What we’re reading
Each week we bring you a sample of the books we’re reading, the films we’re watching, the television shows we’re hooked on or the music we’re loving.
Annie is reading The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
I came across this book recently, and was intrigued by the back cover blurb. Also, the front cover proudly announces the book as ‘Costa Book of the Year 2013’. So – both front and back get big ticks – but what about the contents?
This novel is a profound and heartrending story of grief told by a young man called Matthew, who is endearing, frustrating and, most of all, honest. We meet him as a young boy on holiday with his parents and his brother Simon. Matthew introduces his brother by saying, ‘His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’
The story of Simon’s death and the family’s disintegration is heartbreaking. Matthew struggles to regain his place in the world, and the novel (written empathically by a mental health nurse) explores the world of the mentally ill, the UK mental health system and Matthew’s quest to find peace in his family, his local community, in his mind and mostly in his heart. A beautiful read that I think will become popular (deservedly) through word-of-mouth.
Over the last few years I’ve worked at Readings I’ve felt really lucky to have received some great recommendations for young adult novels. Some of my favourites so far have been This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers (best described as The Breakfast Club meets The Walking Dead), Wild Awake by Hilary T Smith (a fantastic portrayal of mental illness in teenagers without being silly) and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (I literally had trouble breathing in some parts of this book I was so tense).
And then over the weekend I read Justine Larbalestier’s Liar which was published a few years ago. Everybody - this book is seriously so good I am still recovering. I decided to read it after feeling disappointed by the much buzzed about upcoming young adult novel, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. (We Were Liars appears to be highly divisive, with our staff either absolutely loving or absolutely hating it.) A fellow reader of the disappointed variety told me she’d assumed it would be more like Larbalestier’s novel. When I’d admitted I hadn’t read that yet her face was not impressed.
Liar opens with a murder and the murdered boy’s girlfriend - compulsive liar Micah Wilkins - is determined to tell us the true story. But is she really? I don’t want to give too much away as I feel like it’s a great book to discover on your own terms. Michah is a deliciously unreliable narrator, maybe my favourite ever, and the story is slippery, clever fun. Larbalestier is an Australian author and has a new book out this month, Razorhurst, which I’m now very much looking forward to reading.
Kushla is reading The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
To my mind, Oliver Jeffers is a talent that can do no wrong. His picture books each provide a special kind of joy and The Heart and the Bottle is my favourite. The writing is simple and kind, but it is the small details and illustrations which truly deepen the experience of it. There is huge emotion to be found within these beautiful yellow pages; the story had such a profound effect on me that I was brought to tears.
The story follows a curious little girl who has someone very special to her die. Overwhelmed with grief, she takes her heart out of her chest and puts it in a bottle which she hangs around her neck to make sure she never hurts again. But having her heart in a bottle is awkward – she can’t help but notice it – and over time, someone slowly reminds her of how wonderful the world can be.
Love, loss and grief are explored in this gentle, warm book with an extraordinary lightness. It perfectly captures that special kind of magic which childhood is filled with, which we only really see and understand as adults. I think everyone needs to read this book, big or small.