Sunday 20 September 2015

Boo by Neil Smith

Publisher: William Heinemann
Format: ARC**
Published21st  May 2015
Number of Pages: 320
Book: For Review*
Genre:  Mystery, Murder-Mystery, Fantasy, Coming-Of-Age, YA
Recommended Age: 12+
Contains: Violence, Swearing, Drug and Smoking References
Author's Facebook: Neil Smith

Blurb From Goodreads:
From Neil Smith, author of the award-winning, internationally acclaimed story collection Bang Crunch, comes a dark but whimsical debut novel about starting over in the afterlife in the vein of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones.
When Oliver 'Boo' Dalrymple wakes up in heaven, the eighth-grade science geek thinks he died of a heart defect at his school. But soon after arriving in this hereafter reserved for dead thirteen-year-olds, Boo discovers he’s a 'gommer', a kid who was murdered. What’s more, his killer may also be in heaven. With help from his volatile classmate Johnny, Boo sets out to track down the mysterious Gunboy who cut short both their lives.
In a heart-rending story written to his beloved parents, the odd but endearing Boo relates his astonishing heavenly adventures as he tests the limits of friendship, learns about forgiveness and, finally, makes peace with the boy he once was and the boy he can now be.

“I miss you, Mother and Father.  Given my holey heart, you must have braced yourself for my early death, but surely you did not expect my life to be snuffed out by a boy with a gun…”
Oliver, or Boo, Dalrymple wakes up in heaven.  He thinks he died from his heart defect.  But he's wrong.
There's a lot to learn about heaven.  Like why it's populated solely by thirteen-year-old Americans.  What happens to the rubbish they throw down the trash cute.  Where they go after they've been there for a few decades.
But soon Boo has something even more important to think about.  When a former classmate of his named Johnny appears in heaven too and reveals they were, in fact, murdered, Boo and Johnny deduce that their killer, Gunboy, might just be up in heaven with them.
And they need to find him.  Before he finds them...
I've read a couple of books sent in heaven, seen a few variations of the afterlife on TV.  None are anything like Boo.  None have... affected me like Boo did.  None were as unique, intriguing or addictive either.  It's really hard to write this review...  I went into Boo expecting one thing – a cutesy little MG kind of book that was like middle school.  But what I got... it was something else entirely.  Dark, but funny, deep and easy to read, Boo was more like a murder mystery novel than anything about school (or, at least, unlike any school I've gone to).  
The characters Smith created were brilliant and so realistic – so alive (pun intended).  Boo was the best – so brilliantly odd.  Most certainly on the autistic spectrum, he was worryingly clever and not overly fond of people – he was bullied in life.  Up in heaven, he felt more sociable, however, and it was really sweet seeing him connect with people.  Boo was an endearing character, staggeringly clever and often naive all at the same time.
His friends were brilliant too – all three of them.  Johnny was such an intriguing character – one I loved trying to figure out.  Esther was really brilliant – and yay to diversity!  A little angel!  I adored Esther, with her fiery attitude and snark and bite.  Oh, and Thelma was the sweetest!  Like a mother – even though she looked like a child and could never be a mother (it’s enough to break my heart).
I must say, one of the most amazing things about Boo was the relationship between these four characters: it was so complex and sweet and unique and intriguing.
The writing was incredible – so very Boo.  The tone was very sophisticated for a teenager (but totally plausible as Boo) and was deep and dark and beautiful.  There were lots of nice little funny moments that lightened the intensity of everything and made me smile.  It was all written in first person, to Boo's parents, which was heart-breaking.  He was writing to them, knowing they'd probably never get the book, and you could really feel how young he was, despite his intellect – he just wanted his parents.
As for the plot... I'm really not going to lie: I absolutely saw the almost-half-way twist coming.  But I adored that more and more twists came – that the consequences and turns didn't stop until the very end.  I was just so hooked – and so absorbed.
I'm not a religious person.  I've never been to church.  I have read bits of the bible, but I feel my true religion is more along the lines of the Ancient Greek gods.  So I guess I'm more spiritual...  My point, despite this rambling, is not to muse my inner beliefs.  It is to say that as a person who doesn't really believe in heaven, I found Boo intriguing and incredible.  The take on heaven, God (or Zig) and the afterlife... it was unique and brilliant. 
Boo itself was an utterly unique and beautiful book – one that had me hooked from start to finish.  I've truly never read anything like it and I know it won't leave my mind for quite a while yet.  I'm finding it so very hard to find the words in this review – the words to do Boo justice without giving away major spoilers, without ruining the mystery and plot.  
Boo was beautiful – and it hurt.  The characters were odd, but so real.  The plot was utterly addictive – and so painful.  The writing was so gorgeous and lyrical and Boo.  It also hurt like hell – it's an emotional rollercoaster.  It is a story that will stay with you, a story unlike anything you've read before.  And I really do recommend it.  Boo is brilliant and unexpected and so damn good.  If you're looking for something beautiful, thought-provoking and addictive, pick Boo up now.  
Don't make me come haunt you.

Star Rating:
4 Out of 5

Read this book if you liked:
Wells & Wong by Robin Stevens
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

Happy Reading
* This book was received from Penguin in exchange for an honest review

** Quotes used are from a proof copy and may have been changed in the finished book

Friday 18 September 2015

Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Format: Paperback
Published2nd July 2015
Number of Pages: 352
Book: For Review*
Genre:  Coming-Of-Age, Contemporary, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Mystery, YA
Recommended Age: 13+
Contains: Violence, Swearing, Smoking References
Author's Info: Leah Thomas

There are truths you can only tell a stranger, and this friendship is the strangest.
Ollie and Moritz are best friends, but they can never meet, because if they ever did, one of them would certainly die.  As recluses from society, they develop a fierce bond through letters that become a lifeline.
But when Moritz reveals the key to their shared, disturbing past in a mysterious German laboratory, their friendship faces a test neither one of them expected.
This is a story of impossible friendship and hope from a brilliant new writer.

