The Forevers – Chris Whitaker

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

She was seventeen years old.

She would die in one month.

Mae has grown up knowing that she and her sister, Stella, won’t live long enough to become adults. Asteroid 8050XF11, A.K.A. Selena, is on a collision course with Earth.

So, what do you do when an Extinction Level Event is imminent? Some people put their faith in God and wait for a miracle. Others place their hope in science. If disaster movies have taught us anything, it’s that scientists will consistently fail until just before the credits roll. Then they’ll come up with a solution that’ll save the world. Surely they can do this in real life, too. 

There are the leavers, people “who said their goodbyes or those that simply tired of the wait and disappeared in search of more.” Then there are those who are living like there’s no tomorrow. They figure if you’re not going to live long enough for the consequences to catch up with you, then you might as well do whatever you want.

The countdown is on. There’s one month to go until God performs a miracle, science comes through with the biggest win in the history of the world or everyone dies.

Mae and many others in West spend much of their final month attending school and working. I doubt I would be doing either if I knew the end was nigh. Mae’s also trying to learn the truth behind the recent death of Abi, her former best friend.

Impending doom doesn’t negate the usual high school drama, with popular kids, bullies and outcasts all featured. Some of these kids have significant difficulties in their lives, though, even if you ignore the whole 70 mile wide asteroid that’s going to obliterate them in the very near future thing.

I liked Mae but adored Stella, her eight year old sister, who stole every scene she was in. With such heavy content, I was especially grateful for the comic relief that came in the form of Felix. He was all about sleeping when he’s dead and becoming visible to the love of his life, despite the fact that she already has a boyfriend.

A lot of characters were introduced but I didn’t form a connection with a number of them, due to their personality or because I didn’t get to know them well enough. There’s practically an entire alphabet of content warnings at the end of my review, with so many important issues touched on. However, individual circumstances didn’t always have enough page time for them to be explored in the depth I would have liked. 

For example, for most of the book Sally is pretty much only ever referred to in terms of her weight. She’s the fat girl. She‘s almost always consuming copious amounts of food whenever we see her. She’s fat shamed. A lot. When I finally learned something else about her, I wanted an entire book dedicated to her. There’s so much complexity and emotion there, and it felt like I only just scraped the surface of who she was.

The mystery of what happened to Abi faded into the background at times as the struggles of other characters were explored. There was a resolution, though, and many characters were given the opportunity to do what they needed to in order to finish their stories on their own terms.

Sometimes it took me a while to figure out which character was in a scene with Mae, especially when they’d only be referred to as ‘he’ for several paragraphs before they were named. Some scene changes felt jarring and for a while around the middle of the book I wasn’t even sure if I was enjoying it. 

But this was a compulsive read and Mae and Stella’s relationship kept me invested. An ugly cry snuck up on me at the end and I’m still thinking about several characters. I’m definitely interested in reading more books by this author and I absolutely adored Muhammad Nafay’s cover illustration. 

We made Forever for the creeps and the weirdos, the freaks and the outlaws.

Content warnings include abortion, addiction, alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, domestic abuse, fat shaming, homophobia, mental health, overdose, physical abuse, self harm, sexual assault, slut shaming and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Thirty days until the end of the world. What would you do?

They knew the end was coming. They saw it ten years back, when it was far enough away in space and time and meaning.
The changes were gradual, and then sudden.

For Mae and her friends, it means navigating a life where action and consequence are no longer related. Where the popular are both trophies and targets. And where petty grudges turn deadlier with each passing day. So, did Abi Manton jump off the cliff or was she pushed? Her death is just the beginning of the end.

With teachers losing control of their students and themselves, and the end rushing toward all of them, it leaves everyone facing the answer to one, simple question…

What would you do if you could get away with anything?

The Good Luck Girls – Charlotte Nicole Davis

Aster, Clementine, Mallow, Tansy and Violet are Good Luck Girls, something that sounds fortuitous until you know what that term truly means. With the exception of Violet, they were taken from their families to Green Creek welcome house with the promise of a better life.

Favors, the welcome house version of branding, are such a contradiction: aesthetically beautiful, yet representative of such pain and suffering.

Good Luck Girls begin working as daybreak girls. On their sixteenth birthday, daybreak girls become sundown girls, through a rite of passage called their Lucky Night.

When Clementine accidentally kills a brag on her Lucky Night, her sister, Aster, is determined to protect her. Now five Good Luck Girls are on the run, pursued by both the living and the dead. Their only hope is to find the Lady Ghost, but as far as anyone knows she’s only a bedtime story.

