Piglettes – Clémentine Beauvais

Recently I’ve been enjoying some great novels with distinctive French themes and plenty of interesting YA books. So, obviously, given the chance to combine these two interests, I had to give it a try… Throw in some thoughts on body image, attitudes towards Islam and feminism and I think this book was just about perfect for me!

piglettesPiglettes is about a group of girls in a provincial French town who find themselves the winners of a rather nasty little contest run by a boy at their school. They are voted as the winners of the ‘Pig Pageant’ – the ugliest girls in school. This is, obviously, out-and-out bullying but our main heroine, Mireille, isn’t going to give the bully the reaction he wants. She just laughs it off – although her internal monologue seems to show that she is not quite as happy with her life as she professes to be – but somehow, when she meets up with and talks to the two other ‘lucky’ winners, she decides that they will cycle across the country to Paris, selling sausages from a trailer, and gatecrash the President’s Bastille Day garden party. Like you do. The three girls, Mireille, Astrid and Hakima, are accompanied by Hakima’s brother (a disabled ex-soldier) and a wonderful friendship develops between them. Mireille is very much in charge initially – she is certainly the fiestiest of the three – but the others all come into their own as time goes by. There is a hint of love interest as Mireille has an instant crush on Kader (Hakima’s brother) but it is all very innocent – the main story is about the girls, how they learn to love themselves, to realise that they don’t need to change in order to fit in with other people’s ideals, and their refusal to accept that they are worthy of being bullied.

I really loved these girls and Mireille in particular. She is a girl who loves her food and doesn’t see why she shouldn’t – she loves cheese even more than I do (which I didn’t think was possible…) – but she also has her problems. As well as her body-image and developing feminism we are shown the complicated relationship she has with her mother and step-father. In the teenage mind, at least,  the unknown father is preferable to the known mother but, in the end, Mireille is able to understand all the adults in her life a little better as she becomes a little closer to adulthood herself (but while never losing her ‘sass’. Who says you should?).

Jane

 

When Dimple Met Rishi – Sandhya Menon

When I’m as busy as I was during the Bradford Literature Festival I like to read something fairly light. I rather reluctantly left the history book I started at the end of June (Pale Rider by Laura Spinney, a history of the Spanish Flu of 1918 – I’ll have to wait to review it when I finish it…) and decided to go for a bit of romance. But, because I was working through one of the most diverse literature festivals in the country, this was a romance with a South Asian twist. Now I will start out by saying that I always have the same problem with books that look interesting because of their South Asian connections. It just seems to end up that over 90% of them are about people of Indian heritage rather than from anywhere else in the region. I’m not saying that these books are not going to be of interest to my customers in Bradford but far more of them are Pakistani or Bangladeshi than Indian. Far more of them are Muslim than Hindu (although there is still a strong Hindu and Sikh community here) – when I used to see publisher’s reps on a regular basis I did get a bit fed up of being told that novel x was ideal for my largely Muslim customers of Pakistani heritage living in West Yorkshire because it was about a group of Indian Hindus living in New York. Close but no cigar because, surprise, not all brown people are the same….

28458598This is not to say I didn’t enjoy this book, which was a rather sweet love story about a young couple who meet while studying at a summer school. Dimple is a girl who is trying to rebel against her parents sense of tradition. She want to make her mark in the world, be independent and, above all, she doesn’t want to think about finding the IIH (ideal Indian husband). Rishi is rather more traditional – he feels a great respect for his heritage and is happy for his parents to arrange a marriage for him – but he is torn between the need to make his family happy and the desire to follow his heart. Needless to say Dimple is not impressed when she realises that she is expected to marry Rishi and the sparks that fly between them are rather less romantic than he hoped. I rather liked both main characters – Dimple is bright and ambitious and totally aware that she is fighting against years of tradition; Rishi is sweet and a bit serious and far more romantic than Dimple. Their relationship progresses, in fits and starts, and they become good friends as well as team-mates on the key summer school project. Of course it doesn’t go smoothly (well, there’s no book in that, is there?) and they both have to make compromises in their own actions as well as in their interaction with their families.

