Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Hot Key Books (4th Oct 2016)
Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can't-eat-can't-sleep kind of love that he's been hoping for just hasn't been in the cards for him—at least not yet. Instead, he's been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything's about to change.
Grace isn't who Henry pictured as his dream girl—she walks with a cane, wears oversized boys' clothes, and rarely seems to shower. But when Grace and Henry are both chosen to edit the school paper, he quickly finds himself falling for her. It's obvious there's something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry, and he wants nothing more than to help her put the pieces back together again. And yet, this isn't your average story of boy meets girl. Krystal Sutherland's brilliant debut is equal parts wit and heartbreak, a potent reminder of the bittersweet bliss that is first love.
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PSA: This may just be the longest review I have ever written. You have been warned. Proceed at own peril.
This book. HOLY BALLS. I have laughed many a times in my life over books, but this. THIS WAS JUST SOMETHING ELSE. I laughed I think, at almost every page… and then proceeded directly to ugly crying near the end. I know it’s quite hazardous and extremely premature to say this, given we’re just a month into the year.. but this may (depending on any upcoming contenders) be the best book I’ve read thus far.. and if remains unchallenged, may be the best book I’ve read in 2017. That’s not to say that this was absolutely perfect, because it wasn’t - but based on the sheer volume of snort inducing laughter it drew from me, the writing, the characters (MURRAY - FIST PUMP - more on him later) the pop culture references, AND the ending, it surely made a home in my heart and gave me all kinda feels. So without further ado, I will launch into my campaign into why you all need to read this book. Brace yourselves. This may just be the longest book review I have ever written. CRIKEY MAAATE.
The loveable rogue that is all things Mr Murray:
Reason number 1 as to why you promptly need to go on amazon and buy the kindle edition which is selling for £1.89 (which is basically, pennies in book world). Murray. MURRAAAAAAY. The star of the book (for me at least) despite him not being the main character, he stole the show. He’s this Australian kid, who purposefully embodies the Australian stereotype and with flourish. He wields his accent like a sword, dresses purposefully like Steve Irwin and uses phrases like “Saw you going off after her like a raw prawn.” - which girls flock to and which made me die throughout this whole book, with every scene that Murray was in, with every word he said, and every action to his name. Seriously, I’ve never been this in love with a side dish character but then again, none have been as awesome and unique as Murray, or lovingly known as Muz, to his friends. At the end of this review will be some (read - a lotttttt) of my absolute favourite scenes with Muz but below is just one example, which highlights Muz’s character, as well as the awesomeness of Henry, Muz and La’s friendship.
*This was followed by a picture of a very drunk Murray, half-conscious and crying violently on Lola’s kitchen floor, hugging what appeared to be a plush kangaroo toy.*
LOLA LEUNG (text message):
(I put the kangaroo there for effect, but I’m not going to tell him that when I show him this picture in the morning.)”
“MUZ FINCH (text message):
I escaped Lola’s despotic rule. Your dad let me in to your house. I’m about to have drunk reconciliation sex in your bed. Hope that’s cool!”
Henry: “I closed my eyes and groaned. “That Australian bastard.”
“Henry,” said Baz, nodding to the girls. “Language.”
“Oh, sorry. Yeah, Murray’s at my place.”
“Musical beds again, is it?”
“As always. He originally fell asleep at Lola’s. Possibly on the kitchen floor. Possibly with a kangaroo. Your son is a miscreant.”
“And that’s why we allow him to hang out with you lot. Because you use words like miscreant in general conversation,” Sonya said, mussing my hair and pouring me a glass of orange juice.”
I mean c’mon, isn’t he just a loveable little bundle of Australian awesome-ness? I should add, I am also VERY partial to the Australian accent and loved the Crocodile Hunter, much to the point that I have and still do use phrases like “crikey maaaaate” (albeit, in a bad Australian accent) in my everyday repertoire. Which just makes Murray and all that he is, one of the best things I’ve read in a long time.
I can understand why people wouldn’t like this book, or love Murray in the way I do - I loved him for embodying a stereotype and it made me laugh - but that stereotyping itself would mean others wouldn’t like him, which is absolutely fine. The humour might not be everyones cup of tea either (as a Brit, I just had to use a tea reference didn’t I?) but this style of sarcastic, dry but witty humour, and Murray’s antics - just my absolute favourite. Me and Murray would be best friends, I can just imagine it.
