Friday, 21 August 2015

Review: All of the Above by James Dawson

Publication Date: September 3rd 2015
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Length: 304 pages

Thanks to Netgalley and Hot Key Books for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

When sixteen-year-old Toria Bland arrives at her new school she needs to work out who her friends are in a crazy whirl of worry, exam pressure and anxiety over fitting in. Things start looking up when Toria meets the funny and foul-mouthed Polly, who's the coolest girl that Toria has ever seen. Polly and the rest of the 'alternative' kids take Toria under their wing. And that's when she meets the irresistible Nico Mancini, lead singer of a local band - and it's instalove at first sight! Toria likes Nico, Nico likes Toria, but then there's Polly ... love and friendship have a funny way of going round in circles. 

This is my first foray into James Dawson’s fiction books, having only previously read ‘This Book is Gay’ and I have heard nothing but good things about his writing. So I was eager to try out his latest book and did really enjoy it, but unfortunately not quite as much as I’d hoped it.

It was a good, engrossing and quick read that tackled a whole variety of subjects and issues – all fantastic things, and I stormed through it in one sitting. It really tackles everything: eating disorders, sexuality (including asexuality, hurrah!), death, growing up and all the changes that comes with that. It is stuffed with everything, which can be a little over whelming at points, but it is SO GOOD to see books tackling all of these things.

I frequently found myself laughing out loud, it is packed with humour sprinkled liberally amongst the more poignant moments and felt like an incredibly real book. These characters and their problems felt real, they felt like actual people to me and I found myself caring about them, crying and laughing and rooting for them to work everything out.

However there are problems. This is going to sound really silly, but very early on Toria complains that she can’t get out of bed because she has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Now as someone who has this I am always eager to see it represented more in fiction. But this wasn’t representation, it was a throwaway comment that really frustrated and in some ways even upset me. It felt like a slap in the face. You wouldn’t say that you had any other number of health problems to get out of doing stuff, so why CFS? It adds to the all too prevalent image that CFS is a joke, something that isn’t real, that any person who is tired has it. Which for those of us that do have it, is basically a slap in the face. Unfortunately this happens within the first quarter of the novel, and so whilst I had gotten off to a great start with it after this comment I never really re-found the same love for the book that I had had up until that point.

My second problem was how some of the issues tackled really felt shoe horned in, the way Toria talks about them makes it feel as though the book is screaming LOOK I AM TACKLING ALL OF THESE THINGS. Now that could be that I just wasn’t getting along with Toria and that was colouring my perception, but the way some things were handled just wasn’t working for me. I appreciate that in real life all of these things come up, sometimes all at once, sometimes in pieces, and I loved that this book was attempting to encompass all the things, but the writing style meant that it did across as slightly preachy and full of itself for being so avant-garde and tackling all the taboos at once.

And my third and final issue is cheating. Again, it happens, and this book was aiming to offer a view point on teenage life and all the struggles that can come with that. So in a way, yay for inclusion! But on the other side, I struggled with how the cheating was handled. But that is just a personal preference.

So all in all a really mixed read for me. It was a good book, a very good book, don’t be fooled by my gripes, and one that I would definitely recommend. It’s also made me very curious to go and read James Dawson’s other books, because his writing is smart and funny and filled with diverse and interesting characters – all very good things.
Personal preferences meant that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped to, but it was still a very engaging and good read.

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