This was a pleasant romance story and also one which I will feel happy to recommend to my customers. Many of them require that the books they read are compatible with their lifestyle – romantic but chaste, where modesty is maintained even when tradition is questioned. This one should fit the bill quite nicely – there is (slight spoiler alert), eventually, a physical relationship but there is no detailed description of much beyond kissing (really good kissing by the sound of it) and embraces. Both main characters do end up going against their parent’s wishes but they do this by discussing their issues rather than just through defiance. There is also a lot of humour in the book – Dimple in particular I found very amusing – and a fair bit about prejudice, fairness and bullying. I’d happily recommend this book for younger teens and anyone who enjoys good old-fashioned romance.

Jane

Holiday reading June 2017 – a bit of YA

Today has been a bit of a day for making decisions (largely of a political nature) and I got to thinking that a lot of that kind of thing goes on in YA books. The target audience (12-18 or 15-24 year-olds I guess, certainly not me….) are often having to make the first big decisions of their lives – about what subjects to study, what future careers to aim for, about what they stand for politically, about what sort of adults they want to become. They are deciding whether to form relationships, where they fall onto the spectrum of sexuality, politics, religiosity and social tolerance. Some of these decisions will be wrong. From the perspective of 20 or 30 years it is easy to see that a choice made at 17 is not final: at 17 it feels very decisive.

25458747In Non Pratt’s Truth or Dare the main characters, Claire and Sef, need to decide how to make a lot of money in order to finance Sef’s brother’s care after a catastrophic brain injury. They decide to raise cash by filming dares and promoting them on some sort of Youtube-like channel and become Truth Girl and Dare Boy. The story is told in two main sections – one each from Claire and Sef’s points of view – and no final decisions can be made until both are able to see the other’s viewpoint. Pratt really seems to be able to speak in the voice of modern young people – their doubts, fears, joys and passions. She manages to touch on issues of sexuality, race and social privilege without making them the centre of the story (which remains as Claire, Sef, their burgeoning relationship and their fundraising attempts). It is particularly refreshing that Sef is a young British muslim lad but his story is not one of radicalisation or terrorism – his cares and concerns are those of any young man of his age (although he still has to deal with racism and islamophobia, obviously).

9780141375632In One of Us is Lying Karen McManus gives us a 21st century update on that 1980s classic, the Breakfast Club. In a typical American high school five students have detention – there’s a princess, a jock, a brain, a bad boy and an outsider who is both feared and feted for his online gossip column – so far, so close to the film but then Simon, the online gossip, dies suddenly while the supervising teacher is out of the room and things start to go a bit C.S.I.

What I enjoyed most about this book is the fact that nobody is quite what they seem. The bad boy shows that he can be both kind and resourceful (although he’d never admit it), the princess is hugely insecure about her looks, the jock may not be the all-American hero he’s touted to be and the brain may not have got all her grades in the accepted way. We see these young people from their own points of view – each chapter moves from one voice to another – and yet we find that they are not as fixed in their cliques as they first appear. They each have to make choices about who they could become (with shades of Grease as the ‘brain’ makes an Olivia Newton-John style choice of boyfriend) while also trying to work out who could have killed gossip-boy.

contagionMy final YA holiday read was Contagion, the first in a new trilogy from Teri Terry. (This one is a slightly more tenuous link to my ‘decision-making’ theme since it is rather firmly in the post-apocalyptic genre but I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.) The book opens with a girl called Callie, in a mysterious facility full of doctors and nurses in biohazard suits, being sent for a ‘cure’. We switch to Shay, in a Scottish village, who sees a poster about a missing girl (Callie) and realises she saw her on the day she disappeared a year before. She contacts the number on the poster and meets Kai, Callie’s older brother. Shay and Kai end up trying to investigate Callie’s fate while dodging the effects of both a deadly epidemic and the even deadlier shadowy figures who appear to be behind it.

Again this book comes from two different voices – Callie and Shay.  They have similarities, especially in the way that they both love Kai, but also very many differences. Callie is much younger, more emotional and less rational – Shay is thoughtful, willing to make personal sacrifices but also more inclined to keep her worries to herself. Towards the end of the book we start to discover much more about the nature of the epidemic, its effects on the few who survive and the motives of those who seem to control its development. There are two more books to come – I think I’m hooked enough to need to know how this ends. Shay, and Kai’s, decisions will be important but I have a feeling that Callie will be the lynchpin (or, just possibly, the firing pin from a deadly grenade…)

Jane

Playing catch-up. Again…

Oh dear. I’ve gotten behind again with reviews and I don’t even have the excuse of a big work event to blame. I think I just got distracted and lost my mojo a little – so here is a round-up of some of the books I’ve been reading in the past few weeks. It looks like quite a varied mix of adult and YA fiction with a little history thrown in. Story of my reading life really (although I do usually read a better mix of male/female authors).

