Book Review: How Not To Be A Boy – Robert Webb

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I’d heard Robert speaking on the radio about his new book, mentioning gender, depression and coping with loss, something I didn’t expect. I’d watched him in various TV shows and not really thought about Robert the man, rather than the actor.

The autobiography covers a large span of Webb’s life in detail and has the wit and humor that he brings to the television that he creates so well. I would thoroughly recommend getting the audiobook as possible as it makes the whole book come alive, particularly with the impressions of Webb’s family and friend.

This is a man who readily opens up about his faults. He candidly talks about failing his exams at 18, about how he felt he mistreated women in his youth and the fear of turning into his father. This brutal honesty is what makes Webb’s book. There’s no hiding, no excuses from him. That said, we know that there is a lot going on for him as a late teen, such as losing his mother.

Most interestingly, the book focuses heavily on gender expectations, something that Webb didn’t feel he could fit into. While his brothers were loud and boisterous, he preferred to be quiet and play. He found himself lost in what he ‘should’ be, rather than what he was, a sensitive young man who felt a little lost. He speaks candidly about how he didn’t feel he could show emotion openly he was on the cusp of being a man and men didn’t share feelings and talk. Something that lead Webb to a deep depression and almost cost him his place at Cambridge.

In this Webb lays out the ways in which these gender expectations affect both men and women and how toxic they can be to all of us. It was absolutely fascinating to read. Webb talks about his own experiences of having feelings for another boy at a young age and struggling with this and wondering what it meant. Again speaking about what it meant to be a boy, and later a man, and in his background that did not mean falling in love with another boy.

To put it simply this is a story that will promote change. Of course, it’s a very entertaining read, I laughed so much while getting through it but at the same time Webb has managed to bring in big questions about society, while making you feel like you’re having a conversation with a friend. From sexuality, gender norms and mental illness to falling in love, Webb has put his signature twist on the world and made it into, hopefully, an easier conversation to have.

I adored this book and gave it 4.5 stars! If I could change anything I’d want to know a little bit more about his relationship with David Mitchell as we all usually think of Mitchell and Webb together! That said it’s an inspiring and thought provoking read, I’d recommend it to anyone!

Carrie – An Icon

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I’m writing this with a heavy heart and tear stained cheeks, today the world lost an incredible woman, Carrie Fisher, her death was confirmed by daughter Billie’s publicist. To many Carrie will be remembered as Princess Leia, but she was so, so much more. I met Carrie only a few weeks ago and still can’t get my head around how this fun loving woman who crouched down to sign a little girls wheelchair without so much as a second thought is no longer with us, the world is cruel.

Of course Carrie was Princess Leia, but it’s not all she should be remembered for. She had a no BS attitude to life, which was apparent in her interviews. She was also an incredibly talented writer publishing three memoirs, a handful of novels and also working on screenplays in her life too. Carrie had a way with words that I can only dream to have, I’m thankful she took the time to have a London signing.

While Star Wars makes me happier than most things, it’s not the the thing I’ll remember Carrie most fondly for. She was open and honest about her struggles with addiction and life with Bipolar Disorder. When I met Carrie I wanted to thank her for that, when I did she seemed surprised and said ‘well I have a voice, when you can speak out you should, you know?’ There was nothing more to it. Carrie knew that she could make a big change and she did. For a star of her size to talk so openly about mental illness opened people’s minds. Carrie took the label of ‘crazy’ in her stride, she laughed about it, she made people realise it was ok to laugh. She made mental health come into the conversation, because she wasn’t ashamed. I didn’t get into Star Wars until I was 20, but finding out about Carrie changed my life. I devoured her books and interviews because she became an icon to me.

We have lost a beautiful soul, I can’t help but think of her daughter Billie, her dogs and the rest of her family at this time. She meant so much to so many, but at the end of the day she was someone’s Mum, Sister, Daughter and I cannot imagine the heartbreak they are facing right now.

Rest in Peace Carrie, and May The Force Always Be With You.

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If I Stay – Gayle Forman

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After a fatal car crash that leaves 17 year old Mia barely alive, she has to make a choice to live or die, after being certain she has lost both of her parents. As she watches her family and friends come to terms with the disaster as she separates from her body she needs to decide. Will she let go and follow her parents into the unknown or fight to come back

As with many other people I became aware of this novel because of its film release, at the time it hadn’t been released and I haven’t seen the movie as I write this. I’d heard good things about the novel and so I decided I’d pick it up and give it a go. It’s certainly a difficult novel and at times can be slightly graphic. We’re guided through the novel by Mia herself as she struggles to watch the rest of the day unfold. All she can do is watch and listen. Her family, friends and boyfriend are all willing her to come back and it’s up to Mia to decide if that’s enough for her.

