Thursday, 13 September 2012

Noughts and Crosses

Malorie Blackman
10 / 10

From the blurb: Callum is a nought - an inferior white citizen in a society controlled by the black Crosses. Sephy is a Cross - and the daughter of one of the most powerful, ruthless men in the country. In their hostile, violent world, noughts and Crosses simply don't mix. But when Sephy and Callum's childhood friendship grows into passionate love, they're determined to find a way to be together. 

And then the bomb explodes...

I know, I know! It shouldn't have taken me this long to get around to reading this book. But I finally saw it on offer in the supermarket and bought both this and its sequel, 'Knife Edge'. 
And then I devoured them both. 

Usually when a book is so highly spoken of, I'm a little wary. But Noughts and Crosses deserves every kind word. Callum and Sephy are fascinating. How they managed to grow up to be thoughtful and fierce in a world that teaches everyone to hate... it's basically a miracle. Much like their relationship, which flourishes even under extreme strain. But, like the blurb says, then the bomb explodes. 

Callum and Sephy are slowly, agonisingly torn apart, and their lives take completely different directions. One makes the wrong choices, one seems to make no choices at all. And yet I felt they couldn't have done anything else. Like Katniss, they are the unwilling heroes of this book, thrust into the centre of attention when they'd rather be on a desert island. You'll find yourself rooting for them even when it seems impossible to get out in one piece, wanting them to do whatever they must to survive. 
Even as they separate, Sephy's attempts to broach the gap and Callum's rebuffs will make your heart ache. 

And Jude! Callum's family are as compelling as he is. His brother, Jude, is a ball of hate, desperate for revenge. I loved him, both in this book and its sequel. His sister ghosts through life, a reminder of the injustice done to noughts every day. She almost serves to justify Jude's anger. His parents, Ryan and Meggie, are struggling to raise children that will make the right decisions without knowing what right is. Seeing the flashes of recognisable family life in this world made the whole thing worse, somehow - I could imagine my own parents fighting the way Ryan and Meggie do. 
Sephy's parents, on the other hand, you love to hate. Her father has as much power as one man can, but does nothing good with it. Her mother copes in the only way she can, drowning her sorrows. And her sister, Minnie, is completely removed from the plight of noughts. It's as though she lives in her own dream world. 

The storyline is fast-paced and riveting. It felt as though the world got shaken up entirely every few chapters, often enough to leave me breathless. One twist in particular, involving the star crossed lovers themselves, felt like a punch to the gut. And the ending... well, don't do what I did, and read the last page! If you don't see it coming, it'll just about kill you. Even knowing it was coming, it still felt horrible. 

Each chapter alternates between Sephy and Callum's point of view - it jumps from one to the other a little too often for my liking, sometimes feeling a bit jarring. But most of the time it works really effectively, and at one point in particular it works a bit too well. Nearly broke my heart, this book. 

My copy also included the short story, 'Callum'. It was nice enough, but I didn't really feel like it added anything. 

Teaser quote: 'I grip Sephy's letter in my hand, lying on the ground, listening to the sound of all my hopes and dreams moving further and further away. Like listening to the sound of a door being slammed in my face.'

An Abundance of Katherines

John Green
9 / 10

From the blurb:When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton's type is girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact. On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge-Judy loving best friend riding shotgun - but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and may finally win him the girl.   

I loved this book!

For a while I've been picking John Green's books up, reading the blurb, and putting them back. Partly because I have a million other books to read, and partly because the price never seems to drop. However, I've finally read three of his books, and loved each one. 

Colin is a compelling protagonist - he's decided that having graduated from high school, he is washed up. He was a child prodigy, but has never managed to make the leap to genius and will therefore never make a valuable contribution to anything for the rest of his life. 
Until he discovers that relationships seem to follow a curve. Then it becomes all he can think about - can he predict any relationship's progress? Can he know how long it will last and who will dump the other person? 

I loved Colin's mixture of sadness and anger, and his need to rationalise everything. Hassan, on the other hand, barrels through life without thinking of the future. His father is rich, he reasons, so why put effort in? He has decided the same thing Colin has: he will never be remembered for a great invention. But his reaction is decidedly different - he enjoys this feeling, the lack of responsibility. Compared to these two, many of the characters are a little underdeveloped. Lindsey is a stupid, slightly wry teenage girl (though with a surprising softness, a vulnerability that I didn't expect when we meet one of the older residents of the town) and The Other Colin is a typical teenage jerk. I've met a dozen people like them in my own life, and it's almost disappointing to see them in the pages of a John Green book. 

This is by far the cleverest book I've read in a long time. The anagrams, the science of predicting relationships, it all blew my mind and instead of bogging down the story as I'd expected, it produced the same fervour in me that it did in Colin. 

Green's sense of wit shines in this book, more so than the others I've read, in his footnotes and also throughout the story. 
However, the ending was not what I expected. Overall, I found this book a bit too saccharine. Everyone's basically good, there's no real horror or pain. And the ending... well, I don't want to ruin it. But it made me want to wince. I put the book down knowing that I'll read it again, but I'm glad there's no sequel. 

Try this if you liked 'Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky, 'One Day' by David Nicholls or Jeffrey Eugenides' 'The Virgin Suicides'.

I'm Back!

It's been a while since I was last on here!
My summer holidays have been much busier than I expected - I've been to Taunton for a music festival, London and Birmingham to visit family. I've had my nineteenth birthday (and got a Kindle! Yay!) And now I'm getting ready to move back to my student house to start my second year of university. So expect a load of reviews of books I've read in the last two months; I've got a lot of catching up to do!