Author

Adela is in Year Twelve and has been reviewing novels for Mostly Books since late 2013. She likes to read classics and obscurities from the mid-to-late 20th century American literature canon, and her favourite book at the moment is Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion. (Close runner-ups including The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, and White Noise by Don DeLillo!) Adela is also a writer. She has been published in the 2012 and 2013 SAETA Spring Poetry Anthologies, and in the ‘Poet’s Corner’ of Indaily twice; however, these days, she's more content writing prose for assorted online publications and the occasional short story, poem, and song lyric. Adela is passionate about music, film, and fashion too. When she is not reading or writing, she loves to blast David Bowie records at excruciatingly loud volumes, practise her Telemann and Wieniawski on her violin, theorise on the meanings of David Lynch movies, and trawl her favourite vintage clothing shops. You can visit her elsewhere on her music blog and at the Felicitas Collective!

All posts by Adela

‘The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B’

(via Goodreads)

RATING: 3.5 STARS

Regular readers will remember that, last post, I broke my rule on reading (or rather, not reading) romance novels when I read a book by the name of You’re The Kind Of Girl I Write Songs About.

Well, I broke it again.

This time, a book named The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten was the exception – and just like Songs, I enjoyed it too!

13B follows the story of Adam Ross, a 15-year-old who suffers from severe OCD and who has a complicated family life (to say the least!). He reluctantly begins to attend a support group at the suggestion of his therapist, but it is here that he falls instantly in love with the ‘new girl’, Robyn. Throughout the book, Adam learns of family, first love, how to cope with life’s difficulties, and a lot about growing up.

I’m not going to lie – the romance aspect of the book was, for the most part, really cliched. The story makes use of the ever-annoying ‘love at first sight’ trope. And though many readers will be able to relate to the obsessive, painful crush that Adam nurses for Robyn, their relationship feels unrealistically perfect. Also, much of the dialogue that Adam and Robyn share feels implausibly dramatic and ‘grown-up’, particularly as they are both (presumably) experiencing their first relationship. This disappointed me, as the novel seems like a missed opportunity for Toten to break away from familiar romance tropes; instead, she reproduces what has been written many times before. Despite this, though, it was actually kind of cute, and Adam and Robyn’s relationship was resolved in a surprisingly original way (which you’ll have to read to find out for yourself!) – so there’s that!

For all its faults, The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B is a good book. Among its best attributes is that it will bring a greater awareness of mental illness to its readers. While this is obviously not its sole purpose, it appears that the story aims to educate its readers on what OCD is like. Though I cannot verify the book’s accuracy on this subject, a glance at the acknowledgements shows that Toten has certainly done her research. Her portrayal of OCD should be especially applauded – she never de-humanises the characters (a practice all too common when discussing mental illness in fiction) and believably shows – without romanticising or ‘vilifying’ their OCD – how their lives are affected. It saddens me that mental illness remains somewhat taboo, well into the 21st Century – yet awareness is certainly increasing, and perhaps this book will help the cause.

Despite my complaints, I really enjoyed The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B! While it may not become a YA classic, it’s a polished book that would be enjoyed by most of the genre’s demographic.

And I should really re-think that rule…

About a girl (and a boy)…

Traditionally, I don’t read romance books. This could be due to reading too many of those boy-meets-girl-in-clichéd-American-middle-school stories when I was ten. Then there are the substandard writing and overworked plot lines so often associated with the genre. However, I recently glimpsed a book named You’re The Kind Of Girl I Write Songs About (Daniel Herborn, HarperCollins) in my school library. The title and blurb intrigued me, so I decided to disregard my rule and give it a chance…

You’re The Kind of Girl I Write Songs About follows the story of two teenagers who share a passion for rock music. There’s Mandy, who’s taking a gap year and whose plans for the future are as yet undecided, and there’s Tim, a budding singer/songwriter who has suffered a traumatic family situation and is repeating year 12. The pair meet at a gig at which Tim is playing, and are instantly attracted to one another. At first, neither party is confident enough to approach the other, but gradually a relationship forms between the pair. The book tracks the progression of their lives and dreams, their friendships and family relationships, but most importantly their romance.

I was a little unsure of the book at first, but soon enough came to truly love it. The you're the kind of girlromance was well-written, and didn’t succumb to the common clichés often used by authors of the genre. The book is written in first person from the perspectives of both Mandy and Tim, and Herborn uses this concept very well. I felt that the characters’ differing personalities were handled skilfully, with contrasting character voices mirroring each protagonist’s thoughts and mannerisms perfectly. These multiple perspectives are to the book’s advantage, giving the reader a more balanced and almost omnipresent view of the tale.

