I Am Thunder (Muhammad Khan)

I Am Thunder (Muhammad Khan)I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan
Published by Macmillan Children's Books on January 25th 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher

Fifteen-year-old Muzna Saleem, who dreams of being a writer, struggles with controlling parents who only care about her studying to be a doctor. Forced to move to a new school in South London after her best friend is shamed in a scandal, Muzna realizes that the bullies will follow her wherever she goes. But deciding to stand and face them instead of fighting her instinct to disappear is harder than it looks when there's prejudice everywhere you turn. Until the gorgeous and confident Arif shows an interest in her, encouraging Muzna to explore her freedom.

But Arif is hiding his own secrets and, along with his brother Jameel, he begins to influence Muzna with their extreme view of the world. As her new freedom starts to disappear, Muzna is forced to question everything around her and make a terrible choice - keep quiet and betray herself, or speak out and betray her heart?

A stunning new YA voice which questions how far you'll go to protect what you believe in.

Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

I often say I’m not much of a contemporary reader, but I knew I wanted to read I Am Thunder as soon as I heard about it.  I grew up in a city with a huge, diverse, multi-cultural population. If you were asked to think of a city with a large Asian population, I can guarantee it would be one of your first guesses.  There are plenty of people in the city who care a lot more about the things they have in common – a shared hometown, a common favourite food, a TV show they both love, whatever.  Sadly, as with anywhere, there are also people who can’t see beyond the things that make us different.  In my city at least, the hate language often isn’t targeted at Muslims specifically, but blindly at anyone who ‘looks Asian’.  As a white, non-religious woman, I’ve never been on the receiving end, but I’ve had friends and co-workers who’ve reveived exactly the kind of abuse Muzna gets in I am Thunder.   I Am Thunder addresses real world issues that should be talked about more – stereotypes, prejudice, racism and extremism – and is one of the very few YA books I’ve come across that have a Muslim protagonist.

The book feels authentic the whole way through. Khan is a teacher, so the interactions between the teens and their responses to things feel believable, complete with slang language.  This is one of the novel’s strengths, as well as a possible weakness: the teens sound like current British teens, making it feel believable, but may put off readers from elsewhere and the language may not age well, so that’s a thing to bear in mind.

It was cruel to bring me up in Britain, make me go to school with British kids, then expect me to act like a girl from back home. Outside of having brown skin, speaking the language, and half-heartedly cheering the cricket team on with Dad, I had no real idea of what it meant to be Pakistani.

Muzna is a great character.  She worries about the expected teen problems: worrying about her weight and her looks, wondering what to do with her life, feeling torn between the strict rules her parents put on her and her desire to fit in at school.  On top of that, and the concerns that come with starting at a new school, she begins to fall for a boy who’s extreme views of the world have her questioning everything.  She’s not ashamed of her Pakistani heritage, but she does feel removed from it, having grown up in Britain.  She feels like it makes her a target – and indeed, sadly it does.  The way she slowly gets drawn in by Arif and his extremist views is believable, and her sympathetic nature makes her struggle with what to do both plausible and emotional.  There may be moments when you curse her for being easily drawn in, and I personally wasn’t convinced by the love interest, but it felt like she made normal teenage decisions – some good, some bad but none forced for the sake of plot. She’s flawed but likable, and is definitely the star of the novel. The she supporting characters weren’t as strong, but they were believable enough.  Arif is interesting, although I felt the twist at the end was a bit unecessary – he’d have been believable enough without it.

“Tough though innit? Black man commits a crime, people say he’s a gangbanger. If it’s a muslim, he’s a-”
“Terrorist.” I interrupted.
He nodded. “But if it’s a white guy, he gets called a ‘lone wolf’, and suddenly it’s all about mental health issues.”

I love the way Khan talks about the differences between culture and religion, as well as the fact that there are many different ways people follow their religion.  I Am Thunder will make you furious at the society we live in and the pernicious prejudice Muzna faces every day, as it should.  It has witty, funny moments that made me laugh out loud, and poignant, heartbreaking moments.  It has empowering moments that will make you cheer for Muzna and inspire you.  I flew through the novel in a day, and it’s definitely one I’ll be re-reading eventually, because it deserves to be really thought about and considered.  While it isn’t necessarily a perfect novel, it’s powerful, it’s emotional and above all it is necessary – it deserves to be applauded and should be on everyone’s TBR.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Review: One of Us Is Lying

Review: One of Us Is LyingOne of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
Published by Delacorte Press on May 30th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher

The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars, One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

Pay close attention and you might solve this.
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon's dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them."

