How To Be Ace: A Memoir of Growing Up Asexual – Rebecca Burgess

When Rebecca was growing up they weren’t interested in talking about relationships and sex like the rest of their classmates. They didn’t understand why sex was such a big deal but assumed they’d “grow into” it when they got older.

They tried to have relationships but it just didn’t feel right. They thought that something must be wrong with them.

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It wasn’t until they were at university that they began to accept that being different was okay and that they didn’t have to pretend to be like everyone else.

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Rebecca’s story takes the reader from the bullying they experienced in childhood through to managing their mental health. Information about asexuality is scattered through the graphic novel, with insights into what relationships can look like for people who identify as asexual.

There was a greater focus on mental health than I had expected. I didn’t personally learn anything new about asexuality from the panels that provide information but they do give readers a good introduction. I anticipate that being able to follow Rebecca’s journey from struggling with their sexuality to their eventual acceptance of who they are will be helpful for readers who can relate to her experiences and provide new understanding for those who don’t understand asexuality.

There are resources at the end of Rebecca’s story. Because asexuality is so misunderstood I’m including them here so you can check them out for yourself.

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Content warnings include anxiety, bullying, emetophobia, OCD and mention of sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Jessica Kingsley Publishers for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“When I was in school, everyone got to a certain age where they became interested in talking about only one thing: boys, girls and sex. Me though? I was only interested in comics.”

Growing up, Rebecca assumes sex is just a scary new thing they will ‘grow into’ as they gets older, but when they leaves school, starts working, and does grow up, they starts to wonder why they doesn’t want to have sex with other people.

In this brave, hilarious and empowering graphic memoir, we follow Rebecca as they navigate a culture obsessed with sex – from being bullied at school and trying to fit in with friends, to forcing themself into relationships and experiencing anxiety and OCD – before coming to understand and embrace their asexual identity.

Giving unparalleled insight into asexuality and asexual relationships, How To Be Ace shows the importance of learning to be happy and proud of who you are.

The Mermaid Who Couldn’t – Ali Redford

Illustrations – Kara Simpson

Mariana is a sad and scared young mermaid who is all alone, having been abandoned by her mother. She can barely swim and thinks that she’s useless.

Eventually Mariana finds safety with Muriel, a turtle who looks after her. Muriel’s family teach Mariana to swim. Mariana learns what love, happiness and belonging feel like, and as she grows in confidence she finds her voice.

This book highlights how important safe, loving relationships are to self esteem. While this is relevant to all children, I expect that those who have been neglected or living with foster carers will find it especially relatable.

Kara Simpson’s illustrations clearly show how Mariana is feeling throughout the story, although some of the pages are quite dark and potentially scary for young children. I wasn’t a fan of the multiple fonts used in the book, especially the font used for the songs; I expect it would be particularly difficult for early readers to decipher.

Thank you to NetGalley and Jessica Kingsley Publishers for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Mariana the Mermaid is not like the other mermaids. Abandoned by a careless mother on the ocean floor, she has never laughed or played, and can barely even swim. She feels useless. 

Then she meets Muriel the Turtle, who welcomes her into her family and teaches her to sing her own mighty song, making her feel confident and ready to join in with the other mermaids.

Written for children aged 4+, this picture book uses a simple metaphor to show how children who have experienced neglect or who lack confidence can learn to find a sense of self-worth. It will help children explore their feelings and encourage communication.

Written on the Body – Lexie Bean (editor)

You know those books that leave you without words? I don’t, which is why this review has been so hard to write. I’m one of those people that has so many opinions that I’ve got opinions about my own opinions. Seriously!

I finished reading Written on the Body: Letters from Trans and Non-Binary Survivors of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence almost two weeks ago and the stories have been resonating within me ever since. I started this book thinking about my own experiences with sexual assault and domestic violence.

I wondered if I would have the courage to write a letter to one of my body parts. What body part would I choose? What would I want or need to say to it? Would I have the courage to write the letter anywhere but in my mind where no one could accidentally stumble across it? If I did manage to write that letter who would I trust to show it to? Regardless of your history I’d encourage you to think about those questions for yourself. It’s really quite a daunting prospect, isn’t it?

