What I’ve Read / Furiously Happy, Mad Girl & It’s All Absolutely Fine


Who’s this girl, you might think, reading non-fiction? Well, I made it my mission to read (and talk about) mental health more this year and what better way to start than to read some funny books?

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

As a memoir, Furiously Happy is a concoction of anecdotes from Jenny’s life (think Hyperbole and a Half without the drawings). Jenny’s thoughts and stories about her experience of living with depression and anxiety were really interesting to read. I also found the chapters on how her husband copes with living with someone who is struggling with mental health incredibly insightful and sometimes really lovely – the quote below stayed with me long after putting the book down. Although the more random anecdotes about her life didn’t grab me as much (but you do find out the story behind the cover!), I did appreciate the advice she gives: say yes to more opportunities (even the most ridiculously absurd ones), self-sabotage is a no-no, pretend you’re good at it, and be furiously happy about the good moments as best you can.

“Last month, as Victor drove me home so I could rest, I told him that sometimes I felt like his life would be easier without me. He paused a moment in thought and then said, “It might be easier. But it wouldn’t be better.”

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

I sort of love Bryony Gordon. We couldn’t be more different, really, except for the small matter of our mental heath. That is to say, it’s a bit crap. Bryony has had OCD ever since she was a young girl and, as she got older, it caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependency. In her memoir, she explores the roots of her OCD and how it – and not treating it – affected her teen years and her 20s. She talks about how mental health doesn’t care about who you are (Bryony herself was a privileged child and now is a successful journalist) nor does it manifest itself in the same way in everyone – it’s a tricky thing to pin down.

Mad Girl is super accessible, just like reading a magazine article or having a chat with Bryony over coffee, which is how it should be, and it was really enjoyable and funny to read. 1 in 4 people suffer from poor mental health and Mad Girl does what I think we all should do: talk about mental health as if we were talking about the flu, honestly and without fear of judgement.

Bryony’s also started Mad World – a new podcast dedicated to talking about mental health – and I suggest you check it out (the first guest is Prince Harry!).

It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot

I’ve been following Ruby on Instagram for a little while. I love her hilarious yet totally relatable illustrations about mental health and the struggle of everyday life. As soon as I saw It’s All Absolutely Fine, I knew I had to have it. For many of us, it’s not absolutely fine and so yeah, it can be really comforting when someone else says “this is bullshit” about something others would not blink an eye at.

Ruby’s illustrations depict what it’s like to suffer from all kinds of mental health issues: anxiety, bipolar disorder, self-harm, eating disorders, and depression. Her drawings accompany her thoughts on mental illness and stories about what she’s gone through herself.

We all know that mental health needs to be talked about more, and I really do think that humour – visual humour especially – can be a great way to do it. A funny image that someone wants to share can reach more people than other kinds of media. Ruby herself has nearly 100,000 followers looking out for something that they’ll be able to see themselves in. It’s All Absolutely Fine is ideal for fans Hyberbole and a Half and illustrators like Veronica Dearly.

As all three of these books show, humour can be a powerful tool when talking about mental health. Even if you haven’t ‘officially’ (and I use this word loosely) been diagnosed with a mental illness, you’re sure you see or read something in these books and think “that’s me”. Because we all have mental health.

What I’ve Read / History is All You Left Me, All About Mia & Radio Silence

I’m obsessed with contemporary YA. I often feel I should branch out and read more adult fiction or science fiction or non-fiction, but I just can’t tear myself away from first loves, boarding schools and road trips – so I haven’t, yet. Here is what I thought of three rather excellent books I’ve read this year!

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

History is All You Left Me is so sad – intensely, honestly, fiercely sad. And I really, really love sad books.

Griffin and Theo are best friends > boyfriends > ex-boyfriends > best friends. And then Theo dies. I cannot know what it’s like to lose a life partner at seventeen, but Griffin does. I often pick up a book without reading the description, or I’ll have read it months before and so won’t remember what the book is about, just that I want to read it. I did that with History is All You Left Me. I couldn’t recall how Theo died and I wasn’t sure what was to come. I was always feeling everything for the first time, waiting for the next emotional hit.

Even though it’s a heartbreaking story, The History is All You Left Me is a wonderful exploration of relationships. I adored the chapter that takes Theo and Griffin to a pub quiz, complete with Harry Potter and Star Wars questions. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. History is All You Left Me is a dazzling story about heart-wrenching love, close friendship and devastating grief. It’s about discovering who you are, now that the one person you were relying on has gone, and about learning more about the people you already thought you knew. You’ll really want to get to know our four boys: Griffin, Theo, Wade and Jackson.

All About Mia by Lisa Williamson

I’m an only child. I’ll never know what it’s like to have someone who ‘gets’ your family the same way you do. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up with someone always by your side. I had close friends, of course, but sibling relationships always felt otherworldly to me; something I’ll never get to experience. And so I was eager to pick up Lisa Williamson’s All About Mia, just about that very thing.

Mia is the middle child. She has a younger sister, Audrey, who’s a champion swimmer, and an older sister, Grace, who’s perfect in every way. What’s Mia got? She’s great at styling hair and has a feisty attitude… who cares about that? But when Grace comes home with some shocking news, Mia thinks it’s time for her to shine. She’s a fascinating, refreshing character in YA. Mia’s unlikeable, really, but that makes you want to get to know her more. Slowly, slowly I began to see her point of view – when Mia began spiralling out of control, I desperately wanted to make sure she was okay. I adored the Campbell-Richardson family, both loving them and hating them (that’s Mia’s influence rubbing off on me) at the same time. All About Mia picks out everything complicated there is about family and gives us a joyous, funny UKYA read.

