Monday, January 17, 2011

Mini-review Monday 5

And it's a return of the mini-reviews! Here are my brief thoughts on So Much To Tell You by John Marsden, A Certain Age by Rebecca Ray and Push by Sapphire. Hope you enjoy.

So Much To Tell you by John Marsden - Scarred, literally, by her past, Marina has withdrawn into silence. Then, at her new boarding school, she is set the task of writing a diary by her English teacher, and finds a way of expressing her thoughts and feelings and of exploring the traumatic events that have caused her distress. Through Marina's diary we gain an insight into life on her dormitory, and her difficult relationship with her father, who injured her in an angry moment. Eventually, Marina makes tentative friendships and, in a moving denouement, is reconciled with her father.

I really only picked up this one because I've had John Marsden's Tomorrow series on my shelf since forever unread. I thought by reading one of Marsden's other non-series books that it would make me excited to read his Tomorrow books sooner than expected.

For me though, So Much To Tell You felt like very heavy reading. It isn't particularly long, but it felt dense. The story is told by Marina through diary entries at a boarding school in Australia. She's gone through some unknown trauma involving her father that's left her face scarred. She isn't able to speak about her experience, so instead writes all her thoughts and observances of school-life down in her diary.

You can tell at the start, the trauma is still too close for her and as readers we only see a little of Marina's inner thoughts about it all. She writes in details of some of her classmates and the way she is treated at school, but none of the characters made much of an impact on me and they feel very two-dimensional and on the sidelines of the story. Marina feels very fragile and with the help of a particularly helpful and friendly teacher, Marina can slowly make her way out of her depression and difficult feelings to a place where she's more able to accept herself and what's happened to her. I'm not sorry that I read it, but I was hoping that I would have connected more emotionally to Marina and her story.


A Certain Age by Rebecca Ray - Teenager Rebbecca Ray's debut novel paints a deeply disturbing portrait of the life of an adolescent girl growing up in small-town England in the dying breaths of the 20th century. The humiliations of her first day at secondary school soon give way to grudging acceptance as Ray's unnamed heroine learns how to "fit in". Letting boys touch her and hanging out with the misfits and trouble-makers makes daily life bearable. Which is just as well as home life is far from bearable. With a brow-beaten, ineffectual mother, whose own feelings of self-worth have long since been ground to a pulp by a bullying, overbearing husband, it comes as no surprise when their 14-year-old daughter starts dating a man old enough to be her father. Sex, drugs, paedophilia and masochism are all shrugged off by our 14-year-old leading lady whose feelings of self-loathing grow deeper, page by gripping page, until they reach a disturbing, inevitable conclusion. Written in the first person, Ray's narrative is stark and shocking. She describes a life, a family, a society too darkly accurate to be pure fiction.

I really can't remember how or why I decided that this is a book I should read? Perhaps I read reviews of it recently? I don't remember. On a whim, I decided to choose a random book off my shelves to read and my hand landed on this one. I knew from the outset that it was a book with a very inappropriate relationship between a 14 year old girl and a 27 year old man and that I would struggle with reading about such a thing, but I found that I struggled with a lot more than that as well. This isn't a book that I enjoyed very much and I'd have a hard time recommending it. Perhaps it's saying something about society? I'm really not sure. If it is, I'm not smart enough to pick up on it.

The main character of this book is 14, she isn't treated very well in school. In fact, as a way of fitting into a crowd of kids that don't really accept her, she allows herself to be felt up and kissed by some of the boys. This leads to an abusive and controlling relationship with another boy. Which in turns leads to the relationship with the older man. At the same time, she's dealing with an embarassing friendship with a very needy girl and how to balance that out with her 'cool group of friends.'

You can also see how that her relationship with her parents is very central to the story. Her parents argue a lot, she gets stuck in the middle. Her father seems very domineering and controlling as well as belittling to both our main character and to his wife. It isn't pleasant reading at all. Everything about the book sort of drips with unpleasantness from her sexual partners, her friendships, her parents.

The part where I nearly gave up the book is when she tells both parents about her new boyfriend. And that's he's 27. The way in which her parents are accepting of this and seem to have little concern over this fact is very troubling. Perhaps that's the point of the novel? To shock readers with all of the issues in the book? I don't know. It didn't quite work for me.


