Friday, 18 August 2017

Am I Normal Yet? - Holly Bourne

'Because now people use the phrase OCD to describe minor personality quirks. "Oooh, I like my pens in a line, I'm so OCD."
NO YOU'RE FUCKING NOT.
"Oh my God, I was so nervous about that presentation, I literally had a panic attack."
NO YOU FUCKING DIDN'T.
"I'm so hormonal today. I just feel totally bipolar."
SHUT UP, YOU IGNORANT BUMFACE."'


Hello!

I'm back with a fitting post in the Hel-Ya! aftermath; young adult, of course!

Oh, and if you've somehow missed it, I made a book-focused instagram @skiesandfairytales which you can totally check out if you don't get enough of my day-to-day book ramblings in your life yet. It's pretty amazing, of course. Definitely recommend.

Anyway! New read; Holly Bourne's Am I Normal Yet? As you can see, I read the Finnish edition ('Am I Quite Normal?') published by Gummerus, and I felt it was a top-notch translation.

Even though I had heard many good things about this book, I was honestly a bit discouraged to the experience by the cover. I thought it hinted that the book was for readers younger than myself. Instead, this book ended up being one of the brightest YA reads yet this year. Whoops. Thankfully I won this in a Hel-Ya! raffle so I wanted to read it, if nothing else then to be polite.

This is the story of Evie, a 16 year old recovering from OCD and Generalised Anxiety Disorder and trying to make a life of being something else than the girl who went mental. She has made actual friends but is worried of telling them of her condition, because she fears they might not understand it. And then there's the strange world of dating, which is enough to make anyone lose their mind... not to mention the bad thoughts that will never leave her alone.

This book deals with really important things: Evie and her friends found the Spinster Club, in which they celebrate their friendship and talk about feminist topics. Evie's OCD is also handled very delicately; it's not romanticised or cool, and Evie is constantly struggling with it. Am I Normal Yet? also talks about many feminist theories and ideas, and the stigma on mental health, as well as how people talk about them casually, without quite realising the magnitude of actually having one. It's a really tasteful depiction of a very serious illness.

Evie and her friends also date all sorts of guys a girl might date in her teenage years: from extremely sleazy to maybe even too kind for their own good, and everything in between. It also stresses the importance of friends and how they can and should be there for you. I really like Evie, Amber and Lottie, and I'm thrilled that in the second and third book of the series, the other two get to be in the limelight.

I'm really excited to read the rest of these books. The second part: How Hard Can Love Be? was recently given a Finnish translation, so hopefully I can get a matching set of these. Then again, I can't promise I'll be able to wait for the third part to get a Finnish translation. I could hardly put this book down after I started it.

I want to give this a 5/5. I enjoyed reading it immensely, and I thought it dealt with very important topics. I have no complaints about it, really. I could mostly tell where the plot was headed, but I didn't even mind that. It was a really good read. 

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 20: A book about a disabled or a seriously ill person! Because Evie is certainly seriously ill and I think it's important to recognise that mental illnesses are a really serious thing.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Helsinki Young Adult Literature Convention - Hel-YA!

Heyo!
Here's my loot from today! *-* I'm very excited and probably confused a volunteer when we asked to take a poster home but two of them got a loving home with me (not only as a background for pictures):


I'm back! Actually I'm literally back, it being almost midnight and I'm just writing down some thoughts of Hel-Ya, from which myself and Daniel just returned from.

Anyway. Hel-Ya's idea was to have a convention for ya-books because for some reason (judging by the big crowd present, the reason isn't disinterest!) there hasn't been a convention for that yet in Finland. The setting, a restaurant called Lämpö ('Warmth') in Sörnäinen, Helsinki.

The event included five panels: 

'In the Beginning, There Was a Story: How Story Worlds Are Built' with Mintie Das, Emmi Itäranta, Salla Simukka, Johanna Valkama and Erika Vik. This was, as the name suggests, in English, and it was a ton of fun! The panelists were asked about the worldbuilding in their books, and all of them had different ways of making their stories happen, as well as whether it started with the characters or the story... Notes and whether or not they make them, where their characters come from, that sort of stuff. Also, Salla Simukka brought up how annoying it is that we talk about 'strong female characters', instead of, you know, just characters that are well-written. Really important.



'Tytöille, Pojille, Muille. Kuka kirjoittaa ja kenelle?' ('For Girls, For Boys, For Others. Who's Writing and for Whom?') with Antti Halme, Siri Kolu, Aki Parhamaa, Anders Vacklin and Elina Rouhiainen. This sparked some important debate about how female main characters can and should be relatable for boys as well, and vice versa. Even though the current Finnish YA literature is currently mostly written by females, it's not only for them.

