Book Review (of sorts): Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (Classics Challenge #4)

Book Review (of sorts): Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Shelved: Children’s fiction (contemporary)
Challenge: Classics Challenge – #4
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret is one of those books that fits into the ‘teenage fiction’ category – not quite 9-12, not quite young adult. Judy Blume is one of the authors who started writing about young teenagers, way before ‘young adult’ even existed. I cannot possibly write a ‘book review’ of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret because it’s one of those books that (at least, it felt like) everybody except me had read – it’s a classic! But here’s my thoughts on reading it as a 25-year-old girl who never got the opportunity to read it as an actual pre-teen. Yes, I’d never read a younger Judy Blume, I’m sorry! I only read Summer Sisters, her adult novel, last year. Published in 1970, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret seems to be Judy Blume’s most famous novel and as she visited the UK a couple of months ago (I’ll write the blogpost soon, I promise!), it seemed only right to pick this one up first.

Margaret Simon likes long hair, tuna fish, the smell of rain and things that are pink. At 11-years-old, she’s just moved from busy NYC to the quiet suburbs – Farbrook, New Jersey – where she’s faced with a whole bunch of awkward new firsts. I was surprised to see how relevant and current Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret still is, but yet it’s unsurprising because growing up is difficult, whether it’s 1970 or 2000, when I turned eleven.

I can see how Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret would feel pretty life-changing to young girl growing up, unable to talk about the challenges of puberty and worries of getting your first period. (It’s odd to think how controversial this was in the 1980s, when it became a ‘banned book’). It’s incredible to discover a book where the main character is going through something you’re going through, something that you couldn’t talk to other people about. I only had teen magazines! It reminded me of all the things I used to worry about as a 11 to 14-year-old and how the worrying doesn’t stop, but the things you’re worrying about just change. I enjoyed the realistic banter between Margaret and her new best friend (and neighbour) Nancy, and the challenges of dealing with Nancy’s older brother Moose and his friend Evan (especially when you mix school gossip into the equation), plus seeing her deal with between torn between her parents and her Grandma.

I assumed Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret would be a religious novel, likely one of the reasons why I hadn’t picked it up until now, because of the title and the fact that it’s American (and the US edition emphasises that aspect of the storyline a little bit more), but how wrong I was! Margaret’s parents are technically Catholic on one side and Jewish on the other, but neither actually follow a religion. Margaret is unsure what she believes in, so tries out both before she makes a choice (which she doesn’t find easy), meanwhile talking to her own private God, instead of ‘Dear Diary’, about the trials and tribulations of being a young, new and uncertain.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is timeless in its ability to show young girls that they are not alone. I love the new US editions of her books (check out the tagline: ‘Growing up is tough. Period’) – bringing them to fans of YA contemporary fiction (and contemporary romance), who may never have picked up Judy Blume before. I already have Forever, which will be my next Judy Blume!

Published: 1970
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (US) Macmillan Children’s Books (UK)
Pages: 192

Behold the Pretty Books! / May & June Book Haul

Blog Tour: Landline by Rainbow Rowell / Rainbow Rowell at Waterstones Piccadilly

Landline Blog TourI don’t usually participate in blog tours, you may have noticed, but how could I turn down the opportunity to participate in the tour for Rainbow Rowell’s latest novel?! That’s right. I COULDN’T. Landline was published on 3rd July and you can read my review here. Rainbow is in London right now and has hosted two fantastic sold out events at Waterstones Piccadilly. I’m the last stop on the tour, so here’s my experience of her event on Monday!

I rarely attend a book event where an author has to cover so many books in one evening, but she sped through, talking about Eleanor & Park, Fangirl, Attachments and Landline. For these events, Rainbow Rowell was in conversation with Bim Adewunmi, pop culture enthusiast and writer/editor, who was absolutely brilliant! Enthusiastic, knowledgeable about all things Rainbow and incredibly funny, Bim made an event with Rainbow Rowell even more enjoyable (we didn’t think it was possible!). I’d also like to say that although I made notes, there is still a chance that I misquoted or misunderstood some things, so if you were there and think I’ve said something drastically incorrect… do say! I’m also pretty sure there’s no spoilers, but here’s a spoiler warning, just in case.

