Author: Ann K. Morris
Published: 10th March 2022
Goodreads Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reviewed: January 2023
Thin by Ann K. Morris is a fictional story that tackles the topic of anorexia. Told from the point of view of someone in the grips of the illness, it emphasises the workings of the unwell mind and the impact anorexia has on lives, both the sufferer and those around them. Seventeen-year-old Erin did not realise she had an eating disorder until her concerned GP spoke to Erin’s mother, who insists Erin see a psychiatrist. Knowing this would mean gaining weight, Erin runs away to Chicago.
In Chicago, Erin meets a couple of homeless teenagers who show her there is more to the world than being thin. Lin and Ari jump at the chance to eat a plate of food, not knowing when their next meal will be. While Erin believes she needs to lose weight to fit in with her friends at school, Lin and Ari keep away from most people, not knowing how to get out of their situation. The chance meeting between Erin, Lin and Ari allows the characters to choose a new way of life, but only if Erin agrees to accept help for her eating disorder.
Eating disorders can be self-absorbing, which the author demonstrates in Thin when Erin runs away without worrying about what her parents would think. Only through meeting her new friends does Erin begin to understand that her mum has difficulties too, especially married to a man who cares more about sports than his own family.
It is impossible to write a book about eating disorders without any potentially triggering material. Whilst it is not the author’s intention to write anything harmful, people with a severe eating disorder should not read Thin until they are on their way to recovery.
Thin is written almost like a poem with short sentences split over several lines. With only three to five words per line, it is as though the narrative is trying to make itself as thin as possible, just as Erin is doing in the story.
Ann K. Morris should be commended for writing an accurate novel about anorexia. Although it may be too difficult for some eating disorder sufferers to read, Thin will hopefully help others understand the illness and break the stereotypical beliefs many hold about anorexia and other mental illnesses.
Author: Victoria Sadler
Published: 1st September 2016
Goodreads Rating: 3.67 out of 5
Reviewed: November 2016
“Violence always gets results.” But at what cost? Victoria Sadler’s dystopian novel Darkness explores an all too realistic scenario set in a not-so-distant future. The western world has fallen due to war and economic collapse. London has become a ghost city due to the death of thousands of people. Those not killed by bombs or deadly viruses succumb to suicide or death by natural causes – if the cold and starvation can be labelled natural.
Laura Lewis is the sole survivor in her block of flats and now needs to make her way through the dangerous streets to St Paul’s Cathedral, where what remains of the State will provide her with safety. Before she reaches her final destination, she is ambushed by an army of women, a threat to the nation, known as RAZR – Resistance Against State Reformation. Jane, the leader of the resistance, believes she has saved Laura from a fate worse than death. But, as Laura discovers, RAZR may result in an even crueller future.
RAZR was born from a hatred of men, a guerilla feminist movement seizing the opportunity to obliterate the patriarchal society. Since the beginning of time, men have oppressed women, regarding them as possessions with which they can do as they please. Despite the apparent equality achieved through past protests, the government (i.e. men) still controls the lives of women. RAZR focus on women’s rights to their own body and are angry at the State’s current use for women: to procreate.
Darkness is full of radical violence, often ending in the mass death of male soldiers. With barely a break to take a breath, the narrative goes from one action scene to the next, heightening the excitement as the novel reaches its climax. As the reader learns more about RAZR and the State, opinions are constantly changed. Who is good, and who is bad? Who can Laura trust? Then, to confuse things even more, Laura is not who she initially appears to be either.
The amount of violence in this novel is disturbing, particularly as the majority of deaths are caused without a guilty conscience. Darkness highlights the horrors of war and the wild nature of humanity. Without men and women living in harmony, there is no peace; on the other hand, complete equality is impossible. Furthermore, is RAZR feminist or terrorist? It is obvious that the human race cannot survive with merely one gender, so is RAZR doing more harm than good by fatally punishing all men?
Overall, Darkness poses more questions than it answers, yet it is a gripping novel. Women, particularly feminists, will enjoy the powerful messages expressed by RAZR, but equally, readers will understand Laura’s hesitation. With so many plot twists to get your head around, you will never get bored of this story. With such an ambiguous ending, it is unclear whether Darkness will remain a standalone novel or be continued with a sequel. Whatever the case, it will be interesting to read what the feminist, Victoria Sadler, comes up with next.
