(1) The Art Of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
YA / Contemporary: "David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl."
It's been a while since a book really exploded onto the YA scene, especially one from the UK, so I'm pleased to see a lot of people talking about The Art Of Being Normal. Here we have a 14 year old boy named David who is trying to get through that last awkward stage of puberty and is dealing with all of the usual high school problems that comes with being a not so confident teenager. On top of all of this, he desperately wants to be a girl and the story follows how he attempts to communicate this with his friends and parents, in his journey to feeling 'normal'.
I really enjoyed this as it was a quick and easy YA read. I wouldn't really call this book a 'transgender' only story as it's more about the social interactions of how teenagers communicate with each other and the potential barriers that they face when trying to talk to adults and parents about sensitive issues, but it did provide some food for thought about how transgender people can feel and society's reactions to them. Thanks to Danielle from Famous In Japan for recommending this! [4/5]
(2) The Bees by Laline Paull
Science Fiction / Dystopia: "Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen."
The Bees is a fast-paced sci-fi which is wholly original in its concept, but it still shares many of the same classic dystopian themes that I love within this genre. Our protagonist is called Flora 717, a common sanitation bee who has been born with an abnormal deformity for she is significantly larger and darker in colour than the other sanitation bees whose job it is to simply clean the hive and do nothing more. In addition to her unusual physical appearance, she also has the ability to speak which the priestess Sister Sage picks up on. Sage takes a risk by moving Flora 717 up the hierarchy by giving her a position in the nursery and this is where things start to go awry. Flora 717 starts to think past the usual 'Accept, Obey, Serve' commands and begins to understand how the hive works. Cue lots of political drama, corruption, scandal and a bizarre but dare I say 'realistic' insight into how a hive may operate under the fascist Queen.
Needless to say, I drew many comparisons between The Bees and Watership Down, and there were even hints of The Handmaid's Tale in there too. An interesting read to say the least. [4/5]
(3) The Waves by Virgina Woolf
Classics / Literature: "Conveys the complexities of human experience. Tracing the lives of a group of friends, The Waves follows their development from childhood to youth and middle age."
The Waves is the first Virginia Woolf novel that I've picked up (shocking, I know), and it feels like an impossible book to review as it doesn't have a traditional storyline as such. Instead, imagine that your mind is floating above your body and you're contemplating what it's like to have human emotions and how you would describe this to someone who didn't know what they were. Then, your floating mind is joined by five other different floating minds who offer their own life experiences and thoughts on human emotions. The result on paper would be The Waves; a mass of free-flowing streams of consciousnesses which are all constructed in a hard to follow, but still beautiful and unashamedly poetic prose.
I can see why so many people love Virginia Woolf; her way with words is both captivating and challenging, and she was not afraid to abandon the traditional rules of story-writing and create something different. There are numerous quotes that I wrote down whilst reading, but the one that I still reflect on is:- "Alone, I often fall down into nothingness. I must push my foot stealthily lest I should fall off the edge of the world into nothingness. I have to bang my head against some hard door to call myself back to the body.”. To me, this perfectly sums up the dream-like, life-contemplating style of The Waves. [3/5]
(4) The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War in 1914 by Christopher Clark
Non-fiction / History /Politics: "The pacy, sensitive and formidably argued history of the causes of the First World War, from acclaimed historian and author Christopher Clark".
Historians have been arguing about the exact causes of WW1, probably since the bloodbath itself began, and so many, many books have been written on the subject. Clark's The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, was highly recommended to me by a friend and is the first such book on WW1 history that I've read. With this in mind, I can't compare Clark's thesis with any others, but I can say that this mighty, intimidating tome of a book goes into meticulous detail and researches all of the origins of the 'small' cracks (e.g the disputes between particular members etc) which were appearing throughout almost all of the continental European governments at the time. These cracks of course eventually lead up to the catastrophe of WW1, but this book focuses on all of the pre-crises that routinely cropped up, whose significances were only made much clearer later on and to devastating effect.
What I liked the most about Clark's thesis is that he is able to illustrate one of the most chaotic periods in European politics in a largely accessible tone. There were some chapters that I struggled with at the start, and trying to keep track of all of the names involved is like trying to follow the beginning of Games Of Thrones before you know who all of the families are, but it does all sort of slot together the further along you go. A must read for anyone interested in the causes of WW1 - my mind is still trying to take it all in! [4/5]