Book Review: Tyler Johnson Was Here – Jay Coles

Tyler Johnson Was Here

A party, a raid, a body. Marvin Johnson wants to be closer to his twin brother, who’s been drifting recently. After going to a party with him, Marvin’s life will change forever. Shots are fired and in the middle of a police raid Marvin loses sight of Tyler, what he doesn’t know is that he’ll never see him alive again. After searching Marvin gets the news that Tyler is dead, murdered by a police officer. How can he make sense of the world now?

This book is a masterpiece. I absolutely loved this and it deserves to be read everywhere. I had to go to Foyles in London (which I’m not complaining about it’s one of the best shops in the world) to get this and I haven’t seen it in any local stores! But why did I love it so much?

At the beginning of the novel, we meet Marvin, a high school straight A student with a bright future ahead of him. Kind, quiet and caring Marvin is worried about his twin brother, which leads to the previously mentioned party, and Tyler’s death. The novel quickly delves into the world of racial hatred and shooting of young, unarmed black men that we see again and again in the US.

This is a novel, ultimately about family and identity. The fact that Tyler is murdered at the hands of a police officer isn’t the shocking part to the family. These boys are brought up to be wary of police and that was heartbreaking. Their father is already in prison, their mother working as hard as she can to raise them. Is it any wonder that without his brother by his side Marvin feels lost and confused.

A central part of this novel is how Marvin see’s himself. Should he be continuing to try his hardest, to be respectful and separate himself from the stereotype of where he’s from when that’s all people see? Or should he just embrace it? There are parts within the novel where you just want to reach out to him, especially when he mentions his brother has ‘become a hashtag’.

I gave this novel 5 stars. It’s an important read for modern times. Incredibly, this is Jay Coles’s debut novel I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Book Review: You Can’t Touch My Hair And Other Things I Still Have To Explain – Phoebe Robinson

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I’ll be honest, prior to picking this as an audiobook I had no idea who Phoebe was. It just sounded like a funny book with an important message. What I ended up with was a great new comedian and writer to follow and a new appreciation of what it’s like to be a Woman of Colour.

It’s not a surprise to any of you who visit my blog or any of my social media that I’m a White British woman. I fully admit that I have no idea what it’s like to live as a Woman of Colour and I never will. Phoebe’s book isn’t just about race but she really gave me insight in a firm but approachable way and made me consider things I hadn’t before. I didn’t expect that from a book that marketed as being funny.

Don’t get me wrong, Phoebe is hilarious. It’s like listening to that awesome friend with all these crazy stories that you can’t believe are true. While doing this though, she talks about Feminism, about being put down creatively, about casual racism. The bottom line is that Phoebe is fiercely relatable, I think to the majority of women. I absolutely ADORE her.

One of my favourite parts of the book (which I can guarantee works best as an audiobook) is Phoebe’s letters to her niece. Of course, they’re funny a little inappropriate and meant for when she’s older but there’s just a wonderful sense of care. That Phoebe is talking about all of these issues, not for her, not for us, but for girls of the future so the world is a little bit easier for them to navigate.

I gave this four stars. This is a brilliant, well written and hilarious book. There’s just the right mix of humour and serious thought throughout. The only tiny reason I haven’t made it five stars, is because there are points I felt dragged on a bit too long for me. It definitely is a great read or listen though! Make sure you check it out!

Book Review: Great Small Things – Jodi Picoult

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“You say you don’t see colour…but that’s all you see. You’re so hyperaware of it, and of trying to look like you aren’t prejudiced, you can’t even understand that when you say race doesn’t matter all I hear is you dismissing what I’ve felt, what I’ve lived, what it’s like to be put down because of the color of my skin.”

When a newborn baby dies after a routine hospital procedure, there is no doubt about who will be held responsible: the nurse who had been banned from looking after him by his father. What the nurse, her lawyer and the father of the child cannot know is how this death will irrevocably change all of their lives, in ways both expected and not.Small Great Things is about prejudice and power; it is about that which divides and unites us. It is about opening your eyes.

I have to start by saying that I have had the release date of this novel written down since it was known. I’m a HUGE Jodi Picoult fan and have been lucky enough to speak to the lady herself a few years ago when The Storyteller was released. Jodi’s novel is a particularly prominent in light of the violence we have been seeing pouring out of the US against black people, and how quickly things can turn nasty. I requested a copy of this novel from the publishers and was lucky enough to receive it in return for an honest review.

As with all Jodi Picoult novels, the story is seen through the eyes of multiple characters. Ruth is a trusted and hardworking nurse, she is also African American. Turk is a husband, new father and White Supremacist. When baby Davis dies, Turk wants the hospital to pay and to know why the woman he demanded not be near his son was present. Ruth is thrown into a world of accusation and uncertainty, can she finally face the fact that the world might not be as colour blind as she thought? Meanwhile, lawyer Kennedy has her eyes opened to the world in a way that she couldn’t understand.

Once again Picoult has chosen to write about a moral situation that raises a thousand questions. It’s something completely new to me to read from the perspective of a White Supremacist. While there is a fair amount of novels out there from the perspective of a black person facing prejudice, novels that I want to read and to understand. I never would have picked up something from the perspective of a White Supremacist, because I didn’t see the point. Why would I want to read about hatred? However, Picoult manages to show the humanity in everyone. She doesn’t paint Turk and his wife as someone to disregard because of their views, nor does she sugar coat them. I felt angry and uncomfortable reading Turks perspective, but I realised that this was important, because this is what people face. That said, Ruth is not painted as perfect either. While she is a model citizen, the widow of a fallen hero and loving mother, Picoult shows her reactions in a human way. She shows not only what people would expect of the characters, whether that be in a positive or negative way, but also shows them as real people who make judgements, mistakes etc.