The Cows – Dawn O’Porter

the-cows-by-dawn-o-porterThis is the story of three modern women: Tara, a single mother, Stella, a PA who is haunted by thoughts of her dead twin and Cammie, a take-no-prisoners lifestyle blogger. It would be wrong to say they represent a full range of women today – they are all much of an age, all based in London, all white, all working in the arts in some way – but they do show different ways of being a youngish woman in their world. Women are often judged by their appearance, their sexuality and their ability to produce children – very much like the cows of the title – and these three are no exception. Their lives start to entwine when Tara becomes an internet sensation (after being filmed in an extremely compromising, and solo, position on the Tube) and we explore all three women’s attitudes to sex, motherhood, life and, possibly, death.

The book is very funny, fairly rude and, at some points, pretty sad. O’Porter doesn’t pull too many punches about the way women are expected to live their lives: her characters, rather wonderfully, end up refusing to conform to these expectations. Not because feminism told them to but because they realise that they need to live a more honest life – to be themselves rather than the women they are expected to be.

The Walworth Beauty – Michèle Roberts

walworthThis is the story of Walworth, a district of South-East London which I’ll admit I wasn’t familiar with (turns out it’s the bit with the Elephant & Castle and Old Kent Road). The story is told through two timelines: in modern-day Walworth Madeleine moves into a small garden flat after losing her job as a lecturer and in the 1850s Joseph Benson is working for Henry Mayhew on the articles which later became London Labour and the London Poor. Benson’s job is to interview the less virtuous poor – thieves, rogues and prostitutes – and, in the course of his work, he becomes fascinated with a Mrs Dulcimer, who runs a boarding house on the street where Madeleine will live 160 years later.

This book is an insight into the lives of various underclasses in the mid-Victorian era – Benson has a weakness for strong drink and working girls, Mrs Dulcimer is a black woman in a world which treats both her sex and her race as inferior, the girls who live with her struggle to survive without turning to prostitution. In the parts of the book set in the present day some of the characters are generally better off financially but they still have struggles – young women still have to fight hard to make their way in the world, older ones find themselves neglected and the pace of modern life leaves many struggling to make sense of the world. There is an air of slight menace as the two timelines wash up against each other – each era haunts the other as if the layers of history were two decks of cards being shuffled together. It is both a contemporary and a historical novel and we find that the two have as many similarities as differences.

What Regency Women Did For Us – Rachel Knowles

I recently reviewed a wonderful book of biographies of women aimed at primary-age children. This book is a little more specific, focussing on women who lived between the 1730s and 1850s, and is aimed more at an adult market but I feel it would still be useful for older children who were interested in women’s history. I love history and will happily (if I can make the time) read lovely big, thick, detailed histories of medieval queens or scientific movements. This book seems to be more along the lines of popular history so if you just want a quick overview of the lives of women in the Regency period this could be the way to go.

WRWDFU cover for blogThe book covered an interesting selection of women including those I’m sure most people will have heard of, like Jane Austen or Madame Tussaud, some known to those with a little knowledge of the era, like Maria Edgeworth (for those who know more on the literature side) or Caroline Herschel (for those who lean to the scientific). There are short biographies, a summary of their work and achievements and also of their legacy, and they should serve as a great starting point for any more detailed reading. I think I may now be led on to investigating further into the life and works of some of the women here who I was either unaware of or only knew by name. Harriot Mellon sounds like a place to start, or maybe Mary Parminter….Ah well, all the best reading just leads onto more books!

Best of Adam Sharp – Graeme Simsion

The whole ‘difficult second album’ thing seems to be an accepted thing and it can also apply to novelists. I, like an awful lot of people, absolutely loved Simsion’s first novel, The Rosie Project. I read the follow-up and, while I enjoyed it, it didn’t have quite the same impact. The first book, however, was wonderful enough that I will leap on anything new which the author produces so I was glad to find that this book is at least as good as the previous one.