The book’s originality, too, is very refreshing. Modern young adult fiction is often based on the same narrative, which has been rehashed more times than anyone would care to count. To read something that diverges from this concept is an enjoyable (and welcome) change! Perhaps my only gripe with the book is that the dialogue feels quite forced on a few occasions. Otherwise, it is excellently written.

I particularly enjoyed the book’s many music references. Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of these – the book’s title, after all, mentions music, and the two protagonists’ lives virtually revolve around it. As a passionate music fan myself, I especially appreciated this. Both characters are shown listening to bands like Vampire Weekend, The Go Betweens, Joy Division, The Smiths, Elliott Smith and The xx, and they are also often depicted wearing t-shirts displaying artists ranging from David Bowie to The Clash.

One of the elements of the plot is a mixtape, involving songs such as ‘About A Girl’ by Nirvana (my favourite of their songs, from which this post takes its name), and ‘You’re No Rock’n’ Roll Fun’ by Sleater-Kinney. Tim, at one point, even attends a Flaming Lips gig! The book also accurately shows some of the most essential experiences of any music fan: flipping through the music magazine section at the local newsagent, watching hours of rage and so on. While the reader needs a near-encyclopaedic knowledge of alternative music for the book to entirely make sense on first read, the plot line is enough to keep less fanatic readers interested, and it will hopefully introduce them to plenty of artists they wouldn’t have listened to otherwise!

In my opinion, You’re The Kind of Girl I Write Songs About is one of the best young adult novels around at the moment, and is most definitely worth a read!

Stay Gold, Ponyboy.

I’ve been meaning to read The Outsiders for ages. It sat on my list of books to read for months, written messily in black biro, sandwiched between Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and Kim Gordon’s memoirs. But a few weeks ago, I found my dad’s paperback edition from the ’80s in the family bookshelf, and I finally got around to reading it! If you’re not familiar with the book, you can read more about it here.

One of the first things that struck me about the book was the way it was written: in first person, from the perspective of 14-year-old Ponyboy Curtis. Ponyboy is a part of the ‘Greasers’, the less privileged of two teenage gangs which inhabit his hometown. (The other gang are known as the ‘Socs’, and think of themselves as better than the Greasers simply because they have more money. In reality, they’re not that different.) The voice that the author, S.E. Hinton, uses is not technically good, withthe outsiders slang and (intentional) bad grammar rife throughout the book. Nor is the way that she introduces the characters – ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’, which goes completely against what any English student is taught. However, the technicalities don’t really matter with The Outsiders. The voice is completely how I would imagine a teenager like Ponyboy to speak/think/write, and I thought it was perfect for the book. The Outsiders is a great example of learning the rules, and then promptly breaking them, in the best possible way!

Another thing I soon realised was why The Outsiders has become an esteemed staple of young adult literature since its publication in 1967. Perhaps one of the biggest factors in its success is that Hinton herself was fifteen when she began writing the book, truly making it a book written by a teenager for teenagers. Hinton probably took inspiration from her life for parts of the book, making it all the more authentic. Her age and experiences also help the plausibility of the characters.

Another factor in The Outsiders‘ success is its relatability. Whilst the story is not overly relatable to 21st-century teenagers, the characters are a different story. Ponyboy is intelligent and loyal; a teenager gradually undergoing the transformation from child to adult; someone who sees the injustice of life, and dreams of a world where such misfortune doesn’t exist; an adolescent who has lost, and strives to win; a person learning to look beneath the labels and prejudices of society. His oldest brother, Darry, is portrayed as a sullen character who has been forced to grow up, yet as someone who has a good heart underneath all the frost he has created to be seen as ‘tough’; their other brother, Sodapop, is seen as less studious than Ponyboy, yet understanding and kind. The members of the Greasers – Ponyboy’s surrogate family – range from a timid, sensitive young boy to a tougher, older criminal, and everything in between. The reader is likely to identify with a character created within the pages of the novel, giving it even more appeal. And though, as mentioned above, the narrative itself is not particularly relatable, the ideals portrayed by the text are. The book is a story of belonging, finding your identity, coming of age. Every adolescent, no matter what the year, can identify with those.

Another thing that intrigues me about The Outsiders is the controversy that has shrouded it since its release. Even by today’s standards, the book’s portrayal of themes such as underage drinking, violence, crime and death is uncommonly unabashed, especially for young adult fiction. There’s considerable usage of low-level profanities as well, and none of the characters stem from nuclear families – such themes would have been uncommon in teenage literature at the time of the book’s publication. All the characters smoke, too, which  is a topic commonly shied away from in this era, though not necessarily controversial in 1967. The book is even banned in a number of schools across the USA because of the topics Hinton writes about. However, many high-school students study the book and its messages across the world, which helps it to reach a larger audience than it perhaps would have otherwise.