This book is described as Pretty Little Liars meets The Breakfast Club, and that’s a perfect description.  Five students go into detention, and only four make it out alive.  It’s quickly determined that the death of Simon – the school gossip – is no accident, and no one had better opportunity than the four students that go into that detention with him.  When it’s revealed that Simon had uncovered very deep, personal secrets about each of those four, it seems like no one had better motive either.  One of Us is Lying alternates between these four students in the aftermath of Simon’s death – as they’re each suspected of murder, as their secrets are revealed and as they grow both closer and yet ever more suspicious of each other.

The four characters begin as stereotypes, but quickly develop into interesting, complex people and it’s particularly interesting watching how their relationships change throughout the course of the novel.  Although the blurb describes them as strangers, in high school, how many people are truly strangers?  They have histories, old friendships, and if nothing else, opinions and prejudices about each other, that change throughout the book.  No one knows who to trust, and while they find themselves getting closer through their awful shared experience, they also can’t help but ignore the tiny voice in the back of their head that wonders “Is this the person who killed Simon?”

One of Us is Lying is an absolutely addictive read – I started it on my lunch break one day, and I’d finished it by the next.  I loved the twists and reveals, the cliffhangers and the suspense, but I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I came to like the characters, and how much I cared about their relationships.  While I’m not a huge contemporary fan – no dragons, no spaceships! – this was an enjoyable, addictive read that delivered exactly what I expected, and even a little more.

One StarOne StarOne Star

Review: A Street Cat Named Bob

Review: A Street Cat Named BobA Street Cat Named Bob: How One Man and His Cat Found Hope on the Streets by James Bowen
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on March 1st 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Social Issues
Pages: 279
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed

The moving, uplifting true story of an unlikely friendship between a man on the streets and the ginger cat who adopts him and helps him heal his life.

In 2017, I joined a book club.  It’s a pretty tiny club, but just like all book clubs, the whole idea is that we take turns choosing books, read them and then discuss them.  A Street Cat Named Bob was our book club choice for January, and although not something I would normally pick up, I decided to give it a chance.

James Bowen is a recovering drug addict who is trying to get his life together when he comes across Bob, an injured and apparently stray cat.  He takes Bob in for a little while while his injuries heal, but to his surprise, Bob seems to have no desire to leave, and soon the two are pretty much inseparable.

To be honest, I don’t feel like there’s a huge amount I can say about A Street Cat Named Bob.  I got pretty much exactly what I expected.  The story is touching, and life-affirming, and if you’re an animal-lover, it’s impossible not to be charmed by Bob.  It’s great to see James’ perspective of life on the streets and trying to get things back on track, as well as the hurdles he has to overcome in order to do so.  The writing isn’t great, but it didn’t bother me to the same extent as a lot of other reviewers.  It’s a very quick, simple read that only took me a couple of hours, and while I enjoyed it, there were definitely moments that grated.  A lot of Ellie’s review resonated with me.  I felt like James was trying really hard throughout the book to break prejudices and assumptions about homeless people, Big Issue sellers and those recovering from drug problems, and that he made quite a few comments determined to prove his own good nature, but then had his own prejudices and judgements against others.  For example…

By far the most annoying people to work the streets around me, however, were the bucket rattlers: the charity workers who would turn up with large plastic buckets collecting for the latest cause.  Again, I sympathised with a lot of the things for which they were trying to raise money […] they were all great worthwhile charities. But if the stories I had heard about how much of the money disappeared into the pocket of some of these bucket shakers were true, I didn’t have much sympathy.

In all honesty, it’s a lovely, touching, uplifting story, and of course all the Bob moments are great, but I wonder if perhaps I would have enjoyed the film more.

One StarOne Star

Review: Wild

Published by HarperTeen Genres: Contemporary, Retelling, Young Adult
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss

The forest is full of secrets, and no one understands that better than Cade. Foraging, hunting, surviving— that’s all he knows. Alone for years, Cade believes he’s the sole survivor. At least, until he catches a glimpse of a beautiful stranger…

Dara expected to find natural wonders when she set off for a spring break camping trip. Instead, she discovers a primitive boy— he’s stealthy and handsome and he might be following her. Intrigued, Dara seeks him out and sets a catastrophe in motion.

Thrust back into society, Cade struggles with the realization that the life he knew was a lie. But he’s not the only one. Trying to explain life in a normal town leaves Dara questioning it.

As the media swarm and the police close in, Dara and Cade risk everything to get closer. But will the truth about Cade’s past tear them apart?

A YA Tarzan retelling.

When I read it…

I read this between July 10th and August 7th.

What I’d heard before I read it:

Almost nothing. This is a 2014 release I requested but didn’t end up starting immediately and then have heard pretty much nothing about since.