Push by Sapphire - This is the story of Precious Jones, a sixteen year old illiterate black girl who has never been out of Harlem. She is pregnant by her own father for the second time, and kicked out of school when that pregnancy becomes obvious. Placed in an alternative teaching programme, she is urged to write down her thoughts in a book. This is Precious' diary, in which she honestly records her relationships and her life. Told with tremendous power, vitality and wit; this is an uncompromising and hugely enjoyable novel.

Here's one that really surprised me. Push by Sapphire is the book that the movie Precious was based on. I haven't seen the movie and I didn't know beforehand the extent of which this book would go to. Wow. I finished it of an evening (it isn't very long at all) and absolutely mesmerised by the character ofPrecious Jones. What a resilient and courageous character.

Precious Jones, is 16 and illiterate. When she's kicked out of school for being pregnant (for the second time and by her father) she is given the opportunity to attend an alternative school instead. There, surrounded by other young people in similar circumstances, Precious is able to learn in a more supportive environment with a teacher and other students who care about her. All of her life, Precious has been abused, sexually by her father, physically and emotionally by her mother. She's foul-mouthed and angry at the start and as the story continues she doesn't lose any of that attitude. But she is able to see more clearly, her worth, and her capabilities.

I really loved the message of this novel, to keep pushing forward and working hard to make something of yourself, to go after your dreams. I did find it a little difficult to read Precious' story as it's a written diary with spelling mistakes and bad grammar, but once I was used to the feel of it, I couldn't put this book down. Precious is a wonderful character, who I'll have a hard time forgetting.



  1. I found all three of these reviews fascinating. Thank you! I didn't know anything about any of these books before.

  2. Feliz 2011! Voltarei outras vezes


  3. Heard a lot of good things about Push. Definitely one that needs to be read. Sorry the other two didn't really work for you.

  4. I take my hat off to you for approaching such gritty subjects. Well done.
    I read to escape and although your reviews are fabulous I dont think I shall be tackling any of these.

  5. These were great to read, especially since they're all kind of gritty reads. I actually love So Much To Tell You, but I do see what you mean about the two dimensionalness of cetain secondary characters. Sometimes Marina alludes to something that's going on with another character and I wanted to know more, but we never really find out. While that makes sense in terms of the story, as an inquisitive type of reader I like to *know*.

    Push sounds like something I'd enjoy. I don't think I've even heard about the movie before, so thanks for enlightening me!

  6. I was absolutely fascinated by all three of your reviews, especially with A Certain Age. For some reason, this sounds like those out-of-the-comfort zone type of reads that will leave one squirming all the way through. Push and So Much To Tell You certainly sound intriguing as well - I haven't heard much about John Marsden, but I will be looking out for some of his books. Fantastic reviews all around Michelle :)

  7. Shame you didn't connect with the Marsden as you would have liked, I read it a while back and really liked it.

    But, then I'm a big fan of Marsden anyway... ;) You really must make a start on the Tomorrow Series, it's fantastic!

  8. Wow guys! I'm always surprised when there's lots of feedback to my mini-reviews. I always think that because I have less to say, you have less to say. Not the case, so thank you! :)

    Luisa - It is nice sometimes to review books nobody's ever heard before. I like doing that.

    Viviene - That's all right, win some lose some I suppose. Push IS really interesting. Worth a look, I think.

    Emma - Fair enough :) I know that I do read books that others might not touch, but I still like to share!

    Lauren - Seems I like the gritty reads! I think it was your review actually that made me aware of So Much To Tell You and made me want to read it. I can't remember the sideline characters at all though!

    Thanks Tammy. A Certain Age was a really squirmy book for me. But what I didn't say in the review is that I couldn't put it down either, I had to keep reading to find out what would happen next. Only the ending was a little 'WTH just happened there?'

    Kirsty - oh have you read it? (Sorry!)

    Darren - I really, really should read the other Marsden books. I found all but the first one in a charity shop, 50p each book. I was thrilled, but never got around to them :( This year, maybe.


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