Saturday, 25 January 2014

My Thoughts on: Saving Daisy by Phil Earle


Another day, another review! This time of the poignant and sometimes shocking Saving Daisy by Phil Earle.

'For as long as I could remember it was always about the three of us. Me. Dad. And Mum's shadow.' 

Daisy's mum is gone. Her dad refuses to talk about it. As far as Daisy's concerned, it's all her fault. As her life starts to spiral out of control, panic leads to tragedy and Daisy's left alone. But sometimes the kindness of a stranger can turn things around. A stranger who desperately wants to save Daisy - if she only let herself be saved...

This is another YA novel, the story of Daisy Houghton who is struggling to cope with the loss of her mother who she never really knew. In the solid 320 or so pages, her life takes a dramatic turn for the worse, leaving her vulnerable, often dangerously so. You can't help but root for a happy ending. 

One of my favourite things about this was the intricate, well crafted relationships between Daisy and the other characters. A scene showing the heartwarming dynamic between her and her father made me smile (and crave beans on toast.) However, I also loved their struggles to be completely honest with each other. Perhaps love is the wrong word - but it definitely made for an interesting story. There were some tender moments between them that contrasted well with the emotional turmoil that Daisy has to suffer. 

Earle's subtlety was also excellent and something I want to bring to my own writing more. Up until now, I've never come across a book that deals with self harm, an issue that's becoming increasingly important to address for young people. That was the shocking part for me: it was dealt with so sensitively, that I almost didn't notice it. Again it wasn't fabricated or glossed over, not overly talked about. There needs to be more authors like Phil Earle writing gritty fiction, who aren't afraid to tackle such themes. I learned alot from that aspect of the book.

In terms of setting, Earle's description of the beach and the cliff face that Daisy and Ade (more on her later) spend alot of their time worked well, along with the empty house. Alot of writers - including myself - seem to be drawn to the beach as a setting to put stories and I see why. It was a place Daisy's narration seemed slightly more at ease, a new place that she had never really explored, a place to clear her head. It was almost used as a literary device rather than pure coincidence, making the book well considered and thought out. 

Moving on to Ade - Daisy's support worker at the placement she's put in and spends the majority of the book. She's a legend in my opinion. Earle's use of language and the relationship between her and Daisy contrast in a sense of hot and cold. Warmhearted and passionate, she obviously cares about Daisy's welfare - a clear representation of hope in the teenager's life. She provided some light relief within the chaos, along with the other kids there, and their dialogue was snappy, making it not too heavy or filled with melancholy. 

The way that Daisy likens moments of her recovery with Ade to a film montage, linking with her love of DVD's and old movies, made it a more realistic situation.  

On the other hand, even though the sudden, punchy version of events leading to Daisy being rehoused worked well, I felt some were overlooked, some lost in other threads of the plot. For example, an incident with a teacher was one of the inciting incidents in the book, something that drew me right in. However, it was lost and not fully solved. Perhaps this was an attempt by Earle to make things more convincing, but I would've liked some more closure on this issue. 

In summary: Saving Daisy is an emotional rollercoaster of a book, with a deeply damaged central character that I wanted to glue back together. Sprinkled by a stellar supporting cast and punchy plot, it's a page turner that will hit you right in the stomach. Four stars.     


Friday, 24 January 2014

My Thoughts on: Submarine by Joe Dunthorne


(I tried to find a word for 'hello' in Welsh, but I couldn't find it... damn you Google Translate...)

The reason I wanted to find a Welsh greeting is that it links to the first ever review in my cosy corner of the internet. Grab another cup of tea (it's like caffeine addicts anonymous here, trust me) and snuggle up in a onsie (if that's your kinda thing) and I'll try and put as little spoilers in as possible. Enjoy!

Meet Oliver Tate, fifteen years old. Convinced that his father is depressed ('Depression comes in bouts. Like boxing. Dad is in the blue corner') and his mother is having an affair with her capoeira teacher ('a hippy looking twonk'), he embarks on a hilariously misguided campaign to bring the family back together. Meanwhile, he is also trying to lose his virginity - before he turns sixteen - to his pyromaniac girlfriend Jordana. Will Oliver succeed in either aim? Submerge yourself in Submarine and find out...   

*holds breath* 

What immediately struck me about this book was the strong, likeable narrator in the form of Oliver, especially the way Dunthorne has portrayed him. The story starts with a him and a group of friends bullying a girl named Zoe: I admired the brave angle the writer decided to take, but Olvier's slightly dark, yet innocent nature already had me sold. He's definitely not your average Joe, definitely not the sort of normal teenager you would expect come across in your local high school, but Dunthorne's ability to mould to a unique and often hilarious voice made Oliver all the more vivid. As I reader I was drawn right into his world, crazy words and all. People reading this who know my opinions on realistic fiction will probably be calling me a hypocrite now (If you want any further explanation please click here: but for once I don't care. Oliver worked a certain charm on me. Maybe I liked him more because the plot was more 'normal', and he had an increasingly original take on situations. But more on that later.

The second thing that struck me was Oliver and Jordana's relationship. Jordana was probably my favourite character in the entire book, not including Oli. Some of the time she isn't fair on the poor boy. Sarcastic, blunt and crippled with eczema, she's an opinionated pyromaniac - that's basically how to sum her up in ten words. They're the perfect example of a dysfunctional couple. Without wanting to spoil it, as with any relationship, it's not all a smooth road, but I think each of them gets out of it what they want. It's not sickly sweet or cringe-y in any sense; they're both still children ultimately and Dunthorne's definitely achieved the feel of a first love. Even the 'losing virginity' scene was raw and unfabricated - laugh out loud funny. Their relationship was a win for me.

The setting also struck a chord with me. Although I've visited Wales only once in my life, I found the atmosphere surrounding the scrub land and campsite in particular fascinating, with a vague familiarity. It reminded me of a much more realistic and relatable British version of the creek in Looking for Alaska. The description, even though it wasn't dense, made me feel like I was breathing Swansea air.

In amongst his quest with Jordana, Oliver’s overall motivation in Sumbmarine is to figure out just what’s going on with his parents. He monitors their ‘intimacy’ by the dimmer switch in their bedroom, checks his mum isn’t pregnant by the amount of tampons in her wardrobe, and keeps an eye on his Dad’s tendency to record all TV programmes instead of watch them live. I thoroughly enjoyed his mini ventures, including running away to investigate his mum’s friend Graham, who he suspects she’s having an affair with.

There were some moments however, especially in the aforementioned scene, which made me go ‘really?!’ but I don’t think these worsened my reading experience;  I finished it in a matter of days. Additionally, sometimes the snippets of diary format I got spoon fed I felt were slightly overused and unoriginal, but I didn’t mind. It wasn’t a moany teenage girl yearning for a boyfriend. It was Oliver’s endearing nature spread across every page and tipping every word.

In summary: a raw yet hilarious coming-of-age story, with ‘rough round the edges’ characters and some lines that will stay with you long after you've turned the final page. A must read for all YA enthusiasts. Four stars.