Willow By Julia Hoban

Title: Willow

Author: Julia Hoban

First Published: 2009

Publisher: Speak

Blurb:

Seven months ago on a rainy March night, Willow’s parents drank too much wine at dinner and asked her to drive them home. But they never made it–Willow lost control of the car, and both of her parents were killed.

Now seventeen, Willow is living with her older brother, who can barely speak to her. She has left behind her old home, friends, and school. But Willow has found a way to survive, to numb the new reality of her life: She is secretly cutting herself.

And then she meets Guy, a boy as sensitive and complicated as she is. When Guy discovers Willow’s secret, he pulls her out of the solitary world she’s created for herself, and into a difficult, intense, and potentially life-changing relationship. (From Goodreads, 12th May 2014).

Review:

‘Willow’ was one of those novels that helped get me out of a reading slump, however, ‘Willow’ is not the greatest book I have read focusing on self-injury. On the other hand, for a novel aimed at teenagers this deals well with a topic many individuals do not understand whilst also dealing with love, death, loss, stress, friendships and much more ‘life stuff’.

Willow is a girl who blames herself for the death of her parents, whilst also feeling like a burden to her older brother and his wife and baby cousin. Both Willow and her brother have not yet come to terms with the sudden death of their parents or the sudden changes in their living arrangements. Willow cuts herself to help escape the true pain she is feeling inside, it is the only way she manages to cope with life. However, soon her life begins to spiral out of her control when Guy, a boy from school who quickly enters her life, finds out that Willow cuts herself. We soon follow this relationship, through ups-and-downs and watch how life begins to change for both individuals who each carry the knowledge of Willows cutting.

As I said above, I have read other novels regarding the topic of self-injury that I preferred, but this may be due to two things. Firstly, I read a lot of books on this topic when I was in my teenage years, and therefore know the formula. Second, I have also read many books about self-injury aimed at adult audiences, and also researched a lot about self-injury, which includes case examples and memoirs. Therefore, having such a knowledge, and having exhausted (at the time) many of the books focusing on self-injury aimed at teenagers during my teenage years I may be slightly harsh compared to other readers. For that I appologise.

I did enjoy ‘Willow’ as it was fast paced and Julia Hoban successfully incorporated Willows life into the novel with self-injury not being the main focus, which is nice. It reminds you that individuals who self-injure have a life with stresses and why these stresses result in self-injury. We have a teenager who is going through many ‘normal’ teenage stresses, such as a new school, exams, making friends, whilst also dealing with more extreme difficulties, such as her parents death.

‘Willow’ is a novel that tactfully addresses many hard hitting issues and some more run of the mill teenage issues without belittling them or over exaggerating them. It is because of this that makes ‘Willow’ a believable and human novel. It also means I feel able to recommend ‘Willow’ to individuals who self-injure, friends  and family of individuals who self-injure, and also those who are interested in mental health related fiction. This is a novel that as a teenager I would have loved to have found in the school or local library, just simply because it reminds you that you are not alone. Novels that deal with difficult issues specifically aimed at teenagers are so important and valuable, no matter what the topic, just to give someone even a small amount of strength to find the help and advice so many of us need.

However, for me this novel is only a 3.5 out of 5 stars, but I would imagine if I read this novel when I was in my teenage years (and mot my mid twenties) I would have given it 4 to 4.5 stars.

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The Reflections of Queen Snow White By David C. Meredith

Title: The Reflections of Queen Snow White

Author: David Meredith

Publisher: Self Published

Publication Date: 2nd October 2013

Blurb:

What happens when “happily ever after” has come and gone?

On the eve of her only daughter, Princess Raven’s wedding, an aging Snow White finds it impossible to share in the joyous spirit of the occasion. The ceremony itself promises to be the most glamorous social event of the decade. Snow White’s castle has been meticulously scrubbed, polished and opulently decorated for the celebration. It is already nearly bursting with jubilant guests and merry well-wishers. Prince Edel, Raven’s fiancé, is a fine man from a neighboring kingdom and Snow White’s own domain is prosperous and at peace. Things could not be better, in fact, except for one thing:

The king is dead.

The queen has been in a moribund state of hopeless depression for over a year with no end in sight. It is only when, in a fit of bitter despair, she seeks solitude in the vastness of her own sprawling castle and climbs a long disused and forgotten tower stair that she comes face to face with herself in the very same magic mirror used by her stepmother of old.