Kids of Appetite
Author: David Arnold
Published: 20th September 2016
Goodreads Rating: 4 out of 5
Reviewed: September 2016
They lived and they laughed and they saw that it was good.
Mosquitoland was the best book I read in 2015 and I was excited to discover what David Arnold would write next. I approached Kids of Appetite with mild trepidation; what if it did not live up to my expectations? I need not have worried – it was brilliant. Dubbed a “tragicomedy”, Kids of Appetite is a combination of realistic, heartbreaking experiences with intellectual humour.
The book opens mid-interview at a local police station where two teenagers, Vic and Mad, are being questioned about a murder their friend has supposedly committed. From there, the story backtracks a week and proceeds to bring the reader up to date. It all begins with Vic running away from home, distancing himself from his mother and her new partner. By chance, a coincidence – a bump, Vic would say – he is found by Mad, who introduces him to a small group of homeless friends. Vic may not have packed in preparation for life on the streets – or a greenhouse, as it turns out – however, he did grab the urn containing his late father’s ashes before racing out of the house. Along with the urn is a letter containing cryptic clues that lead to various locations where Vic’s father wished for his ashes to be scattered. Vic and his newfound friends make it a mission to put his father to rest.
It is not possible to label the general theme of the book. Kids of Appetite is a story full of stories. Each character has their own past, something that led them to the situation they find themselves in now. The group consists of five members – once Vic has been accepted. Baz, at age twenty-seven, is the leader: responsible, caring, and fatherly – until accused of murder. Seven years younger is Zuz, Baz’s mute brother, and finally, Coco, an eleven-year-old with the mouth of a foul old lady. It is Coco, amongst all her swearing and hilarious misuse of words, that coins the name Kids of Appetite, KOA for short, a play on words: they are not solely in want of food, they hunger for life.
Initially, it would appear that the main focus will be on Vic: his father’s death, his mother’s new partner, Moebius (facial paralysis) – a syndrome that results in a lot of bullying and discrimination – and, of course, his flight from home. Yet the remaining members of KOA equally contribute to the overall narrative. Mad, like Vic, knows what it is like to lose a father. Unfortunately, she also knows what it is like to lose a mother. Her life since the fateful car crash that left her an orphan has been full of abuse and uncertainty. Baz and Zuz, on the other hand, have escaped a traumatizing childhood amid the Congo Civil War.
Similar to Mosquitoland, Arnold’s second book is full of intellectual knowledge and humour, complete with references to highbrow material. Vic is obsessed with operatic songs and deeply interested in abstract art, particularly Matisse. He pulls the artist’s work apart in search of meaning and relatable truths. Like Vic, Mad has a particular song from which she draws comfort. The lyrics help her make sense of the world around her and help her to produce her manifesto – Madifesto. She is particularly fascinated by S E Hinton’s The Outsiders. With in-depth theories purloined from her favourite novel, she encourages and advises those around her.
It is essentially the characters that make Kids of Appetite such a fantastic work of fiction. Their background stories are all based on the real-life experiences of many people throughout the world; but it is their opinion of life, their terminology, and their reckless enthusiasm that impacts the reader. Kids of Appetite is a book to be read over and over again. So many phrases can be quoted to explain our own lives and feelings. The entire novel is one big quote to sum up life itself. Although there are many themes, stories and ideas, there is one clear message: Let go. Let go of the past. Let go of the things that hold you back. For Vic and Mad, it is the death of their parents; for Coco, it is abandonment; and for Baz and Zuz, to learn to let go of their violent childhood.
David Arnold is an extremely talented author, seamlessly flowing from one notion to another whilst sweeping the reader into a sea of pure emotion. He may overuse the word “ergo” and have an unconventional penchant for ellipses, but that only adds to the uniqueness of the writing. There may be an excessive amount of expletives but that is overshadowed by the pure genius of the story itself. Kids of Appetite is a book I want to recommend to all. The blurb likens it to authors Rainbow Rowell and Jennifer Niven – I would like to throw John Green into the mix – and should appeal to many Young Adult readers. I could write forever about this book, but I would rather you go and read it yourself. And whilst you read, remember:
They lived and they laughed and they saw that it was good.
Author: Casey Watson
Published: 20th October 2016
Goodreads Rating: 4.25 out of 5
Reviewed: November 2016
Casey Watson is a specialist foster carer who temporarily houses vulnerable children in emergency situations. Since working in this field for decades, she has documented her experiences in a series of books, each focusing on a different child. Her thirteenth and most recent book is Runaway Girl, aptly named about a (supposedly) fourteen-year-old girl running away from several distressing situations.
