Mini Review Monday #15

I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, after continuing it earlier this year! In case you haven’t seen any of my previous posts, I do ‘mini’ reviews of books that I’ve read, loved and usually promised to review ages ago.

Today, I’m focusing on three brilliant stories that I was lucky enough to read early, two of which have come out recently. I’m going to start with the new contemporary novel from Sara Barnard, which has been pushed back to next year and I read early via Netgalley thanks to Macmillan.

After five years at secondary school spent bullied and alone, Peyton King starts sixth form college determined that things will be different. Whatever happens, she will make friends at any cost.

When she finds the friends she’s always dreamed of, including an actual boyfriend, she’s happier than she’s ever been.

But when they let her down in the worst way, Peyton is left no better off than when she started. Now Peyton knows the only chance she has of finding happiness is to look for it somewhere else. With nothing but her sketchpad and a backpack, she buys a one-way ticket and gets on a plane. . .

My Thoughts:

Yet again Sara Barnard has proved why she is a powerhouse of UKYA. She’s crafted another beautiful book about friendship and the struggles of growing up & finding yourself.

Barnard has such a skill of capturing teenage experiences in such a realistic and honest way. Payton is no exception, offering a realistically flawed and somewhat naive teenage voice that grows over the course of the story. I just wanted to reach through the page and offer her support through her awful experiences of bullying, drug use and toxic friendships/relationships. It is this cycle of toxicity that Barnard excels at exploring, as Payton falls into the trap of being used by everyone around her. I appreciated Barnard’s attention to subtle details, like Payton always paying for everything. All this serves to mark a clear contrast with her amazing found family of sorts through her travelling friends, all of whom were such lovely characters. However, Payton stood out, with her instantly relatable voice and journey that I could really engage with.

Destination Anywhere is a love letter to the wonder and beauty of travelling. In particular, I got to explore Canada and be immersed in the natural beauty of that gorgeous country. It’s somewhat of an unusual experience to read a book about travelling in the time of lockdown, but it reminded me of all the brilliant opportunities available in the future. I wanted to capture some of the carefree, spontaneous energy of the book. Also, I loved exploring Peyton’s art, as I’m always wanting to hear more about people’s creative talent and the descriptions of her work were amazing.

Next, I want to talk about the wholly original, unpredictable fantasy novel called Burn by Patrick Ness. The lovely people at Walker Books granted my request to read this early via Netgalley.

Sarah Dewhurst and her father, outcasts in their little town of Frome, Washington, are forced to hire a dragon to work their farm, something only the poorest of the poor ever have to resort to.

The dragon, Kazimir, has more to him than meets the eye, though. Sarah can’t help but be curious about him, an animal who supposedly doesn’t have a soul, but who is seemingly intent on keeping her safe.

Because the dragon knows something she doesn’t. He has arrived at the farm with a prophecy on his mind. A prophecy that involves a deadly assassin, a cult of dragon worshippers, two FBI agents in hot pursuit—and somehow, Sarah Dewhurst herself. 

Trigger warnings: police violence, racism, homophobia, sexism, death, grief

My Thoughts:

The entire concept and plot of this book is undoubtably intriguing, from the very first page you are immersed in Ness’ depiction of the 1950s, full of racism, homophobia, sexism and dragons. It’s a surreal reimagining of our dark past and remind us very quickly that true monsters often adopt familiar faces.

The books opens draped in mystery and never fully emerges from its shroud of secrets, holding onto them until the very last few pages. Ness allows us to peek into his fascinating, richly built world through several voices. Each of these felt very distinctive and three-dimensional, though I wish I could’ve connected with some of them a little bit more.

At the heart of the book is a really interesting discussion of fate and being able to escape what seems inevitable. It cuts to the foundations of faith, legend and destiny, challenging each aspect in minute detail. I always love how thought-provoking Ness’ work is and always in such different ways. He is truly a unique voice within the genre and never fails to provide original, challenging and sometimes bordering on bizarre works that utterly capture my imagination.

Trust me when I say you will not know where this book is going next. Initially I thought I had it sussed, only to be completely bamboozled by Ness’ sheer imagination and creativity. Even before this, there were some really interesting narrative shifts and twists that I really enjoyed.

Finally, I’d like to talk about the charming romance, The Gravity of Us, which Bloomsbury allowed me to read early and share an exclusive extract of.

As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.

Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

Trigger warnings: cancer, anxiety, depression, grief, death

My Thoughts:

Stamper has crafted an excellent YA contemporary romance with The Gravity of Us, full of believable drama and space brilliance that filled my heart with joy. This is a book that unabashedly celebrates NASA and the incredible people that work there.

Cal was a fantastic protagonist, relatable and flawed. He’s unafraid to use his voice for good, highlighting the insightful journalism that should be the cornerstone of our society. However, he also makes mistakes that have consequences and allow him to grow, realising how his actions have ripple effects on those around him. I thought his personal development felt very natural and built gradually over the course of the story. The central romance is just so easy to fall in love with, with all the heightened emotions of first love. It’s all-consuming and just lovely, with a few bumps in the road.

Stamper has such a great writing style that is effortlessly engaging and charismatic. He offers a fresh, enjoyable perspective that flows so easily. I really liked the use of multi-media, from Cal’s social media broadcasts to the reality TV aspects. I also loved how Stamper chose to shine a spotlight on mental health and how you cannot simply ‘fix’ people.

The shining star of the book though is the discussion of science and space, where you can feel Stamper’s passion for the subject through fun and informative sections that my inner NASA nerd throughly enjoyed. It was educational without becoming preachy and always felt very fresh and exciting, giving the book a unique edge.

7 thoughts on “Mini Review Monday #15

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