Category Archives: Book review

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

Hi Everyone!

I hope you’re all well and are having a great weekend. Whilst the rain is sloshing down my windows, I thought this the perfect opportunity to review one of the books I’ve recently finished: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. It was an absolutely gem!

What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of Lara Jean Song Covey, this novel oozes personality and nostalgia. Lara Jean is a sixteen year old, half Korean, half white girl living in Virginia, USA. Her family is very important to her and she is close to them all. She has an older sister, Margot and a younger sister, Kitty. Her lovely mother died when she was young.

When someone’s been gone a long time, at first you save up all the things you want to tell them. You try to keep track of everything in your head. But it’s like trying to hold on to a fistful of sand: all the little bits slip out of your hands, and then you’re just clutching air and grit.

However, she treasures a beautiful hatbox that was given to her by her. Inside she keeps love letters she written to every boy she’s ever loved.

Her older sister is at the age where she is preparing for university. Margot decides she wants to study in Scotland. In her eyes, this means that she cannot stay in her relationship with her boyfriend Josh Sanderson, so she decides to break up with him. This causes shock to Lara Jean because they’d been together a while and Josh was also their next door neighbour.

Following this break up, Lara Jean finds herself in her past as she previously had a crush on Josh. She finds these feelings start to come flooding back. When Margot left, Josh does admit to Lara Jean that she was his first serious crush. To understand these feelings, Lara Jean writes a long postscript for the letter she wrote when she was fourteen, after Josh chose her sister Margot, instead of her.

If you were mine, I would never have broken up with you, not in a million years.

Whilst walking down the school corridor, Lara Jean is stopped by Peter Kavinsky. He is one of the guys that Lara Jean wrote a letter too. He tells her he is not attracted to her and Lara Jean, at first, is confused. She soon realises that he is referring to a letter she wrote to him years ago after he himself received it in the mail.

Lara Jean is completely mortified but also doesn’t know how these letters have been delivered. She tells him what caused her to write the letter in the first place. When she was in seventh grade, she and Peter were with a group of friends when Peter kissed her.

Lara Jean leaves school and heads straight home to try and locate her hatbox. But it isn’t anywhere. She’s completely confused. That night, she heard Josh come over and hides in their treehouse. The following morning at school Josh asks her about the letter to him. She lies and denies that she has feelings for him and makes up the fact that she has a boyfriend.

Josh questions her further and Lara Jean says it’s Peter as his was the first name that came into her head as she sees him walking down the hallway. Lara Jean decides to jump into his arms and kiss him, much to everyones surprise. Lara Jean has to explain the situation to Peter who decides to go along with it to make his ex girlfriend, Genevieve, jealous.

Lara Jean and Peter set up a list of ground rules on how to act and behave around each other. The more time they spend together, the more confused Lara Jean feels confused about her feelings about him. Josh becomes jealous of Peter and when she confronts him about it, he kisses her and tells her he wants to be with her. The consequence of this is Lara Jean realises that she no longer has feelings for Josh and wants to date Peter for real.

“I didn’t fall for you, you tripped me!”

Lara Jean is convinced by Peter to go on the school ski trip. Peter tells Lara Jean that he also wants to date her and they end up kissing in the hot tub. The following day, Genevieve tells her that there is a rumour that the two had sex in the hot tub and Peter did not deny it. Utterly humiliated, Lara Jean avoids Peter all Christmas break.

I delete the picture of him from my phone; I delete his number. I think that if I just delete him enough, it will be like none of it ever happened and my heart won’t hurt so badly.”

With Margot returning for Christmas it is decided that they will hold a Covey recital party, which they had every year before their mother died. Kitty unfortunately invites Peter to the party and he tries to talk to her. However, Josh tries to protect her and Margot ends up hearing about how Josh and Lara Jean kissed.

Margot and Lara Jean eventually reconcile but Lara Jean remains angry at Peter. Eventually, Kitty admits that she stole her sister’s hatbox and sending all the letters that were within. She wanted to get back at her sister for almost revealing her crush on Josh. All three sisters eventually forgive each other. Lara Jean also learns from Kitty that Peter really does care about her.