Moving swiftly on (as you can see, this is going to be a VERY long review but honest, I’m trying to cut it down!). Other characters that captured my heart. La (aka Lola) she was such a distinct, heartfelt, awesome character in her own right. A vicarious, fun and witty lesbian that fitted into the 3 way dynamic friendship with Murray and Henry, quite perfectly. She’s like an honest to god, refreshing slap in the face to bring you back to reality if you’ve strayed too far, and for your own good to - which we see she does for Henry. I loved her too. Muchos. The dynamic and friendship between these 3 was brilliant - and felt so comfortable and real, reminding me a lot of Harry, Ron and Hermione, in the sheer distinction between each character and the way they melded into the group, offered individualism to the 3 of them together. Their respective parents are also to be cherished in this instance - “Our parents had become entirely accustomed to coming into our bedrooms in the mornings and not finding their own children there, but someone else’s.” Musical beds, as Murray’s dad aptly put it - such is the honest, open and innocent friendship between them. Loved it.
Other characters that will totally capture your heart, mind and soul - you’ve been warned:
“Us seniors, despite the occasional personality clash, generally all got along pretty well. Maybe we were an anomalous bunch, or maybe high school movies have been lying to us all along, but all I know is that the “jocks” sometimes hung out with the “nerds” and that most people were nice to most other people most of the time.”
I connected with this, because my high school experience was pretty much this. We all got along despite differences, by the end of year 11, and through 2 years of 6th form, we all became a melted pot of cliques that overlapped, everyone hanging out with everyone. Not every YA book centred around high school has to have that setting where nerd and jocks were poles apart. This book, to me at least, took a lot of these cliches and sort of waved goodbye to them without distinctly saying “hey, I’m going to disregard this” - instead it was made to feel natural, that yeah why not, why not everyone just be cool with each other? Muchos props to the author for this.
Something that I also really really appreciated in this book (another wave goodbye to classical cliche) was that even though Maddy was seen as the popular hot girl (you know, blonde, with a killer body and all that) she wasn’t some evil serpent hell bent on the damnation of other girls - instead she was friendly with everyone and eventually joined Henry’s gang instead of being made out to be some evil soul sucker who every girl hated and every guy wanted. Which man alivvve, was a refreshing change.
Other noteworthy and commendable characters worthy of a mention (with one passage each to represent their character/characters wholesomely).
“I. Cannot. Fucking. Believe I let you talk me into this,” Sadie said from the driver’s seat as I scrabbled into the foot well of the backseat of her SUV … “I’m a twenty-nine-year-old neuroscientist and I’m aiding and abetting my teenage hoodlum brother to stalk his disabled crush. What went so drastically wrong in my life?”
“I’m going to cook mini pizzas for everyone, if you don’t mind buying the ingredients. Also.”
I cleared my throat. “There’s a girl coming over.”
“Do you have a group assignment at school?” Mom asked.
“Is she tutoring you?” Dad said.
“Are you selling her something?”
“Did you lure her here under false pretences?”
“Does she think you come from old money?”
“Are you blackmailing her?”
“Is she a heavy drug user?”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh, ha-ha, you’re both very funny.”
“We think so,” said Mom as Dad air-high-fived her.
(Okay, so I take back what I said about them being cool.)”
“Haven’t seen or heard from you in, like, two days, kid. I was starting to think Mom and Dad had murdered you and buried you in a shallow grave.”
“Sadie, don’t be ridiculous,” Dad said from the kitchen.
“We’d make his grave at least four or five feet deep. We don’t half-ass murder in this house.”
HENRY/GRACE & THE ENDING THAT ENDS ALL ENDINGS. CAPITALISATION BECAUSE THIS IS MUCHOS IMPORTANT-O:
(Spoiler alert - mild).
