We Are Inevitable – Gayle Forman

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“Twenty-six letters and some punctuation marks and you have infinite words in infinite worlds.”

The author calls this book a “love letter to books, and to booksellers” and there are so many bookish delights:

📖 I got to read about other people who love books as much as I do.

📖 The chapter headings are book titles! Why didn’t I think of that?! [Must steal borrow this idea if I ever write a book…]

📖 Bookish references in abundance! Books within books are one of my top five favourite bookish things. Book titles are casually scattered throughout the book. Storylines of well known books are mentioned. Movies that began their lives as books are discussed (the book was better).

“Seriously? It was also a book first?”

“Seriously.”

“Are all movies books first?”

“Just the best ones.”

If you’re like me and likely to panic around the halfway point when you wish you’d been making a list of all of the books that have been mentioned, don’t worry; there’s a bibliography at the end.

📖 Independent bookstores! We get to hang out in not one, but two of them! With booksellers who desperately love books and about making sure the book the reader needs finds its way to them.

“Tell me: What’s the last book you read that you loved?”

📖 The main bookstore has genres grouped together in a way that makes so much sense.

I could happily spend my entire review talking about the books, bookstores and booksellers but there’s more to this book than books. We also come face to face with some pretty difficult topics. Multiple characters are dealing with addiction, either their own or a loved one’s. Likewise, multiple characters are grieving. Chad, my favourite character, is living with a spinal cord injury.

I adore Chad, although I expect I wouldn’t have been a huge fan of him before his accident. He’s had some pretty impressive post traumatic growth and his attitude is amazing. I could have done without him saying “dawg” and “son” all the time but I guess no one’s perfect.

Speaking of not being perfect, Aaron (our main character) is definitely a work in progress. I really didn’t like him at all for a good portion of the book, during which he basically treats everyone around him like garbage. He did begin to make more sense to me as I got to know him but until then, ugh!

I loved Aaron’s father, Ira, because he loves books so much. The fact that he’s still so passionate about them, despite grief, anxiety and depression, made me love him even more. He truly comes alive when he talks books and that resonated with me.

I liked the Lumberjacks, getting to know Ike the best. He came up with my favourite line (pardon his French):

“Fudge a duck on a hot sidewalk!”

You might be interested in this book because of the romance, which is pretty insta, but it’s not the main focus of the book. Aaron, a young man who doesn’t like music, falls for a young woman who’s in a band.

Every time I see her, I feel that thing: the inevitable.

The thing is: I don’t trust the inevitable.

I mean, what has inevitable done for me?

Ruined my life is what.

I was ready to love Hannah but never formed an emotional connection with her. Her purpose seemed to be to act as a mirror for Aaron. I didn’t feel like I got to know Hannah that well and her bandmates are even more of a mystery to me. I really wanted to find out more about Jax, especially when it looked as though they were going to become more integral to the story, but pretty much all I know for sure about them is their pronouns (they/them).

A few things didn’t make sense to me. If Aaron’s brother’s addiction cost their family so much (and right now I’m only talking about the cost to their finances), how did he ever manage to collect such an extensive collection of rare vinyls? Wouldn’t he have spent that money on drugs? Even if he did manage to accumulate so many, in the grips of addiction, wouldn’t he have sold them? I know he gave them to Aaron but that only explains the final five months of his life.

Also, early in the story we learn that Ike’s wife’s fibromyalgia symptoms stopped her from being able to come to the bookstore years ago. Towards the end of the book she’s at the bookstore several times. It is mentioned once that she has a walker but it didn’t ring true to me. If she‘s well enough to be at the bookstore now, wouldn’t she have already been there before the renovations began?

“Are the answers to all life’s questions in books?”

“Of course,” he says. “That’s what makes them miracles.”

Content warnings include mention of addiction, disability, grief, mental health and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘I got this whole-body feeling … it was like a message from future me to present me, telling me that in some way we weren’t just bound to happen, that we had, in some sense, already happened. It felt … inevitable.’

So far, the inevitable hasn’t worked out so well for Aaron Stein. While his friends have gone to college and moved on with their lives, Aaron’s been left behind in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, running a failing bookshop with his dad, Ira. What he needs is a lucky break, the good kind of inevitable.

And then he meets Hannah. Incredible Hannah – magical, musical, brave and clever. Could she be the answer? And could they – their relationship, their meeting – possibly be the inevitable Aaron’s been waiting for?

