Monday, August 10, 2020

Review: Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake


Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World centres around Ivy Aberdeen, a 12 year old whose house was just destroyed in a hurricane and she lost everything except her notebook and her pillow.

The Plot:

Ivy and her family go to the local school gymnasium while they figure out what to do now they don't have a house. Ivy spends time with the local doctor's daughter and teaches her draw, and Ivy begins to wonder if she has a crush on this girl, the same way her best friend has a crush on a boy in their grade. When Ivy realises she has lost the notebook containing all of her most personal drawings, some that hint at her feelings towards other girls, Ivy becomes desperate to find the notebook. When she returns to school, she finds notes stuffed into her locker each morning, along with one of the drawings from her lost notebook, the author of the notes refuses to return the notebook but encourages Ivy to talk to someone about her feelings. This mysterious author becomes a support system in a strange way, as the end of the book approaches, Ivy becomes brave enough to address her feelings about other girls. 

The Writing:

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World is a middle grade, and is written very much with that target audience in mind, however I found that I loved the writing and the message more than I expected to. This is the kind of book I wish I'd read when I was twelve years old. Ashley Herring Blake takes what can be an awfully lonely experience, that of a young person questioning their sexuality, and makes it into a beautifully written book full of vivid imagery and lyrical prose. I will definitely be reading more of Ashley Herring Blake's work in the future as her writing is truly beautiful and evocative. The writing in this novel showed me that just because a book is aimed at Middle Grade it doesn't have to shy away from using beautiful imagery and prose. 

The Characters:

The main character is a loveable and highly relatable character for me, I felt every ounce of her angst as a young person struggling to accept their sexuality. Ivy's family is a bit less loveable and are sources of tension and sadness for her. This conflict highlights the importance of supportive friends and other trusted adults in a young person's life, however by the end of the book the family realises how they have forgotten Ivy in all the mess of losing their home and a variety of other challenges they've faced since. Ivy's friends are a mixed bunch but they become very loveable and have such unique voices and character development that it's hard not to relate to them. I found myself thinking back to when I was 12 years old and the kind of friends I had then. 

The Atmosphere/Setting:

The setting of this book reads as a small town and there aren't many environments/settings that are vividly described, this book is very much character driven but the lack of description adds to the feeling that you are in Ivy's head and living life through her eyes. Twelve year olds rarely have an inner monologue describing their school classroom or their best friend's house. This 'lack' of description added to the feeling you knew Ivy personally. 

The Good:

I loved this book for attempting (and succeeding) at showing what it's like to be questioning your sexuality at an age when most of your friends are becoming interested in people of the opposite gender. I loved how Ashley Herring Blake wrote about Ivy's conflict between her feelings for her friend and what she thought she should be feeling. I could definitely relate to Ivy and other reviews I've read have said that the author absolutely nailed the feeling of loneliness that seems to be so present when one is struggling with feeling like an outsider.

The "Bad":

There's not much to criticise in this book in all honesty. If I had to say one thing, I would say that the ending was rather abrupt and didn't give me the kind of resolution I expected. I don't mean that in terms of the outcome for the characters, I mean that I felt that Blake's writing led to me believe that the ending would be written in a much more lyrical, meaningful way but it just sort of... happened. However considering this book is more of a slice of life novel and not about a grand adventure I suppose that's quite fitting. Rarely do we have moments of self discovery that are book ended with grand conclusions, we just go on with our lives with this new knowledge of a piece of ourselves. 

Final Thoughts:

Overall, I really loved this book and would highly recommend it for anyone aged 10+, there's no swearing, drinking or inappropriate behaviour and the characters are all very relatable. Anyone who grew up as the middle child will definitely relate to Ivy, and anyone who ever questioned their sexuality with relate to her on a level that might bring tears to your eyes at points. I know I cried once or twice. I will definitely be reading more from Ashley Herring Blake in the future. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Review: Good Girl, Bad Blood by Holly Jackson

This is the sequel to A Good Girl's Guide to Murder, a review for which you can find here. The sequel begins with Pip, who has published a podcast based on the events of the last book. I won't go into detail here as that would definitely be spoilers for the first book, but suffice to say Pippa is now a media sensation and is caught between juggling school and her newfound notoriety. 

