Tag Archives: Race

Adam Created eve and the eves Served the Inheritants in ‘Only Ever Yours’

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

OnlyEverYours

Plot: 20/20                                             

frieda and isabel have been friends their whole lives. Groomed as eves at a Euro-zone school, they must go head-to-head to secure their Inheritant – to secure their future – unless they want to face a future as a concubine. As the pressure increases, isabel starts to self-destruct, putting her only asset – her beauty – in peril. The boys – the Inheritants – arrive and are eager to choose a bride but can Frieda’s and Isabel’s friendship survive the ceremony?

The story takes place in a male-dominated dystopia and it’s absolutely fascinating. O’Neill touches on bulimia, anorexia, drug use, sex and misogyny and O’Neill obstacles for frieda that compel you to read further while simultaneously disturbing the reader.

Narration: 20/20

O’Neill injects character into the narrative but better still, she earths us in frieda’s mind so that we’re almost literally seeing everything through her eyes, feeling every emotion and hearing every thought. frieda is a character who struggles to uphold her social responsibilities as this wars with her character and we get inside her head and discover her anxieties, fears and insecurities.

Character: 20/20

I love the characters because, although they are always striving for perfection, ultimately we see the cracks in who they are and who they’re pretending to be. We see the malicious megan, the insecure and unsure frieda, the indifferent yet caring isabel and the cruel chastity-ruth. It’s interesting as well because there’s layers to every character. frieda is struggling to discover herself in an environment where she is being trained to serve men. When she stops taking her pills and chastity-anne hands her them, she has an internal struggle; she doesn’t want to take them but she knows she must because that is what man has dictated. We see it with Megan too. She’ll lie and betray everyone around her to climb to the top. She tells frieda that she’s not a bitch, she’s just doing what she was created and taught to do. It’s these internal struggles and the oppressive nature of the world that give each character a duality; a duality that we can’t always see but makes the reader wonder about other facets of the characters exist. Everything down to the names (Darwin, in particular) conveys character. Genius

Quality of Writing: 20/20

The writing is phenomenal. Jeanette Winterson summed it perfectly when she said that O’Neill “writes with a scalpel” and here’s the proof:

  • “… flickering images anaesthizing us into silence.”
  • “Why do I feel as if there is limescale building up inside of me, clogging my air supply?”
  • “The words fill my mouth like marbles, crammed too tight for them to escape.”
  • “It doesn’t feel like a bridge, I think as she leaves. A bridge would feel some way steady. This feels more like I’m balancing on a tightrope of cobwebs.”
  • “The room expands and contracts like an accordion.”

Setting: 10/10

O’Neill creates and shapes a new world, which to me, is a portrait of our world under a microscope and holds kernels of parallel truth for our own society.Her world-building abilities are second to none. She builds a world even though we only see the school. She anchors us in a particular place and reinforces it with societal elements. The eves’ PE classes are basically pole-dancing lessons and they are forced to carry out domesticated tasks like baking in order to gain favour from the Inheritants. Adam created eve. The eves take pills to supprsess their “Unacceptable Emotions”. eves (women) live only to serve the Inheritants (men); a chastity must have her womb cut out and her head shaved in order to sacrifice of all herself to man; a companion lives to serve her husband; a concubine exists to fulfil a man’s carnal desires. Anything that jeopardizes the balance is eradicated; lesbianism is viewed as an act of defiance and the last time it happened, they sewed up their private parts and shot them through the head. This really captures how high the stakes are for the eves; they can’t put a step wrong if they want to survive.

Comparative Literature: 10/10

I’ve honestly never read a dystopian story as powerful as this. The Hunger Games, though not wholly original, was always the pinnacle for me of dytopian fiction but O’Neill has produced something that is flawless; a story that deeply disturbed me.

Overall Score: 100/100

Rate it or Slate it?

Rate it: Winner of the inaugural YA Book Prize and rightly so. Dystopia that delivers on all levels. Dark and edgy and as Jeanette Winterson summed up: “O’Neill writes with a scalpel”.

Books You May Also Like:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – for a similarly cut-throat, dystopian world of betrayal and secrets

The Maze Runner by James Dashner – for an adventure into the unknown with secrets, betrayals and deceit galore

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Thursday Morning Thought: Is the Book Industry Championing Diversity in YA in the UK?