A Promised Land – Barack Obama

“Politics doesn’t have to be what people think it is. It can be something more.”

Long before I wanted Jacinda Ardern to be my prime minister, I wanted Barack Obama to be my president. Other than a few standout moments, like Julia Gillard’s efforts in establishing the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and our current prime minister’s poorly timed vacation while much of the country was burning in 2019, I couldn’t tell you a great deal about politics in Australia.

Billy Connolly taught me everything I knew about politics as a kid, with ‘The desire to be a politician should bar you for life from ever becoming one’ and ‘Don’t vote, it just encourages them’ recited on a regular basis in my home when I was growing up.

In A Promised Land, Obama mentions something known as the “What’s the point of voting if nothing ever changes?” syndrome, which pretty much sums up my political worldview as an adult.

[I’d be hard pressed to tell you anything that impacts me personally that’s a priority for politicians in Australia. My single attempt at getting my local member of parliament to mobilise any of their resources to help members of their constituent and the rest of the state in positions similar to mine (those who were being screwed over by changes to the Worker’s Compensation system, which had already resulted in several deaths by suicide by the time I met with them) resulted in an incredulous, ‘What do you want me to do about it?!’ and towards the end of the meeting, a more pointed, ‘You’re f*cked’ (actually, they said that twice during the meeting), before the obligatory, ‘Vote for my party in the next election if you want to see changes’. So, yeah. Politics and I aren’t exactly friends.]

To say that this book is outside of my comfort zone is an understatement. I never thought I’d voluntarily read anything classified as a political memoir. But it’s Obama and I was interested in what he had to say, even if I had to sift through politics that I previously haven’t either cared about or understood to hear it.

This, I was coming to realize, was the nature of the presidency: Sometimes your most important work involved the stuff nobody noticed.

I was surprised by how much I loved this book. I learned so much about the ins and outs of political decisions and the fact that I found the details interesting says a lot about the quality of the writing. But the human stories were what really sucked me in.

This is a book where a football is not a football, where Dr. No scrutinises all things ethical to avoid scandal (“If it sounds fun, you can’t go.”) and the president is the one who brings out the cake for people’s birthdays. Also, and I may be the only one who thinks this is kinda cool, although I’d hate it if anyone was paying that much attention to me, “Renegade to Secondary Hold” was Secret Service code for Obama going to the bathroom.

Make no mistake: this is a heavy book, providing in depth details of decisions relating to the financial crisis, war, healthcare, foreign policy, immigration, human rights and a whole bunch of other unfolding crises that wind up on a president’s to do list.

No one had nuclear war or terrorism on their minds. No one except me. Scanning people in the pews – friends, family members, colleagues, some of whom caught my eye and smiled or waved with excitement – I realized this was now part of my job: maintaining an outward sense of normalcy, upholding for everyone the fiction that we live in a safe and orderly world, even as I stared down the dark hole of chance and prepared as best I could for the possibility that at any given moment on any given day chaos might break through.

I found myself getting bogged down in the details of the financial crisis and for a few days I’d catch myself daydreaming about some of the books I could be reading instead. Everything after that, though, I couldn’t get enough of. Having read little else for almost two weeks, part of me feels like I’ve always been reading this book and another part of me is sad that it wasn’t even longer.

This is also literally a very heavy book and an awkward one to hold; I lay in bed the first night, when I hadn’t even finished the first hundred pages, trying to figure out why my hands hurt so much. It turns out that simply holding onto this book is its own workout.

Handy hint: If you rest the book on your body as you’re reading and use your hands to gently balance it so it doesn’t fall on your face and crush you, your hands will thank you for it.

The pages are also crammed with words so it felt like I was reading a lot more than 700 pages. I was curious to find out just how many words fit on an average full page of text. Because I’m me, I finally decided to count the words on one page – 430. I don’t know what a normal page count is but that sounded like a lot to me.

There’s a lot of serious in this book but that’s not to say there aren’t some smiles and misty eye moments along the way. I chuckled when the secure mobile communications system broke down at the wrong moment, necessitating a very important and very serious phone call being made instead on “a device that had probably also been used to order pizza.”

I lost count of the times I could have easily wandered into ugly cry territory: the outcome of the DREAM Act, when Obama visited soldiers as they recovered from injuries sustained serving their country, personal family moments.

The fuss of being president, the pomp, the press, the physical constraints – all that I could have done without. The actual work, though?