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

I had been told to read Radio Silence so often over the past year that I decided March was Time. And gosh, do I wish I had picked it up earlier. It really shouldn’t be surprising because she is one, but Alice gets teenagers. She gets, in particular, what it’s like to be a teenager (or a millennial, let’s say) on the interwebz. She understands how social media communities work and how they can go from making you feel comforted and part of something to overwhelmed and suffocated. It’s always incredible to read something and feel like the author gets you.

Frances has only one goal in life: to get into Cambridge University, and then she meets Aled, the creator of her favourite sci-fi podcast, Radio Silence. She has been a fan since the first episode, so much so that she posts incredible fanart on Tumblr. She cannot believe her luck that the Creator was living across the road from her all this time. But Frances is also the only one who knows why Cerys, Aled’s twin sister, ran away all those months ago… and as they become closer and closer, it becomes more difficult for her to keep the secret.

I loved the close friendship between Frances and Aled. It’s an incredible friendship and one that feels so real. It grows through their mutual love of Radio Silence – and Aled loves Frances’ geeky clothes while Frances loves Aled’s bright Vans – and then it becomes so much more. But it’s always just friendship and that’s so, so lovely to read. I adored their hilarious and realistic Facebook messages – they reminded me of the joy those late night conversations with your best friends can bring. I kind of just want to start re-reading Radio Silence right now.

P.S. Radio Silence is also worth reading purely for Frances’ mum. Promise.

What I’ve Read / We Come Apart, The One Memory of Flora Banks & Unconventional

What I've Read / We Come Apart, The One Memory of Flora Banks & Unconventional
Here are reviews of three books I’ve read this year!

 

We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan & Brian Conaghan

One is one of my favourite novels ever (seriously, read it). Like One, We Come Apart is told in free verse but, unlike One, we’re introduced to two narrators. Jess’s home life is tough and Nicu recently emigrated from Romania. When they’re both arrested for theft, Jess and Nicu become unlikely companions. And Jess’s friends – who throw racist remarks and abuse at Nicu – won’t let them forget it.

We Come Apart is very current. It’s not about bullying or racism or abuse – it’s about Jess and Nicu – but we see how these affect the two teenagers’ lives. We Come Apart is also incredibly sweet. I love books about friends and We Come Apart sees a close friendship develop at different rates. Nicu wants to know more about Jess once he first sets eyes on her whereas Jess needs a little more convincing about Nicu. Due to the free verse and the book’s length, the story is fast-moving and we quickly become wrapped up in the lives of these two underdogs.

If a dual-perspective, in my opinion, is done well, we should be able to tell who’s speaking without checking. In We Come Apart, there’s no need for character headings; it’s always easy to tell Nicu’s passionate broken English apart from Jess’s indignant thoughts. I loved switching between them seamlessly. Poignant, beautiful and captivating, We Come Apart is a short hit straight to the heart.

Credit: Visit Norway

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Svalbard, Norway. It’s somewhere I’ve never been, but somewhere that’s been etched in my mind ever since reading The One Memory of Flora Banks.

17-year-old Flora suffers from anterograde amnesia, meaning she’s lost the ability to create new memories. She doesn’t know she’s 17. She doesn’t know her address. And she doesn’t know that her best friend’s boyfriend kissed her. Except that she does, this time. Flora is determined to find out how this one boy managed to unlock her memory and so sets off alone to the Arctic.

Whilst reading Flora Banks, I constantly felt the chill of lost memories. But I perhaps wanted a little bit more from the mystery itself. I understood why Flora was so desperate to cling onto this boy – it’s the first time she’s able to remember something since the damage to her brain – but I was also resistant because Drake is a severely unlikeable character. And yet Drake moving abroad meant that Flora was able to embark on a journey for herself, meeting fascinating people along the way. If you enjoyed Elizabeth is Missing, why not give Flora Banks a shot?

 

Unconventional by Maggie Harcourt

If you want the UKYA Fangirl, here it is. Unconventional is pure fun. Lexi Angelo has assisted her Dad with the running of popular film and comic book conventions ever since she can remember. And she’s pretty good at what she does. But debut author Aidan Green doesn’t think so. He’s rude and sarcastic and has made fun of Lexi’s clipboard several times. So why does she find herself falling for him?

Unconventional is adorable. I’ve attended YALC at LFCC (London Film and Comic Con) and volunteered at London Comic Con, and so could picture the busy, sweaty and geeky atmosphere of conventions. As soon as we meet our teenage duo Lexi and Aidan (aka Haydn Swift), we can see there’s going to be something between them. But that’s because they’d also make pretty excellent friends. They play off each other really well and I adored their conversations (and many arguments). I also enjoyed seeing the complicated father/daughter relationship. Lexi’s frustratingly under-appreciated by her frantic and somewhat intimidating father, who’s in the middle of planning his wedding. I desperately wanted Lexi to stand up to her Dad but it was great to see a parent feature so prominently in a YA story.

Unconventional is super sweet and lots of a fun – stupendous a love letter to UKYA fandom. I sort of want Lexi’s life.

(Plus, I squealed upon seeing my authory friends, Non Pratt and Mel Salisbury, mentioned in the story!).

…And a little bonus:

 

100 Hugs by Chris Riddell

Thank you to my housemate, Charlie, for gifting me this lovely book to cheer me up! It’s exactly what it says: Chris Riddell has sketched 100 different hugs, accompanied by poignant literary quotes. Perfect for when you’re in need a hug yourself.