With recent events, I could not be silent. I’ve linked here a thread of bail funds to support protesters who are arrested for demanding justice for victims of police violence. Here is the Black Lives Matter Carrd and 74 bail funds to support as well. I will be doing this on every post. If you have the funds to donate, please do but if not, please support and uplift Black voices and sign the petitions.
I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, the last of which was just the other week! 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 fantastic books that all released last Thursday! I will organise them in alphabetical order, starting with Blood Moon by Lucy Cuthew. I was lucky enough to read this incredible book early as I won a giveaway for a physical proof from the author.
During her seminal sexual experience with the quiet and lovely Benjamin, physics-lover and astronomy fan Frankie gets her period – but the next day a gruesome meme goes viral, turning an innocent, intimate afternoon into something sordid, mortifying and damaging.
TW: bullying, cyberbullying, anxiety, panic attacks and sex shaming
As I’ve previously discussed in my Run, Rebel review, verse has this emotional intensity and power that never fails to draw me in. Here Cuthew has achieved the same effect with this empowering tale of female friendship that rails against patriarchal stigma.
Periods are often shunned as a taboo topic, but here the shame is forced to stop. I loved reading Cuthew’s author note about how her struggles with endometriosis informed Frankie’s story and actually this is something that we need to discuss more. Women’s struggles are being silenced because it is a topic that some people find uncomfortable and this is inexcusable. The stigma around periods needs to be broken and books like this help the process of breaking down that wall.
We need to have those uneasy discussions that may be prompted by the story about periods, but also about our culture of online shaming and the double standards around sexuality. Frankie is shamed for her intimate experience, but Benjamin does not experience this to the same extent. Every aspect of Frankie’s life is affected by what should have been a private moment and sadly this is a reality for so many people.
There is just something about the sparsity of language in a verse novel that just packs such an emotional punch and really helped me to connect with Frankie. Her relationships with Harriet, her dad and Benjamin were so well drawn through just a few words. The characters all felt so real and easy to empathise with, never feeling two-dimensional or flat. Their voices were so clear through Cuthew’s clever manipulation of language, showing her immense skill.
Blood Moon has clearly established a new bold, fiercely feminist voice in YA literature that I am desperate to hear from again soon.
Next up, I’m discussing the unnerving, spooky Good Girls Die First. Thank you so much to Scholastic for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Good Girls Die First
Mind games. Murder. Mayhem. How far would you go to survive the night?
Blackmail lures sixteen-year-old Ava to the derelict carnival on Portgrave Pier. She is one of ten teenagers, all with secrets they intend to protect whatever the cost. When fog and magic swallow the pier, the group find themselves cut off from the real world and from their morals. As the teenagers turn on each other, Ava will have to face up to the secret that brought her to the pier and decide how far she’s willing to go to survive.
TW: murder, suicide, arson, drowning, anorexia, rape, sexual assault
Good Girls Die First explodes onto the page with an incredibly strong opening, with a cinematic description of the setting in which our characters will find themselves trapped in. It’s creepy and unnerving, instantly setting the tone that will haunt the rest of these chilling pages. The setting is incredibly spooky, as abandoned carnivals at night tend to be and it sets the mood quickly and effectively.
It really encapsulates that spine-tingling, psychological form of horror that really burrows under your skin. There’s outright horrific moments that chilled me to the bone, but the worst parts are those that are left to the imagination. The best horror stories exploit the dark, twisted power of imagination, as the scariest moments are always created by your mind. Foxfield understands this completely, creating shadowy moments that are pure nightmare fuel. It sets a chill down your spine and the attention to details are perfect, making you feel as though there’s always something lurking just out of the page.
Secrets haunt every character in the book and the guilt that they feel seeps through the pages. There’s this sense of inevitability to the book, like this doom was always going to happen. It’s a really interesting way to explore those secrets we keep buried and the consequences of our actions. Foxfield’s writing matches this perfectly, as it feels flowery and entrancing, but not excessively. It makes it a compulsively readable story, alongside the mystery elements that left me constantly guessing. The twists that come are shocking, throwing everything you thought you knew into complete disarray.
Good Girls Die First is a perfectly eerie and disturbing YA horror/mystery where you get the sense that you’re slowly being stalked by your own worst nightmare.
Finally, I want to shout about the fantastic You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson!
You Should See Me in a Crown:
Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.
But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.
The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?
TW: racism, homophobia, forced outing, anxiety, grief, sickle cell, attempted hate crime, bullying
You Should See Me in a Crown is a joyous ray of sunshine on my shelf, both in its vibrant purple gorgeousness and its heart-warming, necessary content. It’s just a phenomenal book that everyone should pick up.
Johnson’s writing is just so good, always feeling authentic and crackling with wit. I rarely laugh out loud at a book, but Johnson succeeded where many others have failed. It’s a cliché but this book really is an emotional rollercoaster, as you swing from epic highs to epics lows. Johnson ensures that you feel every second of it alongside Liz, who has such a distinctive, charismatic and engaging voice that you just fall in love with her. Every single character feels authentic and real, with Johnson nailing the teenage voice.
I really loved the central romance between Liz and Mack. It built up in such a natural and soft way, but also was challenged by various obstacles. The course of love never did run smooth and that’s still the case here. You can’t help but root for them to work out, as you become so connected to these amazing characters.
As someone with a chronically ill family member myself, that rep in this book really hit home. Johnson perfectly articulates that constant sense of fear and responsibility and the way that it means that your experience of childhood will never be the same as other people’s. According to some OV reviewers, the anxiety rep is also incredibly accurate. This level of care and attention to detail is superb and it really enhances the book. Likewise, I thought that the portrayal of grief was beautiful, as Liz’s mum passed away years before the events of the book, but her bereavement still casts a shadow over her life. Grief is a long, difficult and complex process that you still feel the aftershocks of for a long time and Johnson agains captures this struggle perfectly. It really just demonstrates her immense skill as a writer, to be able to just capture these complex experiences and transit them to page in such a truthful and emotionally captivating way.
You Should See Me in a Crown is a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking but ultimately hopeful and joyous story about family, friendship, first love and finding your voice.