Kitty returns the hatbox to Lara Jean but this time filled with notes from Peter when they were fake dating. Lara reads them and has a change of heart. She takes out her trusty pen and starts to write a real love letter to Peter.

Love is scary: it changes; it can go away. That’s the part of the risk. I don’t want to be scared anymore.”

Final thoughts

This is one of the cutest books I’ve read in a long time. It felt like reliving my youth a little bit. Lara Jean is absolutely hilarious – I couldn’t think of a better teen narrator. I also love the close bond between the three girls. They’re each individual enough with their own voices and character traits which really helps the narrative. There are two other books in this series which I will absolutely read. It’s done nothing but made me smile.

Enjoy the rest of Sunday everyone!

Big love xx

12 Comments

Filed under Book review, Teen Fiction

The Way of all Flesh – Ambrose Parry

Hey Lovelies!

August is running away with us again but thankfully for me it has been a summer of reading. I literally haven’t stopped. I even ran out of books on my holiday – thank goodness the hotel had a bookshelf completely filled by the guests.

I did promise to catch up with blog posts from the past few months and today is the first. I read The Way of all Flesh in May. I’d chose it for the Waterstones Book of the Month and it did not disappoint. Time to share my review with you all but without any spoilers. You’ll just have to read it to find out more! I hope you enjoy it.

What’s it all about?

Set and beginning in 1847 Edinburgh, Raven, a young and aspiring student doctor, is living in a less than desirable part of time. He discovers a friend, a lady of the night, is dead. At the same time, Raven is also being pursued for money by the local underworld, a Mr Flint. Previously, Raven borrowed the money to give to his now dead prostitute friend. It was never disclosed as to why she needed it.

Following a good beating in the street for failing to pay Mr Flint back, Raven arrives at the house and surgery of Dr Simpson, a wealth medical man with an excellent reputation. Despite Raven’s battered face, he is taken on as an apprentice which also provides him with the perfect opportunity to leave his lodgings and the insalubrious Old Town area. Naturally, this also could mean that Mr Flint’s debt collectors would be left behind too.

“He hoped the Simpson family appreciated how privileged they were to live in this place, safe not only from cold and hunger, but from the world of danger, anxiety and suspicion that he had grown used to.”

In his new lodgings Raven doesn’t quite have the best start with Sarah, a housemaid with a keen and unusual interest in medicine. She is a product of her time however, she has a wealth of experience in dealing with patients. Raven, initially makes himself look like a complete fool in front of her, alienating her at the same time. To make matters worse, Sarah discovers that all is not what it seems with regard to his deeply hidden past. There is a secret lurking deep beneath the surface…

Over a period of time within this incredible house, he is introduced to a number of other doctors, both established and new to the profession. At this time medicine is a frontier science and people were daily making new discoveries. After dinner, a common pastime was to imbibe new and untested chemical mixtures in order to see if they made a good anaesthetic.

“She found Raven, crouched over Dr Simpson, who lay face-down upon the floor. The bodies of Dr Keith and Captain Petrie motionless alongside. “He breathes” he announced.”

Raven makes a new acquaintance, John Beattie, who invites Raven to accompany him on a house visit. He needs Raven to assist whilst he performs a simple operation. Hoping that he will be paid well, Raven agrees. (This was how doctors made their money in 1847!) Unfortunately, the operation goes badly wrong and Raven is left believing that he is responsible for the death of the patient by mis-administering the ether.

Over time and throughout his duties, Raven has become deeply suspicious about a similar death to the one at the beginning of the novel. The way in which the body is contorted is identical and he begin to suspects foul play. Matters just are not adding up correctly in his mind. As a result, he decides to investigate these matters further. As the story unfolds, Raven makes an unlikely ally who helps him to research these deaths. They begin to discover and uncover a series of similar cases. Raven sets a trap, which fails… and the rest is for you to find out for yourselves!

The novel finishes with an array of events – good and bad – that shed new light on each of the characters. As suspected, no one can be trusted and no one is really who they say they are.

“As he stepped through the front door, the coat swirling about him like a cloak, a number of disparate fragments swirling at the forefront of his thoughts coalesced at once into a visible whole.”