Adrianna arrives on Casey’s doorstep with no possessions, no English and no passport. Apart from knowing she is Polish, Adrianna is a complete mystery to the Watson family and the services involved. With her sixth sense tingling, Casey is certain there is something important that Adrianna is hiding, but despite all her attempts, it is not until an emergency hospitalization that the frightened Polish girl starts telling the truth.
With a background of abuse, homelessness and sex trafficking, Adrianna’s story will open readers’ eyes to the shocking situations in which many foreign children find themselves. Unfortunately, Adrianna is only one out of 5,000 girls in the last decade and a half to be brought to England illegally and forced into prostitution.
Fortunately, Adrianna is lucky to have escaped and found a safe place to stay in the Watson household. Without Casey’s care and determination to provide a future for her, Adrianna would have remained one of the “hidden children” that arrive in England every year.
Casey writes in a novel-like format, describing Adrianna’s circumstances from a carer’s point of view. Slowly revealing the secrets of Adrianna’s past, Casey keeps the reader interested in the same way a fiction author would with a clever plot line. Emphasising Adrianna’s difficulties – coming to terms with the abuse she has faced but also worrying about whether the authorities will allow her to remain in England – Casey appeals to the readers’ emotions, making it clear that, although Adrianna is here illegally, trafficked children have every right to be protected and looked after by British authorities.
Although Casey writes under a pseudonym and alters all names within the book, it is unclear how much of the storyline is true or whether the situation has been accentuated to capture the reader’s attention. Yet, this is not important – people will read this for entertainment, so the accuracy of the content is not as significant as how it is told. Runaway Girl, whilst shocking, is engaging and easy to read, with a satisfying ending.
The Last Dragon Slayer
Author: Jasper Fforde
Published: 1st December 2010
Goodreads Rating: 3.87 out of 5
Reviewed: January 2017
The recent (2016) dramatisation on Sky1 has prompted the release of a new edition of Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer, which appeared in bookstores six years ago. Fforde is perhaps best known for his Thursday Next series, a comical science-fiction story, but he proves he can equally tackle fantasy with this tale about an intrepid, young dragonslayer.
In the slightly fictional Kingdom of Hereford, part of the Ununited Kingdom, is a home and employment agency for mystical artisans. Over the past decades, magic has begun to diminish, leaving soothsayers and sorcerers struggling to find jobs. Jennifer Strange, although only fifteen, is temporarily in charge of running the agency, Kazam, and looking after the building’s cantankerous inhabitants. Although competent in her position, Jennifer soon finds herself out of her depth when wizards begin having prescient visions of the death of the last living dragon.
Able to ignore the prophecy at first, Jennifer becomes deeply involved once it is revealed that she is the foretold dragonslayer. Being both helped and hindered by friends and obdurate sorcerers, Jennifer desperately tries to prevent the shocking prediction from coming true. Yet, as she quickly discovers, it is impossible to outrun your fate, especially if Big Magic is involved.
The Last Dragonslayer is a fun book to read that, despite the slow build-up to the promised dragon story, is humorous and engaging. Jasper Fforde is a witty writer who uses genuine, intelligent, and often subtle puns rather than demeaning himself by resorting to crude jokes. Although some may dismiss dragons, magic and fantasy as fatuous nonsense, Fforde is writing for the more intellectual reader. Magic is a concept that has been written about thousands of times and also mocked in parodies of well-known literature. The Last Dragonslayer successfully combines fantasy and humour in a way that avoids ridicule.
Some may argue that The Last Dragonslayer is a young adult novel due to the age of the protagonist and the less highfaluting content compared to Fforde’s other works. On the other hand, Jennifer Strange is a character that appears a lot older than she is and is involved in events and satire that a younger audience may not be able to fully appreciate.
I particularly enjoyed reading Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer. I found it engaging and amusing, loved the characters, and was slightly disheartened when the book ended earlier than I expected – that is the downside of having sneak-peek chapters at the rear of the paperback! Of the Jasper Fforde books I have read (The Eyre Affair, 2001 and Shades of Grey, 2009), The Last Dragonslayer has been my favourite. Perhaps the potential younger target audience prevented me from getting lost, unlike the complexity of the other stories. As long as you can forgive the author for his fish fetish and preoccupation with marzipan, you will love this book.