The Plot
When Pippa's friend Connor arrives at her house out of breath and desperate for Pippa's help she is reluctant. Connor's brother Jamie is missing. Pip had promised herself, her family and Ravi that she wouldn't get so involved in a case like that again, as it almost had disastrous consequences the last time. However Connor asks her to at least go and see his mother and give them some advice on how to get the police to take Jamie's disappearance seriously, Pippa reluctantly agrees but when the police still show no interest in starting a search party for Jamie, Pip feels obligated to help. 

She gets Connor and Joanna's consent to record interviews for her podcast, in the hope that this will a) bring publicity to Jamie's case and perhaps result in some sightings or clues as to his whereabouts and b) encourage the police to take the disappearance seriously and render assistance. When media interest increases but police assistance is not forthcoming, Pip finds that she is the only one willing to help Connor and Joanna locate their missing brother and son. 

She begins interviewing key witnesses, people who saw Jamie on the night of his disappearance, acting erratically, including his belief that a teenage girl was a woman named Layla that the 25 year old Jamie had met on Tinder. When Jamie realises that this girl is not Layla he leaves the party and is last seen walking away while talking on the phone with a mysterious person. 

Pip slowly builds a timeline of Jamie's movements on that night and using this she is able to trace his last known sighting to an abandoned farmhouse, where they find a knife that was missing from his house but no sign of Jamie. 

Events race toward a conclusion that I did not anticipate and was blown away by, but I can't go into anymore detail because SPOILERS!

The Writing: 
I said in my review of AGGGTM that I found the first 50% of the book to be slow and difficult to get through. I had no such difficulties with Good Girl, Bad Blood. The plot was off and racing from page 1 and did not stop until the last page. The mysteries kept coming, the clues kept getting weirder and the suspect list was a mile long. While there was less of a mixed media format and more of a regular narrative told in third person I found that I didn't mind that. There were still aspects of the mixed media but they seemed more fast paced and well written, aimed at telling the story without unnecessary prose. I read this in a few hours, and at 432 pages that's impressive. I really couldn't put this book down and forgot to eat dinner until after I'd finished it at 10pm. Holly Jackson's writing has improved so dramatically between book 1 and 2 that I can hardly believe they're by the same author. However Jackson's tell-tale turns of phrase are so very much her own that there's no doubt she has just improved in leaps and bounds since book one. 

The Characters: 
Once again, Jackson's ability to write characters full of depth and life shines through strongly. I had so much sympathy for Pippa who was just trying to help, Connor who just wanted his brother back and other characters who were just trying to protect themselves or do what they felt was right (so many potential spoilers there). The way Jackson made me empathise with characters who should have been reprehensible was truly masterful and the way she made me hate characters who deserved it with such vehemence was a skill I have yet to see matched by another YA author. 

The Atmosphere: 
Jackson's ability to turn what should be a sweet small town in England into a menacing village full of secrets, deception and bubbling hatred barely contained was another master stroke. I felt that I could relate to the minor characters of the town who weren't at the centre of the story but watched on in the periphery as I did as a reader. The atmosphere built up until it was as tangible as a character itself, the town became its own being and the climax of the story was so tense that I was deeply lost in it. 

The Good: 
Honestly, is it a cop out to say everything? Probably, yeah. So I'll say: The characters and the atmosphere were amazing and I can't wait to read more from Holly Jackson.

The Bad:
If I had to find something to criticise, I would say that the ending is pretty far fetched but in my mind that made it all the more intriguing because although the strands of clues were tethered together loosely, Jackson made them seem tightly knitted and unbreakable. I believed that it was possible, maybe that makes me gullible? All I know is loved it anyway. 

Final thoughts: 
If the conclusion of book one stunned me(and it did), the sequel absolutely floored me. I had to close the book and stare into space for a few minutes while I absorbed it and my brain caught up to what I had read! I absolutely cannot wait for more from Holly Jackson.

For fans of: 
The Truly Devious Series by Maureen Johnson and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. 

Stay tuned for my review of House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City book one) by Sarah J Maas coming 15th of August.

Review: Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

 Overview: Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World centres around Ivy Aberdeen, a 12 year old whose house was just destroyed in a hurricane a...