This week I would like to wish a happy publication woop to...
JASMINE SKIES by Sita Brahmachari
Macmillan Children's Books
Stolen letters full of secrets, a flight to India and a boy she feels an instant connection to will all send fourteen-year-old Mira on the biggest adventure of her life. She visits her Aunt and cousin in Kolkata and traces her Indian heritage for the first time, and while she's there Janu, who becomes her 'guide' to the beautiful, chaotic city, is making her forget all about home. That is until she discovers a secret that could tear her family apart.
JASMINE SKIES is the follow-up to Sita Brahmachari's debut novel, ARTICHOKE HEARTS, which made me cry. Now, I am no stranger to weeping. I have seen The Notebook (cried solidly for an hour. Once cried while explaining why it made me cry). My best friend and I once decided we were going to put on a sad song so that we could sit and cry about boys for five minutes (Celine Dion - All Coming Back to Me Now). But a book that can make you cry is pretty special. It doesn't have sad chords or Ryan Gosling's LOVELY BEARDED FACE to do the work - it only has words. So if you get caught up in those words and really see those characters in your head to the point that you cry, I think that's some rather powerful writing. I thought I would combine my review of ARTICHOKE HEARTS with some other books that got me in the tear department.
1. ARTICHOKE HEARTS by Sita Brahmachari
Macmillan Children's Books
This is the story of Mira and her Nana Josie. Nana Josie is dying and Mira has to work out how she is going to be able to face saying goodbye. At the same time Mira, who has just turned 12, is experiencing lots of things that are new - she's feeling distanced from her best friend, she's got her first crush (on the mysterious Jidé Jackson), and in her school writing club she is starting to tell her own story. Among all the chaos the person Mira can talk to is Nana Josie, but she is the same person who reminds Mira of the sad and frightening truth that the people we love won't be around forever.
This book is heart-wrenchingly real. I completely agree with Mary Hoffman, who reviewed the book in The Guardian, that the scenes in the hospice stay with you long after the book ends. The detail of Mira's school life, her crush on Jidé (haven't we all counted the 'x's in someone's text at some point?) and her worries are also very real for anyone who has ever been 12.
But the big, emotional pull of the novel is Nana Josie. She has so much impact in the space of a book that you can quite imagine the effect her presence would have on her family over a lifetime. An artist and life-long protester, she is funny, fearless and wise. The way she explains things to Mira - such as where she gives her an artichoke heart charm, which symbolises how layers of toughness grow around your heart as you get older - seem to make huge unimaginable truths easy to understand.
2. A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness
Like ARTICHOKE HEARTS, this book confronts the most scary thing there is: losing the people you thought would be around for ever. And like the other book, most of the sadness comes from the dread of that horrible moment. It is the story of Conor, who has been visited by a monster since his mother started her breast cancer treatments. Then another monster appears - not the one from his nightmares, but one whose going to do something far more frightening: he is going to make Conor tell the truth.
The book is beautiful, raw and very upsetting. Do not make my mistake of finishing it on a train. Unless you like to sob in public.
3. MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryn Erskine
For Caitlin things are good or bad - the stuff in between is messy and confusing, like colours as opposed to black and white or when people don't say what they mean. Her brother Devon used to help her understand the world, but now he's dead. When Caitlin reads the definition of closure in her dictionary, she knows that is what she needs, but she doesn't know how you Get It. Without Devon, she has to face a world of colour, noise, emotions and messiness on her own.
This book is incredibly moving. It shows you inside the mind of a child with Asperger's and it is heart-breaking to see Caitlin try to do the things she has been told to do, like make friends, and not get the responses she wants. It also makes you see that there are lots of ways of looking at the world. Caitlin's interpretation of things people do and say is direct and highlights the way that people skip around the truth of what they are really saying. Often characters are uncomfortable with what Caitlin says because she states things as they are and doesn't dress up her words with politeness.
She also does things because she wants to do them - and isn't stopped by thinking her actions might be unusual or embarrassing. The part of the book I found the most moving was her friendship with a first-grader - Michael (Caitlin is 10). This was also the funniest part of the book - Caitlin impresses Michael and his friends by burping the alphabet and then says 'I feel like Snow White because now I have a bunch of little dwarf friends who love me.'
4. BLACK BEAUTY by Anna Sewell
Because of GINGER
5. THE HEART AND THE BOTTLE by Oliver Jeffers
If you have ever thought 'well a 32-page book could never make me cry', you are wrong. WRONG.
6. HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE by J. K. Rowling
I was on holiday reading this book and three of my friends I was on holiday with were reading it too. I finished it first, early one morning, and my friends woke up to me crying about a certain death. I had to pretend that, at the age of 18 and away from home for one week, I was homesick.
7. THE AMBER SPYGLASS by Philip Pullman
This is the epic ending the His Dark Materials trilogy and just thinking about it makes me want to fling myself about and weep (and sit hopefully on a bench).
8. MY SISTER LIVES ON THE MANTELPIECE by Annabel Pitcher
I listened to the audiobook of this and the weepy bit came on when I was out for a run. I probably looked very mad running and crying at the same time. I was very much 'got' by the story of Jamie and Sunya (or Spiderman and Girl M) who have a secret friendship because Jamie's dad says that Muslims killed his sister. Jamie's narration of his family falling apart as they try to deal with their grief is equally funny and sad - the recipe for TEARS.
9. THE TIME TRAVELLER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger
Love conquers time. This makes me very happy and also very emotional. Had I known Rachel McAdams was going to be in the film I would have cried even more.
10. MIDWINTERBLOOD by Marcus Sedgewick
What did I just say? Love conquers time! MIDWINTERBLOOD is seven stories about the same two souls meeting, each time finding each other in a different way. I think that my review makes it very clear how I feel about this book, but just know that I LOVE Eric and Merle, in all their forms, and this book left me both uplifted and devastated.