Thursday, 10 September 2015

'Love Hurts' anthology

*This review will contain spoilers!*

Containing twenty four short stories from popular YA authors, I was certain that this was going to be one of the most interesting and exciting anthologies that I'd ever had the pleasure to read. Curated by Malorie Blackman, featuring contributions from Philip Pullman, Gayle Forman, David Levithan and Jenny Downham - including many, many more? Mind-blowing stuff.
Alas, it was not to be the case. It turns out that a mere five of these short stories are actually new short stories - out of the other nineteen contributions, only two are actually short stories. Yep, utter disappointment. I couldn't believe it. The other seventeen "short stories" are extended excerpts from best-selling YA novels, such as 'I Am The Messenger' by Markus Zusak and 'We Were Liars' by E. Lockhart. 
I really dislike extended excerpts: I can't see any reason behind them. If I was going to read the book, why would I want a section of spoilers from it? This meant that I decided straight off that I was going to add the novels that I hadn't read to a list of ones to look up, and just read the seven short stories that are self-contained. I'm going to write small reviews of each of these, and the rating for the collection will be the average of the ratings I've given these seven. 

'Humming Through My Fingers' by Malorie Blackman (5/5)
Malorie Blackman had both an excerpt and a standalone short story in the collection - why shouldn't she, it was edited by her! Her short story, 'Humming Through My Fingers', was an absolute delight: our protagonist is a girl who went blind due to complications with her diabetes, and she teaches her brother's friend, Ethan, to experience the world more with his senses. I've never read a novel with a blind protagonist, meaning that the descriptions of her hearing movements and sensing feelings were very evocative and thought-provoking - I also appreciated the fact that she had synaesthesia, as it added another element to the story-telling. Despite the fact that she had synaesthesia (which means the ability to hear colours, if you haven't heard of the disorder before) I was elated that Malorie Blackman had chosen to have her represented as a completely ordinary person - the only other novel I've read that has featured synaesthesia had the patient confined to a mental hospital due to their symptoms, when it's not actually that rare
This was also true about the fact that Amber was blind. Despite her disability, she was a self-deprecating, sarcastic and realistic character - she openly mocked Ethan ("You can't see." "Oh my God! Thanks for telling me, I hadn't noticed.") and joked around, which is always rare in a protagonist who wasn't born blind - often, the ones who have lost their sight are bitter and implacable, so this was very refreshing.
The love story was a bit cheesy: Ethan asked Amber out on a date as a dare, but after getting to see inside her mind decided he wanted to go on the date seriously, and there was a moment in which Amber was sure he was seeing her for who she really was... Blegh. But I started caring about the characters so much that I kind of wanted them to be cheesy, just so they hurried up and were happy. It left off just before their first date, so I liked the fact that it was only the very start of their bond - we don't know how the date turned out, but even them going on one was a small story in the greater course of a relationship. 

'Tumbling' by Susie Day (3/5)
I was surprised by how much I ended up liking 'Tumbling', which told the story of two 'Sherlock'-obsessed tumblr users who met up for their first IRL date. Our protagonist, eye_brows, is nervous about the meeting, because she's hiding a secret from her date, vaticancameltoes - she suffers from fibromyalgia. The short story starts twenty seven minutes before the date is due to start, and we follow them through their first date - a lovely little snapshot for a burgeoning relationship.
If you haven't watched 'Sherlock', skip this short story: if I hadn't already seen multiple spoilers, I would have been devastated with this story. I know 'Sherlock' is one of those things that completely permeates a culture, but I still despise stories that contain spoilers - it just takes away the fun of things. 
On the other hand, I did appreciate how contemporary this story was! Tumblr is a massive part of a lot of teenagers lives in this day and age, so having it represented in a story as the friendship maker that it is... Well, it felt extremely realistic. This, combined with the fangirling vocabulary that was scattered throughout - it felt like one of the easiest stories I'd ever read, because it was so easy to relate to it: this was a world I recognised and understood. 
Despite this, I didn't really feel any connection to the characters. I liked the setting, but it just didn't really have any profound affect on me. 

