a little house kitten who has never stepped foot out of the apartment she lives in.
The Wildings is a story about the battle between good and evil. But more importantly, it’s about the nature of evil— the feral cats of the abandoned house skirting the territory may be the antagonists of the book, but Roy explains their development to the reader, making sure that we understand how evil is created. Nothing in this world is unconnected and when nature is thwarted there will be consequences for all, even those remotely involved. This is exactly what happens when the feral cats step out into the world for the first time, much to the chagrin of the animals of Old Delhi and the delight of the reader.
While promising to thrill readers of all ages, this book is perfect for young readers aged 12 and above. Not only does The Wildings provide readers with an adventure story like no other, nesting in the narrative are important truths about life in general. Whether explaining the importance of not caging nature, or focusing on the interconnectedness of all animals, even predator and prey, this is not merely a book about cats— it’s about human nature as well.
Somewhere between my childhood and the present day, I lost my desire to become a cat when I grew up, mainly because it isn’t the most feasible career choice. However, Nilanjana Roy has helped me realize my ambitions in the space of a few 300 pages, for which I am grateful and I can’t wait to continue the story in The Hundred Names of Darkness.
A despotic flying bear ruling over the decrepit remains of a city. A shape-shifting creature of unknown origin that can have multiple eyes; flatten itself along walls and picks up ideas and language like a toddler growing up in a hyper fast time lapse. Added to the mix is a scavenger named Rachel who ventures out into the city to bring back scraps of food and biotech to her lover and survival partner Wick to create material that can help fortify and hide their home, the Balcony Cliffs, from all around them. Their enemies include the flying bear Mord, the forces of the mysterious Magician who controls parts of the city, and other scavengers. To say that the city is unforgiving and difficult to live in would be an understatement. Rachel and Wick live in a constant state of alert and with good reason; one wrong move and any one of their enemies could attack.
Mord is the creation of The Company, a sprawling business that created new species and creatures out of biotech and released them into the city to see how they would fare. Mord was The Company’s biggest project, and its biggest failure. As it lost control over the giant bear after granting it the power of flight, The Company fell into disarray and its employees scattered or eventually became Mord’s lunch. Wick was one such former employee but refuses to share what he did at The Company with Rachel, straining their relationship as she occasionally snoops in his room for answers.
Against this backdrop of uneasy alliances, constant threats, and secrets, enters the titular character: Borne. Rachel originally finds Borne “clinging to Mord’s fur like a half-closed sea anemone” emitting a smell of a wave, the brine in the air causing her to think that were no “mutilated, burned bodies dangling from broken streetlamps” around her. Intrigued by the find she brings it home and refuses to let Wick break it down into parts that he could use to build more biotech. Borne quickly becomes more than salvage to Rachel; establishing himself as a creature of untold intelligence and possibility. When he reveals he can talk Rachel takes it upon herself to teach him as much as she knows, kicking off a strange mother-creature relationship that becomes the book’s main focal point. As she becomes increasingly attached to Borne, her relationship with Wick, who looks upon the new member of their family with suspicion, grows strained as they continue to work together to make Balcony Cliffs safe from the outside world.
After having devoured VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy where Annihilation lured me into the mystery of Area X, I was expecting a similar sort of dense narrative to wade through. Where the Southern Reach explored the relationship between the natural world and humans, an alien form of nature establishing a pristine unlived area where a coastal town once used to be, Borne grounds itself in its gritty urban setting where nature has been altered and mutilated by humanity’s unthinking and unabashed tinkering with it. Despite the terrible conditions the characters find themselves in, Borne is ultimately a book about triumphing over one’s own demons, what it means to be a family, and hope.
Borne, amorphous and inquisitive, endears himself to the reader with his child-like behaviour and constant questioning. Borne is, for a lack of a better term, a new born, and his views on the city breathe fresh life into Rachel’s stale and bleak outlook. In a memorable moment she takes Borne to the balcony of their home and shows him the city with its crumbling buildings and polluted river below. Gazing at the river Borne declares it “beautiful” and Rachel begins looking at it from a new perspective. As Rachel’s bond with Borne deepens, her desire to protect him from the horrors of the world clash with reality as the impossibility of that desire is constantly reinforced by attacks from feral Mord proxies and genetically altered children.
Featured on many summer reading lists by publications such as The Washington Post and receiving rave reviews from The New York Times and The Guardian, Borne is a testament to VanderMeer’s inventiveness and above all his ability to write realistic scenes of human interaction (even if that interaction is with a sentient glob) making it an incredibly emotional and evocative narrative, establishing VanderMeer as an expert in world building and writing.