Final Thoughts

This novel contains everything you want from a good book – murder, misadventure, tension, drama. It is packed! The pace is relentless and so it naturally becomes one of those ‘unputdownable’ reads. The time period of the 1840s appeals to me and it was fascinating to see this perspective of Edinburgh. I can’t wait to read the next book by Ambrose Parry – The Art of Dying. I expect it will contain the same trails and tribulations as this novel. Let me know if you’ve read it and your thoughts.

Enjoy the rest of August!! See you next time.

Big love xx

11 Comments

Filed under Book review, Reading, Waterstones Book of the Month

Notes from a Public Typewriter – Michael Gustafson & Oliver Uberti

Hello Beautiful People!

I hope all you beautiful people are well and enjoying the much deserved and wanted sunshine. August is here, though I’ve no idea where June and July went.

So, you may have realised I’ve done a bit of a vanishing act. I always find the end of the school year utterly exhausting so I wanted a bit of underground time to recover. We all need a break from everything sometimes, so I knew you’d all be supportive of that. Also, rather amazingly, I have been on holiday to Cyprus. Two weeks of sun, sleeping, reading and eating. It was everything I needed and more. I had the BEST time. I’ll share some snaps and experiences in future blog posts. I’ve got a bit of a backlog of writing that needs to happen – May, June, July and August book reviews based on the Waterstones Book of the Month, other reviews of books I’ve read and loved, some glorious Picture Perfect Posts to share with you all and explorations from Cyprus I cannot wait to show you all. Likewise, I hope you all are having a well deserved break. Today’s post: a book I spotted, bought and read all in one afternoon: Notes from a Public Typewriter.

As wonderful as the modern world is, I think there is something quite special about a typewriter. I personally love the fact that there is no ‘delete’ button. Whatever is typed, remains; a piece of history forever. This is even one of the comments left by the typewriter. I remember watching my lovely Grandma on her typewriter. I was allowed to try it once – it is harder than it looks but I loved everything about it: the shapes of letters, the font, the slight smearing. Therefore, as I was shopping yesterday, this book naturally jumped off the table to me. I had to get it and boy, it did not disappoint. Let’s do this!

What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of Michael Gustafson and his wife, Hilary, this is a tale of a bookshop, typewriters and the people who leave messages on them. Like me, Gustafson saw a 1930s Smith Corona typewriter on his grandfather’s writing desk. This typewriter became a gift from his grandmother when he was struggling to write.

In 2013, the pair decided to leave their jobs in New York City and open the Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This was the perfect setting for their next project as Ann Arbor has a proud tradition of independent bookshops. In 1971, the original Borders was opened there but only survived until 2011. They weren’t worried. They both knew they offered something unique. Their logo is a typewriter and his grandfather’s Smith Corona is proudly on display by the cash till. The two decided they would leave a light blue Olivetti Lettera 32 on the lower level of the shop with a clear, fresh piece of writer paper. They left it to see what would happen with arguably low expectations. At the end of the first day, there were messages. This really was going to be something special.

“The world’s smallest publishing house, waiting for an author.”

Since then the public typewriter has become part of the shop’s identity. People use it every day to propose, admit feats, to apologise, to joke, to love and to philosophise. The best ones have been used to be a part of the fabric of the shop – painted onto the wall behind the typewriter, scraps of paper stuck around the typewriter, sharing these messages of the world. The artist, Oliver Uberti, the book’s designer, copied perfectly these messages to the wall, using the exact font from the old Smith Corona.

“smudgy e’s, q’s, and all.”

This beautiful book contains a range of these anonymous notes showing how successful the typewriter is. I for one am now desperate to see it and add my own part of history. One day.

Without spoiling the whole book, I’ve selected three that I want to share with you. They each resonated with me for different reasons really. They made me think of family and new friends, love, life, loss and everything in between. It is perfect because it is anonymous. Each and any of us could have written those words. We’ve probably all thought them, or will do in the future. It is universal.

Final Thoughts

It is my personal belief that the best books make you think. They evoke an emotional response, whether that be happy or sad etc. This little book did exactly that for me. It is beautiful in every sense of the word. It was by pure chance that I spotted it so for me it feels like a real gift. It was meant to be; I was meant to read it. It moved me, it made me smile and it will absolutely be a book I shall treasure on my bookcase forever. I urge all of you, each and every one of you, to read this. You will hopefully see why I think it is an inspirational piece of our living history.