It’s all well and good to shout it from the rooftops that “we need more diversity” in Young Adult Lit. but it’s another thing entirely to DO SOMETHING about it. I’ve compiled a list of most of the most YA and Children’s book prizes (only one of these is aimed primarily at YA though the Waterstone’s Children Book Prize does include a “best book for teens” category):

  1. The YA Book Prize
  2. The Booktrust Best Book Award
  3. The CILIP Carnegie Medal
  4. The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal
  5. The Red House Children’s Book Award
  6. The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize
  7. UKLA Book Awards
  8. Costa Children’s Book Award
  9. Blue Peter Book Awards
  10. National Children’s Book of the Year Award
  11. Waterstone’s Children Book Prize

While this list is non-exhaustive, I don’t think YA is fairly represented. The YA Book Prize is a fantastic achievement but it highlights a small selection of YA titles when, what I think we need, is a selection that promotes diversity. I’m not asking for an exclusive award for LGBT YA or the representation of African-American/Asian/Native American/Mixed Race (etc.) characters in literature. I want diversity in YA books to be championed; books that reach the twelve-year-old boy who’s being bullied for the color of his skin; books that will help the sixteen-year-old girl to understand that liking other girls is not a bad thing; books that will show children with dyslexia that the hero that saves the world might not be able to read and/or write but he can save the world just as well as any sparkle-in-the-sun, 6-pack vampire or the pretty blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Caucasian wonder. No, it’s not good enough to include diversity in the background and say “job done”. We desperately need new voices, untapped themes, developing and current social problems and illnesses that affect different teens. I’m not talking about niche publishing per se. It can still carry universal appeal. Teens that aren’t directly affected can help understand more about a classmate, a friend, a neighbor, a family member that has the illness. It’s simply about promoting diversity.

And for publishers, think of the endless opportunities; the new channels to market; the publicity that such a prize could generate. A story that touches on LGBT issues or race could be sold directly to schools, introduce talks at the Southbank Centre by the authors to tackle bullying in conjunction with schools. Publicity can be garnered from LGBT media, newspapers, social media accounts, newspapers, blogs, TV channels (etc.). Think global and as my Publishing MA lecturer once said: “think laterally”.

I’ve never announced this publicly, and I don’t know why I’m doing it now, but I have FAP – a form of genetic polyposis (FAP) that causes daily discomfort, pain amongst other, less attractive symptoms that I won’t remark on here. I had to have my large intestine completely removed when I was 13 to buy more time and a further two major surgeries when I was 17 and 18. I don’t want or expect a pity party. I’m all the stronger for it. I came out as “gay” when I was 19 and my illness has been a sore point, my illness obviously having a huge impact on my life. I would have liked to have discovered David Levithan’s work (and the work of similar authors) earlier when I was denying who I was on a daily basis. LGBT YA shouldn’t be placed in – what was once then – a very dusty, LGBT section (homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993 in the Republic of Ireland and as a deeply Catholic country, not as progressive about sexuality). It would have helped me to understand myself better. There is no YA story that I’ve discovered about anyone that has gone through what I went through and I don’t blame them. With books like The Fault in Our Stars and Before I Die though, there are new perspectives and themes starting to emerge and who knows, maybe one day, maybe myself or another polyposis sufferer might write that book.

New forms.

New voices.

New stories.

We need all of these to broaden our sphere of diversity. As Malorie Blackman, Children’s Laureate 2013-15 said: “[i]If everyone is white or Caucasian, it is just not accurate and it’s a very odd thing to do when we live in a multi-cultural society.” And she didn’t just mean with regard to race. I heard her speak at the London Book Fair 2014 lat year and she’s certainly championing diversity and not simply race as some trolls have slated her for on Twitter.

The potential opportunities are only starting to be tapped in certain areas of certain areas but the book industry has a long way to go. Can we create about the adventures of an Indian child for example? Can we print it in dual languages and cater for two markets; a market that English-language publishers in the UK seem not to have investigated, perhaps because the Big 5 are known for avoiding what has come to be identified as avoidable risk.

These are just my thoughts. If you feel differently, if you feel that I am wrong, I welcome any and all to a healthy debate either here, or on Twitter.

Final note: I’m happy to see LGBT books starting to take centre-stage this year:

More Happy None of the Above Simon Vs Tiny Cooper UnspeakableHalf Wild

#WeNeedDiverseBooksUK

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Noughts and Crosses

noughts-and-crosses-by-malorie-blackman

Title: Noughts and Crosses

Author: Malorie Blackman

Publisher: Corgi Books

Format: Paperback

Standalone/Series: Series

Pages: 443 (without inclusive novella An Eye For An Eye)

Sephy and Callum are friends. Sephy is a Cross. Callum is a nought. As they grow up, they grow apart and the only thing keeping them together is love; the one thing that their society forbids between a Cross and a nought.

I do not own the content taken from this novel. All rights belong to Malorie Blackman and Corgi Books.

Excerpt taken from Page 45:

“‘Sephy, go to bed – NOW.’

Dad didn’t even wait for me to leave before he slammed the drawing-room door shut. I’d barely gathered my wits when the door opened again and Dad marched out alone, slamming the door shut behind him.

‘What did you see?’ Dad grasped my shoulders. A drop of spit came out out of his mouth and landed on my cheek but I didn’t wipe it away.

‘N-nothing.’

‘What did you hear?’

‘Nothing, Dad. I just came down for a drink. I’m thirsty.’

Dad’s eyes blazed with rage as he scowled at me. He looked like he wanted to hit me.

