Thursday, 24 July 2014

Book Review: The Sound of Letting Go by Stasia Ward Kehoe

Title: The Sound of Letting Go
Author: Stasia Ward Kehoe
Publisher: Viking Children's
Summary: For sixteen years, Daisy has been good. A good daughter, helping out with her autistic younger brother uncomplainingly. A good friend, even when her best friend makes her feel like a third wheel. When her parents announce they're sending her brother to an institution - without consulting her - Daisy's furious, and decides the best way to be a good sister is to start being bad. She quits jazz band and orchestra, slacks in school, and falls for guys like Dave.

But one person won't let Daisy forget who she used to be: Irish exchange student and brilliant musician Cal. Does she want the bad boy or the prodigy? Should she side with her parents or protect her brother? How can she know when to hold on and when - and how - to let go?

Review: The Sound of Letting Go by Stasia Ward Kehoe is a novel that is written in verse. I'll admit it has been quite a while since I've read a verse novel. I love to find ones that are well written, that are more powerful in their use of less words I really feel that's the beauty in verse novels, the choice of words and how the author chooses to tell the character's story. Kehoe did not disappoint on that front. A big issue was tackled here - life with an autistic sibling. I have to be honest, I haven't read very many novels that have tackled the topic of autistic or special needs children. But I feel that The Sound of Letting Go was unique in a few different ways. Firstly, it's written in verse. Secondly, it's not so much about the autistic brother, it's centrally focused on Daisy and the way in which her life has been affected by Steven's autism for many years now.

The writing in this novel was very authentic for me and I could feel myself truly understanding the way that Daisy's life had been molded because of Steven's autism. The small things even as far as her daily routine that she has to change, the way that her friendships are affected. On several different occasions Daisy referred to herself as the third parent in their household and this rang as very true to me. She has just as many responsibilities as her parents, and you could see how much weight had been put on her shoulders to help out.While other teens were going out for pizza, or a movie, or just to hang out with friends... Daisy had to go home and care of her brother. A teenager with adult responsibilities.

The thing about Daisy is that she is a pretty incredible jazz musician. That is one thing that she finds passion in. I love stories where there is a musician (maybe because I am so completely clueless when it comes to making music). The way they are passionate about playing an instrument or singing is how I feel about reading and writing. I don't find many parallels in most other talents, but writing about passion for music is ace. This is the one thing that has been Daisy's and nobody else's. Something that she was able to nurture and have all to herself. But then,  Daisy's parents make a huge decision regarding Steven without even consulting her. They decide that he's become too much to handle and they will be sending him to an institution to be cared for full time. That's when Daisy being good at everything, being an all around good girl and doing everything that she's supposed to do comes to a halt. Why didn't they even consult her or worry about her feelings?

This is incredibly well written and really about letting go (hence the title). What happens when something so drastic in your life changes, something that you have no control over? To me, that's what this book is about. That's what makes this book extraordinary.

I think the only thing that keeps this from being a 5-star book for me is that most of the characters I didn't care that much for. But the one perfect character who put a smile to my case in every single scene was the musically talented exchange student from Ireland, Cal O'Casey. I only wish that he had been in more scenes. I'd love a book about that Irish boy any day!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Black North by Nigel McDowell Review

Title: The Black North
Author: Nigel McDowell
Published: Out Now
Publisher: Hot Key Books

Summary: The Divided Isle, once a place of peace and tranquillity, has been ravaged by war. Twins Oona and Morris live with their grandmother in a stone cottage in the quiet southern county of Drumbroken, but the threat of the Invaders of the Black North - the ravaged northern part of the island - is coming ever closer. When Morris, fighting against the Invaders, is kidnapped by one of the evil Briar Witches, Oona must journey to the unknown realms of the Black North in search of her brother.

She is accompanied only by Merrigutt, a jackdaw with mysterious transformative powers, and a treasured secret possession: a small stone in the shape of a plum, but a stone that reveals truths and nightmares, and which the Invaders and their ruler, the King of the North, seek more than anything. Oona must keep the stone safe at all costs, and find her brother, before the King of the North extends his evil hold over the whole island and destroys it forever

Review:  Lets all just take a few seconds, maybe a minute even to appreciate this fantastic cover! Just look at it...Its like art. I want it as a print to put on my wall! You could see it on a tote bag! I know people say you shouldn't judge a book by a cover, but I feel like I picked up this sixth sense that I can know I'm going to like a book from its cover (its how I found so many amazing books by myself as a child), and this was one of those times. It makes me think of The Snow Queen, and feels dark and exciting...and I'm gonna stop now and get on with the review...

It might just be me, but I don't feel that there's a great deal of Irish fiction out there, and I haven't reading anything this Irish since I read Siobhan Dowd. But it was so refreshing! It was vivid, and entertaining and I felt at the end as if I'd been on a journey with Oona. The book started off with children fighting that almost had an innocence to it, yet by the end of the chapter, you quickly see that this is no innocent event, and this is no innocent story.  

Ahh Oona...I type the name again because I love how Irish it was, and how I enjoy saying it and just like the name, Oona had the feisty spirit to match. The whole book was written both in a voice and prose heavy with an Irish syntax and dialect that gave this novel such a edge. I could hear the accents clearly as I read them, and this gave new life to the characters and the setting - as black as it was.  

And there was a lot of black! But within all this black the land was alive with imagery and the further north you got the more magically twisted and eventful it became. Interweave this with a whole host of magical characters and you have quite the action. The magic, based on folklore had such a earthen quality to it that redefines the phrase making the land come alive. From Briar-witches to Giants, Muddglogg's (watch out for those around your local parks) to changeling's and faceless men McDowell created a whole host of dark and wonderful characters. What was also good about these characters was that they can be as defined as you want them to be, because you along with the narrative help create them and make them what they are. The idea of a broken land, spoke volumes to me, that connected a reality with the fantasy, and really reconnected the underlying political tones that were present in the book.    

At its core its a story about fear, and the lengths that we are willing to go for things we care about. I love how fear and nightmare was used as a weapon, and the ways in which we can overcome such fear. I'm very glad to have been able to find this new voice, and I am excited to read more of his work. 

Take this book and go on a journey. There will be ups and downs, but it's worth the ride!!