Friday, 15 May 2015

Review: Read Me Like A Book by Liz Kessler

For the first time in her life, Ashleigh Walker is experiencing the thrill and heartache of being in love. It's taking her mind off all of her other problems, to the point where her heart races every time she looks at the person she's fallen for. But it's not her boyfriend that makes her feel this way - it's the young English teacher, Miss Murray, who's just started teaching her class at college. Ash has never considered she might be more interested in girls than in boys, but these new feelings are about to change her life.

Having intentionally avoided reading too many specifics about this one in advance - I'm a fan of Liz's, and the wonderful Charlie In A Book had assured me I'd love it, so I was trying to go into it relatively unspoiled - I hadn't realised the main character was in her last year at college. I love books about teens at this point in their lives, and given how crucial a time it is, it always surprises me there doesn't seem to be a huge amount of YA focused on it. It's really interestingly-paced - I was finding it slower than expected to start off with, but I think that's due to just how well Liz Kessler shows us Ash getting to know Miss Murray, and developing a crush on her. In addition to Ash's discovery of her sexuality, there's also issues she has with her parents becoming increasingly unhappy living together, a falling out with her best friend, trying to decide whether she wants to go to university, and problems with her boyfriend (before she starts to realise that she's a lesbian.) There is a lot of stuff going on here, and you know what? That's perfect, because when you're in those last months of your college life, there ARE a ton of things happening, and it's brilliant to see that Liz Kessler's novel looks at them all.

That last sentence of the previous paragraph makes it sound hugely depressing, I've just realised, but this absolutely isn't the truth. Ash faces problems, but she also meets people who help her deal with these problems - Miss Murray, for one, as well as her mother, and friends old and new. It's a hopeful book, and it left me excited for Ash's future once I'd finished reading it. (And by the way, I absolutely want to read more about her - a sequel would be right at the top of my 'most anticipated' list!

PLEASE NOTE: I normally avoid spoilers like the plague, but there are more than usual from this point here. I don't think they'll affect your enjoyment too much, but if you want to go in knowing a bare minimum about it, maybe stop reading now?

So what makes it so good? Apart from Ash being such a well-drawn and sympathetic character, partly rebellious but partly desperate to please, I also loved her relationships with the women and girls around her. From reading the blurb I was expecting her relationship with Miss Murray to be the centrepiece of the book. While it's definitely a huge part of it - and as a teacher, I thought it was brilliantly handled and that it showed Miss Murray in a great light, as she had to deal with an inappropriate crush - there are a couple of others which are also especially well-written. Firstly, there's her friendship with Cat, which goes back a long time but suffers a rocky patch given everything going on. I thought this pairing was a fantastic one; it's wonderful to see two girls with a lot of history who can argue, upset each other, but also have a strong enough bond that they can each rely on the other to help them in a time of need. Secondly, I really loved the changing relationship between Ash and her mother. This starts with a lot of conflict as the issues between her parents have left Ash unhappy with both of them, and her mother isn't coping well with the breakdown of her marriage, but develops to one in which they both support each other. And there's another really sweet relationship, towards the end of the book, which I won't discuss due to it being too spoilery, but which I thought was beautiful and lovely, and made me want to cheer at a particular point. (As did a lot of the last 25%, to the point where I was DM'ing Charlie to tell her my favourite bits even after I should probably have worked out she'd fallen asleep!)

Add in excellent dialogue - Liz has a great ear for the teen voice and a writing style which had me reading the book from start to finish in one gulp, completing it with a happy sigh at about half past one this morning, and I feel super confident in saying that this is going to be hitting a lot of 'best of' lists for the year. 

(For those unfamiliar with the background to the book, by the way, it's Liz Kessler's first YA novel, written 15 years ago but never published. At that time, publishers wouldn't touch it because of the vile Section 28, thankfully since repealed, which left so many people in fear of 'promoting homosexuality'. A decade and a half down the line - with Liz a successful MG author and the landscape for LGBT books looking so much better than it did when I was a teen - Liz offered the book to her publisher, who texted her to say "Times have changed, and we are ready to move with them". Of course, it's a real shame that it's taken 15 years to get here - but I'm so, so glad that it was absolutely worth the long wait!)

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