The Hits, Part 1

wonderThe perks of being a wallflowercode name verity

I’m taking a rare free day to bring you ‘The Hits’ of what I’ve been reading recently. I’m still updating my reads and recommendations on my twitter feed where you can find me if I’m not able to blog super-regularly.

In this post I’m bringing you my September reads: Wonder by R.J Palacio, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Two of these were recommendations from young adults, and I’m grateful for the suggestions!

Wonder is a story about August, a young boy who was born with facial disfigurements that have required multiple surgeries and meant he has been homeschooled for all of his life. But now he is about to try school for the first time.

The story has a wonderful pace, and the alteration of narrators throughout works, despite my initial misgivings – August’s voice is compelling and interesting and I didn’t really want to leave it behind. However, we are introduced to other characters and their perspective on August, which parallels well with August’s own narration. The only voice I was unsure of was Justin’s, but every other voice arguably has a place in the text.

Surviving school in your adolescent years is hardly new territory, but Palacio makes it shine with August as her lead character. It offers a fresh perspective as well as discussing problems such as feeling lonely, being bullied, and the usual arduous task of being a teenager – though the latter is largely through the eyes of August’s older sister, Viola. I was struck by not only the book’s warmth but its heart; this is a book that should be read by eleven year olds, fresh in their first year of secondary school and trying to find a foothold at the bottom of a new pecking order.

Another ‘coming-of-age story’, but for a slightly older age group, is The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. Again, the voice of the lead character is very strong, except Charlie writes in letters to an anonymous friend. I was apprehensive of this form, but Chbosky makes it work effectively – after all, Charlie is the wallflower, always observing and rarely sharing. Something about his voice is very compelling, and the combination of that and plot really keeps you hooked.

His negotiations of friendships is interesting; he participates, but it is a clear there are louder and more outgoing characters who could easily have stolen the limelight of the plot if it wasn’t for Charlie. By choosing Charlie as narrator it bridges the gap between the reader and the plot; you, the reader, are observing just as Charlie is. You see these teenagers growing up and how they are electing to spend their adolescence, and dealing with all the issues that brings. And as the plot tides over, Charlie has recurrent reflections on the loss of his aunt on his birthday. Chbosky wraps Charlie’s narrative together with great skill, tying together the end of the year and everything that that brings for the characters.

Finally, Code Name Verity. I picked up this book as I had heard it was good and know it was shortlisted for the Carnegie. It tells the story of a British spy, Verity, who has been captured after her plane crash-landed in Nazi-occupied France. She has agreed to co-operate with them so she won’t be tortured, even though it means, in her words: “I AM A COWARD.” She writes about everything she knows about the British war effort, through the eyes of her friend Maddie, a female trainee pilot.

Verity has a lovely tone. She is Scottish, basically aristocracy, with a cheek that gets her into frequent spats and trouble with her minder, Engel, and the officer she deals with, von Linden. She keeps this tone throughout, even if it does mean she gets into trouble with Engel and von Linden. It retains humour in the narrative which, given the subject matter, is probably needed to keep it from becoming too bleak. The plot works well as it hops between Verity and Maddie’s stories, and moves up another gear when Maddie ‘proper’ arrives to tell her story. I think the finale is well-executed, but perhaps missed the punch it could have had. Regardless, it is a well-worked YA novel and I can see how it was shortlisted for the Carnegie.

Recommendation: All are great, but I’d choose Wonder by R.J Palacio.

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Wonder: 9/10

Perks: 8/10

Code Name Verity: 7/10

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Follow me on twitter: @unexploredbooks

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