YA Review: Escape From B-Movie Hell

Title: Escape From B-Movie Hell
Author: MT McGuire
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

Cover art for 'Escape From B-Movie Hell'

What do you do when your best friend tells you he’s an alien, proves it, and then disappears? Student Andi Turbot heads to her next lecture, then home to heat up some leftovers for dinner. She doesn’t expect to meet more aliens in her kitchen, or to find herself transported to their ship, abducted, and subjected to a telepathic interrogation. Finding out about the impending destruction of the earth is not what she had in mind for the evening – and neither is discovering she’s a powerful telepath.

On the plus side, she is reunited with her friend – only now he looks a bit like a lobster with seven long eye stalks and a coating of slimy goo. His human form was a telepathic projection, and his Gamalian form will take a bit of getting used to. As will the task ahead – escaping from the brig of a Gamalian ship, avoiding capture, and saving the world.

I read this book in one sitting. Once I’d started, I couldn’t put it down. Everything I love about MT McGuire’s writing is here – humour, action, brilliant and imaginative world-building, and an absolutely compassionate approach to the question of what it means to be human, and what it takes to do the right thing. It’s a beautiful balance of laughter, friendship, loyalty and bravery, and recognising that no one is all bad, and no one is all good. There are bad guys and good guys, but plenty of shades of grey, and the author has a keen eye for the comedic moments when two cultures – and two species – meet. The action scenes are vivid and immersive, and the tension towards the climax of the story had me absolutely on the edge of my seat.

Andi is a refreshing character. She’s studying Art Restoration and Museum Studies, but in her spare time she’s a stand-up comedian. Her take on the events of the book is always coloured with humour and compassion, alongside a genuine fear for the safety of the Earth. Her friend Eric is the kind of being you’d want to go on an adventure with. Reliable, brave, and always willing to listen to Andi’s suggestions, he’s both a companion and protector, and her guide to the weirder aspects of Gamalian culture. I particularly enjoyed the character development of Doge Sneeb, a really interesting alien bad guy whose backstory develops in unexpected ways over the course of the book.

This is a proper B-movie romp with giant aliens, a constantly twisting plot, and a very satisfying conclusion. Great fun to read, and a fantastic way to spend a sunny afternoon in the garden.

Escape From B-Movie Hell is published as adult SciFi, but is suitable for a YA audience.

Have you read Escape From B-Movie Hell ? What did you think of Andi’s story? Who was your favourite character? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: If You Still Recognise Me

Title: If You Still Recognise Me
Author: Cynthia So
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

If You Still Recognise Me by Cynthia So

This is a lovely, quiet, undramatic LGBTQ+ romance full of friendship, family relationships, and the dangers of coming out to people who might not understand.

Elsie is finishing her A-level exams, and looking forward to a summer of freedom and adventure before university. She has plans to go on holiday with her best friend Ritika, and she’s looking forward to new issues of her favourite comic, Eden Recoiling. She has a secret long-distance crush on Ada, who writes Eden Recoiling fan fiction, but Elsie is in Oxford, and Ada is in New York, so a relationship is probably out of the question.

But Elsie’s plans for the summer are forced to change when her grandmother flies in from Hong Kong to stay, following the death of her grandfather. Her parents expect her to stay at home with their guest during the week, and to find a weekend job before she plans her holiday. Elsie hasn’t come out to her family, and she knows that her grandmother’s traditional attitudes would probably not include acceptance of her sexuality. She hasn’t seen her grandmother for eight years, and as she keeps her company she starts to uncover the prejudices, family secrets, and a clash of cultures that have forced her family apart. When an old friend from Hong Kong arrives back in her life, Elsie finds herself questioning all her relationships – friends, family, and romantic interests.

The book follows Elsie as she spends time getting to know her old friend again, discovering the secrets her family has been hiding, and attempting to solve a puzzle that she hopes will impress Ada. In pursuit of the truth about her family, and the solution to Ada’s mystery, Elsie and her friends meet a series of gay characters at every stage of life, most of whom are refreshingly happy and settled in their identities. While she doesn’t feel comfortable being open about her sexuality at home, these characters provide her with inspiring role models for the next stages of her own life, and help her to make decisions about her relationships.