Finally, I am going to be a better blogger and catch up with you all. Stay tuned for more posts as I slowly but surely catch up. Thank you for sticking around. You’re all awesome in so many ways.

Big love to you all. xx

22 Comments

Filed under Book review, Books, New Books

The Reader on the 6.27 – Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

Hi Everyone!

I hope you all had a great bank holiday Monday and are enjoying the last week of May. It’s been a bit changeable I think but at least the sun is streaming in now. Nevertheless, this has given me ample opportunity to read.

Today I want to share with you a book I read this morning: The Reader on the 6.27. It was a really lovely little read! I hope you enjoy it.

What’s it all about?

The novel focuses on Guylain Vignolles and his simplistic life. Every day he takes the the morning train, at 6.27 to his job as an engineer at the TERN company’s book pulling plant.

Every morning, he read aloud from a few damaged pages that he salvaged from the plant. Fellow commuters thoroughly enjoyed this routine and listened to the snippets they received. Once the commute ended and Guylain arrived at work, greeting the security guard and poet friend, Yvon Grimbert, his joyless day began.

‘For all those fellow commuters, he was the reader, the bizarre character who each weekday would read out, in a loud, clear voice, from the handful of pages he extracted from his briefcase.’

Under the watchful eye of the awful character Felix Kowalski, Guylain and his younger coworker Lycian Brunner ran “the Thing”, the Zerstor 500 industrial pulling machine.

This machine is the epitome of hideousness. It is presented as a monster. It even ate rats in addition to the truck loads of books that it daily slashed to bits. Guylain detested this machine for many reasons. He missed his coworker Giuseppe Carminetti, who had nearly been killed as the machine came on whilst he was cleaning it, munching away his two legs. At first, he was accused by TERN’s lawyers of gross negligence. Some time after, we was awarded 176,000 Euros in compensation after it was discovered that the Thing has faulty wiring.

The first mouthfuls were always tricky. The Zerstor was a temperamental ogress. She sometimes became congested, victim of her own greed. Then she would stall, in the midst of her chomping, her mouth full to bursting.

Following his recovery, Giuseppe set off on a mission of tracing down every copy of the book made with the batch of recycled paper in which his legs had been pulped into. Guylain decided to help him by contacting the author. As a result, he managed to get one hundred copies of the book which he gave to his friend periodically over time. Each time Guylain found a new copy, they would meet and have an elaborate Italian meal to celebrate. Afterwards, Guylain would return home to the apartment to see his only companion, a goldfish named Rouget de Lisle.

‘He was truly addicted to the golden creatures. Guylain could no longer cope without that silent, colourful presence gracing his bedside table. From experience, he knew that there was a vast difference between living alone and living alone with a goldfish.’

One morning following the celebratory meal, Guylain was approached on the platform by two elderly fans of his daily reading. Mesdemoiselles Monique and Josette Delacote. They managed to convince him if he would read at their home next Saturday. He reluctantly agreed, but agree he did. Upon arriving, he quickly realised that they lived in a nursing home, where a crowd of residents were waiting for his reading.

He read from the discarded pages he found and every extract he read was received positively, even one from an erotic novel. Guylain decided he would visit again next week to read further pages he found from the machine.

Guylain’s life was about to take another turn as the train was about to give him a gift, a mission of his own. Whilst pulling down his usual seat, he discovered a USB stick on the chair. It was bright red and calling to him. So, out of curiosity more than anything else, he picked it up and read the contents on there, hoping to find clues about its owner so he could return it.

‘When the train pulled into the station and the passengers alighted, an outside observer would have had no trouble noticing how Guylain’s listeners stood out from the rest of the commuters. Their faces did not wear that off-putting mask of indifference. They all had the contented look of an infant that has drunk its fill of milk.

The little stick contained a journal of a young woman called Julie. Guylain devoured the 72 entries she had written. She was funny, witty, charismatic. He learnt that she was a lavatory assistant in a shopping mall. She was a creature of habit, every morning of the spring equinox she counted the tiles: 14,717 just as the previous year. When he finally fell asleep, deep into the night, he felt that she had suddenly shone a light into his bleak world.