It promises her respite in its shimmering depths, but can Snow White trust a device that was so precious to a woman who sought to cause her such irreparable harm? Can she confront the demons of her own difficult past to discover a better future for herself and her family? And finally, can she release her soul-crushing grief and suffocating loneliness to once again discover what “happily ever after” really means?

Only time will tell as she wrestles with her past and is forced to confront The Reflections of Queen Snow White. (From Goodreads, 7th February 2014)

Review:

Okay so I am not going to give an overview as the blub is long enough! So straight into my review!

I was surprised to be contacted by the author asking me to read this book for review, and therefore happily accepted! I had not expected this novel to be as beautifully written and aimed more towards older young adults and adults. For me this was refreshing, having read multiple young adult fairy tales lately it was nice to read one which was written with description rather than simply action. With lyrical prose. Simple wonderful to lay your eyes on. I cannot express what a talented wordsmith David Meredith is. A man I will watch with interest, as it was such a breath of fresh air reading ‘The Reflections of Queen Snow White’.

An interesting novel set long after the typical Snow White novels. However, we learn about Snow White’s younger life along with her older life. Queen Snow White is lost, but by reflecting on her past she begins to view herself with a new perspective. This is a novel of a journey and is a nice book to read in between two larger books because it is short and relaxing.

A book I recommend to everyone, especially if you are looking for a less action packed, more traditional style of fairy tale.

4 out of 5

Kiss Me First By Lottie Moggach

Title: Kiss Me First

Author: Lottie Moggach

Publisher: Picador

First Published: 2013

Blurb:

A chilling and intense first novel, this is the story of a solitary young woman drawn into an online world run by a charismatic web guru who entices her into impersonating a glamorous but desperate woman.

When Leila discovers the website Red Pill, she feels she has finally found people who understand her. A sheltered young woman raised by her mother, Leila has often struggled to connect with the girls at school; but on Red Pill, a chat forum for ethical debate, Leila comes into her own, impressing the website’s founder, a brilliant and elusive man named Adrian. Leila is thrilled when Adrian asks to meet her, and is flattered when he invites her to be part of “Project Tess.”

Tess is a woman Leila might never have met in real life. She is beautiful, urbane, witty, and damaged. As they email, chat, and Skype, Leila becomes enveloped in the world of Tess, learning every single thing she can about this other woman–because soon, Leila will have to become her. (From Goodreads, 17th January 2014)

Review:

Reading the blurb of ‘Kiss Me First’ I knew I had to read this book! This is a brave first novel, but it is very well done. We are reading about suicide, but rather than stopping someone from killing themselves we are giving them the chance to go without the guilt of leaving their family aware of their death.

Leila begins posting on the forums of Red Pill, a website discussing philosophy and debating ethical issues. Leila feels that she has finally found like minded people, and begins to build a good reputation on the site. Soon she is contacted by the sites founder, Adrian, asking Leila to meet. And so begins ‘Project Tess’. Leila is learning all about Tess. Leila is going to pretend to be Tess after Tess commits suicide.

This hard hitting, very controversial topic just drew me in. At first I was surprised when I realised that this book was written retrospectively in Leila’s voice. But this works well. You begin to build up to understanding why she did what she did, and why she has reached where she currently is. This is a novel that you know has taken a lot of planning, and is skillfully put together.

This was an excellent thought provoking book that I would recommend to those who like psychological thrillers, and for those who want to have a good debate with other readers. Yes, I would say this is a book group novel. Or could lead to good debates in the classroom/lecture.

I can imagine some people will find this novel difficult due to the focus on suicide, but this is such a risky book that would always be the case. If you want a book that will make you think, pick this up.

However, this is all positive, yet I can only give ‘Kiss Me First’ a 4 out of 5. Why is this? Well I expected slightly more for some reason, I felt at points the novel stood still, and didn’t have as much speed as I expect. But despite this I still loved this novel, would read it again, and recommend to people.

4 out of 5.