'Gentlewoman' by Laura Dockrill (5/5)
'Gentlewoman' is the short story that is least associated with love, focusing instead on our protagonist, Dan - a teenage boy who has just come out as transgender, and is beginning the transition to become Danni. Love is still mentioned, because Danni likes a girl called Sara, but the problem is that Sara likes Dan instead. This means that as well as worrying about the reaction among the male friends she has grown up with from a young age, Danni is terrified of losing Sara when she comes out as transgender at the start of the new school year.
One thing that 'Gentlewoman' brought up was the issue that transgender people face when they're heterosexual in their born bodies. As Danni puts it: she was "a girl who was born a boy and was in love with a girl who loved the boy she wasn't", and I can imagine it makes it much more difficult to deal with - as well as needing to deal with the fact that you're transgender, you also need to deal with the fact that you're homosexual. In the other transgender novels I've read, the people in question have felt attracted to the opposite gender from the one that they've identified as, meaning that they've been straight - this was the first story I'd read that had dealt with someone going through both.
I thought it was beautifully written though - Danni was a lovable character, and the fact that she was trying to put the feelings of others above her own was heartbreaking. She had problems with getting her father's acceptance, but he came around to her changing identity by the end of the story in a very poignant moment, and - brilliantly - Sara accepted Danni without a second thought, supporting her on her first day back to school after she came out.

'Miss Lucy Had a Steamboat' by David Levithan (5/5) 
I haven't read 'How They Met and other stories' by David Levithan (yet!) so this was my first experience of 'Miss Lucy Had a Steamboat'. It might be because I read it at a time in my life when I related to it completely, but I've never had a story resonant so deeply with me.

'Some people find happily ever after in being part of a couple, and for them, I say, good for you. But that's no reason we should all have to do it. That's no reason that every goddamn song and story has to say that we should.' 
The protagonist of this short story is Lucy, who falls madly, speedily in love with Ashley, the new girl at her school. Ashley affectionately calls her Miss Lucy the first day that they meet, not knowing that the song of 'Miss Lucy' has special meaning to Lucy - it's just another aspect that makes her completely irresistible. For a few weeks, everything is good: then Lucy gets too clingy, so Ashley calls off their relationship and tells her she needs to relax.
The heartbreak in this story is palpable. The break-up itself is told in a cross-section narrative, where the choruses of the 'Miss Lucy' song are spliced and diced with the unfolding events of the split - the pace is insane, and it makes it so easy to speed through this. It's so easy to feel everything that Lucy feels too, because her emotions on the page are so realistic... It nearly brought tears to my eyes, and that's something I struggle to experience with short stories as it's hard to be able to care about the characters as completely as needed.
Some David Levithan novels are my favourites, some utterly disappoint me - but this has just become the best piece of his writing that I've ever read, as well as my favourite short story of all time. Again, it might be because it matters so much to me now, voicing all of the thoughts I've had over the last few weeks... But there was no way I could fault this short story. I'd give it a higher rating than five, if it was possible.

'Endless Love: The Valentine of Daniel and Lucinda' by Lauren Kate (2/5)
Before reading 'Endless Love', I didn't realise that it was one of the short stories from the 'Fallen In Love' short story companion to the Fallen series. This meant that instead of enjoying this short story as I'd expected, I felt like I was getting spoilers and it just made me so utterly and completely confused.
You're probably thinking 'but the characters names are in the title, how did you not guess it was about Fallen?!'. Well, I did guess it was about the Fallen series, because I could vaguely remember something about the starcrossed lovers being drawn together and torn apart in all of their previous lives... I just assumed this was going to be a story from a past life, not mentioning any of the events that were happening during the series, and not mentioning the other characters who crop up in the series.
I might have enjoyed this more if I'd read the series, because I would have more idea of what was going on, but it seemed like a really silly choice for a short story in this collection - why would you want to put spoilers for the first three books of your series? Anyone who hadn't read 'Fallen' before reading this would have probably felt very disappointed. Luckily, I'd read 'Fallen' and 'Torment', so I didn't get too many spoilers - but it still felt as though I'd missed something.
Even if it had been adapted slightly: take out the random mention of Cam, who isn't given any context, and the appearances of Arriane, Roland, Miles and Shelby - also, appearing without any context - and it might have worked better... It just felt a bit silly, telling Lucinda's story through Luce's voice, and it made for an uncomfortable disconnect that just didn't sit well with me. If they'd made it obvious on the contents page that this was an excerpt from 'Fallen In Love', I would have skipped over this one too.