41Ui3mMfFfL._AC_UL320_SR200,320_Adam Sharp is an IT consultant approaching his 50th birthday. He earns decent money, has a house, as much work as he needs and is a fixture on the local pub-quiz scene (specialist subject probably pre-eighties music). But he has worries, he’s not as fit as once was, his mother is getting frail in her old age and his marriage could be described as amicable at best. This situation could have been enough for Adam if, out of the blue, an email from an old flame hadn’t reminded him of the heady days of his youth when he fell in love with an Australian actress, played piano in a bar for tips but turned his back on that life when his IT job demanded he move on.

The novel shows us how that relationship played out twenty odd years ago, and how it ended. We also see Adam’s rather staid relationship with his wife, Claire, and the rather more unusual one, in the present day, between the actress, Angelina, and her husband Charlie. Although these relationships are at the heart of the story for me the main point of the book was Adam’s gradual acceptance of the fact that he was a real adult. As a young man of 26 he was torn between what appeared to be the love of his life and the need to establish himself in his chosen career. At 50 his decisions will affect more people than just himself – he has to be the grown-up he thought he already was twenty years ago.

There is a lot of music in the book – like all ‘best of…’ albums it highlights moments of the characters lives with songs – mostly from the 60s and 70s. I was good with most of the pop and rock songs although I’ll admit to not knowing quite a few of the more jazzy tracks. So as well as giving me a story I enjoyed Simsion is adding to my ongoing musical education…

Running on the Cracks – Julia Donaldson

If the previous book was a departure from the author’s previous books (less obviously humorous, change of main character) then so is this one. Julia Donaldson is known and loved by virtually every child and parent I have ever met and she is, quite possibly, the queen of storytellers in the 0-5 and 5-8 age groups. Lets face it, I probably don’t need to even tell you this, you probably (like most of us) know most of the words to The Gruffalo without needing to look at the book….This book, however, is a bit different since it is aimed at a much older readership and is being marketed at the younger end of the teen market.

978140522233415-year-old Leonora (Leo to her friends) has run away. Her parents have died in an accident and she is living with her aunt, her bitchy cousins and her slightly creepy uncle. She runs to Glasgow in the hope of finding her chinese father’s family but ends up sleeping on a bench until she is taken in by an odd but kind woman named Mary. She makes friends with would-be Goth Finlay and sets about searching for her family, avoiding her uncle (who gets even creepier) and working out how best to help Mary, who is obviously struggling with her mental health. I would say this is a book firmly aimed at the younger teen – it is generally restrained in its language (hovering at the ‘bloody’ level of swearing), the slightly predatory uncle is creepy but never gets as far as being overtly sexual and there is no romance angle to the relationship between the youngsters. There are serious issues covered, the plight of runaway children, the problems inherent in mental health care, immigrant communities and the difficulties youngsters have in feeling like they ‘fit in’. I liked the main characters, particularly Finlay and Mary, and thought the plot was good. This isn’t a new book, it came out in 2009, but I hope that Donaldson makes some time to write more for older children.

Jane

 

 

Playing catch-up…

I mentioned on my last post the rather ketchup-y nature of publishing – I’m sure I shook the bottle hard but books are still coming out in big blobs: all while I was planning for Harry Potter Book Night at work. The only way to ketch-up with myself (with no apologies for the awful pun) in to do a bit of a round-up of my recent reading.  I usually do multi-book posts in themed way but I can’t think of a theme that will cover a YA novel about a middle sister trying to work out who she really is, a mystery set in mid-60s London and a book by an award-winning Turkish author about a woman’s relationship to God. Could we just go with eclectic?

All About Mia – Lisa Williamson

32615725Williamson’s first book, The Art of Being Normal, was (quite rightly imho) chosen as the winner in its category in the 2016 Waterstones Children’s book award*. This book, on first glance, doesn’t cover as contentious a subject as gender identity but it does still look at how a young person works out who they really are. Mia is the middle daughter: her older sister Grace is the golden child, clever and respected, and the younger sister, Audrey, looks to be a swimming star in the making. Mia feels she has nothing to offer so throws herself into what seems like a tabloid paper’s idea of a teens life – drinking, boyfriends, make-up and general hell-raising. But things aren’t always as they seem and, as the story progresses, Mia learns that Grace isn’t perfect and Audrey, while confident in the pool, is as shy and unhappy as a 13 year-old can be. Even Mia isn’t the girl she seems to be – the brash, lippy girl who is the centre of attention at every party can still be unsure of herself. The girls are such wonderfully real characters – fighting like cat and dog and yet unhesitatingly supportive of each other when things get really tough – and I loved their parents too. They are affectionate (maybe overly so in Mia’s eyes – no teen wants to admit her parents have a sex life, ewwwww), supportive and yet know when to put their foot down. Such a nice change to have parents you can admit to liking.

