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!

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YA Review: Double Cross

Title: Double Cross
Author: Bruce A Hanson
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

This was a fun read. Three Canadian teenagers on a winter break discover a valuable historical artefact on a snowmobile outing. Excited by their find, the friends soon discover that they are not the only people interested in its history – or its value. Their investigations lead them into unexpected danger as they are forced to decide who they can trust, and who might be hiding a deadly secret.

Double Cross might be a short book, but I was hooked from the first page. The teenage characters are beautifully written – I knew within a couple of pages who they were and what to expect from each of them. As the story progressed, and the three of them faced fear and danger, their personalities shone through. I loved their friendly banter, and the way they could joke with each other even when they found themselves in mortal danger.

The adult characters are similarly well crafted. I particularly loved Aunt Irene, fearless investigative reporter and host to the friends on their holiday. She came alive on the page, providing both energetic adventures and a grown-up grounding – making sure everyone remembered to eat, and asking the right questions at the right times.

As a Brit who has worked and studied in Canada, I enjoyed the specifically Canadian details. The descriptions of the winter landscape were gorgeous, showcasing the cold, crisp beauty of winter woods in snow. The snowmobile sequences and details of the Hudson’s Bay blanket made me smile, along with the historical references in the story.

It’s a quick read, but with its sparkling characters and exciting plot, Double Cross will drag you in, heart pounding, and keep you guessing until the end.

Double Cross will be published on July 29th.

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

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YA Review: The Stranded

Title: The Stranded
Author: Sarah Daniels
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

Refugees from a war-ravaged Europe have been stuck at sea for more than forty years, confined to the cruise ships that were supposed to bring them to safety. A fractured US refuses permission for them to come ashore, fearful of the weaponised virus that might lie dormant in the bloodstream of everyone on board. On the Arcadia, desperate passengers live their lives in the ruins of ballrooms, crew areas, restaurants, and empty swimming pools. Rival gangs maintain a fragile truce, overseen by a sadistic administrator from the Federated States, and the current captain of the ship. Passengers fall in love, start families, and educate their children within sight of the shore, with no hope of reaching land. It’s a brilliant dystopian premise, and a gripping read.

The story follows Esther and Alex, teenage passengers who were born on the Arcadia, as they train to be medics. The top students in their class will be allowed to go ashore to complete their training and begin new lives. Esther and Alex are planning to marry on board and leave together, finally completing their families’ journeys across the Atlantic.

Esther’s older sister, May, is working towards her own escape, as a member of the military cadets. If she keeps out of trouble, she will be recruited into the on-shore military, and given the chance to make her own new life on land. But her friend Nik is part of the resistance, and while May tries hard to protect her family, it is only a matter of time until Esther and Alex find themselves tangled in gang rivalries and rebel plots – everything they need to avoid if they are going to make it off the boat.

Narration is shared between Esther, Nik, and Hadley – the deliciously nasty administrator who is desperate to impress his superiors enough to earn a placement on land. As Esther’s experiences develop her understanding of the politics of the Arcadia, the reader learns along with her, and the complexity and fragility of her position in shipboard society become dangerously clear.

As the story progresses and the plot twists kick in, we follow the narrators through acts of friendship and bravery, heartbreak, betrayal, and adventure. The action sequences are tightly written and exciting, and there are no guarantees of safety for any of the characters. Esther and Alex are respected for their medical knowledge, and it doesn’t take long for their skills to be in demand.

I loved everything about this book – the excellent dystopian premise, the characters and their relationships, and their adventures as they try to make sense of the events of the story. Hadley’s narration is deliciously nasty, Esther struggles with the path she must follow in order to leave ship life behind, and Nik is doing his best to maintain his precarious position on board while protecting the people he loves. The ending is a cliffhanger, and I’m looking forward to the next book. I’m hooked!

The Stranded will be published on July 21st.

Have you read The Stranded? What did you think of the dystopian setting? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

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YA Review: You Can Trust Me

Title: You Can Trust Me
Author: Gina Blaxill
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

Foul is Fair meets A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder in this gripping read, as featured in the April Paper Orange YA Book Box.

Alana is the new girl – at her school and in the small town she’s moved to with her mother and brother. A New Year party seems like a great place to meet people, but not everyone is there to make new friends. When her childhood best friend is found unconscious, Alana realises that the attacker is at the party – and that she was supposed to be the target.

