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. 

No Virgin – Anne Cassidy

Spoiler Alert!

I feel like I need to start this review with a content warning for the rape scene. If you’ve picked up this book and read the blurb you know it’s coming and if you haven’t read the blurb the first sentence of the book tells you it’s coming. Still, if this is a trigger for you please be safe while reading this book. If you don’t read any further and you’ve experience sexual assault, please know you are not alone and it was not your fault!

This is such an important book. Anne Cassidy has written a book about a serious topic but I enjoyed reading it, except for the rape scene but that’s a no brainer. Of course I wasn’t going to enjoy that bit. Anne made me care about Stacey, her main character, and I felt like I was being let in on Stacey’s private thoughts and experiences. Stacey wasn’t a cardboard cutout character. She had depth. She was real. I could imagine being friends with her if I went to her school.

SPOILER WARNING + maybe just the slightest chance of a therapy session worthy rant to follow

I’m absolutely incensed with the rape in this book, and that’s a good thing. Why? I wouldn’t want to be able to read a book written this well about such a painful subject and not feel, not cry, not want to punch at least one person. It made me want to vomit and I wanted to physically attack both Marty and Harry. Because Anne Cassidy has done a brilliant job with this book and with this subject matter you should have a visceral reaction reading it. Anne’s definitely done something right to get me this riled up.

I don’t know who I hated more, Marty for raping Stacey or Harry for grooming Stacey for his brother. I don’t know. Maybe let’s call it a tie and say they deserve equal amounts of venom.

I appreciated that the set up for this rape wasn’t cut and dry. Stacey had said yes to Harry, but not to Marty. She’d willingly gone alone to a stranger’s apartment with a stranger. She’d been drinking earlier in the day. The reason why I’m glad this was the scenario? So I could say that regardless of every single one of these factors, nothing Stacey did or didn’t do causes any blame to fall on her. She did not give consent so not one of those other details count. She was raped, no ifs, ands or buts. No matter what the circumstance, sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. 100% of the responsibility lies with the perpetrator.

This will sound so weird but hold on; I’ll clarify. I was so glad that Harry’s character was just another school kid, although a rich one, that he had personality plus, he was interested in Stacey’s designs, he offered to help make her dream of being a fashion designer come one step closer … He was a nice guy!

That’s important because despite what the media tells us and what is easier to believe, the majority of sex offenders aren’t dirty old men with trench coats. Sex offenders are peoples’ family, friends, neighbours, workmates, male and female – ordinary people who you would probably like if you had a conversation with them and didn’t know their history. It’s important for young people reading this book to know this!

This book was realistic. Stacey’s dissociation during the rape, her response afterward, her hesitancy at telling anyone, especially the Police … all normal reactions to a horrific experience.

I was so sad that Stacey didn’t feel she could go to her family with this but loved that Stacey had a friend who supported her after she found out about the rape. I love that Patrice recommended Stacey talk to someone at a Rape Crisis Centre. Rape Crisis Centre workers are by and large the most empathetic, understanding, supportive, caring individuals you will ever come across. Nothing you say will shock them as they’ve heard it all before and they will believe you.

I’m a bit ambivalent about Patrice using the “If you don’t report him to the Police, how will you feel if he does it to someone else?” argument, but totally understand why she did it. It’s a difficult thing as a support person to not want to say that sentence because you care about your friend/loved one and you don’t want anyone else to experience what they’re going through. It’s a really tough one, whether to report or not to report, and it’s an individual choice.

The person who has experienced sexual assault often feels more than enough self blame and shame (although they’re not to blame and have done nothing worthy of shame) in the aftermath of their assault without having the guilt of not protecting innumerable other potential victims on their conscience. I’m all for getting offenders off the streets but with such low conviction rates, even reporting a sexual assault to try to protect future victims may not even work because in reality there’s the chance charges may not even be laid. Having said that, if they’ve assaulted you chances are they’ve already done it to at least one other person and they’re likely to continue assaulting more people after you.

Please hear that I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t report to the Police but pressure from other people one way or another adds to an already seemingly unbearable weight. There is no one size fits all answer. I’ve done both (reported to the Police and not reported to the Police) but I still couldn’t begin to tell you what you should do in this situation. I know the benefits and pitfalls of both choices.

I want all young people to read this book. It’s an important educational tool for those who haven’t experience sexual assault. It’s also important for those who have because it says, “You are not alone”, “It was not your fault”, that talking about what happened can help. I loved that this book ends with Stacey taking the first steps toward healing. I was cheering her on the whole time. Well done, Anne! You’ve taken such a difficult topic to talk and write about and left the reader with hope.

So, after this rant, do I want to read the sequel? You bet I do! I can’t wait to read about how Stacey takes her power back and I look forward to seeing those brothers get what’s coming to them. Oh, I hope they get what’s coming to them! I’m emotionally invested in Stacey and I need to travel the next part of her story with her. If I had the sequel with me I’d be starting it immediately but since it hasn’t been released yet (come on, September!!) I think I’ll relax with a nice, calming, sweet children’s book instead.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

My name is Stacey Woods and I was raped.

Stacey is the victim of a terrible sexual attack. She does not feel able to go to the police, or talk about it to anybody other than her best friend, Patrice. Patrice, outraged, when she cannot persuade her to go to the police, encourages Stacey to write everything down. This is Stacey’s story.