reviews together

friend Tyler, happily working out his apprenticeship

along with Rudy’s at


14+ Secondary/Adult continued best

the welcoming

veggie cafe, Kale and Hearty. Face to face, the girls are wary of each other. Different


schools – and there are differences of ethnicity; Rudy’s family is black, Clem’s white. What is there to share? But once they decide to collaborate, with Rudy stencilling Clementine’s verse onto her painting, that caution dissolves. Words and images fuse to reflect heartfelt beliefs – the need to learn from setbacks, to be resilient, to keep climbing towards your dreams; and, looking beyond themselves, they create a piece to add fresh voices to the shout against plastics choking the

oceans. They talk, and talk;

about everything from their creative processes to dealing with the crass middle-aged men invading their homes. In fact, there’s so much to talk about that the pace of the novel can seem as unhurried as a real- time conversation, though the use of the storytelling present tense makes for

humour too – embedded in credible adolescent

engaging immediacy. There’s chat rather than the

contrived banter of some YA fiction. Both have much to learn – not least

about those intrusive blokes. One really is a sexist stereotype, but Idiot Dave doesn’t live down to his name at all. The girls’ excited idealism may risk a reader’s scepticism as their pathways to artistic expression seem relatively rapid, with obstacles fairly easily surmounted, supported by perceptive friends – who even include a teacher. Perhaps to

bring things closer

to the realities of the wider world, Curham introduces a late episode which sees the two girls staying with Clementine’s Dad, who now lives in Berlin. Here, they visit the section of the Wall preserved for murals and Libeskind’s Jewish Museum. Racism and persecution, the death camps and the longing for freedom, serve to set the girls’ personal stories back in Brighton in a larger context for them, and for readers too. Their growth as artists, which Curham has made readily accessible for a YA reader, becomes more complex. As visitors leave the Museum, they are invited to record a reaction. Rudy draws an image of the two of them joined in ‘a double-faced head’; Clementine adds the words, ‘Unity in Diversity’. GF

Heartbreak Boys HHH

Simon James Green, Scholastic, 416pp, 9781407194257, £7.99, pbk

Faking it for social media is the name of the game in this sweet gay rom- com road trip novel. Jack and Nate have both been dumped at the end of year prom in dramatic style, and their exes are off to start an amazing new relationship together. So, Jack and Nate decide to create a ‘highlights reel’

of their equally outstanding

summer on Insta, showing the world they’re winning. However, fabricating a super summer out of a series of dismal campsites

isn’t easy, and

before long all the tropes of a British summer road trip, (as well as those in a reluctant romance), are being rolled out: an airport dash, failure to get over an ex, lack of beds, and more. The banter

Nate’s distinctive

between Jack and personalities

is funny and authentic, and the circumstances they find themselves in are varied and amusing, from a vegan farm to a military training area. Told in alternating first person accounts, the distinctiveness of their personalities falters a little in their voices, and it’s both helpful and necessary to have the named voice written at the start of each chapter. And of course, it is difficult for any author to write two alternating first person accounts without the reader favouring one, and Nate is a much more sympathetic, if grumpier, character. There’s a predictableness to the initial reluctance, and then coming together, of the protagonists, so the story is more about the telling than the ending, but it is entertaining. Despite the inevitability of many of the scenes, Green is good at drawing attention to identity and social media pitfalls, as well as exploring real teen angst. The unfortunate difficulty though

is that the book is so clearly set in the summer of 2020. The year is mentioned several times in this edition, and in one scene it is a pivotal joke, and because it was written pre 2020, the story lives in a universe in which Covid never happened. This is a slight distraction but shouldn’t put readers off – the novel is a fun road- trip read, with Green’s trademark gay teen insights and sparkling humour, and deserves merit for the ease with which it fully embraces finding and owning one’s identity. CZ

The Rules HHHH

Tracy Darnton, Stripes Publishing, 192pp, 978-1788952149, £7.99 pbk

Amber Fitzpatrick is aged seventeen. For much of her life she has been in foster care and boarding school. When her mother died the authorities tried but failed to track down her father. The failure to find her father pleased

known to the authorities

different man to the father Amber knows from experience. Amber’s father belongs to a cult obsessed with the end of days. He insists that Amber should live her life in conformity with this obsession and with the inflexible rules it posits, limiting her contact with unbelievers. Just

before one Christmas the

authorities hand Amber a letter. It is from her father. It suggests he is on the point of making contact with his daughter. From this prospect Amber must flee. Darnton’s narrative now

revolves around two questions. Will Amber’s father succeed in making contact with her? And what will be the consequences if contact is made? Darnton documents in telling detail

the suffering Amber endures and the hopelessness of her struggle for a better life. This makes for a dark book. There are some painful flashbacks to earlier stages in Amber’s life and to the period when her father’s obsessive ideas were taking root. Amber has been trained by her father to injure and even to kill the enemies of the cult. There is also sexual abuse and violence. To any reader interested in making a journey into a strange and dangerous mind, relishing the opportunity to examine a weird psychology, this is a compelling book, though it may not suit over-sensitive readers. RB

