Monday, 25 January 2016

'All of the Above' by Juno (formally James) Dawson

*This review will contain spoilers!*
'Now, I appreciate you might be thinking that this is all a bit issues galore and mega emo. Well, sorry, but that was what happened. It would be neater, wouldn't it, if this was a story about self-harm or sexuality or eating disorder or drunk mums or ridiculously hot bass players, but it's a story about all of them. Yeah, it's a mess. And it's about to get messier if you'll bear with me. That's the way it is sometimes - nothing's ever neat and tidy.' 
I've read a lot of books this year already (more specifically a lot of young adult contemporaries) and none of them have gripped me as much as 'All of the Above'. This was the first novel by Juno Dawson that I'd ever read and I was not disappointed in the slightest; I'd heard amazing things about her writing, but I hadn't had the time to read one before now.
'All of the Above' is the most realistically written young adult book I've ever read. Toria moves to a new school and is quickly accepted by the AltKidz - Daisy: the anorexic, Beasley: the closet gay kid, Freya: the bookworm, Alice and Alex: the kooky couple, and Polly: pink-haired badass leader of the gang. Compared to the rest of the group Toria feels positively normal, with her Indian alcoholic mother and her father who uprooted the family for a new teaching job, and she's surprised that she settles in so quickly. 
Soon enough Toria's falling in love. She meets Nico, bassist for Judas Cradle, who goes to the other sixth form across town. He used to date Polly and Toria worries about causing tension within the group, but when Polly gives her blessing it's not long before Toria and Nico take their relationship to the next level. But when Toria starts getting feelings for Polly, she has no idea what it means...
I don't know if it's just because I'm quirky as fuck - sorry, but it's true - but I really related to most of the stuff going on. Some YA books just feel as though they're trying to emulate teen life a bit too mechanically, sending text speak messages that none of the young folk can understand, but that's not a problem here. The voices are realistic, very easy to relate to, and the issues that they struggle with are beautifully handled. It might seem like overkill, having so many people struggling with so many different things but - as someone who has literally just come out of the school system can tell you - the problems are all so prevalent in youth today that I'd challenge any teenager who said they didn't know someone who was fighting one of these issues.
It just seems to me like Juno gets it. The quirkiness is believable - being displayed in their clothes and their outlandish plans to save the local crazy golf course - and none of it feels staged or cringey (unlike a couple of other books I can think of *cough* 'The Fault In Our Stars' with those damn metaphors *cough*) so I could totally get on board with it. It genuinely felt as though it could have been Toria's memoir, because her voice was the only one you could hear - it was almost as though there was no one translating her and she was talking directly to you.
This is one of the only books I've ever read in a single sitting. Normally I get fidgety and can't focus, but 'All Of The Above' kept me gripped, and my only complaint is that it had to end. I feel as though there are certain books that come along at exactly the right time in your life, and they resonate so deeply within you that it's as though they were written specifically for you: this is one of those books for me. I was in a similar situation to Toria a couple of months ago (really liking a girl but completely adamant that I AM NOT A LESBIAN NOPE NO WAY JOSE) and it was amazing to realise that I wasn't the only one who'd had those thoughts and feelings. Instead of feeling as though I was a complete and utter weirdo, Juno helped me see that it wasn't entirely crazy of me to be confused about my feelings, and hopefully I'll be a bit less hard on myself in the future.
You guys, I can't express how strongly I recommend this book. I could go on for hours about how brilliant and inspired this novel was, I could quote endless passages that really made me stop and think for a bit (especially the one on Instalove)... But I'm going to let you discover this one for yourself. Just trust me, go and pick it up, and make sure you put aside an entire day to read it in - you won't want to leave this one halfway through. 

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