I enjoyed this as a YA read which isn’t a dystopia, about some traumatic disease or part of a series about a teen in an adult role (like modelling or spying). These books have their place but this is about very real young people finding out how to live in the real world.

Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars – Miranda Emmerson

In a sort of contrast Emmerson’s Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars is set in the London in the mid 1960s – the era of the Moors Murderers, a racist backlash against recent rises in immigration and the first stirrings of a sexual revolution. While this is also a very realistically described world it isn’t the one we live in today – although it does seem to be one which we are doing our best to return to.

misstreadwayAnna Treadway is a dresser at a London theatre and is currently working with Iolanthe (Lanny) Green, an american star. When Lanny goes missing Anna, deciding that the police are not concentrating hard enough on the case, goes in search. This involves night-clubs run by London’s afro-Caribbean community, back-street abortionists and bleak coastal towns. She is helped and hindered along the way by Turkish Cypriot cafe owners, an Irish policeman and an accountant from Jamaica: but no-one is who they seem to be or, if they are, no-one believes them. Every character seems to have a secret, more than one name or difficult decisions to make about their future. We think of London of the era as being all about the Swinging 60s but the reality is much darker, more brutal and somehow colder. Maybe the ‘Swinging’ was an antidote to a real world full of serial murderers, prostitution, and unchecked racial prejudice and police brutality.

Despite this bleakness I really enjoyed this book. The characters were well-drawn and we saw far more deeply into their hidden lives than they were able to share with others. Mysteries are largely solved by the end – but enough doubts and ‘what-ifs’ were left to keep the reader thinking.

Three Daughters of Eve – Elif Shafak

Shafak is an author who has been beeping gently on my personal radar for a while now. Her bestselling 2010 novel, The Forty Rules of Love, is a regular strong seller (and seems to be a local book-group favourite) and our bookstall for her talk during the 2016 Bradford Literature festival sold out of everything we took. This very rarely happens…. It is only my old problem (#somanybookssolittletime) which had stopped me from reading anything by her until now so I was pleased to get the chance to read her latest, Three Daughters of Eve.

51uqfv9szrl-_sx321_bo1204203200_This is a novel set in modern Turkey – a country on a knife-edge, teetering between secularism and increasingly strict Islamic faith – with episodes at Oxford University shortly after 9/11 and in the Istanbul of the main character, Peri’s, childhood. The three daughters of Eve (a phrase that immediately made me think of Narnia…) could refer to the three generation of women in Peri’s family: she has always had a difficult relationship with her mother and hopes for a better one with her daughter. Which is not happening so far. Or it could be a reference to the group of young women of Muslim heritage she falls in with when studying at Oxford: Shirin, an outspoken Iranian feminist (the sinner); Mona, an Egyptian-American hijabi (the saint); and Peri, whose relationship with god is largely one of argument and indecision (the confused). The story explores Peri’s family life – with an increasingly devout and traditional mother, a father whose basic acceptance of God’s existence doesn’t keep him from a very secular lifestyle and two brothers (one who follows his mother, the other his father and who both go way beyond their parents in the extremity of their beliefs) – as well as her days at Oxford. The University sections are largely taken up by her feelings for a charismatic professor, known as Azur, who teaches a course on God.

This is largely the story of Peri’s exploration of her relationship with God. There’s also quite a lot of plot – scandals, terrorism, debates on Islam and feminism, family tragedies and personal danger – but it is Peri’s development which is at the centre. This is not, as Professor Azur says of his controversial seminars, about religion but about a personal experience. It is about learning how to be undecided and to move away from the certainty which can lead to extreme viewpoints.

So. It turns out there was a common theme to these books. In each one the characters are trying to work out what their identity is; how they fit into their world. Important lessons which some learn young, like Mia, and others, like Anna and Peri, are still discovering as adults.