'Kuinka minusta tuli (ya-)kirjailija' ('How I Became a (YA) Author') with Katri Alatalo, Juuli Niemi and Siri Kolu. This was very interesting since the authors again had different paths to their career, and I bet many people in the audience were hoping to follow in their footsteps. Also something I remember Siri Kolu saying: 'We always hear how many books get declined, but I think we should focus on the message that a couple of them do get through!' So don't get discouraged, you.

'Kysy kustantamoilta!' ('Ask the Publishers!'), represented by Kaiken Enterntainment, WSOY, Gummerus and Otava, covering pretty much all of the bigger Finnish publisher companies. I found this to be quite important, since the publishers make things happen but are rarely in the foreground themselves. (In Finnish we call this 'takapiru', or a background devil...) There was cool discussion about how cover art is chosen, how books are picked up for a translation, what to do if you've made big changes to your original (declined) novel... Also, don't put down your own work when sending it to the publisher! That does not make anyone excited about it.

'All the Feels: What Makes YA a Great Genre' by Mintie Das, Emmi Itäranta, Juuli Niemi, Elina Rouhiainen, Salla Simukka and Salla Juntunen. Really important discussions about, among other things, sex scenes in YA, LGBT representation and how gay sex is somehow considered 'more explicit'. The participants also mentioned what they'd like to see in the future for YA: even more diverse stories (from Mintie Das: "I don't want to be a black astronaut, I want to be the astronaut!"), different sexual identities and different stories for these people, diverse families... I suppose this is a neverending road, but we've gotten so far already.

'Unien kieltä: Fantasia tänään' ('The Language of Dreams: Fantasy Today') by Katri Alatalo, Sini Helminen, Elina Pitkäkangas, Erika Vik and Nea Ojala. Really cool stuff about why the authors ended up writing fantasy (for some to escape reality, for some to get closer to it), what makes fantasy a great genre (apologies for the pun), et cetera. 

There was also a Skype interview with Holly Bourne, who wrote The Spinster Club series (I'm reading 'Am I Normal Yet?' at the moment!). That was really cool but unfortunately suffered from some technical difficulties, her audio breaking up and making it near impossible to follow at times. Especially since she's such a big, international author (and really down to earth, based on what I could hear!), this was a real shame. Her tip for aspiring authors? Just write. I think that's a good one.



Also, there were greetings from authors abroad, such as Estelle Maskame of DIMILY, which was cool. One of them however was very impersonal and short, and I thought it wasn't maybe worth the effort... Shame.

Also, there was a casual publishing party for Elina Rouhiainen's book Muistojenlukija ('Reader of Memories') after all of this but I must admit we kind of drifted back home soon after the official end. Six hours of mostly non-stop happening kind of took a toll on both of us. I did buy the book and get it signed, though!

Speaking of signings, I got all the books pictured above signed (except for The Hate U Give, DIMILY and Et kävele yksin), as well as five I already owned. I'll probably be showing you the signatures as I review the books because I'm extremely proud of them. The authors were all so nice I just can't believe any of that actually happened!

A quick pros/cons/suggestions to wrap this up (because I'm sleepy!)

+ Great authors! I can't fully emphasise but these were the creme de la creme of Finnish ya authors and I was starstruck *-*
+ Free stuff! My friends know this is the way to my heart. Especially the pre-publish Finnish translation of The Hate U Give was an awesome gift to the first 100.
+ Well-organised...

- ...But it could have been better still. Holly Bourne's interview quality, the way it was (not) resolved, all the panels running a bit long, restaurant Heat getting VERY, well, Heaty.
- With the Flow Festival works, the location was incredibly difficult to find, even with a picture guide on Facebook.
- I don't think one of the author showed up for her given signing time, so maybe better information in both directions about that?

* Next time I'd love to have Finnish art makers/bookish craftspeople selling their stuff at the event! I'd love to support those local talents...
* More time between the panels could help, not only with the running too long thing, but also with the fact that it did get a bit tiring with the quickfire schelude.
* Better guidance to the area.
* Would have loved (for Daniel) to be able to buy some books in English as well!

In general, though, myself and Daniel both loved the event and I can't wait to go again (next year please please please happen again <3)! You can kind of expect me to be reading these books for the better part of the year about to come...