Although I like the idea, the novel didn’t particularly stand out to me. The novel is fairly short and sways between the present and past and gives us a good insight into Mia’s life before the accident. I found it hard to connect to the story, of course it made me sad, but I didn’t feel a deep rooted connection to Mia or the characters around her. That said, I did feel an incredible connection in relation to how she felt about her music and the prospect of being a musician and this added to the sense of tragedy. If anything I would have loved more insight into her love of music and her hopes and dreams, although maybe this was intentional.

Forman questions something that few of us will even consider thinking about, would you chose to live after losing so many people you love, if you had the choice? Many of us would instantly say we’d choose life, but would we? This is not the first novel of its kind, however, it is the first for young adult readers, it makes them think. I makes the reader consider a life without their loved ones and the choices and sacrifices that are made every day. I wouldn’t say that the novel is morbid in that respect but it deals with death in quite a straightforward way, for Mia it appears to be more of an escape. It also raises the question of  life after trauma. We have no idea how Mia will be affected by her injuries if she decides to live. Will she play Cello again? Will her dream of going to Juilliard be snatched away from her as her parents were? Is her younger brother Teddy, whom she adores, still alive? As I said it is a novel full of questions and what if situations.

If anything I’d say that the book could have been longer. Although well written, there was so much crammed into the book that at times I felt rushed through. I wanted to know the smaller details, memories and possibly more about more minor characters in the novel to give them a bit more life within the novel. Also what about afterwards? If she decides to die, does she meet her family? If she lives do her dreams come true? I guess to an extent this leaves us to make up our own minds but I wish this was included in the novel.

I give this novel 3 stars ***. I liked the idea and found Mia to be a nice character but failed to interact with her as a person. I also found that I was hungry for more at the end of the novel and felt that it could have had a better ending or more to it maybe? If you’re looking for a shorter read that raises questions then If I Stay may well be for you but I simply found that there was too much left unanswered at the end.

 

Review by Chloe Metzger

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Book Review

I wanted to try something a little different to make my blog more interesting! I’m not sure on which day but I will now be posting weekly book reviews, yaaaay! I used to have a whole blog dedicated to this but now I want to share them with you! For my first review, an incredible novel, The Book Thief.

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Liesel Memminger is only a child when she first meets death, but it will not be the last time 

The Book Thief contains a few things you need to know about. A young girl, an old couple, a Jewish fist fighter, Hitler and Death. Sounds simple, right? After finding herself in a new town with new parents, a doting foster father and a sharp tongued foster mother. But Liesel Memminger is haunted,  haunted by the ghost of her younger brother whom she watched die. Another thing you should know she is a thief, but the novel is about more than that.

The novel is a about a young girl that we get to watch grow and about a country that will never be the same after war. As Liesel, and her new parents Hanns and Rosa hide a young Jewish man they know they are risking their lives, but what comes out of it is so much more. The problem with novels as good as this is that you don’t want to ruin any part of it because you love it so much. I will say though, the novel is a long one but in a nice way. It’s the kind of book that you can take a break from but as soon as you turn another page you fall straight back into the story.

Another character I have to mention, because I know you will fall in love with him, is Lisle’s neighbour Rudy. A sweet boy who idolises black athlete Jesse Owens in the middle of Nazi Germany. As you can assume, this does not work in his favour. The relationship between him and Liesel is one of my favourite parts of the novel though, without him I doubt the Book Thief would have become who she was.

Although it’s a questionable concept, Death makes an incredible narrator and he was one of the best characters. Who would have thought death could be so kind, caring and thoughtful. Oh and lets not forget funny, there is great humour in the book even if it seems sad. I laughed more than I ever wanted to cry and it wasn’t just little laughs that would escape me, I shook at some points because I was laughing so hard.

At times the book made my heart hurt. I could see the scenes playing out in my head, I wanted to look away but I couldn’t. I wanted to reach out, but I wasn’t really there. What Zusak has done with his magical description should not be taken lightly. I have not read novel like this, that is so vivid you feel like you can reach out to it, in a very long time. I wanted to laugh, I wanted to cry and I wanted to make sure nothing like this could ever happen again. It’s incredible that even though this is fiction, it feels as if it could be real and that is the magic of a good story teller, they made you believe the story is as real as any history book.The novel made me cry, and I’m grateful. It is a stunning piece of literature that I want to read again and again.

I can’t give this book anything less than five stars *****, something I don’t give lightly. I remember not reading this book years ago when I had the chance and I wish someone had shaken me! Zusak is an incredible writer, so much so that if he never wrote again this book would be enough. If you haven’t read it, you should need to, it is beautiful.

Review by Chloe Metzger