Jane

 

 

 

Diary of an Oxygen Thief – Anonymous

From time to time a book appears on my radar not because I get to put it in the hands of lots of customers but for the complete opposite reason. One or two of the popular vloggers seem to have self-published volumes which are just not available to us and, occasionally, there are ‘rights’ issues which mean that a book is just not legally available in the UK. (This doesn’t mean the book is banned or anything. Publishers buy the right to produce books in various regions  – Australia, Europe, China or USA perhaps – and if you are not in that region you can’t buy that edition. Which is okay if there is an edition in the region you live in but annoying if there isn’t). Recently we have been getting a lot of enquiries about the anonymously written Diary of an Oxygen Thief and, until recently, we have been largely coming up against these ‘rights’ issues. When I heard that a UK edition was due I decided that I should see what all the fuss was about.

o2Let’s just be really honest from the beginning. I didn’t like this book. The best thing I can say about it is that it was reasonably well-written in terms of pace and style and, despite finding no redeeming features at all in the narrator, I did finish the book. But mostly because he kept hinting that he got his comeuppance (and I did want to see that happen…). Mostly I found the book worrying. It is the diary of a young man in his thirties detailing his relationships with women: and when I say ‘relationships’ I mean his habit of acting like a decent person until a woman falls in love with him (and, somehow, they always do) and then humiliating them in an attempt to break their heart. Now I know that men like this must exist but, in the real world, I suggest they exist mostly in their own imaginations. The humiliations are often very graphic in terms of sexual slurs and insults and always deeply unpleasant to read. There is a plot – a reason for the writing and planned publication of the diary – but, to be honest, it just felt like an excuse for the misogyny to me.

I worry about this book because almost all of the enquiries I’ve had about it have been from teens (or the parents of teens) who have probably seen the infamous opening passage on Twitter or Tumblr. ‘That quote‘ makes it sound like a teen book but I would certainly want to let parents of younger teens know that it is much more adult in content. I mean, the main character is in his 30s – why would teens want to hear about someone so ancient? Although, to be fair, his actions and repertoire of sexist insults have the maturity of the average 12-year-old so maybe that would help…There have been comparisons made to Catcher in the Rye (the narrator is as annoying as Holden Caulfield but without any of the literary class) but I’d say that American Psycho is nearer the mark – and I’d not give that to a younger teen either. I don’t think we should be overly keen to censor what young people read but I would certainly want to advise parents to read this themselves and be prepared to have some difficult conversations with both teenaged boys and girls about why the behaviours in this book would not be acceptable in real life.

Jane

 

Flawed – Cecelia Ahern

It sometimes seems as if every other new book I see is either YA, dystopian, or both. Which is great for me because I really, really enjoy a good dystopia (apocalypse optional) and I am not yet old enough to have forgotten what is was like to be a young adult myself. The YA dystopian format does tend to result in an element of romance creeping in but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all no matter what has gone on to create the dystopia if what is left is human beings they are liable to have emotional connections with each other – it is the real humanity of characters thrown into situations far beyond our own which helps us to begin to understand how they cope.

flawedCecelia Ahern is an Irish author who has previously tended to write romantic and contemporary women’s fiction. So, at first, I wondered where the urge to write Flawed, a YA dystopia, came from: was this just a bandwagon to be jumped on or a genuine attempt at the genre?  However, thinking of the more magical elements of some of her novels (If You Could See Me Now or The Gift perhaps) and the fact that Ahern was one of the contributors to a recent collection of Doctor Who stories I was reminded that she is no stranger to what could be described as ‘fairly speculative’ fiction.

I’ve glanced at quite a few reviews of Flawed on Goodreads and they are, to say the least, mixed. Personally I enjoyed the book – the basic premise that in the near future a society would turn on those who showed the kind of errors of judgement which can damage that society’s fabric seems plausible. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who think that branding is the least that should be happening to some bankers and politicians. But of course, because even those who judge who is flawed are fallible beings, this leads to a dystopia rather than a utopia. The heroine, Celestine, finds out first hand what happens to those who are judged to be less than perfect but also seems to get a crash course in politics.

There are some parts of the book which are, themselves, imperfect. Celestine is very young, not quite 18, and she seems to focus rather too much on physical perfection, beauty and correctness. She can seem very shallow even as she becomes aware of the real injustices which exist in her society. I think, possibly, this is something which will improve in further books in the series. Cecelia Ahern is still a young author compared to most of the big names in YA dystopia (who are largely in their 50s and 60s). Once experience (and maybe a bigger dose of political cynicism?) kicks in a bit more this series could develop in interesting ways.

Jane