In Borne there will be a final battle, secrets about The Company will be revealed and more importantly, secrets about Rachel’s own life, making it ideal summer reading; a fantastic adventure story that is incredibly inventive and incredibly human in its outlook.
We know the drill, summer comes around and you start scouring bookshelves for new series to read. Luckily for you, The Last Word has picked out some of the hottest YA series to help you spend your summer!
Hailing from a family of time travelers, Etta Spencer gets thrown into an unfamiliar world where she meets Nicholas Carter who is tasked with delivering Etta to the dangerous and powerful Ironwood family. As they progress with their quest of finding the stolen object that the Ironwood family desperately desires, they discover exciting new places and find themselves amidst revolutionary wars, WWII London, 17th century Cambodia, 19th century Paris and medieval Damascus. The perilous journey brings the two closer and as they fit the puzzles of the stolen object across time and space, they face treacherous forces that threaten to separate her from Nicholas and her home.
Books in the series: Passenger, Wayfarer
The Bone Season trilogy
Paige Mahoney, a 19 year old girl in central London has a secret; she has a special talent for dream-walking and is one of the seven seals, a motley crew of people with supernatural powers. Set in 2059 in a parallel England, the story narrates the clash between the ruling Scion republic and the clairvoyant individuals perceived to be a threat to order. Supernatural powers will get her in trouble and the Scion regime is savage in its treatment of the ‘unnaturals’. When she gets imprisoned by the Scion guards, she discovers a monstrous lie her world has been living.
Books in this series: The Bone Season, The Mime Order, The Song Rising
Six of Crows duology
This fantasy duology follows a criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker who is promised a large sum of wealth in exchange for a seemingly impossible heist. In his effort to get the job done, he gets six of the deadliest outcasts in the city who together, are the last force that stands between the world and destruction.
Books in this series: Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom
The Red Queen trilogy
The world of Victoria Aveyard is divided along the lines of blood; red and silver. The sequel follows the life of Bare Marrow, a 17 year old Red blooded commoner with a destructive magical power who threatens the writ and hold of the Silver regime. Living in the Silver Palace as a long lost Silver princess, she enters a game of betrayal, lies and revolution.
Books in this series: Red Queen, Glass Sword, King’s Cage
Lady Helen Series
The Dark Days series is based on Lady Helen who steps into Regency Society to find herself a husband. Instead, she enters the shadowy world of demonic creatures and deadly powers. Helen has a destiny beyond the ballroom; a sacred duty to protect humanity. Duchess or demon slayer – does Lady Helen have a choice?
Books in this series: The Dark Days Club, The Dark Days Pact
Witty, engaging, and informative, the latest collection of international children’s literature at The Last Word promises to send your child zooming off across time and space.
The Sleeping Baobab Tree – Paula Leyden
Age range: 9+
Bul-boo thinks that Fred’s great grandmother is a witch, and when she decides to take Fred and his two friends on a trip to The Place of Death or Ng’ombe Ilede, his worst fears are confirmed. Prepare to travel into the heart of Zambia on a journey unlike any other. Join Fred, Bul-boo and Madillo as they attempt to discover the reason for the sudden and strange disappearances of the patients at Bul-boo’s mother’s AIDS clinic. With all the promise of an adventure story, Leyden takes her readers into the unfamiliar terrain and introduces them to the culture of Africa. The Sleeping Baobab Tree is a refreshing break from the more popular trope of Western literature, and is an important read for children who wish to travel while staying snuggled up on their armchair at home.
A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice – Chitra Soundar
Age Range: 7+
Join Prince Veera and his friend Suku, as together they set out to settle the problems faced by King Bheema’s court. Tinged with the flavor of India, A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice, is a short yet informative read of which every story has a moral. Whether reading about a greedy group of pickle-swapping, crow-culling, revenge-seeking crooks or a jealous potter, prepare to be blown away by this fun, culturally rich book.
The Whistling Monster: stories from around the world – Jamila Gavin
Age range: 7+
All over the world children love hearing stories, and though these stories differ from place to place, their crux remains the same. Whether from Brazil or Botswana, Finland or India, these stories center around the themes of good versus evil, bravery, wisdom and nature to name a few. Though these tales have been retold many times they have stood the test of time. Revisit the classic story of Puss in Boots, and learn about the reasons behind the Mexican ritual of praying to the Corn Maidens every harvest, as you travel the world one story at a time.
The Parent Trap – Erich Kästner
Age range: 9+
While everyone knows about the movie The Parent Trap starring Lindsey Lohan, not many have read the book which formed its basis. Set in Germany and Austria, The Parent Trap is an innovative and realistic twist on the classic trope of swapped identities. Split up since their parent’s divorce, Lottie and Luise meet for the first time at summer camp. Join the sisters as they move from hating each other to being inseparable. But their greatest challenge of all still awaits them— will they be able to bring their estranged parents back together? A warm, heartfelt book about the importance of family, Kästner’s classic tale is sure to delight children of all ages.
