Friday, 30 October 2015

All of the Above by James Dawson **Review**

All of the Above
Series: None
Pages: 319
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Release date: 3rd September 2015
Buy: Book Depository | Amazon UK | Amazon US | Waterstones

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Thanks to the publisher for my review copy of this book.

Goodreads synopsis:
This is a funny and moving love story about friends, first loves and self-discovery by Queen of Teen 2014.

When sixteen-year-old Toria Bland arrives at her new school she needs to work out who her friends are in a crazy whirl of worry, exam pressure and anxiety over fitting in. Things start looking up when Toria meets the funny and foul-mouthed Polly, who's the coolest girl that Toria has ever seen. Polly and the rest of the 'alternative' kids take Toria under their wing. And that's when she meets the irresistible Nico Mancini, lead singer of a local band - and it's instalove at first sight! Toria likes Nico, Nico likes Toria, but then there's and friendship have a funny way of going round in circles.

All of the above really does what it says on the tin; there is a lot going on in this story.
It begins when Victoria 'Toria' Grand moves from her previous home to Brompton-on-sea, a dreary, forgotten seaside town, and starts at a new school as the New Girl, which immediately makes her the focus of attention in such a tight community where everyone seemingly know everyone. Making friends is the biggest worry in Toria's life, so when she meets Daisy and her group of friends, she immediately latches onto them, hoping she'll find her 'tribe' in them. After a few weeks of only hanging out with them at Sixth Form and being left to herself on the weekends, she's finally invited out with them.

The group of teenagers in this book is one of the things that really struck me about this story. Everything about them felt real to me; the way they talked and acted, their problems, their relationships, their worries, even their experience of Sixth Form were so accurate. There are too many YA stories out there where teenagers don't actually act like teenagers, but Dawson hasn't made this mistake – they are real characters, all of them flawed in their own ways and (nearly) all of them loveable.
The only character I really had a problem with was Freya. She's introduced very shortly after Daisy and is the bookworm of the group. She usually hangs around the fringes and reads, but doesn't do a lot else, including talk to anyone. I felt as though Freya was kind of used only as a tool to get Toria and Polly closer together. After one particularly memorable moment, in which Toria stands up for the quiet, bookish Freya, she is almost forgotten. Whereas I know that might be true of a person in real life, I had thought she would still play a part in the group and their story, but she really didn't. For a good half of the book, I'm not sure she's even mentioned. I just think that her part could have been much better.
Other than that, the characters were fantastic – believable, loveable and very distinct from one another.

The story in itself didn't seem to follow any particular plot – there wasn't a big conflict to be overcome or one central storyline, but rather lots of little ones all joined together. Whereas I did wonder where the story was actually going, it soon didn't matter and it actually made the experience of the book feel that much more realistic. It really did feel like I was experiencing a year of Sixth Form, with all its troubles, dramas and fun, alongside all of the characters.
And there are plenty of troubles and worries. Once Toria has overcome the first hurdle and been accepted into the group, there is plenty left to worry about; her feelings for Nico, the boy she meets at the crazy golf course; whether some of the group (mainly Alice) actually like her; conflicts within the group; the list goes on. And her relationship with Polly, her new best friend, is constantly fluctuating – Toria herself describes it at one point as a storm.

And there are plenty of issues handled in the book; there are LGBT characters aplenty, alcoholism, relationships, anorexia, and a few that I can't mention without spoilers. But needless to say, this book definitely takes its readers on a ride.

Before I end this review, I feel I should at least touch on the way the book is written. It's from Toria's point of view and it's almost written like a diary, but without the diary format. She's speaking directly with the reader, and as a result, we see all of her hurt, worries, confusion and humour (I laughed out loud a lot while reading Toria's story), even when she's not outwardly showing it. It's a fantastically entertaining read.

All of the Above took me on one hell of a journey. The emotions it provoked snuck up on me without my realising it, and the characters took hold of my heart without me even noticing they'd gotten in. The biggest thing I can say about it is that the entire thing feels real, and not just real as in it could happen, but real in the sense that I kind of feel like it did happen.
A wonderful coming-of-age story from a truly wonderful author.


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