I thought about experiences shared with other sexual assault and domestic violence survivors over the years and how we’ve connected over shared thoughts and feelings, regardless of the legal terminology of what was perpetrated against us. The survivors I’ve had the opportunity to share with so far have been cis women and men, and they’re some of the bravest people I know.

I wondered if I could ever claim to understand what a trans or non-binary sexual assault or domestic violence survivor has experienced. While I’m fairly confident there’d be aspects of their story that I could relate to based on my own experiences, as a cis woman I can’t and won’t claim to understand what it’s like to be trans or non-binary. To be trans or non-binary in today’s society and then compound that with (in so many survivors) countless experiences of abuse by multiple perpetrators? I can’t even begin to imagine.

We need books like this one to open our eyes to the pain of those who’ve experienced the unthinkable and the incredible ability people have to overcome what was intended to destroy. While you can never really walk in someone else’s shoes, by reading this book you have the honour of being granted permission to truly see aspects of people that are usually hidden by façades.

You’ll likely feel practically everything in your emotional range while reading and due to the content I’d advise against reading it all at once. Different writing styles and content provide varied reading experiences throughout the book. Some letters were poetic. Others were visceral. There’s so much heartbreaking trauma content, yet there’s also so much strength and hope.

While considering the courage of the people who have contributed to this book, a quote from Brené Brown’s I Thought It Was Just Me came to mind. Brené explains eloquently what I cannot:

Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences – good and bad.”

To the survivors who have contributed to this book, there are so many things I want to say to you, amongst which are … I hear you. I believe you. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am in awe of your courage. You are extraordinary!

If I could choose just one really powerful quote from this book:

“What they didn’t know is that I’m trying to heal from what happened to me; I’m not trying to heal from who I am.”

Lexie Bean

How do you rate a book like this? I don’t think you can rate someone’s experience so instead I’m rating the courage, the heart, of the people who have not only looked within themselves to come up with words that reflect their experience but have also had the bravery to shine a light on them. To me that deserves nothing less than ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.

Content Warnings: There are too many potential triggers in this book to name but they include sexual assault, domestic violence, mental health, bullying, suicide, eating disorders and self harm. Please be safe while reading. 💜

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Jessica Kingsley Publishers for the opportunity to read this book. I feel honoured to have read it.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Written by and for trans and non-binary survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, Written on the Body offers support, guidance and hope for those who struggle to find safety at home, in the body, and other unwelcoming places.

This collection of letters written to body parts weaves together narratives of gender, identity, and abuse. It is the coming together of those who have been fragmented and often met with disbelief. The book holds the concerns and truths that many trans people share while offering space for dialogue and reclamation.

Written with intelligence and intimacy, this book is for those who have found power in re-shaping their bodies, families and lives. 

Anxiety is Really Strange – Steve Haines

Anxiety is Really Strange. Is it ever! Yet it is also common, with 28.8% of people being seriously affected by an anxiety disorder at some point in their adult lives. Anxiety disorders include Generalised Anxiety Disorder, panic disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), social anxiety and other phobias, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

This graphic novel outlines some possible causes of anxiety, outlines philosophical ideas along with a really interesting experiment dealing with mouse poo (of all things), how the body reacts in anxiety mode and some tools for managing symptoms.

I went into this book thinking it would be a really good introduction to anxiety for someone who’s just been diagnosed and while I still think it will be useful for some people in this situation, there will be others who will be most likely wanting more advice on helpful tools rather than the thoughts of philosophers.

Now, I’m a proud nerd so I enjoyed all of the sciency, philosophical bits and pieces, and I’ve found some studies I’m interested in looking into further. People with a general interest in anxiety should get enough from this graphic novel to come away with a better understanding of the roles the mind and body play in exacerbating and easing anxiety. Hopefully Anxiety is Really Strange will make it into the hands of some friends and family members of those affected by anxiety and will result in greater empathy and better support systems.

Quote that made me chuckle:

“Anxiety is a good thing because psychopaths don’t have any.”

I loved Jon Ronson’s quote. My brain automatically made this into a bizarre TV commercial … “Got anxiety? Take heart. At least you’re not a psychopath!”