Little Prince: An Epic Tale from Ancient Iraq – Kathy Henderson
Age range: 7+
Welcome to the oldest written story in the world— older even than Greek and Roman myths. Lost for four thousand years, this story, which was originally scratched out on lumps of clay, follows the story of Lugalbanda, the little prince who got caught up in a war and grew up to be one of the great kings of Uruk and Sumer. A perfect introduction to historic times, this book is ideal for young children eager to learn about the past and its connection to the present. Not only will this book transport readers to another place, but it will serve as a bridge across time as well.
It’s proved to be difficult quieting my thoughts to write this review. Kunzru’s satirical novel about two young, starkly Caucasian music aficionados with a fetish for rare records turned out to be more affecting than I anticipated.
Seth and Carter embody a friendship of expediency reminiscent of the Gatsby Gatsby. The latter has the means to satisfy his every whim, and the former gets to mooch off him it in exchange for his minor talents and his unquestioning loyalty.
Carter is the beleaguered soul who yearns for intensity which he insists can only be found in Black music. His wealthy family- who are strangers to the pain and suffering he touristically seeks- warily fund his expensive appetite for rare pre-war blues records, and the inevitable tirade in glamourous surroundings when he loses out on a rare find.
Kunzru has no patience with the trust-funder’s empty quest for authenticity – a full-time occupation of the hipster generation-and to the reader’s relief lands him in a coma following an incident involving a failed attempt at another acquisition.
Seth attributes Carters tragic misfortune to a curious chain of events stemming from a surreptitious recording of a vagrant singing a mysterious blues tune, which Carter sets to a guitar riff, adds effects and attempts to pass off online as a recently discovered lost recording by a made up ‘Charlie Shaw’.
Prior to the incident the recording draws the attention of an elderly collector who meets with Seth and warns of its sinister power. Unconvinced by Seth’s insistence that Charlie Shaw was a fiction concocted by his friend, the collector attributes his own friend Chester’s demise to the the record’s ominous power.
Now spooked by Carter’s fate, Seth embarks on a road trip to trace the provenance of the record and rid himself of any lingering malevolence. His journey switches between that of Chester’s in 1959 as they both head deep into the south drawn by something to do with Charlie.
The object of fascination throughout the book has been black music, and up until this point it has been offered, withheld, traded and consumed by talentless white men who function as the self-appointed gatekeepers of cool.
The readers discover’s how Chester brutally snatches the sole recording from Charlie’s sister’s home in 1959, manically insisting it was an “act of preservation”- the foundational belief for almost every museum collection in the west. This perennial white privilege is in full effect when Carter withholds “our music” from a musician, having done nothing more than amass a secret stash of hyper rarities from the 70’s, to equate ownership in his mind.
This entitlement is emblematic of the tone deaf nature of gentrification where incidents of disruption to black culture e.g. complains of “noise” by new white homeowners made against old time resident musicians or block parties, have increasingly plagued the original inhabitants.
The claim to non-white culture, disrespect, and indifferent to the conditions of its creation and ultimately the fate of the artist, is what finally awakens the wrath of Charlie Shaw, who bedevils Carter, Chester and finally Seth like a Djinn.
Although we hear of Carter and Chester’s fate, with Seth we witness the relentless torment which leads to his ultimate demise. How Charlie, knowing no bounds, weaves through time and space in hot pursuit of Seth, and how Seth after a number of outer body experiences learns what it means to have ‘skin’ in the game. Seth’s eventual release from this torment comes when he ends his own complicity through a violent and earth-shattering act.
Kunzru’s White Tears is a tour de force. Suspenseful, harrowing and bristling with anger. Some went so far as to call it a revenge fantasy, I, however, could reconcile myself with the horror in the way I would a fairy tale. I was deeply affected by the historic crimes against a community and the undercurrent of racism that fuels the powerful compounding and even institutionalisation of cruelty, but when just deserts are eventually served it helped restore my equilibrium. That I should derive so much joy from this book should give a whole lot of white people pause for thought.
Bored of fantasy series and craving some excellent realistic fiction this summer? Then Osama has the perfect recommendations for you with The Last Word’s top five YA picks for June!