Landline

Rainbow & Bim

Eleanor & Park, unsurprisingly, is the book that Rainbow Rowell holds closest to her heart. It’s the one, she says, that’s most like a child you have to keep an eye on, and the one that she’s most protective of, so when it was optioned to be a movie, she was a little afraid. At the event she said she was worried that a few changes could alter the story and that it could very easily go wrong. Shailene Woodley cannot play Eleanor. Park cannot be white. But then she imagined what it would be like if the film we went well, if we got to see a chubby girl and an Asian boy kissing on-screen – it would be great! So she’ll be writing the screenplay (but she hasn’t started yet!). She’s currently trying to figure out how to show the most famous quotes, like ‘Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something’, because they were never actually said aloud. Eleanor & Park is the book she wrote during an awful part of her life and when stuff from her teenage years began rising up. She didn’t plot out the story or plan, but wrote it like ‘falling down a hill’. Because, she says, nothing tastes as good or sounds as good as it does in your teenage years (like how older adults still listen to the music they loved as a teenager!), she didn’t really need to research the 80s because it started coming back to her clearly. Eleanor & Park is also the book she receives the most tweets about (especially people asking about those three words!).

Attachments was her first novel and she wrote it while working for a newspaper. She wanted to write something that wasn’t an assignment (and something that didn’t have to make six other people laugh before it could be published). She first wrote the emails, then Lincoln’s narrative, and then realised that he was the main character and so re-wrote it over several years. Lincoln is one of her favourite characters (and I think he’s pretty awesome) and is quite dear to her. She says that all the characters are in their late twenties because it’s a time when you realise that nothing happened the way you thought it would after leaving university/college, and so you start wondering who you are.

Landline

ALL THE BOOKS!

Fangirl was the one that most people were excited to hear about, I think. It was one of my favourite book reviews to write because we’re all fans, we’re (likely) all fans on the internet and we would never ask “what the fuck is ‘the fandom’?” There’s a lot on the internet about why she started reading fanfiction, so I won’t write it out all again, but even though I’ve never personally read fanfiction, I ‘get’ the Harry Potter fandom. Rainbow wanted to write about the ‘girl fan’ because it’s not something we often see. She thinks it’s brilliant that there are girls who think ‘I’m going to do this thing, make friends, be creative and I don’t care what you think’. Bim and Rainbow talked a little bit about Cath (who, like Rainbow, has social anxiety, but Rainbow had to deal with it without the internet) and Wren (who she doesn’t really see as a ‘flip’ of Cath, but more like her friends from high school). Her friends started to ‘grow up’ without her and separate, like how if your friends give something up, you feel you have to too. Cath tries to hold onto that, not sure whether she has to give up both her sister and her fanfiction.

Rainbow said that she looks a lot like her mother and so was expected to act like her too, so she felt she didn’t really have her own identity. Although I’m not a particular fan of fanfiction – and I’ll admit that I did skip some of the excerpts! – she said that she wrote it so you could do that, but if you did want to read them, you’d find out a bit more about Cath and Wren. (She also thinks Sherlock is the ‘greatest love story ever told’. Bim isn’t a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch (did I hear you gasp?) so we had a bit of fun with that. It’s fine though. We know you’re one of us, Bim).

Landline

(Photo via @FierceFiction)

And finally, Landline! Rainbow Rowell decided to dip her toe into fantasy and science fiction because she loves the concept of time travel movies like Summer in Time, Quantum Leap, Big and Back to the Future and she loves that it doesn’t have to stay within its genre. She thought her agent wasn’t going to get the idea, but he did straight away. They talked a little bit about how to handle the magic phone (this isn’t a spoiler!), but decided to go with ‘It’s just magic. No questions. Deal with it’. There’s no explanations and definitely no special effects noises when the ‘magic’ happens. Unfortunately, this is where we had to end the event, much to my dismay. (It’s all right, we had a lot to get through). If you went to her event on Tuesday, let us know in the comments if you heard any other fun anecdotes or stories! A little birdie told me that Rainbow loves writing phone conversations and dialogue, especially in Eleanor & Park, and so and wanted to do it more, hence Landline!

We also got to hear a teeny tiny bit about her Next Book. It’s YA fantasy. It’s set in the UK because it ‘couldn’t be set anywhere else’ (and yes, she is worried about getting our slang correct, but she’s getting British friends to read it too!). She’s written the first draft. If you don’t already know, she’s also writing a graphic novel, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks, published in 2016.

If you’re also looking for some YA recs, she’s a huge fan of Anna and the French Kiss and Two Boys Kissing. (I’m sensing a pattern here).

Aaaaand that’s it. I haven’t written down everything that was said because, you know, the event was on for over an hour. BUT. If you’re ever offered the chance to go to one of her events, please take it! And don’t forget to check out other stops on the blog tour!

Top Ten / Classics I Want to Read

I participate in Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and this week the theme is Top Ten Classics I Want to Read. I picked a mix of modern classics, older classics and children’s classics. I’m a little behind on my 2014 Classics Challenge so hopefully this will inspire me to pick them up again.