What worked for me:

  • The premise: I really liked the idea of a modern day Tarzan retelling, and although it’s difficult to talk about too much without spoilers, I liked the way Mallory had set everything up.
  • Sofia: Dara’s best friend Sofia was fun, and sweet, and I liked the way she was always looking out for Dara.
  • Cade: I liked Cade, and his naivety regarding life outside the forest made me feel for him instantly.  I loved seeing his life in the forest, how competent and comfortable he was in the wild.
  • The forest setting: I really liked seeing the national park, both through Dara’s eyes and Cade’s.  The two see the forest so differently, and I really loved seeing the beauty, the danger, the usefulness, all as complementary facets.

What didn’t quite work for me:

  • The romance: I just found the romance way too much, way too soon, and it didn’t work for me at all.
  • The ending: While I enjoyed the story as it was going on, the ending was a real disappointment for me.  I have no idea what the best ending should have been – indeed, part of the reason I was so hooked was because I had no idea how it was going to end – but I just found the ending ultimately quite unbelievable and unsatisfying.
  • The justification for life in the wild: I liked the idea, but I felt like it needed a bit more back story to make it believable – while I could see one parent resorting to such extreme measures, I’m not sure I could see both agreeing to it, at least without seeing a little more of their lives and personalities before living in the wild.

I wanted to like Wild, but for me, this was definitely a case of the execution not living up to the premise.  I didn’t really like the vast majority of the characters, which probably explains a lot about why I didn’t like the book as much as I’d hoped to. I couldn’t understand Dara, who wasn’t spooked by someone stalking their camp.  I was irritated by Josh’s change from protective to basically absent. I was also frustrated by their overall relationship: despite having been in a long term relationship, Dara seems to feel their relationship is doomed and founded on very little in common.  I felt like the author was trying to discredit the relationship from the beginning, to make room for the potential romance between Cade and Dara, but that meant I either felt their relationship was implausible to start with, or that the rather abrupt change made no sense!

Other reviews of Wild: The Young Folks | The Daily Prophecy | There Were Books Involved

One StarOne Star

Review: This Is Where It Ends

Review: This Is Where It EndsThis Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on January 5th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 292
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley

10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03 The auditorium doors won't open.

10:05 Someone starts shooting.
Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★
Addictiveness: ★★★★

When I read it…

I read this book from start to finish on January 5th 2016.

What I’d heard before I read it:

Mixed things: mostly I’d heard a lot of raving and positive reviews, but I had also heard a few negative reviews, mostly regarding the shooter’s motivations.

What worked for me:

  • The pace: I found this fast-moving, gripping and easy to get engrossed in
  • The links between characters: I’m a big fan of storylines that tie in with other characters, such as often appears in Liane Moriarty and Nora Roberts’ books, so I enjoyed seeing the way the characters interlinked.
  • The diversity: I loved that there was lots of diversity, and that I didn’t feel like the book was defined by it.  It’s a story that feels like it just happens to feature LGBT teens, teens from different backgrounds etc, because that’s what reflects real life.  It was diverse without making a big deal of it and that was something I really loved!

What didn’t quite work for me:

  • The depth/length: the fact that This Is Where It Ends is so short means it can keep up the constant fast pace, but for me, I wouldn’t have minded having a longer story if it meant we got to delve into some of the backstories a bit further.  I liked what we got to see but I definitely wouldn’t have minded seeing more.
  • The lack of grey: there were clear ‘bad’ guys and ‘good’ guys in this, which is something I didn’t like. With such a realistic and timely issue, with a cast that aims to reflect real world diversity, the fact that there wasn’t more ambiguity or blurring of the lines between good and bad disappointed me.  (“The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters”!)
  • The ‘issues’: while I loved that the diversity felt natural and not like marketing, some of the issues felt like they’d been squeezed in.  There were some serious issues, but I felt like they weren’t handled with the gravity they deserved.

Overall thoughts:

This Is Where It Ends is not actually the first story about school shootings I’ve read and it’s difficult not to compare.  While I really enjoyed This Is Where It Ends, it unfortunately didn’t live up to either Jodi Picoult’s 19 minutes – which I felt gave a much better portrayal of the shooter and motivations, or Heather Gudenkauf’s One Breath Away, which I felt brilliantly showed the impact outside the school as well as within.  For me, I’d have loved This Is Where it Ends to be longer – I’d have loved to see more of Fareed in particular, or more of the motivation behind the shooting, or more of the impact some of the issues the characters were facing.  All in all, it was gripping, but it didn’t have the emotional impact I was expecting.

Other Reviews of This Is Where It Ends: A World Between Folded Pages | Curiosity Killed the Bookworm | Death, Books & Tea

One StarOne StarOne Star