How It All Blew Up HHH

Arvin Ahmadi, Hot Key Books, 260pp, 978 1 4714 0992 9, £7.99 pbk

On the opening page, Arvin Ahmadi’s Author’s Note tells us he’s a gay Muslim who grew up in the States, where he has always ‘felt

like a

contradiction, coming from a religion and culture that isn’t exactly known for being friendly towards gay people’. He came out to his college friends, but not to his family. Ahmadi’s experience is very similar

to that of his protagonist, Amir Azadi. This is Ahmadi’s third novel and, he says, it is ‘my most personal book’; the kind of story ‘I have always been afraid to write’. At one level, ‘it complies with the narratives you expect from gay people and Muslim people’ in America. But beneath this narrative lies the struggle


Amber, since the father is a very

a Muslim family to transcend the stereotypes, driven by their love for a son: meanwhile, that son finds that a summer far from home offers so many overwhelming excitements that he can hardly escape confirming his identity as a gay man. A family relocation means that Amir starts his senior year at a new high school, where he meets Jackson Preacher, a blond, popular football jock – Amir’s seeming antithesis in culture and personality. The two dare to respond to a mutual attraction; electric, sensitive and revealing. Until they’re caught on camera kissing in Jackson’s car by a classmate who blackmails Amir to the tune of $4000. Pay up by Graduation Day, or the family gets to see the photograph. Amir cuts and runs, telling no-one.

He takes a flight to Rome, and with a rapidity that might challenge a reader’s belief, within a day or two he is very much at home in a group of gay friends and the breathless enjoyment of unfamiliar food, wine and all-night parties. All this set against the culture and architecture of the ancient city, from cafes and clubs and music to a moment of epiphany in the Sistine Chapel. ‘Holy shit,’ says Amir, as he gazes up at ‘God and Adam, heavenly homies, with their hands reaching out, fingers barely touching’. Amir’s Roman

adventures are punctuated by short chapters carrying the reader forward in time to his return to the States. His mother, father and younger sister, we learn, have tracked him down in Italy, there’s been a family row on the flight home, and now they are being interrogated separately at the airport by Customs officers wary of any Muslim traveller. Each of those chapters reflects the different perspective of a member of Amir’s family. Readers might think Amir’s pursuit

of pleasure and self-knowledge in Rome

becomes repetitious. His

new friends seem to find their own sexuality endlessly interesting. This ‘most personal’ book is, however, informed by Amir’s explicit and honest descriptions, even though he is often confused by the intensity of it all. Just about in time for this reader, despite Amir’s naivety, Ahmadi allows him to recognise cracks and tensions - a selfishness - within the group; and at the same time, Amir sees the merits of the family life he has left behind in the States, and the hurt he must have caused. The intoxication of his Italian summer begins to wane. Even the mainspring of the group, his fellow Iranian Jahan – whom Amir has seen as a mentor - has his limitations, which he himself acknowledges. Their responses to the questions of

the Customs officials serve as a kind of self-therapy for the family, enabling Amir, his younger sister and their parents to see the new life they need to develop together. As so often with YA books exploring change and growth, the novel’s appeal will depend on what preoccupations and experiences each reader brings to the text. GF

Loveless HHHH

Alice Oseman, HarperCollins, 433 pp, 978-0008244125, £7.99 pbk

Georgia Warr is aged eighteen. She has always been into the concept of romance. She is about to attend Durham University, reading English Literature. Her two best friends, Pip Quintana, a Lesbian, and Jason Farley- Shaw will also attend Durham, though they will read different subjects. One of Georgia’s main aims connected with her university career is to fall in love. However throughout the course of the novel Georgia will discover that she is aromantic and asexual. The novel charts her acceptance of this identity, a journey often painful. For readers who love theatre there

are dramatic interludes. The friends decide to mount a performance of scenes from Shakespeare. The stress of such an undertaking is perfectly captures in Oseman’s narrative. One of the main strengths of this novel is its focus on two little known sexual identities,

namely asexuality Occasionally and

aromanticism. These are issues that deserve an airing and have been neglected.


those two difficult emotional themes overwhelm the rest of the story, in places delivering a somewhat didactic tone. RB

Books for Keeps No.244 September 2020 33

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