Henry. He wasn’t my standout character (as you may have already guessed, I was riding high on the Murray ship) but Henry was a swell character. I appreciate him, his views, his development - which wasn’t typical of a hormonal raged boy. He wasn’t the strikingly handsome-take-note-I’m-here kind of guy, he was a blender (Sahina’s made up word in which someone in YA simply blends into the high school scene, not belonging to any particular clique) which people liked. He described himself as lanky, nerdy, but also as having a lot to offer - hello, this boy made a powerpoint presentation on why he should be dated. I don’t want to risk posting everything on here when really you should be reading the book, but seriously, his powerpoint presentation was, aptly, on point (pun intended).
Grace’s character was special, she catches your eye because 1. she walked into a new school wearing all boys clothes, unwashed hair, and an air or smelliness around her - which only added to her allure and mystery, which eventually we would all be sucked into. She was a great character, striking, and honestly, heartbreaking. I so wanted to cry about when she spoke about Dom *spoilers ahead, hit the breaks guys if you don’t wana know!* near the end, about how much she loved him.
“I wish you could see the world the way I see the world. See that death is the reward for having lived.”
Her feelings, her justifications, her views, were all shaped by her love and loss - and though I can’t relate to her loss, it felt right when reading it. I didn’t sit there rolling my eyes at how dramatised it was and silently wishing for her to get over it and move it along. I understood her actions and her reasonings - but more than anything I felt a bone deep sadness for her. She couldn’t be fixed, not by love, not by Henry, not by anything else. She had to heal. Which we see at the end, she does, slowly, bit by bit. I’m so glad, like I said earlier, that Henry’s love doesn’t end up fixing her and making everything okay. This was something Grace had to deal with on her own, her own loss. It rejects many of the YA tropes that love can fix everything, and I fully appreciate that for this story at least, for these characters, this just wasn’t the ending meant for them. Henry, smart boy that he is, was right - he would be okay. He’d hurt, but he would be okay. And he was.
Bringing home my final point as to why I loved this book as much as I did, was the ending. The ending felt justified. IT FELT RIGHT. I didn’t want them to end up together, because throughout this whole book, we see why it won’t work - that Henry’s in love with the IDEA of her, not really her, and he questions himself on it too, which I appreciate, rather than him trying to convince us that he does really love her. Self awareness in a narration is a big deal to me. Also the fact that he doesn’t act like a total ass and typical guy with the revelations that come his way, but instead shows understanding - like for example - when he realises that for Grace, Dom was her first everything, first love, first kiss etc - and he comes to the understanding that of course she will always love him and she acted the way she did with Henry was because that’s all she knew.
“Why do you kiss me like that?” I said when it was over.
“Like what?” she said, pulling back from me slightly.
“Like you’re in love with me.”
Grace looked from my eyes to my lips and then back again. “It’s the only way I know how.”
Because Dom had been her first and only everything, before me. When she’d first learned to kiss, it had been with the great love of her life.”
From Henry again, the understanding that you can’t expect someone to love you in the way you want, that Grace was giving him all she could, and he accepted and understood that and it was unfair to ask more of her when she didn’t have it to give. Henry wasn’t entitled to her, in any way.
“You can’t begrudge people their feelings. Grace had done what was right by her. I couldn’t ask for more than that.”
“And it took until that moment for me to realise, finally, that I was a blip in someone else’s love story. That there was a grand love going on here, but it wasn’t my own, as I’d hoped”
These parts were really really important to me, and to the book. Admittedly, while a lot of this books screams fictional, the issues and feelings are very much real and these feelings from these characters, is a prime example of it all. You can really connect with it on so many levels. It’s not just some part in a book - it speaks on higher platform, a bigger level - about love and loss, the idea of love, the reality of love. And of course.. I love it. Have I said love too many times? TOO BAD.
Extra, EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT
The writing and waxing lyrical awesomeness. Puns and pop references galore:
Granted a lot of the witty conversations and antics of the characters in this book were unrealistic, while in some books I’d scoff and roll my eyes, in this book, I loved it - because it went with the story, it made me laugh and of course as a reader I have a right to be selective of what content I like or don’t based simply on will, and writing.
“Alas, as teenage relationships are wont to do, their grand love story didn’t last. Seeta told Murray her parents wanted her to date a “nice Indian boy” (this was, I suspect, an elaborate lie inspired by Bend It Like Beckham, constructed in order to spare Murray his feelings).”