That said, Ruth is not painted as perfect either. While she is a model citizen, the widow of a fallen hero and loving mother, Picoult shows her reactions in a human way. She shows not only what people would expect of the characters, whether that be in a positive or negative way, but also shows them as real people who make judgements, mistakes etc. While I understand why Kennedy was included as a point of view, she wasn’t particularly memorable for me. She added a middle ground to the novel but I didn’t feel particularly affected by her until the very end.

This is without a doubt an important modern novel, it’s been compared to To Kill a Mockingbird (one of my favourite novels of all time) and while I understand the comparison, it’s different. To Kill a Mockingbird had a clear right and wrong, you knew who was innocent and who was guilty. While few people would agree with Turk and his beliefs (and I certainly don’t agree with them) the emotions, thoughts and to some extent certain backstories make you unclear about all parties. Picoult has refused to show a clear cut good vs bad situation.

I gave this novel 4 stars. I really enjoyed it and I thought the concept was incredibly unique as well as very well written. That said I had mixed feelings about some parts towards the end of the novel, some I just felt didn’t fit (I wish I could go into more detail than that!), but I think this is down to personal preference rather than a flaw in the writing/plot. Picoult has once again shown that she is not afraid to confront issues that we might not want, or feel too awkward to talk about. She’s cemented her status as one of the most thoughtful and intelligent writers of the 21st century.

Great Small Things is out in the UK on November 22nd!

Harper Lee

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The literature world was shocked and saddened to hear the the great writer Harper Lee passed away today. We have truly lost a great talent, she’s a writer that had an idea and ran with it, the end result was educating millions about being a good person and created a literary legend in the character of Atticus Finch.

I first time I picked up the Pulitzer prize winner I was 15 and about to start the final year of my GCSEs. It had been around for a year before as my boyfriend studied for his, but I hadn’t read it because I had no idea what it was about. As soon as I opened that first page though, I was hooked. The book had such a profound effect on me, I truly believe it was what started my love for academics. I went on to pass my GCSE and went on to study a whole project on the African American woman, inspired by the mother figure of Calpurnia and the mistreatment of the African American community in To Kill a Mockingbird.

When Go Set a Watchman was released last year, I preordered, managed to leave work a little early and started as soon as I got home. While there were a lot of reviewers who hated it, I loved it. I loved the fact that it showed how people change and the people who you thought were heroes growing up were just ordinary people.

She rarely gave interviews and had only released those two books, but they were enough. Enough for us to see her wisdom and intelligence and continue to  Even though she kept to herself, she was an icon in literature.

Rest in Peace Harper Lee.

Book Review: Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee

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Five minutes ago I put down my copy of Go Set a Watchman in a state of, well, loss but also amazement. To Kill a Mockingbird is without a doubt one of my favourite books ever. I fell in love with it as a sixteen year old and it sparked a love that not many other books have. I’ve been worried about reading it because of all the controversy in the news but I had to read it anyway, it’s a sequel to a novel I’ve treasured for years.

While there have been numerous bad reviews of the novel, this will not be one. Is this novel as polished as To Kill a Mockingbird? No, I don’t think so. I also think that the negativity is because of what people wanted to read. They wanted the world to be free from racism and for Scout to still be the lovable kid we first read about. The difference is that Scout, now called by her real name Jean Louise, has grown up. She’s twenty-six years old and a lot has changed for her. She no longer had older brother Jem and her best friend Dill to rely on (something which initially upset me but made sense at the end of the novel) and has to make her own sense of the world.

Before long and reader familiar with Lee’s work falls into Maycomb again. While 20 years have passed, it seems to Jean Louise Maycomb has stayed frozen in time. She’s still told off by Aunt Alexandra for not being as feminine as she should be, which made me laugh. While the sleepy town is the same, the reader is introduced to Henry, a Maycomb County boy, Atticus’s law partner and Jean Louise’s on, off love interest. The relationship between the two characters is vital to the plot and to Jean Louise becoming who she is at the end of the novel.

There has been a lot of controversy about Atticus, people have screamed about him being racist and letting go of everything he stood for in To Kill a Mockingbird. I don’t want to spoil the novel, but I do want to say wait. Read the book before you get mad and start ranting. If you start reading and want to throw it at all wall, carry on because I promise you there is a reason for this, a reason that is vital for Scout to grow into JEan Louise.

I could not put this book down for the life of me. I needed to read it, even when I was frustrated or didn’t understand (there is a lot of historical knowledge that I wasn’t too sharp on) I needed to get to the end. I found that I really connected with Jean Louise, she will always be Scout to me though. I just felt what she was feeling, when you go back to your hometown and you just feel like you stick out. When you need to realise that ultimately, everyone is human, even if it hurts.

Aside from the heavy parts of this novel, some of which had me on the edge of sobbing my heart out, there is laughter. The novel gives us glimpses of our favourite trio growing up. It felt almost like a comfort blanket reading about Scout, Jem and Dill and the things they got up to after that eventful summer, as well as who they grew up to be.

I thought long and hard while reading about how I was going to rate this and what I thought of it. While reading the majority of it I had a solid 3 star review in my head, and then I got to part seven, which changed everything. It explained what I needed explaining and made me think about my own life. I have to give it to Harper Lee if she can take credit for anything it’s making people think.

I want to give the novel four stars ****. Before people question it, let me just say there was something in this novel that caught me. Jean Louise is only six years older than me and I felt a connection with what she see’s and how she tries to make sense of the world around her. Lee has taken To Kill a Mockingbird and shown us again that life isn’t clearly divided into good and bad, black and white. I think for anyone who loved To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman is a must read, especially for those of us at a confusing time in our lives.

Review by Chloe Metzger