Friday, 4 August 2017

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman

''Can I get you a drink?' the man yelled, over the top of the next song. I wondered whether the DJ had ever considered introducing a five-minute break between records, to allow people to go to the bar or the lavatory in peace. Perhaps I should suggest that to him later.
'No, thank you,' I said. 'I don't want to accept a drink from you, because then I would be obliged to purchase one for you in return, and I'm simply not interested in spending two drinks' worth of time with you.'' 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is Gail Honeyman's debut work. It's a very heartfelt, funny and sad story about a young woman who's good at going through the movements of life, but less so at actually living. She's very sharp but hasn't been able to make friends, and an event from her childhood has caused her to have a strained relationship with her mother. She makes an acquintance in a colleague called Raymond, and things start to seem better for her when she meets someone she feels she could love. She changes her wardrobe and starts working on her social skills. Of course, changing your whole life is never really that easy.

There's a lot of real problems in this book. It talks a lot about loneliness and what it does to a person, how you can be lonely even when in a crowd,  and how difficult it can be to live when you're so used to just surviving your days. It talks about what it's like to not be in touch with your family or even other people in general. When your life passes you by but you don't know how to stop it. Eleanor feels deeply relatable even though I don't actually share most of her life experiences.

Eleanor is great as a character. As you can see from my chosen quote, she's very sharp and funny without even meaning to be, and her inner dialogue is such a pleasure to read. I loved it and I loved her. Raymond is also great, he's late when Eleanor is early, messy when she's clean... you get the idea. They make a wonderful duo, and the dynamic of their friendship is great. Also so many points for the fact that Eleanor's life isn't suddenly made so much better by her falling in love and all her problems disappearing. That's all too common in books like this, and it makes people think depression and whatnot other mental problems are gone just like that.

Even though I liked this, I can't shake the feeling this book should've been around 100 pages shorter (it stands at 385 or so as it is). I saw a really good discussion about this in a Facebook group a couple of days ago, actually. It was mentioned that it's important not to cut 'day to day' life from your book because it's equally as important as what's happening. I'd like to argue that a book doesn't feel too long (case in point: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, or any of the others, really) if it's good enough. With this one though, sometimes I was dreadfully bored, in between the actual events. I think it could have been more concise.

I also saw the ending coming many miles away, though it had one twist I hadn't expected. About the twist (no spoilers though): some people say they didn't like it, but to me it really worked. Hm. To each their own, to each their own.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 16: A book which has got some award abroad. It was actually difficult finding a category for this, am I nearing the end yet?

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling

'"He must have known I'd want to leave you."
"No, he must have known you would always want to come back."'


Heyo!

What's life now? I don't know. I finished the Harry Potter series last week. This was the last one. And honestly, now that I've read them all, it feels like there might actually not be another series like this for a long time. A series that is this long and of this good of a quality, in which every part is tied to the others so skillfully. Everything comes together really neatly, and this is an excellent ending to the series. It's shaped the way we view young adult books, and it's done that for a reason. When The Hunger Games came out, it was 'for fans of Harry Potter' just based on the fact that it was a series for young people who enjoy quality. Now everything is for the fans of The Hunger Games.

I won't include spoilers in this post, but I think I'll make a compilation spoiler thoughts post for what I thought of all the books. Sometime this week maybe? Or next week. Something like that.

Anyway, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the seventh and the last book in the series. This is the book it all comes down to; horcruxes, hallows and The Battle of Hogwarts. Harry Potter must kill Lord Voldemort, for he is the only one who can. That makes it sound like there's only one or two things going on in this book, but there's actually a lot more to it.

For a series that was originally marketed for children, this last part is very dark. You've come to like and know these characters, so this war actually feels brutal and the outcome doesn't come without casualties. Some of them really made me sad. I'm sure everyone who's gone through this whole journey feels the pain and the sacrifice.

What can I say about this, really? I loved the first part (you know, the one that pretty much ends with my chosen quote), and the latter half, even though it was very awful, I enjoyed immensely as well. One of my favourite things in this book is also the way they use Expelliarmus. I thought that was incredibly smart and cool, and fitting of Harry's character. Also, like Half-Blood Prince, this book also gave more backstory to Snape and also Dumbledore. I enjoyed that.

What I didn't like in this book is the epilogue. It simply wasn't enough. For this series with hundreds of characters, this sort of ending just felt all too small. Also, the new characters introduced didn't get enough time to get my affections... And The Cursed Child came so much later, I feel like my point still stands. I know all of these characters got a lot of conclusion over on Pottermore, but it just doesn't feel as real to me since it wasn't in the actual book. It's kind of a shame, really. There's so much more to explore here and we get Fantastic Beasts instead?

