Book review: So Happy For You

When I started this book, I thought we were in romance territory and that I knew exactly where it was heading. Wrong on both counts!

The exciting thing about So Happy For You is that it’s lesfic that gets to be something else – part thriller, part dystopia, perhaps. I’ve seen some apt comparisons to Black Mirror.

The book is set in a misogynistic near future in the US, where the government incentivises marriage and severely limits abortion. (So far, so real.) Women are ‘leftovers’ in their late 20s and ‘rotten’ by their 30s. Then there are the ‘wedding charms’, the weird hazing-esque rituals that brides undertake to ensure the success of their wedding, and future fertility.

Robin, the main character, doesn’t buy into any of this – in fact, she roundly rejects the institution of marriage and is happy with her partner, Aimee. But Ellie, Robin’s best friend since childhood, is getting married, and she wants Robin to be her maid of honour. Robin is torn between her principles and her loyalty to Ellie.

As the wedding approaches, Ellie’s behaviour becomes bizarre, to say the least. The book gets dark quickly, and the second half is a weird, wild rollercoaster that kept me hooked. I honestly didn’t know what was coming next.

I really liked Robin, though she’s probably a ‘Marmite’ character. She’s witty, with a dry sense of humour, and a vulnerability which manifests as cynicism. Her ‘coming out’ story is addressed in the novel, but it’s not central to the plot. I really warmed to her and found myself rooting for her throughout.

This was a rip-roaring book that manages to do humour, satire, gut-wrench and edge-of-the-seat thriller… sometimes all in the space of a few pages. It’s refreshing to see lesbian fiction that’s permitted to be outside-the-box and genre-bending. I’m definitely off in search of more Celia Laskey.

My thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC in return for an honest review.

Book review: She Gets The Girl

An uplifting, slow-burn YA f/f romance perfect for summer.

She Gets The Girl paperback against a wooden backdrop surrounded by pink and white flowers.
She Gets The Girl by Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick

I don’t usually read rom-com or YA, but I’d heard Rachael Lippincott’s name a few times and decided to check this one out. Lippincott wrote this one with her wife, Alyson Derrick. I’m always intrigued by the process of two writers working together, and especially a wife-and-wife team!

She Gets The Girl features two girls meeting in their first year of college.

Alex is an independent, confident and flirty girl who wants to show her on-again-off-again girlfriend, Natalie, that she’s capable of commitment. But she has some stuff to figure out first, and some distance from Natalie – literal and figurative – might be exactly what she needs to do that.

Molly is painfully introverted and socially awkward. She is close to her family – her mom is her best friend – and can’t pluck up the courage to speak to her high school crush, Cora.

When the girls end up on the same college campus and Alex learns of Molly’s infatuation, she decides to help Molly get her girl, in an attempt to show Natalie that she can form meaningful connections without a vested interest. Alex convinces Molly to follow her five-step plan. Only problem is, she’s making it up as she goes along.

The natural relationship that evolves between the two main characters enables each to face and fight their demons in a story that is by turns hilarious, angsty and heartbreaking. The dialogue is full of banter, dry humour and plenty that’s left unsaid.

Whilst the book does feature darker topics – alcoholism and racism, to name but a few – the characters’ backstories are woven into the story in a way that was impactful without being heavy-handed.

The slow-burn, hate-to-love romance was well-paced, and the dual narrative worked beautifully. Each character has a distinct voice and seeing the same situation from their very different perspectives is a great source of humour in the book.

The outcome isn’t a surprise (the clue’s in the title) but this is a book you read for the journey, rather than the destination.

This is a light, uplifting book – the perfect addition to your sun lounger this summer.

Book review: The Summer Book

There’s nothing like a cold snap to make you yearn for summer, crank up the Beach Boys and imagine the orange warmth of the sun kissing your eyelids. 

Jetty and island

Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book is just the remedy. Indeed, the popularity of the book in Scandinavia, says Esther Freud in her foreword, owes much to ‘the allure of summer itself for those people who spend so much of the year in the dark’.

Jansson, best known as the creator of the Moomin stories, wrote the book in 1972, the year after her own mother died, and the book borrows characters and memories from the author’s life.

A touching yet understated novella, it shrugs off delineations of genre (combining adventure, humour, biography and philosophy) and just keeps you coming back for more.

Sophia spends her summers with her father and grandmother on a tiny, remote island in the Gulf of Finland. She has just lost her mother and – although the story is positive and life-affirming – loss is ubiquitous. Whilst Grandmother has no objection to her swearing, she won’t allow the child to call her ‘Mama’.

There is no plot, in the traditional sense. Time is elastic, but nevertheless linear. Presented as one summer, the chapters stretch into many, with friends and others drawing into focus and then disappearing into the shadows without explanation.

In the absence of traditional plot points, the relationship between grandmother and granddaughter is the narrative’s primary driving-force. Grandmother is terse, yet fiercely kind and protective. Determined to foster Sophia’s independence without crushing her spirit or cutting short her childhood, she is equal parts delight and frustration at the absolutes which govern the young girl’s thinking. Sophia, too, insists upon pulling ties that bind them, then returning for comfort when bowled over by adult emotions.

Like the push and pull of its characters, the prose vacillates too – by turns, sparse and crisp, then gentle and meandering. One of the delights of the book is that conversations between the two are as likely to end abruptly in childish frustration as they are to unfold into profound philosophical discussions.

We are different creatures in the summer, Jansson reminds us. We stretch our minds and bodies towards nature. And while Sophia grows and explores, Grandmother’s physical decline is becoming ever more apparent.

The island – a character in its own right in this work – is developing too. We are reminded that a space that feels small to the point of claustrophobia for adults, is perfect for an exploring child, whose imagination and adventures expand it.

The island is ravaged by storms which blow over by dawn, like the characters’ arguments. Moss, trampled by summer guests, never comes back. New neighbours bring new customs and erode the old ways of life. Each change threatens to upset the delicate balance and uproot Grandmother. It is Sophia, with her youthful openness to possibility, who is able to usher in an acceptance of new ways of living on the island.

Humorous, wise and thoughtful, The Summer Book is a breath of fresh air in the truest sense, and a little taste of the trickling, pebble-strewn pleasures of summer in the midst of an unrelentingly cold winter.