This book could have broken me, given the darkness of what the girls have experienced, if it wasn’t for the girls themselves. Initially I thought Clementine was going to be the star of this show but Aster and Violet were the two I bonded with the most.

Slightly older than the others, Aster and Violet have experienced trauma the other girls haven’t. I loved them for their strength and courage, despite the odds stacked against them. Given what they’d been through, it would be easy for the darkness to overwhelm them but they refuse to give up, holding onto whatever scraps of hope they can carry.

Although it’s not specifically named here, the girls clearly exhibit signs of PTSD. What I loved, if you can say you love anything where PTSD is concerned, were the nuances. The trauma was expressed differently amongst the girls, with each utilising their individual strengths to survive, both physically and emotionally. There was an authenticity to their portrayal, from the dissociation and flashbacks to the difficulties trusting others and themselves.

The character that caused me the most conflict was Zee. I so wanted to trust him but, like Aster, I wasn’t sure if it was safe to do so. I ended up spending most of the book silently pleading with him to be worthy of the girls’ trust.

It felt as though Aster and Lei from Girls of Paper and Fire were kindred spirits. The raveners reminded me of Dementors, but as a physical embodiment of PTSD. The names of the girls brought to mind Lex and the other girls I met in What Unbreakable Looks Like. This book stands on its own two feet, though.

I was immersed in this world. The threat of the raveners and vengeants were ever-present. The divide between fairbloods and dustbloods was clear. The danger was unrelenting. But hope shone through as brightly as a covered favor.

This is a real underdog story, where you have the opportunity to cheer on a group of girls who have been so downtrodden that you can’t help but become invested in their journey. You want them to win. You need them to win. Because any other outcome would hurt too much.

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, human trafficking, mental health, racism, sexual assault, slavery, suicidal ideation and torture.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Hot Key Books, an imprint of Bonnier Books UK, for the opportunity to read this book. I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Aster. Violet. Tansy. Mallow. Clementine.

Sold as children. Branded by cursed markings. Trapped in a life they never would have chosen.

When Aster’s sister Clementine accidentally murders a man, the girls risk a dangerous escape and harrowing journey to find freedom, justice, and revenge – in a country that wants them to have none of those things. Pursued by the land’s most vicious and powerful forces – both living and dead – their only hope lies in a bedtime story passed from one girl to another, a story that only the youngest or most desperate would ever believe.

It’s going to take more than luck for them all to survive. 

Snowflake – Louise Nealon

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine

This book is an exploration of mental health and it’s a coming of age story. It’s about our relationships, with other people and with ourselves. It’s about how our feelings of not being good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, [insert your own adjective here] enough can manifest in self-destructive behaviours. It’s about cows and snowflakes and stars and dreams.

Debbie grew up in Kildare. She and her Mam, Maeve, live on a dairy farm owned by her uncle Billy. Billy lives in a caravan on the property. Maeve has been writing a book about dreams practically forever and Billy is an alcoholic.

Debbie doesn’t have any friends and her most complicated relationship is with the boy who stands at the back of mass, a boy she’s never spoken to. Now Debbie, a self-proclaimed culchie, is going to university. There she meets Xanthe.

My only friend. Friend? Acquaintance? Person who knows my name?

I’m struggling to think of ways to explain what I liked about each character without getting into spoiler territory. Instead of telling you about specific characters, I’ll tell you what I loved about the characters as a whole.

Every major character is damaged in some way, whether by a personal trauma or the way they see themselves. Every character is trying the best they can with what resources, external and internal, they have to work with. Things might knock them down but they don’t stay down. Everyone is a work in progress.

‘There’s no way to catch a snowflake. And I haven’t met anyone who is able to catch a dream.’

There was an authenticity in the way mental health conditions and emotional pain were addressed throughout the book. Sometimes a sentence that appeared simple enough on the surface felt more profound when I slowed down and reread it.

The bathroom is where I go to recharge, let myself cry and pull myself together just enough to define my edges so I seem solid on the outside.

There were aspects of the story I wanted to delve into further: Maeve’s dreams, Debbie’s dreams, Billy’s mental health…

A character that I could have read an entire book about was Audrey. I wanted to go with her on the journey that led to her making her curiosity cabinet. I felt like she had a backstory that was worth exploring.

Oh, and that quote at the beginning of my review? It’s an Irish saying that means “People live in each other’s shadows.” Basically put, we need one another. I love it!