The work, I loved. Even when it didn’t love me back.

There are probably over 700 reasons why I should never be president of anything, let alone the U.S. Here are my current top 5:

  1. The meetings. No one should have to attend so many meetings. I dreaded having to attend one team meeting each month at my last job. A coworker, who shared my disdain for meetings, and I frequently got in trouble for pulling faces at each other when everyone else had their serious faces on.
  2. Filibuster. Just reading that word makes me want to spit the dummy. That the opposition think it’s a great idea to do whatever they can to prevent the other side from winning anything, because it might make them look like they’re competent, rather than prioritising what’s best for the people they claim to be serving? That makes my blood boil.
  3. “The Death, Destruction, and Horrible Things Book”, A.K.A., the “President’s Daily Brief”. If I had to read about all of the possible ways the world might implode/explode every morning over breakfast, I’d not only forego the most important meal of the day, it’s highly likely I wouldn’t remain functional for very long.
  4. I wouldn’t be diplomatic enough. If another world leader was doing something stupid I would be calling them on it, probably in public, and would more than likely wind up causing more problems than I was attempting to solve.
  5. My priorities wouldn’t be overly presidential. My first order of business would be to get whoever had access to them to bring me the unredacted files relating to all things Area 51 and anything else Mulder might have a passing interest in. That’s what I’d be reading over breakfast.

I realized that for all the power inherent in the seat I now occupied, there would always be a chasm between what I knew should be done to achieve a better world and what in a day, week, or year I found myself actually able to accomplish.

When I was only about 200 pages in, I mentioned to someone that this book was really giving me a feel for the type of person Obama is. They asked me what type of person that is. My answer was something like, ‘He’s got values and acts in a way that is in accordance with them. He’s intelligent and likes to have a laugh. He’s a loyal and trustworthy friend and he absolutely adores his family. He’s the kind of person you’d want to know and someone I could see me being friends with.’

500 pages later and I can say with confidence that I still feel that way. My only cause for concern? The man doesn’t like sweets. That’s not something I usually look for in a friend but I suppose no one’s perfect. More sweets for me, I guess.

I’m wondering how it will be possible to fit everything else in only one more book as this one leaves readers in May 2011, but I’m really looking forward to reading the second volume. It turns out reading outside of your comfort zone can be a really good thing.

Whatever you do won’t be enough, I heard their voices say.

Try anyway.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A riveting, deeply personal account of history in the making – from the president who inspired us to believe in the power of democracy.

In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency – a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.

Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office.

Reflecting on the presidency, he offers a unique and thoughtful exploration of both the awesome reach and the limits of presidential power, as well as singular insights into the dynamics of U.S. partisan politics and international diplomacy. Obama brings readers inside the Oval Office and the White House Situation Room, and to Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, and points beyond. We are privy to his thoughts as he assembles his cabinet, wrestles with a global financial crisis, takes the measure of Vladimir Putin, overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to secure passage of the Affordable Care Act, clashes with generals about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, tackles Wall Street reform, responds to the devastating Deepwater Horizon blowout, and authorises Operation Neptune’s Spear, which leads to the death of Osama bin Laden.

A Promised Land is extraordinarily intimate and introspective – the story of one man’s bet with history, the faith of a community organiser tested on the world stage. Obama is candid about the balancing act of running for office as a Black American, bearing the expectations of a generation buoyed by messages of “hope and change”, and meeting the moral challenges of high-stakes decision-making. He is frank about the forces that opposed him at home and abroad, open about how living in the White House affected his wife and daughters, and unafraid to reveal self-doubt and disappointment. Yet he never wavers from his belief that inside the great, ongoing American experiment, progress is always possible.

This beautifully written and powerful book captures Barack Obama’s conviction that democracy is not a gift from on high but something founded on empathy and common understanding and built together, day by day.

Know My Name – Chanel Miller

You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.

Chanel Miller was raped on Sunday, 18 January 2015.

I was raped three days earlier (80 hours before Chanel was, if you take time zones into account). Once I saw that date in print and realised how little time separated our experiences, I couldn’t help but see her story personally. So this is going to be a different review than I would usually write. Feel free to skip the bits where I talk about me.

Chanel learned what happened to her at the same time as the rest of the world. She was treated in a hospital, endured the indignity of a rape kit and spoke to a detective who believed and didn’t judge her. This sexual assault gained worldwide attention but it was Brock Turner’s name we knew; Chanel’s identity was erased. The trial resulted in guilty verdicts on three counts but, in my view, the punishment did not fit the crime; it may as well have been a slap on the wrist.

