Monthly Archives: February 2014

Review: Unwholly, Neal Shusterman





In a world where unwinding – the dissolution of teenagers for organ replacement – is legal, a group of very different teenagers struggle to survive in any way they can.


This is a sequel to the outstanding Unwind – one of the few books I’ve given 5/5 to, I believe. Neal Shusterman is one of the best writers I’ve ever come across – YA or otherwise. His world is totally believable, his characters are full and complex. There’s nothing flat here in dialogue or pacing; not a sentence is wasted. His writing is flawless.


His heroes and villains are both beautifully realised. Nothing is black and white; the heroes make hard choices, they make realistic choices as to what actions they can take. So do the villains. Everyone thinks their actions are right and the moral choices they make feel right to them. As readers, we empathise with them, even if we don’t agree with their actions.


Shusterman isn’t afraid to ask tough questions: Questions about how society treats its teenagers. Questions about leadership, and standing up for what you believe in – questions about leaving people to die so that others can live; questions about what it means to be a hero. There are no easy answers, either in the book or in the world.


So why not 5/5 again?


In ways, this felt like a bridge between Unwind and Unsouled (Book three). As a result, there was a slow sense of exposition going on – a lot of questions, but no answers. The pacing is slow – don’t expect explosions on every page – but the evolution of the characters and their situations is handled so well, the slow pacing can be forgiven. New story arcs develop, but not many of them complete.


I will be reading Unsouled, and not just so I can see how all this plays out; I want to spend more time with the wonderful writing and powerful world Shusterman creates.


I want to know how it ends.


I’m a fan.


Review: The Great Gatsby




Nick Carraway lives in a 1920s world outside of reality, a world of endless parties and flitting affairs, a world of the extremely rich…the richest of which is Jay Gatsby, a legendary party host and a mystery.


The Great Gatsby is a short read, about 200 pages, but there’s a lot in there. At times, Fitzgerald’s prose is so thick with imagery that you have to cut it with a machete and read a paragraph again. Most of the time, this worked brilliantly, but there were times when the image he was going for was lost.


Unsurprisingly, some of the novel is dated. As I was reading about one summer of 1925, I couldn’t help but imagine how many of these rich and very spoilt people wold be bankrupt by the end of the depression and contrast it with John Steinbeck’s writing about the poor. However, the central theme of Gatsby – a man seeking his lost love – is timeless.


There’s a chapter which is nothing more than a list of names of ‘famous’ people in 1925 who attended Gatsby’s parties, most of which I skipped. I assume they were famous and not fictional; I only recognised one name. Such is transitory fame, another theme of the book.


Gatsby’s life is a forgery (even his name, even the title of the book), and he’s shallow and ephemeral, but he’s no shallower than the people around him. His only wish – impossible – is to have the woman back he loved (For a whole month!) five years before. All the parties, all the drive to make money, all of it was for that one purpose. Gatsby is a fantasist, chasing a dream lover he can’t have, and one he probably never had anyway. Who can’t relate to that?


Despite all his wealth, we come to pity him – the sadness of a man who can only live in the past. Gatsby dies at the end and no one – none of the famous, none of the rich who couldn’t get enough of him when he was alive – come to his funeral. He lies forgotten and abandoned, his only mourners Nick and Gatsby’s father.


The writing style is an immensely powerful engine that drives the story forward. Fitzgerald describes the world in terms I’ve not seen out of synaesthesia (experiencing the world through alternate senses: smelling a musical note, listening to a flower), and the different way of world building is mesmerising. The world is the best thing in the book actually; compared to that, the characters are thin and hollow – which was probably the point.


(Trivia of the day: The actress Sigourney Weaver took her stage name from a character in this book.)

Rambles: Paperback Writer

Dear Mr Lennon-McCartney,


Thank you for your manuscript, based on a novel by a man named Lear. Our records indicate that Mr Lear actually did not write any novels, and restrained himself mostly to nonsense rhyme and children’s verse – I would suggest you might have him confused with a play called King Lear by a quite famous playwright named William Shakespeare, perhaps you would like to check.


As a point of protocol, it is also nice to find out the gender and name of the agent you are contacting before writing to them. We do prefer to be known other than by ‘Dear Sir or Madam’.


Now to your manuscript:


Your enthusiasm for the subject is very refreshing, and I am delighted to hear you will be writing more in a week or two.


Similarly, the offer to change the style is very generous, but the style would need dramatic alterations to fit our target audience of very young childrens books of less than one hundred words.


Sadly, the subject matter of a dirty story and a dirty man would not be appropriate for our age-five target audience. Unless the dirt in question was literal and not metaphorical, and he needed to get himself clean, of course.


Given the nature of the book, I am curious if you looked at our website before you made your submission to us? Have you considered offering your work to an agent who deals with more adult topics and books?


In conclusion, Mr Lennon-McCartney, I am unfortunately unable to offer you a contract at this time, despite the tempting offer of a million overnight. I’m returning it to you as you requested.


I will leave you with the final encouraging comment that some of your passages are very lyrical. Have you ever considered song writing?



                                                                           Yours sincerely,

                                                                           Penny Lane