‘I didn’t see or hear anything. Honest.’

Long moments passed before Dad’s grip on my shoulders slackened off. His contorted face relaxed.

‘Can I get my drink now?’

‘Go on then. Just hurry up.’

I walked off towards the kitchen even though I wasn’t thirsty any more. My heart was slamming against my ribs and my blood was roaring in my ears. I knew  without turning around that Dad was still watching me.”

Narration:

The story is told through a dual narrative style – half of which is thorugh Sephy’s eyes, the other half through Callum’s. I loved the contrast between their views. We get to see things from the view of the victim and the victor; from the view of the girl who has a chance at life because she is black and the boy who is ultimately doomed because he is white. It’s interesting to note how both characters view their society and how their opinions change throughout the course of the novel.

I find the reiteration in parts of the book to be slightly annoying. Take the scene on Page 65, for example, where the family are having dinner, discussing Sephy and her family:

  • “‘You were on the telly,’ Jude told me.” Who else would have been on telly? Who else could Jude have been addressing?
  • “‘You’re better off out of that house,’ Dad told Mum vehemently.” We know that he’s speaking to Callum’s Mum for a start. That’s obvious. Considering the preceding conversation, it’s unlikely he’s going to be happy and so the last four words describing how he spoke are redundant.
  • “You don’t have to tell me twice,’ Mum agreed at once.” Again, we know that Meggie is agreeing and that the agreement is instantaneous so the description of how she spoke is redundant.

Maybe I’m splitting hairs but this really annoyed me.

Also, in the beginning, Sephy’s and Callum’s voice almost read as one and the same. When building on Callum’s character, he uses langauge that make me question his character and pull me out of the moment:

  • “It was icy-cold and oh, so sweet…” (37) “Oh, so” doesn’t read as a boy’s language and doesn’t seem like it would be in Callum’s vocabulary, given the picture she’s painted.
  • “Huh? Is pig poo smelly?” (108) An irrelevant detail that took me out of the moment.

Apart from this, I really enjoyed the two vastly different, vastly diverse perspectives that we get.

9/20

Character:

The charaterisation is, for the most part, clear. There are some discrepancies in Callum’s character that I addressed in the narration section of this review. Sephy and Callum’s individual developments and the developments in their relationship are striking and shocking. Kamal Hadley reads strongly as a politician who cares about his career first and his family second. Sephy’s mother reads as a mother who is losing control of her life and resorts to alcohol. Jude’s character is one of the most interesting. I love how Blackman captures and describes his aggressive body language and dialogue. I was surprised by how much I empathised with Callum’s mother, Meggie. Everything she has to endure from the opening pages to the conclusion of the novel is tasking and too much for one woman to bear. I had the strongest emotional connection to her character. The fact that Blackman can draw on such emotion reinforces how strong her characterisation is. Her characters are human and complex. We get to witness them on a physical, emotional and even a psychological level.

16/20

Plot:

The plot is slow to begin with. About 100 pages into the novel, the story starts to pick up and once the conflict gets going, the obstacles roll in for each character. We get to observe how each character deals with their own issues and the gradual separation between Sephy and Callum. Once we get past the first 100-150 pages, the plot really begins to take off. We experience the real tragedies that affect these characters. The message (assuming there is a message) is a bit muddled in the text, particularly towards the halfway mark and the conclusion.

17/20

Setting: There’s some great world-building in this novel. The physical environment is important and well-established but the world (the society and its parameters) itself is what the reader must understand and engage with in order to absorb the sheer impact of this story. The Cross/nought, black/white divide is quickly introduced and it is further devloped and reinforced elsewhere in the novel (when Callum begins school, on the train when Sephy and Callum are going on a picnic etc.). It’s reinforced in place, in character, in thought and in conflict and because of this, the world Blackman creates is easier to access and the reader is better able to absorb the text.

20/20

Comparative Literature/Originality: There are books out there dealing with these and similar issues. Why this book strikes me as more powerful is that Blackman doesn’t compromise on character or plot. It’s not a case of one or the other. She weaves both together as only a master author can. We care about the characters but we’re equally more excited to read on and found out what happens and see how the next obstacle affects her characters. One event (one stone in the pond) might affect one (or two) character(s) directly but it ripples outwards so that it impacts the other characters too. And it is then that we get to see the humanity of each of these characters. Though in the beginning, the inconsistencies in Callum’s character do undermine his narration somewhat, Blackman picks this up later and recovers his narrative voice. The content is quite similar to Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Some of the events are mirrored, to a degree, in Noughts and Crosses. Scout as narrator is also stronger than either Sephy or Callum individually.

15/20

Summary: Slow to start but when it gets going, the conflict is lined up like a row of dominoes (and you’ll never see the last domino fall until it hits the ground).

Overall Score:

77/100

Books You May Also Like:

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (timeless classic!)

The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry! by Mildred D. Taylor

Legend by Marie Lu

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November 21, 2013 · 5:00 pm