Your Voice in my Head By Emma Forrest

Title: Your Voice in my Head

Author: Emma Forrest

First Published: 1st January 2011

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Blurb:

Emma Forrest, an English journalist, was twenty-two and living in America when she realised that her quirks had gone beyond eccentricity. Lonely, in a dangerous cycle of self-harm and damaging relationships, she found herself in the chair of a slim, balding and effortlessly optimistic psychiatrist – a man whose wisdom and humanity would wrench her from the vibrant and dangerous tide of herself, and who would help her to recover when she tried to end her life. Emma’s loving and supportive family circled around her in panic. She was on the brink of drowning. But she was also still working, still exploring, still writing, and she had also fallen deeply in love. One day, when Emma called to make an appointment with her psychiatrist, she found no one there. He had died, shockingly, at the age of fifty-three, leaving behind a young family. Processing the premature death of a man who’d become her anchor after she’d turned up on his doorstep, she was adrift. And when her significant and all-consuming relationship also fell apart, she was forced to cling to the page for survival. A modern-day fairy tale of New York, Your Voice in My Head is a dazzling and devastating memoir, clear-eyed and shot through with wit. In a voice unlike any other, Emma Forrest explores breakdown and mania, but also the beauty of love – and the heartbreak of loss. (From Goodreads, 24th November 2013)

Review:

When Emma discovers that her Psychiatrist has passed away she begins to reminisce about the man who had helped her to begin stabilizing her rather turbulent life. We learn about both Emma and her Psychiatrist through Emma’s words.

‘Your Voice in my Head’ is a novel written with a rawness that epitomizes the deep depressions Emma has encountered, along with the risky behavior of her highs.

This is a novel about grief and loss, as well as about finding strength, and using the lessons of those who are dead to help you in your future. It shows us the selflessness of some people, and the selfishness of others. This is a novel about people. The good and the bad. However, unlike many novels about mental illness, in this novel Emma manages to work, and continue with life even when this seems impossible. This was ‘nice’ because many books out there about mental health, memoirs and fiction, deal with people who do not function, cannot work and often are institutionalized. In this case it was a breath of fresh air to see someone dealing with severe mental illness but still holding life together, however precariously. Considering the majority of people with mental health problems are treated in the community and manage to work, it is a group highly under represented in the book world.

At the time of reading ‘Your Voice in my Head’ I had just suffered a bereavement and initially gave this book 3 out of 5 stars on my Goodreads account. However, I feel after writing this review that I did not appreciate this books as much as I think I would have if I were to have read it at a different time. I now believe this is a novel I will have to re-read in order to give an accurate rating, but due to the points I raised above I will give ‘Your Voice in my Head’ a 4 out of 5.

Hold Still By Nina LaCour

Title: Hold Still

Author: Nina LaCour

First Published: 25th September 2009

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile

Blurb:

Devastating, hopeful, hopeless, playful . . . in words and illustrations, Ingrid left behind a painful farewell in her journal for Caitlin. Now Caitlin is left alone, by loss and by choice, struggling to find renewed hope in the wake of her best friend’s suicide. With the help of family and new-found friends, Caitlin will encounter first love, broaden her horizons, and start to realize that true friendship didn’t die with Ingrid. And the journal which once seemed only to chronicle Ingrid’s descent into depression, becomes the tool by which Caitlin once again reaches out to all those who loved Ingrid—and Caitlin herself. (From Goodreads, 21st November 2013)

Review:

‘Hold Still’ is a hard hitting novel dealing with the topic of suicide. Caitlin is dealing with the aftermath of her best friend, Ingrid’s, suicide. Caitlin has withdrawn from life and is dreading the return to school after the summer holidays. Her parents do not know how to help there grieving daughter and Caitlin does not know how to deal with her loss.

Upon finding Ingrid’s journal Caitlin begins to learn what went through her friends mind during those last months before she ended her life.

‘Hold Still’ was Nina LaCour’s debut novel and a brave novel at that. I was taken in by the rawness of this novel and the fact that this novel dealt with teen suicide – a topic that you do not find often. Nina captures the loneliness, the confusion, the loss and the grief Caitlin is battling whilst also expressing the depression that plagued Ingrid to eventually take her life. Understanding the differences between these two states is hard but Nina captures these different states very well.

This is a novel that although the main topic is morbid, and depressing, we have a novel of hope. Caitlin begins to deal with her loss by gaining friendship in unlikely places. By finding a task that helps remind her that there is a point, that she can keep going. That she is not the only person who has lost someone close to her.