Regardless, I can't give this book anything but 5/5, even if the ending was a bit disappointing. It's still one of the best series perhaps ever written, and this was the ending it deserved, even if the epilogue wasn't.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 21: A hero story or a book about a brave person!

Hey, by the way - I bought Caraval for the Kindle as well since it was on sale for £0.99. I already want to read it again, this time in English. Maybe before part two comes out?

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Ruskeat Tytöt - Koko Hubara

'Minun tarinani ei ole se, kun ohikulkijat vetelevät minua silmäripsistä, kun ihmiset koskettelevat kyselemättä hiuksiani, ja kertovat minulle kuinka olen manteli ja maitokahvi ja mokkalatte ja vadelmasuklaa ja seepra ja panda ja hevonen ja apina ja kookospähkinä ja Oreo-keksi.'

'My story is not how passersby pull my eyelashes, when people touch my hair without asking and tell me how I'm an almond and coffee with milk and a mocha latte and raspberry chocolate and a zebra and a panda and a horse and a monkey and a coconut and an Oreo.' 


Hello again!

This is the first book I actually reserved from the local library. I queued for it for nearly two months and I was lucky to still get it while I'm here for the summer. That I will allow to speak volumes of how much I wanted to read it. I would have happily queued for this for two years, if I needed to.

I don't know where I should start in talking about this. There's so much I want to say, because everything in this book is important and the only way I'll get through it all is by writing the book again, here. I'll try my best to say what matters the most. Bear with me, please.

Let me just tell you up front that Ruskeat Tytöt ('Brown Girls') is a very personal work, one born out of necessity. The author wrote this book because there wasn't a work like it when she needed one in her life. She wrote it because there's not enough representation of people like her; girls who have lived in Finland her whole life but are the 'wrong' colour and therefore are treated like strangers.

This book talks about both racism and feminism, hence the two parts of the name. More accurately, it's about intersectional feminism; the idea that various aspects of our lives affect us at the same time. As in, the author's is both a girl and brown at all times, and both of these things make her often invisible in the media and affect how other people view her.

The author Koko Hubara is also the founder of Ruskeat Tytöt, the first Finnish 'from us to us' media for brown girls. There's some information about it in English here if you're interested. It matters because the representations given to us in the media are always coloured by whether or not the author understands the implications of race in their work. We white people don't always think about that, because we don't grow up constantly thinking about our own whiteness in a world where we perceive it to be the norm. I get that now, having read this book.

The book is divided into chapters about different subjects; the way girls are (and black girls aren't) portayed in media, 30 facts about Yemen, sexual violence is sexual violence, the way the collection of statistics in Finland makes brown girls seem nonexistent. They're all important things, and I think it's vital that we acknowledge them as problems and maybe even some as solutions. Therefore I'd like to suggest that reading this is almost as important even if you're not a Brown Girl. I say 'almost as' because to a Brown Girl this could be a lifeline, while to me it's something I want to make a change in. 

'Näen itseni näköisiä ihmisiä suomalaisessa mediassa yleensä vain silloin, kun aiheena ovat turvapaikanhakijat, islamisaatio, terrorismi, tyttöjen ympärileikkauset, raiskaukset ja muut suututtavat tragediat, samaan aikaan kun valkoisilla ihmisillä on nähtävänään ja kulutettavanaan esitystapoja enemmän kuin taivaalla on tähtiä.'

'I see people that look like me in Finnish media usually only when the topics are asylum seekers, islamisation, terrorism, the circumcision of girls, rapes and other tragedies to make you angry, meanwhile white people have ways of representation to use and to spend more than there are stars in the sky.'

I also want to tell you that the language of this book is amazing; it's beautiful and thoughtful and deeply touching. It's not amazing 'for a brown person' or anything like that (I feel like mentioning this is important just in case anyone thought anything different); it's absolutely gorgeous for any person and I wish I could formulate my thoughts half as well. It's one of the best-written books I'll read this year.

I decided, after thinking about it for a couple of days, to rate this 4/5. It's because it sometimes jars a bit, which isn't an experience Just because I didn't give this a full 5/5 doesn't mean that I don't think this is one of the most important books I will read this year. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't read it no matter who you are or where you are, regardless of the constraints of your colour or gender or preconceptions. Of course, the language can be a problem, but I'm sure Brown Girls feel these things no matter where they are. And us White Girls and Boys can always be better. Also, this is a book I'll buy for my own shelf without any qualms when I see it. I want to have a copy of it to give to my friends to read.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 42: A debut book!