The detective who ultimately decided I would not step foot in a court room reviewed my statement and asked me, “How is that even possible?!” They didn’t make contact with the man who raped me but did phone my psychologist to ask if I have a mental illness that would cause me to make up something like this and oh, by the way, the description I told the police matched the description I told my psychologist. I also privately reported the rape to two other relevant institutions in the hope that speaking up would prevent this from happening again. Those two institutions told the man who raped me what I had said; this resulted in two threats from him to take legal action against me. For telling the truth. In Australia, where defamation laws are beyond insane.

I didn’t follow the story of Chanel’s sexual assault in the media. Even still, I knew the words Standford, rape, swimmer. My introduction to this book was via a publisher’s emailed newsletter, which is how I learn about so many of the books I need to read. I wasn’t sure it was for me though, until I ugly cried my way through I Am With You. I needed to know more about this intelligent, creative woman.

Still, I waited patiently for my library to purchase a copy. I made it all the way to page 23 before I finally figured out I needed my own copy, one I could highlight to my heart’s content and return to as often as I needed. I don’t know if I’m more grateful or sad that I found this book so relatable.

This is Chanel Miller’s story.
Author.
Artist.
Daughter.
Sister.
Friend.
Girlfriend.
Survivor.
A woman who has experienced raped, but who is so much more.

This is an attempt to transform the hurt inside myself, to confront a past, and find a way to live with and incorporate these memories. I want to leave them behind so I can move forward. In not naming them, I finally name myself. My name is Chanel. I am a victim, I have no qualms with this word, only with the idea that it is all that I am.

Although our stories are vastly different, so much of Chanel’s story resonated with me. While I hurt for her and was furious on her behalf as I read about her experiences, I was also lifted by her strength, determination and resilience. I had trouble reading some parts, either because they reminded me too much of my own story or, oddly enough, because they didn’t. I needed to step away and distract myself with a children’s book or play with Lego at times, but my overall takeaway from this book is hope.

The hope of words reaching out to me and encouraging me to hold on when difficult times find me:

You have to hold out to see how your life unfolds, because it is most likely beyond what you can imagine. It is not a question of if you will survive this, but what beautiful things await you when you do.

The hope that comes in the form of a narrative that doesn’t sugar coat what recovery from trauma looks and feels like:

As a survivor, I feel a duty to provide a realistic view of the complexity of recovery.

The hope that therapy can offer:

It feels better when the story is outside myself.

Although I don’t know Chanel I feel like I got to know her as I read her story; this is a woman I would want to be friends with. I loved being introduced to Chanel’s family and friends, and want to personally thank every single person who has supported, encouraged and validated her. My heart grew several sizes as I read about professionals who exuded empathy and compassion. Sure, there were others I wanted to slap, but the ones who went above and beyond reminded me that there are people out there who can soften the blow when trauma finds you.

Chanel truly is a writer. She can paint a scene so vivid that I felt I was inside it. She took me on an emotional journey with her; I may have felt it more because I was revisiting my own at the same time but I think I would have felt the highs and lows regardless.

I want to recommend this book to everyone, but especially to those whose professions bring them into contact with victims of sexual assault, whose responses can either provide validation or add to the trauma.

This book does not have a happy ending. The happy part is there is no ending, because I’ll always find a way to keep going.

If I were Chanel I don’t think I would ever want to read another word written about me. I’m just so proud of her though. Chanel, if you ever read this, please know that I believe you and I am with you.

Although I’ve never attempted anything like what Chanel has accomplished here I have needed to write statements that include the details of sexual assault and know how impossible it can feel both to find the right words and to revisit memories with sharp edges. Chanel has done an incredible job and I’m really look forward to reading whatever she writes in the future.

Content warnings include mention of suicide and sexual assault.

If you need support or information relating to sexual assault, you can contact:

You can also search for resources in over a hundred countries at:

Please know that it was not your fault, you are not alone and I believe you. 💜

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The riveting, powerful memoir of the woman whose statement to Brock Turner gave voice to millions of survivors. 