The following morning, Guylain decided to read the printed pages of Julie’s journal to his fellow passengers. The commuters enjoyed her having to hide her writing habit to snippets about her aunt and her habit of eating sugar puffs in the lavatory stall. Following this positive reception on the train, Guylain decides to read the journal again on Saturday at the nursing home.

Again he received a warm and positive review of his readings, so much so that he decided to invite Yvon to his next weekend there. As a result of Julie’s writing, Guylain began to feel a new hope rise up within him. It made him address certain fears – the fear of commitment following his father’s early death.

Each morning Guylain continued to read the journal on the train. In one entry, Julie describes her daily routine – breakfast with her friend Josy, the crowds that descend on the mall, especially in sale season and the horrible visitor every 10.am who sullied her pristine stalls.

“The 10a.m lard-arse didn’t put anything in it. Besides, he wasn’t in a state to put anything anywhere. But the sight of Josy and I were treated to as he attempted to go up my stairs with his shit-covered buttocks clenched will forever be one of the best tips I’ve ever received.”

When Guylain retold the story to Giuseppe about Julie, he decided to start a quest. He was going to find her! He showed Guylain a map of Paris with eight possible malls he had identified through clues in the journal. Guylain came alive at such hope and he too began searching for her.

He knew she was single (thankfully to him) and was having trouble meeting someone. She tried and failed at speed dating, returning home to the book that was waiting for her bed.

By that Saturday, Guylain had visited seven of the malls and was beginning to lose faith. He was cheered up by Yvon’s antics at the nursing home following another successful reading there. After finishing there he decided he would visit the final mall on the list provided by his friend. The world stopped and his face lit up as he finally found Julie.The final chapter of the novel is written as an entry in Julie’s journal. She tells of her amazement at the huge, glorious bunch of flowers she receives and her missing USB stick. In an attached letter, Guylain explained how he came across the stick and has fallen in love with her as he was reading. With immense affection, he asked if she would go out with him sometime. Julie paused, hesitated, but she thought about his words all afternoon. She decided she would call him the following morning and set up a date.

“This morning, the spring equinox, I hummed as I counted my tiles. Guylain Vignolles’s tile, tucked in the pocket of my overalls, knocked pleasantly against my hip… 14,718 was a really beautiful number on which to begin a love affair.

Final thoughts

This was a charming little read, chosen really by my love of books. It was so lovely to see a character transformed by a small event like finding something. A USB could be seen as something insignificant but to Guylain it changed his world. It’s setting in the heart of Paris also ticked a box for me. I just knew it would have a happy ending. I really loved the fact that for Giuseppe, books were literally his way of getting his life back. The metaphor surrounding his legs was a really clever touch.

This book was an easy read which left my heart full. Sometimes, I believe we just need a happy ending novel to distract us from our daily lives. Needless to say, this book has been added to the Left&Found pile ready for hiding.

Enjoy the rest of the week all!

Big love xx

11 Comments

Filed under Book review, Books

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Turns 50!

Happy Bank Holiday Monday Everyone!

I hope you’re well and making the most of the long weekend. Today is a very special day in the book world because it is the 50th birthday of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It has its own hash tag on Twitter and everything! (#VHC50 if you’re interested).

I saw this as the perfect opportunity to review this book and look at how important this book has been in so many peoples lives.

What’s it all about?

The book starts on one Sunday morning where a caterpillar hatched from an egg under the moon. He’s absolutely starving, ravenous for gorgeous food. Thus, the Very Hungry Caterpillar is born. He goes off to search for food.

‘One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.

Over the course of five days, he eats increasing amounts of fruit. He starts on Monday with one apple, two pears on Tuesday, three plums on Wednesday, four strawberries on Thursday and five oranges on Friday.

On the Saturday, still hungry, he eats a ginormous amount of food! He eats one piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, on slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake and one slice of watermelon.

However, that night, he gets a pain in his tummy from eating so much. By the next morning, he feels much better after eating a luscious green leaf. By now, he’s neither hungry nor little. He’s a very big caterpillar who looks like he’s fit to burst.

The caterpillar spins himself a cocoon where he sleeps for two whole weeks. After this time as passed, he emerges from it as a beautiful butterfly, with large and colourful wings.