Holding Up the Universe – Jennifer Niven
Age Range 14-17
Holding Up the Universe is about seeing and being seen and taps into the universal need to understood, loved and wanted. Libby Strout experiences fat shaming and struggles to find her place in high school where people are unable to look past her weight. Jack Masselin is a typical high school jock; popular and too cool for school and has a newly acquired secret that keeps him from getting too close to anyone. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game – which lands them in group counseling and community service, they discover that sometimes when you meet someone, the whole universe just comes into focus.
A Quiet Kind of Thunder – Sara Barnard
Age Range 12-15
A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a moving story of a girl, a boy, and voices unheard. Steffi is selectively mute, but she has so much to say. Rhys is deaf, but he understands her perfectly. Their experiences transcend language. It presents Steffi’s journey through her first year of sixth form as she navigates her disability, adolescence and family dynamics, and her budding relationship with Rhys to find her voice and place. With a protagonist who has selective mutism and a love interest that is deaf, the story narrates the difficulty in coping from anxiety and losses people with impairment face and the little victories they achieve in a world where worst-case scenarios are on an endless loop in one’s head.
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
Age Range 14-17
The New York Times bestselling novel The Hate U Give is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and involves the police shooting of an unarmed black teen. 16 year old Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil and has to testify in front of the grand jury. What follows is the chaos that closely resonates with the hysteria, insecurity and violence people of color feel in their engagement with the law. As Starr negotiates the dichotomy between her predominately white upper middle class school and the stereotyping of her neighborhood as a ‘ghetto’h, er experiences with gang fighting and racial discrimination taps fully into the shock, pain and outrage black teens experience in the US today and highlights their role in combating and exposing the deeply entrenched prejudice.
The Bombs That Brought Us Together – Brian Conaghan
Age range 12-16
14 year old Charlie finds himself situated in a conflict between Old Country and his home the Little Town. Citizens of the Little Town aren’t expected to befriend sworn enemies from Old Country, but when Pavel, a refugee from Old Country relocates to Charlie’s neighborhood, a relationship of mutual respect and dignity develops, challenging notions of identities and differences. ‘The Bombs That Brought Us Together’ offers a remarkable insight inside the lives of individuals impacted by war. Conflict silences individual stories and voices. Names become numbers. And in that context, Brian Conaghan narrates a dark, powerful tale of survival, morality and loyalty involving two teenagers who are able to look past labels and identity markers imposed by an ‘accident of birth’ that places them on opposite sides of an arbitrarily decided international border.
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful – Eric Lindstrom
Age Range 14 -18
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is a story about internal fears and insecurities that confine individuals to their shells. Mel Hannigan struggles to keep several things under wraps: Her bipolar disorder, death of her brother and distance with her best friends. But when she comes across someone new, she learns to find comfort in her own skin and challenge fears that inhibit her from exposing her true self. A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is a beautiful, captivating story about living with mental illness, and loving – even with a broken heart.
I was a pudgy little girl with pigtails lining either side of my face and a flair for the dramatic when I first met the red-headed and fiery Anne (spelled with an ‘e’) Shirley. It wasn’t long before we became the best of friends— it was evident from the start that we were “kindred spirits”. And while over the years friends have come and gone, Anne has stayed. There is, of course, the slight problem of her being a mere creation of pen and paper, but in a friendship like ours that is only a minor inconvenience.
Anne was first introduced to the world in 1908, when after subsequent rejections of Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maude Montgomery decided to try and get it published one last time. While many know of Anne’s escapades and adventures, not many know the story of the woman responsible for her existence. Like Anne, Montgomery grew up in a house where she was the only child living with an elderly couple. In an attempt to seek understanding where she found none she took to her pen and wrote voraciously.
Although perhaps her best-known series, Anne of Green Gables is in no way the only thing written by L.M. Montgomery. Her trilogy, Emily of New Moon, chronicles the misadventures of young Emily Starr, orphaned and sent off to live with her strict and rigid relatives. Despite this she maintains a positive attitude and channels her energy into her writing, much like Montgomery herself.
Although Montgomery’s writing is characterized by a pervading sense of hope, her own life was rather bleak. Her mother died when she was a young child and the following years of her life were defined by her estrangement from her father. This fragmented idea of the nuclear family permeates her writing, countered by her belief that family is not just made up of blood relations but of people who together create a home.
With characters like Anne and Emily, Montgomery has brightened the realm of children’s literature. Despite her troubled personal life characterized by her marriage and the death of her infant child, her books shine like a beacon of hope to young children struggling to define themselves.
My friendship with Anne, and later with Emily, characterized my childhood. I had always wanted glamour to be a permanent fixture of my life. Yet, as I got to know Anne, and consequently L.M. Montgomery, better I slowly learned that even the most ordinary of things can be made extraordinary if one has “scope for the imagination”. Most importantly however, I discovered that “kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think.”