She was known to the world as Emily Doe when she stunned millions with a letter. Brock Turner had been sentenced to just six months in county jail after he was found sexually assaulting her on Stanford’s campus. Her victim impact statement was posted on BuzzFeed, where it instantly went viral – viewed by eleven million people within four days, it was translated globally and read on the floor of Congress; it inspired changes in California law and the recall of the judge in the case. Thousands wrote to say that she had given them the courage to share their own experiences of assault for the first time.

Now she reclaims her identity to tell her story of trauma, transcendence, and the power of words. It was the perfect case, in many ways – there were eyewitnesses, Turner ran away, physical evidence was immediately secured. But her struggles with isolation and shame during the aftermath and the trial reveal the oppression victims face in even the best-case scenarios. Her story illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicts a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shines with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life.

Know My Name will forever transform the way we think about sexual assault, challenging our beliefs about what is acceptable and speaking truth to the tumultuous reality of healing. It also introduces readers to an extraordinary writer, one whose words have already changed our world. Entwining pain, resilience, and humour, this memoir will stand as a modern classic.

Rules for Vanishing – Kate Alice Marshall

Spoilers Ahead!

FIND THE ROAD. FIND THE GATES. FIND THE GIRL.

That was one seriously compulsive read! I just-one-more-chaptered my way through this book and I’m left feeling slightly panicked, knowing I almost didn’t read it at all. Too many books arrived at the library at once so some will have to be sent back unread. I know me and if they are returned unread, no matter how noble my intentions, they will disappear into the ‘I’m going to read that one day’ void.

It was only because this book was almost due and someone else wanted it so I was unable to renew it that I gave it a try. I’m so glad I did because it was so much better than I hoped, but I’m now thinking about all of the other books I could be getting to know and am having bookish anxiety about all of the potential winners that may slip through my grasp. I need to read all the books!

All I hear are the last words my sister spoke, muttering into her phone. On April 18, one year ago. We know where the road is. We’ve got the keys. That’s all we need to find her. I’m not backing down now. Not after everything we’ve done to get this close.

Everyone in Briar Glen, MA knows the legend of Lucy Gallows. On 19 April, 1953, 15 year old Lucy Callow (yep, her name morphed a little during the creation of the legend) went missing in the forest. Legend says that one day each year a path appears in the forest. This time last year Sara’s sister, Becca, disappeared.

On 17 April, 2017, every Briar Glen High School student received the text message.

DO YOU WANT TO KNOW WHERE LUCY WENT? SHE WENT TO PLAY THE GAME. YOU CAN PLAY, TOO. FIND A PARTNER. FIND A KEY. FIND THE ROAD. YOU HAVE TWO DAYS.

Sara is determined to find her sister and in two days she will play the game. Joined by eight others, Sara will seek out “The Massachusetts Ghost Road”.

I know Becca didn’t run away. That leaves one possibility and one impossibility, and I long for the impossible. Because if she isn’t dead, if she’s only been taken, she can be brought back.

13 steps.
7 gates.
9 potential victims players.

“Don’t break the rules. Bad things happen when you break the rules.”

This book includes interviews, written testimony, emails, transcripts of messages, phone calls and videos, descriptions of photos and other evidence pertinent to file number 74 of The Ashford Files. Naturally, because this was file 74, I wanted unrestricted access to all of the preceding files as well as any that have been created since.

Sometimes narratives that rely on multiple formats to tell the story cause me to disconnect from both its characters and storyline, but here it completely sucked me in. I kept finding myself planning on putting the book down at the end of a chapter of written testimony, only to need to read the transcript that followed, which then made me need to read the following chapter to see how it all fit together. Compulsive and so much fun!

There are things I am not supposed to tell you. There are things I don’t remember. There are things I don’t know.

I couldn’t get enough information about the gates and the paths between them. At times I got the sense I was experiencing what I expect a hallucinogen would feel like. As I read I kept thinking that I would love to see these strange visuals outside of my imagination and was thrilled to read an article that told me there’s going to be a movie! I can’t wait to see it!

“But the monsters aren’t the only thing you have to be afraid of here.”

My main frustration showed up right at the end of the book; I definitely need to know what it was that Miranda gave to Ashford. Hopefully the movie or perhaps another book detailing another Ashford File will give me this much needed closure.

While I read a library copy of this book I definitely foresee a copy of my own and a reread in the not too distant future.

“lt’s coming.”

Content warnings include mention of attempted suicide and family violence.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project comes the campfire story of a missing girl, a vengeful ghost, and the girl who is determined to find her sister – at all costs.