Then he nibbled a hole in the cocoon, pushed his way out and…

he was a beautiful butterfly!

Final thoughts

It is easy to see why this book has turned 50 years old. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t read it. However, what I find more meaningful than any age of a book, is where it goes next. Of course, this book has travelled through generations of readers. I read this book as a little girl and I still marvel in its wonder today as an adult. Reading this with smaller children in my own family is a joy as the legacy continues.

I was reading somewhere that apparently one of these books is sold, on average, every minute. The story and the illustrations have lived in many a home and continue to do so today. It’s been translated into over 60 languages with more than 46 million copies being sold. There is, of course, a new edition for the 50th birthday which features a rather lovely gold cover. Regardless, this story is just a wonderful, humble piece of writing that we’ve all loved, since our childhood. Happy birthday Very Hungry Caterpillar! 🎂 🎉

Enjoy the rest of the long weekend my dearest friends.

Big love xx

15 Comments

Filed under Book review, Children's Literature, Reading

The Boy in the Dress – David Walliams

Hello Lovely People!

How are you all? I hope you’re well and enjoying the weekend peace you’ve hopefully been given.

Back at work for me now and exam season is fast approaching! With the pressures and strains of every day teaching life, it is so important to me that the weekends are all about relaxing and reading. Yesterday I went to the beautiful place of York and bought a number of amazing Harry Potter products from The Shop That Must Not Be Named. Then I spent some time in York Minster. However, one other little treat was that I’ve managed to get a front row seat to the RSC’s musical of The Boy in the Dress. I can not wait. There’s information about this here if you are interested. Matilda the musical was and still is awesome, so I expect the same from The Boy in the Dress. Therefore, it’s only fitting I review the first of David Walliams children’s books with you all today.

What’s it all about?

This life-affirming novel centres around 12 year old Dennis. He lives with his father and his older brother (14) John. Dennis loves football and watching Trisha on TV but has always felt a little different to his father and brother. Their mother left when Dennis was 7 following her divorce from his father. Their father, only known as Dad, reacts to the divorce by comfort eating which consequently results in him becoming quite large.

Dennis is a very contrasting character to his brother and father, who seem more alike. Despite being the best on the school football team, he desperately misses his mother. His father believed he burnt all the photos, but Dennis found one to keep. In that photo his mother is wearing a yellow dress which comforts him greatly. It’s the only way he can still see his mother.

One day, Dennis sees the same dress on the cover of a Vogue magazine. Dennis buys this magazine from Raj, the local shop owner. But when his father finds the copy of Vogue magazine, he is furious. His brother John starts to tease him, calling him “Denise”.

Are you sure you want this, Dennis?” asked Raj. “Vogue is mainly read by ladies, and your drama teacher Mr Howerd.

Things get worse for Dennis as he receives a detention at school the same day for kicking a football through a window. Something magical happens in detention because Dennis meets Lisa James. Lisa is the most amazing girl in school. She’s pretty and fashionable and popular. Lisa invites Dennis around to her house and shows him her drawing designs for different clothing. She persuades Dennis to dress up in girls’ clothing. After wearing an electric blue dress, Lisa convinces him to go out in public, under the alter ego of “Denise”, a French exchange student with limited English.

Their first stop is to Raj’s corner shop. Naturally, Dennis is worried that he will be recognised but amazingly, he isn’t! Raj completely believes that it is “Denise”. Because of their success here, Dennis is convinced to go to school with Lisa as “Denise”.

Rules don’t apply here,” laughed Lisa. “Dennis, you can be whoever you want to be!

The school day starts well and Dennis is unnoticed. However, Lisa forgot that she had a double French period. The sheer excitement from the French teacher means the narrative splits into French, not knowing that Dennis won’t understand a work. Rather than being found out, Denis accidentally upsets the teacher by criticising her accident. She is absolutely devastated.

Things go from bad to worse as during break time, a football is flying towards “Denise”, and naturally Dennis kicks it. Rather unfortunately, he slips and is revealed to be a boy. What feels like the whole school laughs at him. He’s sent to Mr Hawtrey, the headmaster, and is expelled from school for cross dressing.