Before reading the book, I had high expectations of The Outsiders. These were well exceeded! I really enjoyed it. If you haven’t read the book, I would highly recommend getting hold of a copy and taking a look.

Who are you? (Who, who, who, who…)

As you may or may not know, I’m a huge rock music fan. So as you can assume, I really love reading books about my favourite bands. Today, I thought I’d review the latest one I’ve read – the memoirs of the guitarist and songwriter (plus synthesiser/keyboardist and occasional singer) for The Who, Pete Townshend! Called Who I Am, the title is a clever nod to The Who’s 1978 song ‘Who Are You?’, and the book only goes upwards from there…

Though I can now quite safely call myself a huge Who fan, I knew next to nothing about Pete Townshend when I read his autobiography. The book is a nice hardcover, and at 507 who i am pete townshendpages, it is not a quick read. But a wonderful read it is! The book begins with Townshend recounting the first time he destroyed a guitar; an act which would which would soon be forever rooted in The Who’s stage act. The book then moves into the actual chapters, which are split into three ‘acts’. The first spans from when he was born to 1969, the second 1970 to 1980, and the third 1981 to 2012. Townshend covers just about everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Who — or about himself, for that matter. You’ll learn that he has been partially deaf in his left ear ever since band mate Keith Moon infamously let off explosives on the Smothers Brothers’ Comedy Hour in 1967, and you’ll read about the origins and creations of The Who’s two rock operas, Tommy (1969) and Quadrophenia (1973), plus the never-released Lifehouse, which would turn into 1971’s Who’s Next. Townshend writes about how The Who came about, and his following of Indian spiritual master Meher Baba. He talks about working for publishing house Faber and Faber, and recounts the literary side of his extensive career. And that’s only a few things that he covers; if you’ve wanted to know anything about Townshend, he’s probably written about it here. Townshend is a fantastic writer, too; he is wonderfully poetic and you can tell that he has had an interest in writing for a long time.

Who I Am is a great read! Recommended not just for all Who fans — but for all fans of rock, too.

The Weeping Woman

I was lucky enough to be able to read a proof copy of a book released in April called The Guy, The Girl, The Artist and His Ex (Gabrielle Williams, Allen & Unwin) recently. And I must say I really enjoyed it!

In 1986, a Picasso called ‘The Weeping Woman’ was stolen from the National Gallery of Victoria by a group of people who called themselves the Australian Cultural Terrorists. The ACT held the government to ransom with it, demanding more funding for young artists. But the painting was soon returned, no more funding ensued and the ACT were never discovered. (You can read more here.) The Guy, The Girl, The Artist and His Ex is based around the story of ‘The Weeping Woman”s theft, and speculates on how its disappearance could have affected the lives of four young Melburnians.

24500090Guy (the guy) is a serious party animal who isn’t doing particularly well at school. When his parents go away one weekend, he promises them that he won’t host a party. He is talked into having a party, however, and meets a girl. But on the way back from dropping this girl he has met home, he sees something that changes his life forever . . .

Rafi (the girl) is a girl with a past. She and her mother moved to Melbourne from South America soon after Rafi’s three-year-old brother drowned. Her mother became obsessed with the legend of La Llorona (or ‘The Weeping Woman’ in English – a coincidence . . .), a beautiful woman who drowns small children. Rafi is supposed to be babysitting the baby who lives next door, but she wants to go to a party. Instead, her mother ends up looking after the child, and her La Llorona obsession goes to a whole new level . . .

Luke (the artist) is a Cultural Terrorist. He and his friends Dipper (who is a guard at the Gallery) and Real (who is an art dealer – but nobody really knows who he is . . .) have orchestrated pretty much the entire thing. But soon enough, the cops realise that Dipper may have been involved in the theft of ‘The Weeping Woman’, and so begins the unraveling of what was supposed to be the art theft of at least the decade . . .

Penny (the ex) was once an über-cool rock chick; she was once with Luke. Then Luke got her pregnant. And soon after she gave birth to her little boy, she ditched Luke. (And quite rightfully so, because Luke treated her like rubbish.) One day, Penny decides to go out with a ‘friend’ to see a band, and leaves her son in the care of the girl next door. But when Penny gets back, her boy is gone . . .

I really enjoyed The Guy, The Girl, The Artist and His Ex! The book is styled as a series of vignettes, and though a lot happened, a lot didn’t happen, too. And I have always loved books like that. I would recommend it to an age-bracket of 13/14+. One of the best books I’ve read all year!