While books about anxiety are useful I believe there’s really no substitute for getting professional help. Anxiety can be extraordinarily daunting to deal with by yourself and a doctor and/or therapist who can provide much needed support and tools can make the world of difference to your quality of life.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Singing Dragon, an imprint of Jessica Kingsley Publishers for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

What is the difference between fear and excitement and how can you tell them apart? How do the mind and body make emotions? When can anxiety be good? This science-based graphic book addresses these questions and more, revealing just how strange anxiety is, but also how to unravel its mysteries and relieve its effects.

Understanding how anxiety is created by our nervous system trying to protect us, and how our fight-or-flight mechanisms can get stuck, can significantly lessen the fear experienced during anxiety attacks. In this guide, anxiety is explained in an easy-to-understand, engaging graphic format with tips and strategies to relieve its symptoms, and change the mind’s habits for a more positive outlook. 

On Being an Introvert or Highly Sensitive Person: A guide to boundaries, joy, and meaning – Ilse Sand

On Being an Introvert or Highly Sensitive Person should have had me saying, “Me, too!” on every page. I was really excited to learn some cool new things to celebrate about being an introvert. I haven’t read any books about sensitivity so was hoping for plenty of lightbulb moments. Unfortunately I was disappointed. I felt this book read more as an introduction to introversion and sensitivity rather than an in depth study on either topic.

I expect that if you haven’t read anything about being an introvert you would gain new insights. However I’ve recently read Jenn Granneman’s The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World and Debbie Tung’s graphic novel Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story, and I personally found these previous reads more enlightening and uplifting.

Ilse Sand developed two tests for this book to use as a guide for where you sit on the introvert/extrovert scale and how sensitive you are. By testing myself I wound up with a score of +56 on the introvert/extrovert scale, where +64 is as introverted as you can get, -64 is as extroverted as you can get and around 0 means you’re ambivert (a new word for me). The sensitivity scale is much the same, except +40 is highly sensitive, 0 is moderately sensitive and -40 is ordinarily sensitive. My score for this one was +29. I’m not as introverted or as sensitive as it’s humanly possible to be but I’m right up there so while I think that should’ve converted to a “Me, too!” extravaganza while reading this book, I just didn’t feel it.

There’s nothing that wrong with this book but I lacked a connection with the writing style, which may be due to it having been translated from Danish for this edition. I found some of the sentences and phrasing clunky and there were some instances where I felt the writing could have benefited from another sentence between thoughts to connect them more cohesively.

There were a few parts I found cringeworthy, especially those where it read as though introversion is an excuse to sit on the bench of life rather than it being something to be celebrated. I doubt very much that this was the author’s intention so it may again come down to something being lost in the translation.

I quite enjoyed the information explaining Carl Jung’s work distinguishing personality types, Elaine Aron’s research into the highly sensitive character trait and Jerome Kagan’s studies into high-reactive children.

The author made good use of personal anecdotes and quotes from her work as a parish pastor and psychotherapist. I wondered why it was necessary for some examples to be fictionalised and others used anonymously as there weren’t any skeleton in the closet revelations.

Some readers may baulk at reading this book knowing it was written by an author who has worked as a pastor but I didn’t find it preachy. The examples that included the author’s church were primarily used to explore the differences between the introverted author and the church’s previous extroverted pastor. The serenity prayer was included, as was a reference to making something an idol in your life.

I encountered one of my pet peeves in this book on three occasions that I can recall, where the author tells you that you really need to know something and then rather than telling you this life changing piece of information, they refer you to one of their other books. Personally when someone does that I deliberately avoid the book they’re plugging but that could just be my stubborn showing. If you write a book well then I’ll seek out your other books myself, but if you tease me with the possibility of insight and then rip it away unless I buy another of your books, then I tend to search for that information elsewhere.

The author’s foray into mental health conditions towards the end of the book seemed to come out of left field and as someone who’s experienced PTSD I found the following sentences a tad weird coming from a psychotherapist,

“If you are extremely afraid, for example of the anger of others, you should be aware that you may have PTSD. If you do not remember it, ask your parents whether you were subjected to violence when you were a child.”

People, just because you have fear doesn’t mean you have PTSD but if you do think you may have PTSD please seek help from a medical professional!

