Last week brought more drama than you could shake a stick at, so my reviews are later than planned, so late that you’re getting two weeks of reviews: half today and half tomorrow. Get comfy because these are some amazing reads!
Countless by Karen Gregory
I have had this on my shelf for longer than I should have had. It was Zoe’s #nspbookclub that prompted me to pick it up and read it. Eating Disorders in YA books is something that I wrote about for my final paper at university and it is a subject that has fascinated me since. Countless is one of the best books I have ever read on the topic, and is so different to other novels in this area.
I found it haunting that Hedda referred to her Anorexia as Nia. Nia is a person to her; at times Nia is the only person who understands Hedda, but she is also unbelievably cruel:
“Nia sits at the top of the lamp post.
Stupid cow, she hisses.
Also: Look what you’ve done.
And: That Thing inside you is going to make you fat. Disgusting.”
Hedda is pregnant. She calls a truce with Nia: she will eat for the baby and then Nia can have her back. We are constantly aware that this is a temporary recovery. Hedda is counting down the meals until she can stop eating, she is eating the minimum she needs to be healthy for her baby. In some ways, Hedda is brave and tries to put her baby first, but we know that Nia is always in the background waiting to take her back. When Nia comes to claim her it is chilling how quickly it happens and how Hedda barely even realises beyond one haunting moment after the birth
“A familiar presence fills the ward, floating on the ceiling, watching me. Calm now, like she knows her time have almost come.
I feel her, a shape shifter shimmering into something solid.
The death of Hedda’s friend is always in the background. Molly is a crutch for Hedda, a reminder of how far you can go with an eating disorder and a warning to stop before it’s too late. Hedda wants to be in control of everything, but she soon realises that with a baby to care for, this isn’t possible.
I felt sorry for Hedda for much of the book. Everyone around her is always lecturing her, telling her that she is selfish, that she could do better, setting her up to fail. Even her budding love interest, Robin, is trying to save her by making her prepare food and eat with him. Sometimes it seems Hedda enjoys this, but at others it’s really obvious that she is eating to keep him happy. It’s telling that throughout the story, Hedda never makes the decision to eat for herself, she is always eating “for” someone else.
I loved that there is never a figure given to Hedda’s weight: she is weighed many times, but we never find out how much she weighs. This is something that I’ve so often seen as a focus in writing on eating disorders and it can act as validation or something to aim for to readers who have these disorders. Countless is different.
We are also given insight into how hard it can be to manage having a baby on benefits. We see Hedda take out a payday loan, have difficulty getting a payment and try to balance a tight budget whilst eating healthuly when she is pregnant.
Her parents show us the family side of dealing with an eating disorder, and although I didn’t always like what they did, and at times wanted to beat them round the head with a frying pan, I could understand why they were this way and the family tension added an interesting dynamic to Hedda’s story.
I loved that the ending was cautiously optimistic. I’ve so often seen stories about eating disorders tied up with a happily ever after ribbon. Real life is rarely like this and the ending of Countless was perfect.
This was such an amazing read and I highly recommend it, with an obvious trigger warning for eating disorders.
It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne
It’s official: Holly Bourne has stolen my heart and I need to read everything she has ever written immediately.
It Only Happens in the Movies is Holly’s latest novel and the first of hers I have read (I swiftly corrected this grave error of judgement by getting two more of Holly’s novels, and I have my sights on more).
This book is so cleverly written, I had to keep pausing to just absorb what I’d read. Holly starts with a scene from the end of Audrey’s story, a cliffhanger, so we have an idea what is coming all the way through the novel and somehow, when it happens, we are completely unprepared. I loved how Holly linked virtually everything back to movies in some way: Audrey’s school project, her love of drama, her job at the cinema, Harry’s hobby and her mum’s obsession with watching romance films. It was so intricate and clever. I don’t think I’ve read anything else like it.
Romance has made Audrey sad and cyncial after the breakdown of her parent’s marriage and her own failed relationship. She is not interested in love and has withdrawn from drama and her friends to avoid dealing with her feelings. Her development over the course of the novel was one of the things I loved most.
Her school project gives an insight into Audrey’s feelings and paragraphs from her work are used to open chapters (wherewhat happens often reflects what Audrey has written about -did I mention this book is CLEVER?) Through this, Audrey (and Holly) attack all the tropes of the romance films and force the reader to take a closer look at how harmful they can be. Audrey gives one of my favourite rants ever about the problem with romance movies:
“They’re never stroppy and they’re never difficult and they’re never needy and they’re never bloated and they never have cellulite and they never ask to have sex with the lights off because they hate their stomachs. And even if they ARE stroppy and difficult its always something that’s MENDED by the end of the film because some guy with perfectly sculpted arms kisses them in the rain.”
The characters are brilliant (except Rosie. I hated Rosie). They are so eclectic. Harry is an insufferable flirt but somehow remains utterly loveable. Audrey is sad and cynical and angry but with a glimmer of hope under it all. Their individual stories are complicated and wonderful.
Read it. Just read it. I promise you will not regret it.
Hope by Rhian Ivory
This is another I picked up for the aforementioned #nspbookclub and I’m hugely grateful to Zoe for the prompt to read it.
Hope starts with an emotional scene where our main character, Hope, swaps numbers with a boy on a boat, ostensibly because he is worried about her. This sparks the start of an interesting relationship, which at times borders on being inappropriate, but ultimately seems to be a positive thing for Hope.
Something has happened and it feels like the end of the world for Hope. She has to put her dream on hold to work with her mum, singing in the hospital. It is not what Hope wants, but it seems to prompt her to consider what she really wants and gives us some of the most beautifully written and emotional scenes in the book.
Hope is a complicated book with lots of important messages. It is foremost a book about a girl learning she has PMDD. Hope’s story is littered with phrases like “there’s something wrong with me”. She is struggling with her periods, her anger, loss of control and forgetting. This is such an important message for girls, and hopefully those who are struggling with similar symptoms will be encouraged to seek help instead of struggling.
Grief is another theme in the book. Hope’s dad has died. Her family are all dealing with their grief in different ways; they all have their own problems. This is so like reality and I was facinated with the ways everyone reacted to events in the story.
Hope also looks at friendships, and I was especially gripped by the intensity of Hope’s relationship with her best friend. At times, it made me feel uncomfortable, but mostly it reminded me of my own relationship with my high school best friend.
Overall Hope is a really uplifting and hopeful story and I am sure many who read it will be helped by it.
That’s part one of my recent reads! Have you read any of these? Pop back tomorrow for the rest of my recent reviews!