Content warnings include alcoholism, attempted suicide, disordered eating and mental health.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Eighteen-year-old Debbie White lives on a dairy farm with her mother, Maeve, and her uncle, Billy. Billy sleeps out in a caravan in the garden with a bottle of whiskey and the stars overhead for company. Maeve spends her days recording her dreams, which she believes to be prophecies.

This world is Debbie’s normal, but she is about to step into life as a student at Trinity College in Dublin. As she navigates between sophisticated new friends and the family bubble, things begin to unravel. Maeve’s eccentricity tilts into something darker, while Billy’s drinking gets worse. Debbie struggles to cope with the weirdest, most difficult parts of herself, her family and her small life. But the fierce love of the White family is never in doubt, and Debbie discovers that even the oddest of families are places of safety.

A startling, honest, laugh and cry novel about growing up and leaving home, only to find that you’ve taken it with you, Snowflake is a novel for a generation, and for everyone who’s taken those first, terrifying steps towards adulthood.

Beneath the Waves – Helen Ahpornsiri

Text – Lily Murray

I didn’t think the awe I felt when I first saw Helen Ahpornsiri’s A Year in the Wild could be replicated. I was wrong. Beneath the Waves has had the same effect on me.

Helen took me on a journey through the seasons in A Year in the Wild, using petals and leaves to create the most adorable array of animals. My favourite image from that book remains the owl.

In Beneath the Waves, Helen uses seaweed, coastal flowers and garden plants to explore the coast, open ocean, tropics and polar waters. I loved the entire book but did have a few favourites:

  • The baby turtles, each of which have a different expression and unique shell design.
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  • The contrast of the polar bear against the black background enables the details to stand out more. There’s a black background behind the angler fish as well and it’s absolutely stunning.
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  • The blue whale. Not only was this image so detailed, my favourite fact of the book accompanied it. Their “tongues alone weigh as much as an adult elephant!” How’s that for perspective?!
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If you can’t believe an artist could possibly transform pressed plants into such realistic animals, I’d encourage you to watch Helen at work on YouTube.

I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Take a journey through the oceans of the world in this beautiful book, made entirely from hand-pressed plants.

Artist Helen Ahpornsiri transforms silky seaweeds, feathery algae and bright coastal blooms into playful penguins, scuttling crabs and schools of silvery sharks. Turn the page to explore each corner of the oceans, from hidden rock pools to the darkest depths. Marvel as plants transform into marvellous creatures, and discover the magic and beauty that lies beneath the waves…

A Year in the Wild – Helen Ahpornsiri

Text – Ruth Symons

My brain got stuck on WOW! mode as I made my way through this book. Ruth Symons’ words were lovely, with easy to understand explanations of what’s happening in the flora and fauna worlds throughout the seasons, but were outshone by the pictures. I don’t think it would have mattered what words were used. They were never going to be the main event here.

My mind could not wrap itself around the creativity and genius of this artist and I kept telling myself that there was no way she could be this talented – but she is! There is not a splash of paint nor line of drawing in the entire book. Helen Ahpornsiri uses flowers and leaves to create the most stunning masterpieces of flowers, plants and animals! The heron and butterfly you see on the front cover are just a couple of examples of the jaw dropping images you will discover in these pages.

I can’t find a big enough or pretty enough word to describe just how breathtaking the animals in particular are. Helen’s attention to detail is extraordinary and how she can give each animal individual characters and expressions is beyond me. With the amount of work that must go into each creation you could forgive her for using the same image of a butterfly each time one was needed, yet each butterfly is an individual. There’s a row of ducklings following their mother and every single duckling is unique.

You’ll see bats, frogs, dragonflies, deer, squirrels, foxes, field mice, a hare and various insects. There are a group of mushrooms that are so beautiful.

I thought that this book couldn’t get any better but then I found the couple of pages where the background was black instead of the white that is behind most of the images. I have no words for the portrait of the owl with the black background. I would love to do a cross stitch of this design so I can hang it on my wall and marvel at it for the rest of my life.

You have to check out the time lapse videos of the creation of some of the animals on YouTube. Fair warning though, your brain may get stuck on a WOW! loop.

My library catalogue has this book listed under junior nonfiction although adults are probably going to love this even more than their kidlets. I could easily see this book making its way onto my coffee table so it’s always close by when I need to admire it.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

An intricately crafted journey through four seasons of flora and fauna

Helen Ahpornsiri’s intricate artwork transforms leaves, petals, and seeds into bounding hares, swooping swallows, and blossoming trees. Using nothing but pressed plants, this journey through the seasons captures the wonder and magic of the natural world between the pages of a book. This standout title with beautiful nonfiction text will take readers through an extraordinary year in the wild.