As the clock struck midnight on 1st September, I was tucked up in bed reading Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods, a set of five intensely creepy graphic short stories. These spine-tingling tales had me turning on all the lights and checking for monsters under the bed before I could even think of attempting to sleep. It is an incredibly impressive piece of work that rewards repeated readings. The more time you spend with each image, the creepier they become; trees turn into spindly hands and deep reds melt into blood. With very few words, Emily Carroll’s haunting illustrations brought a cloud of terror over me. I wasn’t really sure what I was frightened of, and that is, of course, the most frightening thing of all.
In need of some light relief, I turned to YA contemporary How to Be Bad, a collaboration between E. Lockhart (author of the fantastic We Were Liars), Lauren Myracle and Sarah Mlynowski. The basic premise of this book is that three girls, the stereotyped good girl, the wild-child and the posh new girl in town, take a road trip and discover the true meaning of being ‘bad’. It’s a fun take on the classic coming-of-age road trip novel and, despite it taking a good few chapters to properly get into it, I became really invested in the characters quite suddenly about halfway through. Definitely an enjoyable, easy read for the end of summer.
My third book of September was the fantastic Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne, which I read on my Kindle. This is a YA novel about Evie, a sixteen year old with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It is one of the best, most realistic, depictions of OCD I’ve ever read. I was really glad to see that it went beyond simply presenting the well-known hygiene related obsessions and compulsions and gave a true insight into the thought processes of an individual with OCD, for example by showing Evie’s belief that if she touches all the lampposts on the way home six times, her evening will go really well.
I visited Penguin’s Pop Up at BOXPARK in Shoreditch this month. It was part of Penguin’s 80th anniversary celebrations and they had a small selection of their titles on sale, as well as a fun post-it note wall of messages from visitors describing what books mean to them and a live action mural by illustrator Toby Triumph. I picked up The Lottery, a 99p short story by Shirley Jackson. Originally published in The New Yorker, it caused outrage amongst readers in the 1940s. I read this short story in one sitting and absolutely loved it, apart from the fact that I found the ending quite predictable. Sadly, I put this entirely down to the small quote on the back cover which drew my attention to an aspect of the story at the very beginning that might have otherwise passed me by. This made it quite obvious from the start what was going on, but I did still enjoy this incredibly well-written and shocking story. Next time, Penguin could probably just stick the endorsements from Neil Gaiman and Donna Tartt on the back though. As if I would ever turn down a book with those two names by it!
My next read of September was the first in Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum series for children 7+, You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum! This is a hilarious tale of a very nasty man, ‘an absolute lazer’, with an ‘absolutely grimsters’ house, who takes against the village’s favourite dog when it makes a mess of his garden. We follow a little girl, who has ‘a smile as happy as the Bank of England’, as she tries to rescue Jake the dog. Andy Stanton’s wacky and absurd writing style is really appealing and it took a lot of effort not to laugh out loud on the tube while reading this. You never quite know where the sentence is going to go: ‘She ran past big trees, little trees, tiny little trees, and tiny tiny little trees so small they were more like pebbles, in fact they were pebbles.’ This is a definite recommendation for fans of Roald Dahl and David Walliams.
My third and final YA read of September was Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, which has just been made into a film. You can see the trailer here. I’m still not sure what I made of this one. It’s the story of Greg Gaines, a seventeen year old whose mother forces him to become friends with a girl who has cancer. The best part of this book is that is doesn’t try to follow the ‘Fault in Our Stars’ model of a romantic story about cancer, but, for me, the worst is that it is so in-your-face about it: ‘So if this were a normal book about a girl with leukemia, I would probably talk a shitload about all the meaningful things Rachel had to say as she got sicker and sicker, and also probably we would fall in love’. The narrative voice grated with me and was a little bit too Holden Caulfield-esque for my liking. Many people do absolutely love this book though, so maybe give it a go, especially if you enjoy different narrative formats as the story is told in bullet point lists and scripts, alongside the standard narration. I will still make an effort to see the film – I can definitely see that it would translate well onto the screen and it has already won awards at Sundance.
Finally, a shout out to Mike Medaglia’s One Year Wiser, a collection of 365 beautifully illustrated meditations. I work with Mike at JKP and was lucky enough to go along to his book launch at Gosh! Comics in Soho earlier this month. Whilst I haven’t made my way through the whole book this month, I have enjoyed dipping into the September pages whenever I feel like taking a breather or finding some inspiration. It’s a very beautiful object and would make a lovely gift (for those of you looking ahead to Christmas already!) You can see sample pages from the book here.