This is a novel on a tricky subject and it is hard to know who would appreciate this subject. As a psychology student who’s main interest is in mental health, novels like this are very interesting to me. I find it enlightening that such novels are written for young adults and that it can open up the lines of communication so discussion about suicide can come about, and no longer brushed under the carpet. However, the subject matter is hard and I would advise caution to readers who are fragile, have recently had a loss, or are dealing with issues such as suicide and depression. But, on the other hand, this novel may help some gain insight and strength to help in dealing with the issues they are experiencing.

A brave novel which I highly recommend and I commend Nina LaCour in creating such a thought provoking read for young adults.

4 out of 5

Impulse By Ellen Hopkins

Title: Impulse

Author: Ellen Hopkins

Publisher: Simon Pulse

First Published: 23rd January 2007

Blurb:

Sometimes you don’t wake up. But if you happen to, you know things will never be the same.

Three lives, three different paths to the same destination: Aspen Springs, a psychiatric hospital for those who have attempted the ultimate act — suicide.

Vanessa is beautiful and smart, but her secrets keep her answering the call of the blade.

Tony, after suffering a painful childhood, can only find peace through pills.

And Conner, outwardly, has the perfect life. But dig a little deeper and find a boy who is in constant battle with his parents, his life, himself.

In one instant each of these young people decided enough was enough. They grabbed the blade, the bottle, the gun — and tried to end it all. Now they have a second chance, and just maybe, with each other’s help, they can find their way to a better life — but only if they’re strong and can fight the demons that brought them here in the first place.

Review:

I read this book a couple of years ago but I think it is a book worth highlighting and promoting on my blog as it encompasses one of my key interests – mental illness – and is also a book written in verse, only the second book I have ever read that is written in verse.

Ellen Hopkins is a fantastic author and has written many books now in the same style. She tackles the ‘hard issues’ and does not sugar coat them. I think I was initially put off by the fact the book is written in verse, but don’t let this put you off! It is different, though I think you will either ‘love it or hate it’. And I loved it, once I started I couldn’t put the book down. The short verses meant you quickly moved on and wanted to find out what happens next so you just keep reading and reading.

As you follow the stories of three teenagers you begin to learn why they are in a psychiatric facility and what has happened in their lives to lead them to attempting suicide. The stories are real and some may know people who have been through similar situations and problems. There is no sugar coating, and there is no magic cures.

I had heard a lot about Ellen Hopkins before I read this book and I guess I did enjoy it but maybe not as much as if I hadn’t heard so many ‘rave reviews’. I enjoyed her style as it was different but because the novel is written in verse sometimes I missed the increased depth and sometimes had to go back and re-read pages to make sure I understood what had happened. The book though looking big was an extremely quick read – one or two sittings if I remember correctly.

I loved the style, I loved the rawness, I loved the characters, but for some reason I feel I can only give it a 3.5 out of 5.

I would recommend the book to many people. But something is holding me back about it. I think finishing it so quickly left me a bit empty or let down, maybe wanting more? I don’t know. Maybe because it was a while ago I read this book. I really don’t know. I own ‘Crank’ By Ellen Hopkins and need to read that at some point, maybe in doing so I will see where my issue lies. But I still highly recommend due to the gritty nature of the topic and the way it is handled.

Return to Middle C By Gregory Shultz

Ben Devenport is a rock star. He has a 6 year old son and a wife which he loves. He is looking forward to a break from touring with his band and spending time with his family. However, when they don’t appear at the venue he calls the taxi driver who was supposed to be picking them up. The driver is still waiting. The driver has tried to call and has knocked on the room door. They are not there. Ben tries to call Stella’s mobile – his wife – but he can’t get a hold of her.

Fast forward 5 years. Ben is in hiding, he is exhausted, he is broken. That day Ben lost his son Bryan. Ben lost his wife. But his wife wasn’t his. His wife cheated. Now Ben only has the company of stray cats in his large empty house. But when a women, Delora, moves into the house across from his and becomes preoccupied with him she ends up being his saving grace.

This is a book about the depths of depression, the strength it takes to return to the search that had previously taken everything away from you. The spark that one person can give you just by holding out a hand of friendship and allowing you to take your time to accept it.

A book which reminds you why you are alive. That no matter how bad things get there is a way to improve them. Even though Ben lost everything he is able to find himself again and reconnect with his musical past.

A fantastically written book with a great flow and a great plot. Please read this book and you will learn so much about pain but also so so much about healing.

This book has action, mystery, love, hate, joy, pain, thrills. This is a book for everyone and anyone.

4.5 out of 5