Review: The Art of Being Normal, Lisa Williamson

I have to admit, the book doesn’t exactly draw you in at first. But as I got past the first few chapters I really began to enjoy the book. The book if full of happy and sad moments, and it deals with themes of: gender identity, coming out, bullying, poverty, family and friendship. I really liked the exploration of different social backgrounds and family structures, because this sort of thing is sometimes neglected in YA.

I enjoyed it. The book was fast paced and had a diverse range of characters. However, it appeared that Lisa Williamson hasn’t yet mastered teenage slang of the 21st century…

Although the author’s purpose of this book is definitely to encourage acceptance of trans individuals, it is not a textbook. The characters are their own people, will their own lives. However, the author’s handling of its transgender characters could be improved. For example, the real transgender community is very diverse in relation to how they negotiate their transgender identity. But in this book all the transgender characters seem to have the same story: they knew they were trans since they were 5, they like all girly/boyish things and nothing else. It would have been less of a problem if there was only one transgender character, but if you put more in, you should really try to show the diversity of the trans community! I also felt like she focused overtly on the physical aspect of being transgender, and sometimes she really doesn’t choose the right way to show their body dysphoria.

The character also uses 2 POVs, however I wish I could get to know David and his friends more. It does seem quite focused on Leo at most of the time. I found David whiny and annoying at first, and I liked Leo’s stern and serious character. However, in the second half of the book I began to like David more as a character and I enjoyed the development of David and Leo’s friendship. However, I felt that this book lacked closure in some parts.

tl;dr Sweet and informative for those who know little about transgender individuals, but could have had a more creative plot and better representation of transgender individuals.

NB: Too much horny teenager talk in this book!


Spoiler section and discussing

The ending… I felt like it was unnecessary to devote a giant paragraph to Alicia sort-of-apologising-sort-of-removing-the-blame-from-herself. It puts the focus on her, not Leo or Kate, who had really struggled and progressed throughout the book. It annoys me, because she was obviously to blame to some extent for what happened, and Leo should not have had to apologise for not coming out earlier, especially given his past experiences! Other than that, I thought the party was cute and so was the Christmas present. I think if Alicia was going to apologise, she should have done it earlier or not at all, because putting that apology as the ending somewhat ruins the nice ending that was the party. I felt uncomfortable that she was friendzoning Leo…

Also, why didn’t we get to know Mam’s story? I felt like the writer couldn’t be bothered to think it up.

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Review: Holding Up the Universe

28686840“Holding Up the Universe” does not stand out as a particularly good or bad novel. The two main characters grow and become more accepting of themselves by the end of the novel. However Jack’s repeated use of “broken” to describe himself as someone affected by prosopagnosia is unnecessary and out of place. Although it’s interesting and educational to understand challenges faced by prosopanosiacs and those deemed “fat”, the characters often seem to be infatuated with and reduced to these issues. Niven intends to show that Libby isn’t defined by her weight, yet Libby is defined by her weight in the book. She is bullied, thinks about it constantly, everyone else thinks about it constantly. Although it may be good to show weight-related bullying and make the audience empathetic, Niven talks about weight to an extent that it becomes Libby’s defining feature.

There is very little other than these issues in this book, except from romance and family problems. Furthermore there is a vast, faceless cast of supporting characters- friends and foes- who lack proper characterisation and differentiation, other than “friendly”, “bitchy” or “bully”.

The book is not slow paced, but could have been shorter and at times, it is melodramatic. However, my main issue with the plot is that it seems incomplete. The ending was incomplete, somewhat anti-climatic (although there wasn’t that much of a climax towards the ending) and utterly predictable.

Another problem: the first half of the book is almost wholly about weight-issues/prosopagnosia, but then the two main characters get into a car together- and BAM- they want to make out. I feel like the chemistry between the two main characters feels forced and sudden sometimes, but as the book progresses it does improve, although some of the romantic lines verge on the creepy or just weird (Niven has yet to master the prose of romance and the use of metaphors), however, at times the romance and friendship in the novel is sweet.

The book is also dotted with cliches from head to toe, although at times it does manage to cleverly incorporate cliches into its message. I also appreciated the diverse cast, especially in contrast to “All the Bright Things”.

tl;dr: book mainly about the protagonists’ defining issues (weight and prosopagnosia) with romance. This is not a terrible book, but there are better books out there.

Review: I’ll Give You the Sun

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NoahandJude are inseparable twins. Jude is a daredevil who surfs and wears dark lipstick and short skirts against her mother’s wishes. Noah gets lost in art and is in love with the boy of his dreams. Their relationship becomes tense as they struggle for attention from their mother, the same friends and a place at a prestigious art schools. A tragedy occurs. The twins stop speaking to each other. The twins only have one half of the story each, if only they could come back together…

The first chapter is hard to get through. It sounds like something I’d write when I was 12. But trust me, the prose gets better. Noah and Jude jump off the page as realistic characters with their own voices, dreams and fears. The writing is pleasant to read, although punctuated with potentially annoying features such as Noah’s mind paintings and quotes from their dead grandma. Noah and Jude alternate as narrators at different points of time, and despite this, Nelson manages to make the story flow very well.

This is a book about secrets and revelations. It’s about 70% revelation and 30% actual action. At first, I admired how much Nelson was able to tie her characters and plot together. But by the end I felt that there were too many coincidences. The last few pages felt very rushed and the ending can be interpreted as uplifting. Or as I would put it: the ending was too happy.

I’ll Give You the Sun is ultimately a book about siblings, love, guilt, family, recovery and art.

Review: The Wall Jumper

Berlin before the fall of the Wall is a city divided, yet its ordinary residents find ways to live and survive on both sides. There is Robert, teller of barroom anecdotes over beer and vodka, adjusting to a new life in the west; Pommerer, trying to outwit the system in the east; the unnamed narrator, who ‘escapes’ back-and-forth to collect stories; his beguiling, exiled lover Lena; the three boys who defect to watch Hollywood films; and the man who leaps across the Wall again and again – simply because he cannot help himself.

All are, in their different ways, wall jumpers, trying to lose themselves but still trapped wherever they go. Ultimately, the walls inside their heads prove to be more powerful than any man-made barrier … (from Amazon)

Schneider’s The Wall Jumper is ultimately a novel about Berlin, divided Berlin. He is fastidious in his examination of the Berlin Wall, German identity and the relationship between the individual and the state. He makes great points, however, the book itself contains a main ‘plot’ (if you can call it that- very little happens and happens in a disjointed manner) punctuated and interrupted by stories of German individuals who attempt to surpass the wall.

My problem is with characterisation, style and plot. Schneider often ‘tells’ instead of ‘showing and the characters are not very realistic in their characterisation or depiction and they are more like caricatures. ‘. Although I understand that Schneider is trying to make a statement on how deeply a state influences someone’s character, his writing could have definitely been more subtle. It feels very in-your-face, and there is no rest from the topic of German identity. A relentless exploration. The poor characterisation is not helped by the lack of a gripping plot. Many of my friends struggled to finish reading the book and did not enjoy it.

On one hand, the cluttered nature of the text could be itself testament to the narrator’s ambiguity over the state of German identity and feelings of disorientation. On the other hand, it definitely could have been better written, even if still scattered everywhere structurally.

In short: a superb exploration of German life in a divided Berlin, a passable piece of work. The book is not dated, merely it could have been better written. It lacks subtlety. Good for people who like explicit writing and short stories. I think there were definitely gems in this book, even if it did not glow as a whole.