It’s a great setup for a story full of plot twists, surprises, and dangerous amateur sleuthing. The starting point is an attempted sexual assault, and Alana must decide which of the local rugby club boys she can trust as she tries to piece together the events of the party. Everyone has secrets, everyone holds a piece of the puzzle, and there’s a history of suicides and murders in the spot where her friend was found.

Alana finds herself dismissed by the police investigating the attack, and frustrated by their lack of progress. Investigating the crime herself feels like the only solution, and she quickly discovers that someone involved doesn’t appreciate the attention. Figuring out who is behind the threats, lies, and rumours throws Alana into danger, and the reader into the heart of the story.

I couldn’t put this book down. I read more than half in one sitting, and I couldn’t wait to come back and read the rest. It’s a clever mix of detective-style interpretation of evidence, networking with Alana’s new friends to pick up on gossip and rumours, and a very human process of uncovering the people behind the gossip. Reputations matter, but as Alana follows the clues to track down the attacker, she discovers that not all reputations are deserved.

Is she trusting the right people, and can she believe what they tell her? I highly recommend diving in and finding out!

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YA Review: Four (Divergent #4)

Title: Four (Divergent #4)
Author: Veronica Roth
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

It’s been ages since I read the Divergent Trilogy – devoured it, in fact – but I never got round to reading Four. Following a recommendation from my YA-reading niece (thank you!), I finally completed the series – and I’m very pleased I did!

The final Divergent book contains four short stories, along with three pivotal scenes from the trilogy, all narrated by Four/Tobias. It’s a great insight into a favourite character’s perspective, feelings, and back story.

In ‘The Transfer’, Four tells the story of his Choosing Ceremony, and the home life that led him to transfer from Abnegation to Dauntless. His journey deliberately shadows Tris’s transfer in ‘Divergent’, but gives another perspective on why someone might leave their community to start a new life in another faction. It adds depth to his background and motivations, and provides new glimpses into the politics and dangers of life in Dauntless.

‘The Initiate’ develops the political insights as Four works to impress his instructors, hide his responses to the simulations, and find his place in his new faction. It’s another story that shadows Tris’s journey, while introducing political elements from her trilogy. Definitely a page-turner.

‘The Son’ explores Four’s inner conflicts as he navigates life in Dauntless while coming to terms with his own background. Turning away from his father, the leader of Abnegation, has consequences he hadn’t expected as Four repeatedly finds his loyalties challenged.

In ‘The Traitor’, Four’s experiences of the politics of Dauntless come together with his doubts about his loyalty and personal safety. We see his side of the developing relationship between Four and Tris, and witness the agonising choices he must make to protect the people he cares about.

In the three bonus scenes, it is a joy to see events from Divergent through Four’s eyes, and to read about his first impressions of Tris when she arrives in Dauntless to begin her training.

I’m so glad I read this book. Jumping back into the world of the Divergent trilogy was like meeting up with old friends, and the new perspective only added to the wonderful worldbuilding, and my sympathy and understanding of the characters.

Have you read Four? What did you think of Four’s side of the Divergent story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

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YA Review: The Wolf and the Water (Deluge #1)

Title: The Wolf and the Water (Deluge #1)
Author: Josie Jaffrey
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

Inspired by the legend of Atlantis, The Wolf and the Water is the exciting first instalment in Josie Jaffrey’s first non-vampire fantasy series.

Kepos is an isolated city, surrounded by impassable cliffs and the Eastern Sea, and protected by a high wall at the head of the valley. The Priests maintain the wall – the barrier, they say, between the valley of the living and the souls of the dead. Kepos is ruled by the Dekocracy, ten aristocratic families who share control of the wealth, power, and politics, from the respected Tauros clan to the tenth-level Glauks. Their children are expected to marry into other aristocratic families, and raise their status if they can.

Kala has two disadvantages in Kepos. She’s a Glauks – the lowest of the Dekocratic families – and her damaged leg means that she walks with a cane. The other Dekocrats would have disowned her, but her father refused. Instead, he taught her to read, and recognised her intelligence and humanity. Everyone agrees that she will never be able to marry. As a disabled girl from Glauks, she knows that none of the other families would allow the match. She spends her time in her father’s library, or escaping to swim in secret, sustained by her relationship with Melissa, one of the Glauks slaves.