Bend It Like Beckham is my favourite movie, like, ever. For this book to have mentioned it, pretty much clinches the deal that this is an awesome book like none other and we should bow down to it, if not JUST because of that movie reference. Not like you need any more proof, but - THERE WERE ALSO HARRY POTTER REFERENCES. Need I say more? No, I shan't.
AND WITH THAT, I AM ABOUT TO END THIS REVIEW. PHEW. This book was all things brilliant, HILARIOUS, heart warming, heart breaking and just all around HOLY BALLS. With fluid and beautiful writing, texts and notes interspersed throughout, a range of loveable characters and an ending that defies cliches but captures your heart - this is an absolute must read for everyone.
A RECOMMENDATION OF THE HIGHEST ORDER, DECREED BY SAHINA, THE BOOK-RECOMMENDING-FAIRY
(or something along those lines).
I accept thank you comments, thank you notes or money in exchange for my public service announcement.
And to make this review EVEN longer than it already is, here's some of my favourite quotes from the book. ENJOY.
And to make this review EVEN longer than it already is, here's some of my favourite quotes from the book. ENJOY.
“Who’s the sheila, mate?” said Murray without looking away from the screen, where he was plowing a tank over a line of police cars.
“Saw you going off after her like a raw prawn.”
“Roll back the slang, Kangaroo Jack,” I said, crossing the room to boot up Sadie’s old iMac computer, which was, after almost two decades of service, still wheezing along with life.
“There are no unsuspecting American girls in the room for you to charm.”
Murray was, for the most part, capable of speaking like a normal human being, but he’d discovered somewhere along the way that sounding like a bushman from the outback endeared him to the womenfolk. Sometimes he forgot to turn it off.
Murray bounded into my lap, his obscene muscle mass crushing my legs as he threaded his arms around my neck and pressed his forehead to mine. “Are you sure there’s nothing going on? Because we may have spied on you from the grimy basement window and seen you staring deeply into each other’s eyes.”
“Ask her to come hang out Monday afternoon after school,” Lola said, stroking her chin. “Bring her to the lions’ den. Let us be the judges of that.”
“As long as Murray promises not to pull this shit.” Muz was now rubbing his hair all over my face and chest and arms. “Can you . . . Ugh, Murray. C’mon, get off!”
“I’m scenting my territory!” he insisted. “I can’t lose you!”
“I looked at Lola. “This is why I’m single.”
La shook her head. “I promise you, it’s not.”
So I went limp and let Murray anoint me with his greasy mane, certain that if Grace ever witnessed the weirdness that went on in this room, she’d run the other way.”
“I was sufficiently drunk by the time we walked to Heslin’s, so I don’t actually remember how we got there or who carried the bathtub (with Murray in it).”
“Did you speak to Seeta?” Murray said. “Has she taken a lover? Who must I kill?”
“After the eighth person, Lola made a sign that read Confess your sins for absolution and stuck it above a drop box in the hall. Murray got wind of the situation and turned up at lunchtime in a priest costume, complete with holy water, and then proceeded to sit by our makeshift confessional, greeting each wayward soul that came our way. ”
“Muz raises a very good point, though,” La said. “Who was the strange girl you were sprinting after? Did you think to yourself, ‘Here’s finally one that can’t get away,’ but then she proved you wrong?”
“Town’s already in there. And Leung as well. You already know each other, I believe?” Hink gave me the look that people always gave me when they knew I’d been the last male to put my lips on Lola Leung’s lips before she’d gone AWOL from the masculine species.”
“Did you hear that?” I said to La after Grace was gone. “She likes the Pixies and Fight Club.”
“Pretty sure I like the Pixies and Fight Club, you giant bag of dickweed.”
“Yeah, but you’re a devious lesbian who steals boys’ first kisses and then forever emasculates them by coming out of the closet two weeks later.”
“Speaking of, I forgot to tell you something. Madison Carlson legit asked me the other day how bad a kisser you must be to turn a girl off mankind forever.”
“I hope you politely explained that sexual orientation is predetermined and that you were already a lesbian when you kissed me.”
“Oh no, I told her you have a crooked penis and that after I saw it I could never contemplate seeing another.”