His Dad is absolutely furious and sends Dennis to his room. Darvesh, Dennis’s best friend comes round to see Dennis, to tell him that they’re still best friends regardless, but is sent him again by his Dad.

No more watching that show Small England or whatever it’s called where those two idiots dress up as ‘laydees’. It’s a bad influence.

Darvesh’s actions mean so much to Dennis that he decided to attend a very important football match against Maudlin Street, at school on the Saturday. He’s not allowed to play and can see that the team are going to suffer an almighty defeat.

Lisa has a plan and the whole team encourage Dennis to play in a dress, which he does. With Dennis back on the team, it is complete again and they come back from being 6-0 down to actually win the final.

Dennis’s Dad has never attended a football match before, much to his sadness. This time was different. It wasn’t just Darvesh’s mum cheering and hollering from the sidelines, it was Dennis’s dad too.

The following Sunday morning upon visiting the corner shop again, Raj informs Dennis that Mr Hawtrey used to come and collect the Telegraph paper every Sunday at 7am. Although recently it has been his sister, Doris. What Raj found strange was that there was something peculiar about her.

Lisa and Dennis wake up ridiculously early to see what they could find out and as soon as the clock struck 7, Mr Hawtrey arrived at the shop dressed in a skirt and blouse! With this new knowledge, Lisa and Dennis threaten that unless Dennis is reinstated in school, they will tell everyone about Mr Hawtrey’s cross dressing. The next Monday Dennis is back in school, as normal.

By the end of the novel, Dennis, his Dad and his brother are able to talk about the wife and mother who left them. Dennis and Lisa remain the best of friends, as does Dennis and Darvesh. John even decides he needs to look out for his younger brother more. Harmony is restored.

Final thoughts

This book is everything you’d hope children’s books to be like. Honest, funny, understanding and accepting. We have all felt a time in our lives where we just feel like we don’t belong. The book is an anthem for that feeling and for the reality that that is actually ok. I really think this will be an awesome production too. Its cross dressing is actually a very Shakespearean element, meaning it will be right at home in Stratford upon Avon’s RSC theatre. Children’s books really lift the heart and Walliams has a way of making us all feel like we’re perfectly acceptable as we are. After all, we all belong whether we wear dresses and kick footballs or not.

“I think all those rules are boring. About what people can and can’t wear. Surely everyone should be able to wear whatever they like?

Big love all xx

15 Comments

Filed under Book review, Children's Literature, RSC

The Boy at the Back of the Class – Onjali Q. Raúf

Happy April Everyone!

What a beautiful start to the year it has been. The spring flowers are much to be celebrated and the light nights are ever increasing. Today I want to share with you the absolute joy that is, The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf. Not only is this one of the books of the month for April, but this book also won the overall prize for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019. It’s current, relevant and an incredible read. I thought I’d take the photo in my garden with this little guy. The protagonist reminded me of him a bit. Look at his cute little face!

What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of a group of friends, Tom, Josie and Michael, this novel is something we can all relate to in so many ways.

The story starts with an empty chair in a classroom following the absence of a student who had moved to Wales. A group of friends are naturally inquisitive and want to know why Mrs Sanders (the head of the school) and Mrs Khan (the teacher) are whispering at the front of the class. After a short amount of time, a young boy walks in behind Mrs Sanders. Ahmet became the focus of everyone’s attention. He looks very sad indeed.

‘I made a secret promise to myself right there and then that I would be friends with the new boy. I happened to have some lemon sherbets in my bag that morning and I thought I would try and give him one…’

Outside of lessons, Ahmet is nowhere to be found. After all, from the children’s point of view. it’s hard to make friends with someone when you rarely see them. However, one thing that is described so beautifully are his eyes. It’s the one thing that the character of Alexa (the story teller whose name we do not learn until the final chapter of the book) focuses on. The children wait until the end of the day and eventually they see him! They’re over the moon, but it doesn’t quite go as planned, despite having the lemon sherbets.

‘But the new boy grabbed her hand and hid his face behind her arm. I didn’t know what to do because I’ve never really scared anyone so much before that they wanted to hide from me.’