“I think being an experiment sounds way better than being sick, you know?”
Oliver has a very unique condition; he is allergic to electricity and has lived his whole life in an isolated cabin.  If he were to venture out of the woods he lives in, he would encounter electricity, begin to seize and possibly die.
His mother and doctor decide it's a good idea for Ollie to get in touch with someone who has similar problems to him.
And that is how Ollie begins writing to Moritz, a German teenager.  Moritz is unique too – born without eyes, he uses unique techniques to view the world around him.  And the two boys develop a connection so strong it spans continents.
But there's one big problem: the two pen-pals can never meet.  Because Moritz is kept alive by an electronic pump in his heart.  And if Ollie were to get too close, he would seize.  And if Moritz were to turn the pump off, he would die.
I, like so many of us, am desperate to see more diversity in YA books.  But whilst I want to see all diversity (sexuality, ethnicity, etc), seeing more characters with disabilities is really important to me.  Why?  Well, some of you might know I'm a wheelchair user – I have been since the age of about twelve.  And therefore I am desperate for more characters in wheelchairs or with missing limbs or who have non-terminal medical conditions – anything.  But I want books where these disabilities aren't The Issue and where there are all kinds of other diversities too (when I finally finish the book I'm writing, you'll see what I'm looking for).  Due to my quest, I of course said yes please when Bloomsbury contacted me about Because You'll Never Meet Me.  I was intrigued from the blurb and was desperate to check it out.
And I was not disappointed.  The lovely Katrina at Bloomsbury told me this book spans numerous genres, but is a book with true heart above all else, a book that deals with all kinds of diversity.  And God was she right.  Because You'll Never Meet Me is a beautiful, unique book that had me hooked from the very beginning.  It might not be for everyone, but I adored it.
Ollie killed me – he was just so brilliantly bizarre.  He, like all teenagers, had his ups and downs, his strengths and his flaws.  Maybe he was a little selfish, but he was also so sweet and loving and strong too – even when he couldn't leave his room.  I got that – I've had those days; haven't we all?
Moritz was definitely more mature than Ollie, the more sombre of the two.  But I loved watching Oliver rub off on him, loved the way Moritz described the world he saw and loved seeing Moritz grow into himself.
I also loved that neither of the boys – or any of the characters – were perfect.  They all had flaws, all had their imperfections.  They all felt real.
But what truly made this book wasn't the characters individually – but the two characters together as best friends.  These two... they didn't get off to the best start (bless Ollie's overexcitement and Moritz's snarky, borderline-hostile (ok, not so borderline) response).  And the friendship just got stronger, binding all these genres and elements together flawlessly.
As those of you who've read a few of my reviews might know, I adore split POVs - they are my absolute favourite things ever.   And I adored the way Because You'll Never Meet Me was told through letters the two boys sent to one another, showing how their friendship grew, how they struggled and blossomed.  Sure, the plot wasn't an epic fantasy – wasn't some grand quest.  I guess you could call it a coming of age story, with sci-fi aspects.  You could call it a personal adventure of overcoming the darkest parts of yourself.  You could call it an unconventional love-story between two super-humans.
Or you could call it a very human, very touching and very inspiring story, with some amazing paranormal-sci-fi-esque plot threads.  And however I describe it, I loved it all – loved how different the boys sounded, loved watching their individual but entwined stories.
And most of all I loved the way the disabilities were handled in this book – especially I love how Moritz phrases this:
"But I am not handicapped."  Again, my impulses ae too fast, Oliver.  I did not mean to refute being blind.  I meant to express my loathing of the term handicapped.  "Behindert," as it reads in German.'
Well done, Mo!  *straightens up (see, I'm in a wheelchair – but if I could stand I would) and gives Moritz a round of applause*  And I adore the way Oliver approaches both of their unique conditions – like they have some kind of superpower!  I like to think my wheelchair makes me a cyborg, so I totally get that.  I also got the loneliness – sometimes, not being what society generally considers to be ‘normal’ can be so isolating and I just loved how these boys had one another to keep themselves sane – their friendship really was so beautiful.
But the way Thomas represents disability, sexuality and all the other forms of diversity in Because You’ll Never Meet Me was perfect: despite the fantastical elements, it was never made light of, always treated with respect and despite being one of the main focus points, somehow managed not to make the disabilities The Issue – the whole reason for the book.  No, as mentioned before, the unlikely relationship between Ollie and Moritz was the driving force, as was the mystery of their origins (sorry, couldn't resist that little superhero pun).  I would've liked to see someone with a more physical disability (such as my own, for example) but I loved the way Ollie's complicated epilepsy and allergies and Moritz's blindness (well, eyeless-ness) was portrayed.
Like all books out there, Because You'll Never Meet Me probably won't be for everyone.  If you like your contemporaries without fantastical, sci-fi elements or your fantastical science-fiction without a contemporary  setting, this might not be for you.
But if, like me, you've been searching for a unique blend of realism, fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, romance, and a brilliant selection of diverse characters, pick up Because You'll Never Meet Me right this second.  I absolutely cannot wait to see what Thomas writes next – because if this was her debut...  Wow.  I am ridiculously excited about her next book – I do kind of hope it's about Moritz and Ollie!  I'm just not quite ready to let these two go yet!

Star Rating:
4 Out of 5

Read this book if you liked:
Mutant City by Steve Cole
Angel Blood by John Singleton
Boo by Neil Smith

Happy Reading
* This book was received from Bloomsbury in exchange for an honest review