Once a year, the path appears in the forest and Lucy Gallows beckons. Who is brave enough to find her – and who won’t make it out of the woods?

It’s been exactly one year since Sara’s sister, Becca, disappeared, and high school life has far from settled back to normal. With her sister gone, Sara doesn’t know whether her former friends no longer like her … or are scared of her, and the days of eating alone at lunch have started to blend together.

When a mysterious text message invites Sara and her estranged friends to “play the game” and find local ghost legend Lucy Gallows, Sara is sure this is the only way to find Becca – before she’s lost forever. And even though she’s hardly spoken with them for a year, Sara finds herself deep in the darkness of the forest, her friends – and their cameras – following her down the path. Together, they will have to draw on all of their strengths to survive. The road is rarely forgiving, and no one will be the same on the other side. 

The Art of Breaking Things – Laura Sibson

Skye dreams of being an art major at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) when she graduates.

I love to draw and create projects for the people I care about, but I’ve never considered that my art could create change.

Skye is the daughter of an absentee father and a mother who is frequently emotionally unavailable and/or drunk.

“Other families are there for one another.” I can hear the tears clouding her whisper. “Other families are normal. Ours isn’t. Ours sucks.”

Skye is basically a second mother to Emma, her younger sister.

Sometimes I wish I could go back to her age. Before … everything.

Skye tells everyone she’s fine.

“I’m fine.” Fine. My go-to nothing word.

Skye is not fine. Why? Mostly because she has a secret. One she’s been keeping inside for years.

I wonder how many girls finally tell their secrets and what happens when they do.

This is such an important book and I hope it makes it into the hands of those who need to know they’re not alone. Skye’s story felt authentic to me, from what she has experienced to her emotions and behaviour. I found it gut-wrenching and difficult to read at times but I also experienced validation whenever Skye expressed feelings or thoughts that have mirrored my own throughout the years.

Comparisons could be made between this book and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. Both feature main characters who have experienced sexual assault, been silenced and find their voices through art, but Melinda’s story is not Skye’s. Sexual assault is not one size fits all; it takes many forms and while there are often many commonalities in both short and long term effects, individual responses can vary greatly. Skye’s responses differ from Melinda’s in a number of ways, though they’re all understandable and relatable.

Do I exist? Do I speak out loud? Sometimes I wonder.

I loved that Skye’s creativity is explored throughout this book, particularly when she describes how she would capture moments in time through art. The titles she gives these imagined scenes were interesting and helped to convey Skye’s perceptions and emotions at the time. While I could easily visualise these scenes, I wanted to see many of the finished products. In particular, there is a mural that includes a tree that I need someone to create; if I ever learned this existed outside of my imagination I‘d buy a framed print so it would be the first thing I’d see each day.

While I would have loved for this story to end all wrapped up with a pretty bow, it’s a more realistic narrative because it doesn’t. As far as we know, the perpetrator hasn’t been spoken to by the police or seen the inside of a prison cell, Skye and her family have not had any trauma informed therapy (or any therapy at all) and Skye’s mother has yet to fully realise the impacts of her emotional distance and reliance on her eldest daughter to parent her youngest. However, given the current conviction rates for sex offenders, it’s unlikely this creep would face anything resembling what I’d consider appropriate consequences for his actions. Also, because this story only explores some of Skye’s early life, I am at liberty to continue her story in my imagination however I choose. And in my little imaginary world, Skye has some wonderful experiences to look forward to. 😊

Content warnings include domestic violence, drug use, grooming and sexual assault.

P.S. If you are experiencing sexual assault or have in the past, please know that you are not alone. The full responsibility lies with the perpetrator; you are not to blame. There is help available and you are worthy of receiving it.

In America, the National Sexual Assault Hotline offers confidential, anonymous support to survivors 24/7/365. It’s never too late to get help. You can reach RAINN by calling 800.656.HOPE or online at https://hotline.rainn.org/online.

If you live outside America and don’t know who to contact, you can search for relevant help in your country at http://www.hotpeachpages.net.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In the tradition of Laurie Halse Anderson and Sara Zarr, one girl embraces the power of her voice: rules are meant to be broken and she won’t stay silent.

Seventeen-year-old Skye has her sights set on one thing: getting the heck out of Dodge. Art school is her ticket out and she’s already been accepted to her first choice, MICA. All she has to do is survive her senior year, not get too drunk at parties, and be there for her little sister, Emma. Sure, she’s usually battling a hangover when she drives to pick Emma up, but she has everything under control. Until he returns.