As days went by, the group of friends continually waited for Ahmet to give him gifts of sweets, chocolates and fruit. Over time, Ahmet started to make improvements with them. A smile here and a wink there. All signs he wanted to be their friends. After overhearing comments about how Ahmet is a ‘Refugee Kid’ the storyteller decides she doesn’t care and it really doesn’t matter. Finally, she gets a nod from Ahmet. A sign to her that it doesn’t matter that he’s a ‘Refugee Kid’.

‘I wish he had smiled back, because you can only ever know that a person’s really your friend when they like you enough to smile back. But it was OK because the nod felt like a promise, and I knew that I wouldn’t have to wait too long before the smile followed.’

What is beautiful in this novel is the storyteller clearly has an amazing mum. Working in the local library, books and knowledge centre their world. Naturally curious, the storyteller asks her mum questions about these children and their backgrounds. It all rings so true with the images we have all seen in the media. However, the child friendly language used makes it seem relatable by everyone; young and old.

Ahmet joining the class raises more questions than answers. Yet, the children are focused on being his friend and learning more about him. They had learnt that he was from Syria and had to flee from war. The storyteller and her mum decide to go off in search for pomegranate in the hopes that Ahmet would like this reminder from his home.

‘The new boy fell quiet. And then, for the first time since we met him, he smiled… a real, proper smile that went from one cheek to the other.’

One part of the novel that absolutely had my heart breaking was Ahmet telling his story, with pictures, to show the class what had happened and where he had come from. Story time is something so common in every classroom in the country. This one created a lump in my throat.

Ahmet tells his class all about his home in Syria, his mum and dad, as well as his sister and their cat. The war in Syria had led him to flee on a boat (like those seen on our television screens) to some form of safety. He went from Greece to the setting of the novel and his new school. To a new beginning. After telling his story hands shoot up around the classroom with yet more questions. The storyteller extends friendship further by offering her beloved Tintin comic to share together. We learn the truth about Ahmet’s family – his sister, mother, father and cat and why he is all alone.

‘I waited to see if Ahmet would show them the pictures and tell them about Syrah and the sea and his mum too. But, he didn’t, and I knew that he wanted me to keep it a secret.’

Then something happened that changed everything. Whilst travelling on the bus, the group overhear a conversation about the refugees. Again, it is a conversation we have all heard over time with some sympathetic views in comparison to the more judgemental views. Nevertheless, the children hear that the border is about to be shut, meaning Ahmet won’t see his family ever again. Despite telling their teachers, the group feel slightly fobbed off. It’s time to make a plan, or three, just to be on the safe side. These include writing to the Prime Minister or creating a Special Appeal. But, that wasn’t the greatest plan of all. The greatest plan in the world involved writing to our one and only Queen of England. They even create an emergency plan, just in case!

Time was plodding a long and the children were well aware about the discussion about the borders being closed. Therefore, it was time for them to work together and head for a London adventure! They had to help Ahmet and his family before it was too late. After navigating the trains and making their way around London, they need to get to the palace. They had presents for the Queen too! The first character they meet is Stan the Taxi driver. He’s a hit straight away!

Following Stan they then meet two Cold Stream Guards: Chris Taylor and Walter Kungu. After a mini adventure in itself, the guards promise to give another letter to the Queen and the presents they brought for the Queen too.

‘Getting into the back seat of the police car, we waved back. Lots of people began cheering and waving at us from all along the palace walls, so we waved back at them too, even though we didn’t really know why.’

As you can imagine, what came next was complete stardom. The children were in the news and causing a stir around the whole world! They even had a reply from the Queen. Finally, the children and Ahmet had some good news. Alexa also had her birthday. In fact, it is here that we finally learn her name! Her birthday was a complete surprise but the best gift wasn’t for her at all. It was for Ahmet, her best friend.

‘I know that afternoon was one of the best afternoons I will ever have. Not because it was my birthday, but because it was an end to one of the best adventures a brand new ten-year-old could ever have…’

Final thoughts

This book should be read by absolutely everyone. I mentioned throughout about comments we would have all heard in the media or even in our every day lives. However, this novel brings a voice to so many children and families who have been in this situation. It’s about friendship and kindness and the fact that we can always do more to help. The childlike innocence throughout is endearing and beautiful. This book is a deserving winner and an excellent read. It stands for something so much more than we ever could realise.

Big love all. Xxx

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