Top Ten / Classics I Want to Read

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861) because I loved the BBC mini series when it aired back in 2011, but for some reason I still haven’t read the book. I won a book cover poster of the Penguin English Library edition of Great Expectations and I feel like a hipster having it in my room when I’ve not yet read it. I must do so this year!

Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy (1882) because I bought a lovely edition from Any Amount of Books, the secondhand bookshop on Charing Cross Road. I’m looking forward to reading all about the romance between Lady Constantine and Swithin St. Cleeve.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence (1928) because I want to see why it’s a banned book!

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989) because I picked it up when I wasn’t quite in the mood for it, so I need to start again! I was enjoying it so far though, but not much had happened!

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham (1957) because I loved The Day of the Triffids. I also own The Chrysalids, but I haven’t read that yet either. All of his books sound wonderfully odd.

Top Ten / Classics I Want to Read

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925) because I haven’t yet read a novel by her and I was given The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury for Christmas.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943) because it sounds like the perfect coming-of-age novel and it’s been on my TBR for a while now.

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer (1969) because it’s coming up to the centenary of the First World War. I really want to read more children’s stories about WWI because there doesn’t seem to be many of them, sadly.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (1973) because it sounds beautiful and wintry. It was the first Vintage Children’s Classic that I bought.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1968) because this is a must-read classic. The adaptation is on Netflix, but I can’t watch it until I’ve read the book!

And many, many more! I have 150 out of copyright classics alone on my Kindle, a wishlist of modern classics and a bunch of children’s classics on my bookshelves! Which other classics must I read? (You can see all the classics I’ve reviewed on Pretty Books here!).

Behold the Pretty Books! / June Book Haul

behold-june1

Here are the books (and bookish things) I acquired over the last week or so in June. I also talked about the books I bought/borrowed in May and June here.

Jane Austen by Margaret Kennedy
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson
Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone
Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy
The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

It’s been a busy month and I start my new job in a week’s time, so I’m trying not to acquire too many books, but that never really works. I visited Any Amount of Books, a secondhand bookshop on Charing Cross Road, and couldn’t resist this lovely Penguin English Library edition of Two on a Tower. I’d wanted one of these editions for quite a while and so had to purchase this. It’s blue! And another classic to add to my 2014 Classics Challenge TBR. I also came across this lovely 1950s book on Jane Austen. I was given Since You’ve Been Gone, the latest novel by Morgan Matson, one of my favourite authors, by Jim and Time Between Us, described as ‘a young adult The Time Traveler’s Wife‘, by Daphne.

I met up with Laura and we’ve spent the week exploring London. I showed her all my favourite London bookshops, including Waterstones Gower Street, which is where I finally tracked down a copy of The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry. I’ve been trying to buy my own copy ever since I read it back in April, but I haven’t been able to find it. On Tuesday we spent the day in Richmond and I bought Anne of Green Gables in Waterstones, another Vintage Children’s Classics edition to add to my collection. I read it in 2012, so I need to re-read it. On Friday we headed to Oxford to meet up with Claire. I bought lovely bookmarks and a pin from The Bodleian Library shop (unfortunately we weren’t allowed in the actual library!) and a tote bag with a quote from Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle on it, from Blackwell’s Broad Street. And before we left, we visited The Story Museum and their 26 Characters exhibition, which is wonderful and I suggest you go if you’re nearby.

Have you read any of these?

Behold the Pretty Books! / June Book HaulBehold the Pretty Books! / June Book Haul

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Book Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Book Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Shelved: Adult fiction (contemporary, romance)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

Landline must surely be one of the most highly anticipated novels of the year (that is, unless Rainbow Rowell announces her third young adult novel soon!). I’ve read Attachments, Fangirl and Eleanor & Park, and so I was super excited to get the chance to read Landline a little early. Of course, I started it straight away.

Georgie McCool tells her husband Neal that she won’t be able to visit his family in Omaha for Christmas because she has to work, but as soon as he leaves for the airport with their children, she worries whether their relationship is over. They haven’t really spoken about it – Neal is the quiet, brooding, silent-type – but that night, Georgie discovers an unexpected way to communicate with him. It’s not magic or time-travel – Georgie isn’t quite sure what it is – but she has managed to talk to Neal, fifteen years in the past, through an old yellow landline phone. Is Georgie meant to work through her marriage – or were they even meant to be together at all?