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Jessica Kingsley Publishers for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In a culture that ranks sociability and extroversion above the introverted traits of deep thinking and being alone, Ilse Sand shows how to find joy and meaning as an introvert or highly sensitive person. She debates whether these traits are caused by nature or nurture, and shows how someone like this can organise their life to keep them content. The advice and instructions are also quite applicable to people who are temporarily or, for some other reason, in a sensitive situation – for example, because of stress, trauma, or burn-out.

It describes the introverted personality type and the highly sensitive trait, highlighting the strengths that come with it such as good listening skills and rich imagination, and suggests ways to overcome the negatives such as the need to avoid overstimulation and over-critical thinking.

Including advice from other introverts or highly introverted people, and two self-tests for sensitive and introverted traits, this book gives readers a deeper understanding of introversion and high sensitivity and gives those with these personality types greater faith and courage in their own talents.

My Secret Dog – Tom Alexander

I love dogs and the cover of My Secret Dog is so cute that I had to read it.

A young girl finds a dog who ends up following her home. She can’t bear to part with him so keeps the dog a secret. She hides him at home and school, and what was first a lot of fun ends up very worrying because hiding a dog in a small flat and at school is harder than she thought.

I loved the simplicity of the black and white line drawings, especially the expression on the mother’s face when she’s laughing, and I’m keen to try drawing the dog. I’m definitely no artist so chances are it won’t look anything like the example but I’ll certainly have fun trying.

I appreciated the mother in the story talking to her daughter about how secrets can start out small but grow over time and loved that she told her daughter that no matter what secret she had she could tell her Mum who would love her no matter what.

My soapbox complaint about this book is that the daughter learns nothing from this talk and winds up repeating the same behaviour all over again. I’m not a fan of children’s books that have a message but then don’t follow through. If there’s a message about not keeping secrets from your parents, then I expect the ending to be something along the lines of the child coming to tell the parent about a secret as they know they don’t need to hide anything from them anymore or choosing to not do the same thing all over again. I may well be an old fuddy duddy but I wouldn’t personally buy a book for a child that has a message with no follow through.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Jessica Kingsley Publishers for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

I always wanted a dog, but Mum said I wasn’t allowed.

So I got one anyway.

My secret dog lives in the cupboard and we sneak out at night to play.

We’ll be best friends forever.

So long as Mum doesn’t find out …

What Does Consent Really Mean? – Pete Wallis & Thalia Wallis

Illustrations – Joseph Wilkins

This graphic novel is a great introduction to a vitally important topic. I wish something similar had been available when I was growing up. I’d love to see it provided to students during sex ed classes in schools. The graphic novel format is much more inviting than the photocopied notes that were painfully plentiful last century when I was at school.

The discussion questions and resources at the end would be useful as a jumping off point to aid teachers in facilitating classroom discussions. I could see this book being used by parents to help them bring up this topic with their children and also to inform parents about the issues that affect kids today that they may not have had to deal with when they were growing up due to changes in technology. Even school leavers may find this book useful as issues surrounding consent don’t magically disappear once you reach adulthood.

This book dispels many myths surrounding what is and isn’t consent in a clear, conversational way. There are some parts that read more like adults talking than teenagers but I’m not sure this can be completely avoided. By touching on various scenarios relevant to consent, including perspectives of males and females, and making the point that the need for consent is the same regardless of a person’s sexuality, this book gives the reader enough of an overview to be able to apply what they’ve read to scenarios they may face in their own lives (or bring clarity to what they may have already experienced).

One of the resources listed at the end of the book is a YouTube video that explains consent so well that I think it complements this book perfectly.

Content warnings include sexual assault.

Thank you very much to NetGalley and Jessica Kingsley Publishers for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“Consent is not the absence of ‘NO’, it is an enthusiastic YES!!”

While seemingly straightforward, Tia and Bryony hadn’t considered this subject too seriously until it comes up in conversation with their friends and they realise just how important it is.

Following the sexual assault of a classmate, a group of teenage girls find themselves discussing the term consent, what it actually means for them in their current relationships, and how they act and make decisions with peer influence. Joined by their male friends who offer another perspective, this rich graphic novel uncovers the need for more informed conversations with young people around consent and healthy relationships.

Accompanying the graphics are sexual health resources for students and teachers, which make this a perfect tool for broaching the subject with teens.