When Kala’s father is killed, everything changes. As his only child, she is the Glauks heir, and a possible marriage partner for the younger son of another family. Her mother’s remarriage casts doubt on her status, and brings a cruel stepfather into her house – along with a new step brother and sister who both embrace Kala as a full member of their family.

But Kala is preoccupied with solving the mystery of her father’s death. She suspects the priests, and her questions bring her closer to the wall that protects everything she knows. Is it really holding back the souls of the dead, or is there something more dangerous behind it? Discovering more about her own family only raises more questions about Kepos, its place in the world, and the threat building behind the wall.

It’s a complex story, with plenty of effective worldbuilding and character development. Kala is a sympathetic protagonist, and following her journey from rejected child to Glauks heir and beyond is an emotional experience. Her relationships – with Melissa, with her mother, and with the new members of her family – are vividly drawn and entirely engrossing. She faces constant danger from the other Dekocrats, and constant uncertainty about her own status and safety, but her determination to survive matches her determination to find a place for herself in Kepos in spite of her disability.

The action and the tension build throughout the book, coming to a heart-stopping climax as Kala puts the pieces of her story together. The books ends on a spectacular cliffhanger, opening up enticing possibilities for the rest of the series. I can’t wait for book two!

Have you read The Wolf and The Water? What did you think of Kala’s story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

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YA Review: Break Out (Supernatural Prison #3)

Title: Break Out (Supernatural Prison #3)
Author: Aella Black
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

In book three of the Supernatural Prison series, Phoebe and Xander focus on uncovering the secrets of the organisation that locked them up for having superpowers – and on the origins of those powers.

Lansing Prison continues to be a cruel and dangerous place. Inmates with diverse superpowers fight each other in gladiatorial-style combat as their fellow prisoners cheer them on, encouraged by the warden and the guards. Xander finds himself trapped between the sadistic warden and his parents, who might have the power to get him out – if he can contact them. When Phoebe’s secret powers are revealed she must tread a careful line between keeping the warden happy, protecting her friends and family, and making sure she can live with her decisions.

Phoebe’s friends continue to provide the heart of this well-written series. Their relationships and loyalty to each other are inspiring, and it was a pleasure to pick up the book and find such sympathetic and rounded characters waiting. There is a romantic element to the story, but it is not the driving force of the plot. The strong friendships, and surprising betrayals, are essential to the reading experience. It’s a refreshing approach to writing a YA Dystopia, and I really enjoyed all the books in the series.

Have you read the Supernatural Prison series? What did you think of Phoebe’s story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

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YA Review: Power Up (Supernatural Prison #2)

Title: Power Up (Supernatural Prison #2)
Author: Aella Black
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

In book two of the Supernatural Prison series, Phoebe, Xander, and their friends are picking up the pieces from the end of book one, and finding their feet in a new and dangerous environment.

Phoebe and her friends thought Leavenworth Prison was bad, but now they have to learn to survive in Lansing. Gone is the kind warden, access to the library, and protection from the most violent and deadly superpowers. Instead of keeping the teens with benign powers segregated from those whose powers can kill, all the teens with powers are locked up together following their evacuation from Leavenworth. The friendship group is splintered, new cellmates bring new threats, and a figure from Phoebe’s past complicates everything.

Regular testing of inmates’ powers at Leavenworth was particularly distressing for Phoebe, whose ability to come back to life was tested repeatedly by the doctors monitoring her abilities. At Lansing, it’s not the doctors killing her under laboratory conditions, but her fellow inmates in staged fights. The prisoners are paired up to pit their superpowers against each other – and when Phoebe is in the room, it’s a fight to the death. She quickly learns that a doctor inventing new methods of execution is nowhere near as traumatic as the threat of a violent death from someone she believes to be a friend, and that no relationship is the same after a murder – even if the victim has the power to recover.

While the cruelty of the superpowered fights is the driving force behind the story, Phoebe’s friendship group is the reason to keep reading. Once again, their interactions, personality clashes, and support for each other hooked me in and kept me engaged with the plot. Phoebe and Xander share the narration in alternating chapters, giving an insight into their feelings for each other, and a wider view of life in Lansing Prison. It’s an exciting story, with action and trauma neatly balanced with strong friendships and sympathetic characters.