It’s an odd moment when you’re reading a novel and realise that you don’t really like any of the characters. Does it matter? Sometimes it can ruin a book for you, but sometimes it can make you appreciate the fact that actually not everyone is likeable and that likeability is simply not the point. Rainbow Rowell once again wonderfully portrays individual and personal experiences in a way that means you get incredibly close to the main characters and almost feel like you’re going through it, whatever ‘it’ may be, with them. Georgie is an incredibly stressful and intense character because although she’s in love with Neal, she’s not sure if that’s enough to keep them together. Reading about Georgie is a bit like watching your friend have a breakdown and not being able to give them advice because they’re a fictional character. If I were a character in Landline, I would’ve told Georgie to pack her suitcase and head to Omaha, but sometimes people become so wrapped up in their own misery that they fail to act rationally.

Perhaps it’s just because I enjoy children’s fiction, but I adored Noomi and Alice, especially Noomi’s funny and realistic addiction to ‘meow’-ing at any opportunity, even mid-sentence, and Alice’s young ‘I can’t possibly empathise with you, mother’ attitude. Georgie is an imperfect mother, without textbook motherly feelings, and that’s what’s so interesting about her relationship with the two girls. But that’s not only what’s so unique about Landline. Although the ‘time jumps’ (let’s call them that) take a little getting used to, I thought it was a fascinating way of seeing how relationships alter over the years and how it differs for people in their 20s and 40s because their lives are different. I am also the sort of the person who appreciates hindsight; I constantly wonder ‘what if?’. What if I hadn’t met that person? What if I had or hadn’t done or said that thing? Would I be happier? But Georgie has the opportunity to see for herself whether she’d be happier – does she take it?

Rainbow Rowell has a talent for capturing the way people think and act so accurately – especially when it’s irrational – and even though Attachments is still my favourite adult novel written by her, Landline is a worthy follow-up that will get you thinking the foundations on which your own relationships are based, laughing and crying along the way.

 

Published: 8th July 2014 (US) 3rd July 2014 (UK)
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (US) Orion (UK)
Pages: 320
Source: Thank you to the publisher for providing this book for review!

Book Review: She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

Book Review: She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

Shelved: Young adult fiction (contemporary, mystery)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

I picked up She Is Not Invisible because it was the second book I needed to read for #aryaclub, a young adult book club that I joined. It had also been on my wishlist for what felt like forever, yet it was a story that I actually did not know that much about, just that it was beautiful.

Laureth Peak and her seven-year-old brother Benjamin (and Stan, his soft toy raven) are in the bustling Heathrow airport trying to board a plane to New York. It should be simple, but for Laureth, it’s more of an ordeal than it ought to be. At sixteen-years-old, she is blind and must rely on her younger brother to lead the way. Her father has always taught her to see patterns, connections and reveal answers to puzzles, but right now it’s not helping her work out why their father is reportedly in America when he’s meant to be in Austria. It doesn’t explain why they haven’t heard from him or why he’s not answering his phone. It doesn’t tell them why their mother just doesn’t want to know. But they know that they’ll get answers if they find him and so that’s just what they’re going to have to do.

She Is Not Invisible and Picture Me Gone would make wonderful companion novels (and I enjoyed them both equally), in the sense they’re both about two unusual protagonists (who shouldn’t be seen as unusual at all) attempting to track down a loved one who has gone missing in the US. She Is Not Invisible is a beautifully written, atmospheric and philosophical contemporary mystery from Marcus Sedgwick. It takes you on a road trip that you’ve likely never experienced before. Laureth describes the world in terms of how it sounds, feels and smells, because of course she cannot use her sight. We never receive visual descriptions of any kind and yet you probably won’t notice until you’re quite far into the novel. Laureth can see the world as well as anyone else.

She Is Not Invisible bases its story around Jack Peak’s obsession with patterns, connections and coincidences, and it will make you think a lot about how you see the world. Do coincidences have meaning or are they just awesome? If you share the same birthday with someone or if you’re singing a song in your head only to find it’s playing when you turn on the radio, why do you think that happens? And it happens all the time (and to everyone), but Laureth’s father, we discover through her flashbacks and a notebook, cannot seem to escape from it.

She Is Not Invisible crosses many genres. It’s a mystery, a contemporary, a thriller. It’s literary and it’s philosophical. It’s YA, but it has definite crossover appeal. But it’s also just a story of a brother and sister trying to find their way in the world. It rests on Laureth and Benjamin’s ability to capture the reader’s imagination and it wouldn’t be the same story without them. I don’t think you should start the book just for the mystery, because it’s the captivating characters – and the fact that it encourages you to wonder – that makes She Is Not Invisible special.

(I also really enjoyed SF Said’s review of the book in the Guardian).

 

Published: 3rd October 2013 (UK) 22nd April 2014 (US)
Publisher: Indigo (UK) Roaring Book Press (US)
Pages: 385
Source: Thank you to the publisher for providing this book for review!