There’s nothing forced about these encounters, and the positive attitudes provide a wonderful counterbalance to the rejection she fears at home. Elsie is a warm and relatable character – she’s passionate about the Eden Recoiling comic and fandom, and the people she meets who share her enthusiasm. She grumbles about the changes to her plans for the summer, and surprises herself as she spends time with her grandmother and learns more about her. Ritika is a great best friend. She’s excited for Elsie as she discovers more about herself and her relationships, and she’s not afraid to point out when Elsie is wrong. Elsie’s parents are strict but supportive, and I loved the moment when Elsie discovers her mother’s love of manga, and they begin to bond over their shared interest.

If You Still Recognise Me is a gentle coming-of-age novel with an LGBTQ+ protagonist and a positive supporting cast. The author infuses the story with the luxury and hopefulness of a summer of freedom before the characters move away from home and start new lives at university. Reading it is like finding a new friend who loves the things you love, and discovering a new way to see yourself in the world. It’s a perfect summer read.

Have you read If You Still Recognise Me? What did you think of Elsie’s story? Did the ending surprise you? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Junk

Title: Junk
Author: Melvin Burgess
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

YA review Junk Melvin Burgess

First published in 1996, Junk caused outrage with its candid depiction of heroin use in a book written for teenagers. A recent BBC radio interview with the author prompted me to order the 25th anniversary edition of the book, and find out what the fuss was about.

Set in the mid-eighties, Junk tells the story of two fourteen-year-olds who run away from home. Tar is escaping a violent father and an alcoholic, manipulative mother. Gemma wants to get away from her repressive, disciplinarian parents. When Tar makes his way to Bristol, he finds a group of people living on the margins of society. They find vacant houses to open as squats for homeless people to live in, and after sleeping rough for a couple of weeks, Tar moves in to their latest squatted property.

With somewhere safe to run to, Gemma gets away and joins Tar in Bristol. While he is happy to have found a new support network, she is excited to explore the freedom of her new home. Tar is a sensible runaway. He’s looking for the stability he’s never had, and he sets out to help the squatters, decorate his room, and contribute as much as he can to their community. But Gemma wants more. She’s had enough of obedience and rule-following, and when she meets a new group of friends at a party she is won over by their dreamy, otherworldly attitude to life.

As she is gradually drawn in to their circle, she begins to accept their heroin habit as part of what she loves about them. She tries the drug, with their assurances that she doesn’t need to be addicted, and their encouragement that she can stop at any time. She draws Tar in to the group, and introduces him to the habit.

Burgess is very honest. He makes sure the reader understands why his characters choose to take heroin. He describes the effect on Tar as feeling all the pain of his experiences floating away. He doesn’t experience a high, but he loses the pain he’s been carrying with him. For a fourteen-year-old boy escaping domestic violence, finding something that takes away the hurt he’s carrying feels miraculous.

The book charts their continued experiences with the drug, and their constant reassurances to themselves and each other that they can stop at any time. Their struggles when they try to kick the habit are heartbreaking, and again Burgess doesn’t pull his punches. The slow build up of addiction, the risks they take, and the things they are willing to do make money for drugs make for a hard read. We spend half the book getting to know these vulnerable, lonely young people, only to witness their understandable transformation into characters whose only motivation is their next hit.

I won’t spoil the story, and I’m not sure what I thought of the ending, but whatever controversy the book continues to cause, it should be on everyone’s reading list. Burgess uses his contrasting characters and multiple narrators to explore the attractions as well as the destructive side of addiction. He stays true to his teenage leads, and even when the story deals with their darkest experiences, it never feels like a lecture. Everything in these pages feels real, authentic, and possible – and very far from moralising or preaching. It is genuinely heartbreaking to watch two young people go through everything that happens in the story, and I badly wanted everything to work out for them in the end.

It’s not an easy read, but it is a great place to start a conversation about drugs, addiction, and personal responsibility. The review quote on the front of my paperback says ‘everyone should read Junk‘. I definitely agree.

Have you read Junk? What did you think of the story? Did you sympathise with any of the characters? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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