'The Liar's Girl' by Catherine Johnson (5/5)
Set in October 1829, 'The Liar's Girl' is probably the most unusual of the short stories in this collection. Whereas most of the other stories focus strongly on diversity (blindness, homosexuality and transgender), 'The Liar's Girl' is different - it tells the story of a girl from the West Indies living in London, and her illicit love affair with a rich man's son. The twist? Her boyfriend's father was a slave master in the West Indies, and her mother has forced her to help get revenge on him. Bridget convinces him to run away from his family, but her mother's boyfriend ties him up and puts him on the prisoner's boat to Australia.
The problem is that Bridget has fallen in love with the boy, so when he is taken it devastates her. She felt pressured by her mother, because the hateful stories had been fed to her since she was a very young child - it was a thought-provoking tale about how the beliefs of your parents can effect your beliefs and can make you do things you despise. I'm sure a lot of people have experienced this, but it was handled very well: Bridget doesn't confront her mother, she just strikes out on her own in an attempt to save her love.
This was the only short story that I thought could have used a few more pages. It was left at such a high tension climax that I really wish it was going to be expanded upon - the characters were easy to care about, and because the plot was so serious it really felt as though it could have been expanded and dealt with through a full novel. This could have been the mid-section, as I'm sure it would have been interesting following Bridget infiltrating her way into his life. I always find that the best short stories tell a story but leave you guessing, and this one definitely did that.

'The Unicorn' by James Dawson (3/5) 
'The Unicorn' was the only story that I really felt 'meh' about. This might have been because it was basically the same story as 'Miss Lucy Had a Steamboat': our protagonist falls madly in love, their lover tells them to chill the hell out then breaks their heart, and they philosophically look back on the entire situation feeling as though they're better off now it's all over. If I'd read 'The Unicorn' first I might have preferred it more, but because I read it after the other one it just felt as though it was following a premeditated pattern.
'The Unicorn' focuses on two navy men, Reg and Frankie, who are both on board HMS Unicorn in the Royal Navy. Reg is instantly attracted to Frankie, who stays aloof until he gets drunk on sake and they end up passionately kissing. As soon as they've kissed, Frankie withdraws - his hot and cold attitude is the norm for Reg, as the time period is the 1950's and homosexuality is still criminalised. It means that for a large amount of the story, we're dealing with Reg's heartbreak and his struggle with his inability to get over his emotions... While it's touching, I didn't really feel anything for the characters so it seemed as though it went on a bit too long for my liking. Maybe if more had happened, or it had been a more passionate love affair, it would have been more effective - as it was, it was just a man playing with another man's emotions without any real intentions.
The thing that struck me about this short story was the fact that it didn't feel YA, which was brilliant. You're probably thinking I've completely lost my mind - a short story in a YA collection doesn't feel like YA... That shouldn't be right! - but I mean it in the way that in the past teenagers had to grow up much faster, so while Reg is still a young adult his voice and his experiences of the world give him the feelings of an adult. This makes it true to the time period and much easier to appreciate - if he'd felt younger it wouldn't have worked, as it would have felt like a silly teenage fling rather than a serious, career-threatening burgeoning love. It also wouldn't have worked if he'd had a younger voice and had been talking about the war and the navy: people in those positions are inherently more mature, so it made sense that he was more articulate and in touch with his feelings and the feelings of those around him.
I haven't read any of James Dawson's writing before, but it's always been something I've been interested in - 'Under The Skin' and 'Say Her Name' both look absolutely brilliant, I just hadn't gotten around to reading them yet. I'm not too sure on his writing style following this short story, but oftentimes people will change their voice to suit a shorter form - it means I'm not completely writing him off just yet.

With these seven short stories, the average rating is 4/5 stars, which means it was a pretty good collection overall. However, you need to remember that I didn't read nineteen of the short stories, so I can't promise that the rest of the selection is that good! I'm keeping a list of the other novels referenced in this anthology to look them up (novels including 'Echo Boy' by Matt Haig, and 'More Than This' by Patrick Ness - both of which I know I will be able to access in the library where I work) so I will end up reading this entire anthology - in one form or another - fairly soon. 

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