Once again, the action builds towards the end of the book, and after the dramatic finale I moved straight on to book three. More great YA, with memorable characters, strong friendships prioritised over romance, and a well-paced plot.

Have you read Power Up? What did you think of Phoebe’s story? How do you fell about the characters’ lives at Lansing? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

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YA Review: Lock Down (Supernatural Prison #1)

Title: Lock Down (Supernatural Prison #1)
Author: Aella Black
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

When Phoebe Atkinson survives a fire that should have killed her, she finds herself locked up in Leavenworth, a prison for teens with supernatural abilities. Some of the powers are deadly – super strength, werewolf shifting – while others are quirky – a girl who can talk to birds, a telepath, a boy who can change the colour of objects. Phoebe’s power is the opposite of deadly. When she dies, she comes back to life.

Prison life is boring and frustrating. There’s an exercise yard, a rec room and a library, but no education, no way out, and no views of the outside world. For most of the inmates, regular testing of their powers is uncomfortable and annoying. For Phoebe, is means dying over and over with no guarantee she will always wake up.

Phoebe is a sympathetic and relatable character. She does well at school, she is trusted as a babysitter, and she has been supporting herself since her father’s disappearance. No one knows that she’s living alone – her mother left years ago – and she is completely unprepared for the restrictions of prison life. To survive, she needs friends, and protection from the gang of violent bullies.

The author gives Phoebe a warm circle of friends, each with a distinctive personality and superpower. Her interactions with her fellow inmates make her life easier, and form the basis of the story. I cared about Phoebe and all her friends, and I found their conversations and relationships realistic and engaging. The arrival in the prison of Phoebe’s crush from school complicates the dynamics of the friendship group, while his skills give their mostly harmless powers the boost they need to consider breaking out.

This is an engaging story, packed with well-drawn characters and effective world building. I was hooked from the start (the prologue is absolutely gripping!), and as the story unfolded I found myself completely invested in Phoebe, her friends, and their escape plan. I won’t spoil the ending, but when I turned the final page I headed straight to download book two. This is great YA, and I want to see where the story goes from here!

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

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YA Review: The Fourth Species (Tomorrow’s Ancestors #3)

Title: The Fourth Species (Tomorrow’s Ancestors #3)
Author: AE Warren
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

I’ve been waiting to read book three in this intriguing series, and I’m happy to say that I enjoyed coming back to the world created in the first two books.

After a future climate disaster, humans have created a superior species using genetic engineering. Unenhanced Homo Sapiens are held responsible for the historic damage to the planet and forced to make reparations, while the elite use their genetic knowledge to hold onto power and bring back extinct species. The first two books of the series are centred around Elise – a an unenhanced Sapien – and the newly resurrected Neanderthals she works with. Book three is told from the points of view of three different women with vastly different roles and experiences of the world they share, giving the reader a deeper insight into the politics and dangers at every level of society.

Elise, exiled from the official settlements, is working as a spy. Her team gathers information on the activities of the enhanced Potior and Medius classes, risking their lives and freedom to protect Uracil, their secret base. Twenty-Two is one of the Neanderthals rescued from zoo-like conditions and integrated into life in exile. Genevieve is a genetically enhanced Medius in Adenine, working to improve her social standing while she passes secrets to agents from Uracil. Together they shape the story, bringing different perspectives and insights into the events of the book.

It’s an effective structure. Elise and her team travel between the official bases, infiltrating the settlements and picking up information vital to the survival of Uracil. Twenty-Two is concerned with earning the trust of the people around her after the events of the second book. Her chapters are centred in Uracil, offering close observation of the personalities and politics of the secret settlement, and a front-row view of the dramatic events of the story. Genevieve’s chapters bring the view from the top of society, giving the reader a glimpse behind the scenes of the official settlements, and the cut-throat politics of the ruling Potiors.

There’s danger, action, adventure and excitement. There’s heartbreak and loss alongside community and determination. There’s manipulation, disappointment, and a few plot twists along the way. It’s a mid-series book, so there is no resolution to the story, but the ending sets the scene for the final book in the series.

I can’t wait to read it!

Have you read the Tomorrow’s Ancestors series? What did you think of The Fourth Species? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

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