When her mum’s ex-boyfriend slithers his way back into her family, it’s all Skye can do to keep the walls of her world from crumbling. Her family has no idea Skye has been guarding a dark secret about her past – about him – and she never thought she would have to face him again. She knows she has to get away from him at all costs. But how can she abandon Emma?

Skye’s heart is torn between escaping the man who hurt her years ago and protecting her loved ones from the monster in their midst. Running away from her fears isn’t an option. To save her sister – and herself – she’ll have to break all the rules.

SHOUT – Laurie Halse Anderson

This is the story of a girl who lost her voice and wrote herself a new one.

I expect I’m one of the only ones reading SHOUT before they’ve read Speak. I’ve had Speak on my ‘I absolutely have to read this book’ list for as long as I can remember but still haven’t read it. I searched my local library for it but they don’t own it. I tried for several years to buy it on Kindle but it wasn’t available to purchase in my country (I just checked and it’s still not an option). I finally bit the bullet and added it to my Book Depository order last year and it’s been looking at me ever since from my shelf, quietly asking me why I haven’t opened its pages.

Honestly? It’s intimidated me. It’s the book about sexual assault and while I’ve read so many others, I think I’ve worried about what it will bring up for me when I do finally read it. So, long story slightly shorter, my plan is to SHOUT, then Speak, and then SHOUT again. I’m interested to see if my perspective on SHOUT changes after I’ve read Speak. I guess time will tell.

The first section of this book is essentially memoir in free verse. Laurie takes the reader on a journey through a series of childhood memories; a father haunted by war when alcohol isn’t numbing his memories, a mother silenced, her own experiences of school, work and surviving sexual assault. I really loved reading about Laurie’s experience as an exchange student in Denmark and would happily devour as much information as I could about those 13 months; what I’ve read has sparked an interest in Danish culture.

The second section, which begins almost two thirds of the way through the book, broke my heart as Laurie shared just a handful of stories about her interactions with other survivors, whose young bodies have been invaded and lives changed, most often by those they know and should have been able to trust. Although this section made me cry one of the things that got to me the most was something hopeful – the colourful ribbons tied to fences in Ballarat, Australia in support of the abused, which ultimately created Loud Fence. The images of those ribbons of support broke me.

This section includes responses from readers, students who have heard Laurie speak, teachers and librarians; those who need to share their story, those who don’t understand what was so bad about Melinda’s experience in Speak, those who want to censor “inappropriate” reading material.

I’m not sure how to sum up the third section other than to say that it was the shortest section but also the one in which I shed most tears. Laurie’s final poems about her parents simply gutted me.

Although it’s clearly stated in the blurb I still hadn’t thought there’d be as much memoir as there was in this book. I’d expected a greater percentage of poems to be directly addressing sexual assault, even though there are plenty that do. When my expectations didn’t line up with reality I thought I’d be disappointed but I wasn’t and I’m already ready for a reread. I expect that I will revisit this book each time I read one of Laurie’s books that are mentioned here, to search out her favourite scenes and glimpses of the story behind the story.

There’s a vulnerability here and it’s entwined with strength, determination, courage, resilience and so much compassion. While I finished this book with a contented sigh I’m still yearning for more. Luckily for me, as this is the first of Laurie’s books that I’ve read (shame on me!), I still have plenty to explore.

Thank you, Laurie Halse Anderson, for sharing some of your life in this book, for breaking my heart, growing my empathy, giving me so many amazing passages to highlight and inspiring me. I will see you on Ultima Thule.

Content warnings include sexual assault, PTSD, war, physical abuse, fat shaming, alcohol and other drug use.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson is known for the unflinching way she writes about, and advocates for, survivors of sexual assault. Now, inspired by her fans and enraged by how little in our culture has changed since her groundbreaking novel Speak was first published twenty years ago, she has written a poetry memoir that is as vulnerable as it is rallying, as timely as it is timeless.

In free verse, Anderson shares reflections, rants, and calls to action woven between deeply personal stories from her life that she’s never written about before. Searing and soul-searching, this important memoir is a denouncement of our society’s failures and a love letter to all the people with the courage to say #metoo and #timesup, whether aloud, online, or only in their own hearts. Shout speaks truth to power in a loud, clear voice – and once you hear it, it is impossible to ignore.