In no particular order here is a summary of what I’ve been reading in lockdown accompanied by my thoughts and reviews on each!
1. Noughts & Crosses – Malorie Blackman
Despite being published back in 2001, it wasn’t until the BBC Three’s screen-adaption popped up, that I came across this story by Malorie Blackman. Set in an alternate world in which Europe has been colonised by Africa, the book follows two young teenagers Sephy (a privileged, upper-class cross) and Callum (a lowly nought whose Mother was Sephy’s nanny) as they navigate their relationship in this racially divided society. Upon seeing the trailer for the series I was immediately struck by the importance of this narrative and the urge to do it justice. The plot and the characters really made an impression on me, so I decided to hold off from watching the TV show first, and instead ordered the book, keen to explore this alternative version of historical events.
What I loved most about this book was its easy-to-read nature. I found myself effortlessly slipping into the world of noughts and crosses whilst still getting the rewarding feeling that I was learning something new with every turn of the page. Its readability means it slots quite clearly into the young-adult genre, despite its heavier themes, with short paragraphs that alternate between Sephy and Callum’s perspective. Primarily told through them you get invested in the two characters and share in their frustrations at the unjust society they live in. A modern Romeo and Juliet tale with a twist, the love story is timeless, whilst Blackman’s clear and careful handling of race is suitable both for her audience and the age of her two protagonists, whilst still making an impact.
The book is a true eye-opener that makes you question the very make-up of our society, from the clothes we wear to the language we speak.
2. Notes On a Nervous Planet – Matt Haig
As you may have seen on my ‘How I’m Using this Time to My Advantage’ post, I’ve been aiming to read more non-fiction books amidst my usual fiction frenzy. I came across Matt Haig’s book whilst browsing different online booksellers and decided it was the perfect lockdown read, as when else has the planet felt so nervous than during a global pandemic? This wise little book does exactly what it says on the tin – it offers notes on the state of our planet and the impact this has on our mental wellbeing. From a chapter on ‘Internet Anxieties’ to ‘Wanting’ and ‘Shaping the Future’, Haig unpicks the world we live in, forcing you to reflect on the way things are, and the way you act within in it. Rather than being even remotely depressing however, Haig’s notes are refreshing, relatable and sprinkled with neat bits of advice that leaves you feeling lighter and thoroughly detoxed.
3. The Testaments – Margaret Atwood
The sequel to the infamous Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments is set 15 years after the events of the first novel. Unlike the first book, which is narrated solely by Offred, Atwood spoils us this time with multiple viewpoints, from Aunt Lydia, a powerful figure in the Gileadean regime, to Agnes a citizen of Gilead, and Daisy, a young woman who lives in Canada. These different points of view have a powerful and interesting impact, offering a better understanding of Gilead and how it came to be. And whilst each character has her own identity and focus, I felt disappointed that we never heard more from Offred. Considering how dramatically the Handmaid’s Tale ended, I was excited at the thought that the sequel might leave from where the first left off. Personally, I was very much invested in Offred’s story and was rooting for her character throughout. Saying that, I found The Testaments still gripped me as a reader; the story remained tense and unpredictable, not unlike the atmosphere created by Gilead. I also thought it was incredibly interesting and clever of Atwood to include Aunty Lydia as one of the main narrators, considering her role as the antagonist in the first book. So, overall, a very enjoyable read, I just would have liked more of a link between this book and its predecessor.
4. Everything I Know About, Love – Dolly Alderton
Wow, I am so glad I picked up this book. Now I’ve read it, it comes as no surprise that this cover seems to pop up in every book store, podcast and bestsellers’ list I see. It’s such a brilliantly funny, witty and beautifully written book that does justice to the wonderful mess that is life in your 20s. Although it will most likely resonate with those of the millennial generation, I do not wish to put off any potential readers, as I think anyone who has lived and loved will be able to relate to much of what Dolly talks about. From her time at Exeter University, to dating disasters, drinking, renting in London and anxiety, Dolly exposes herself fully with running anecdotes to go with it. A wistfully entertaining read that couldn’t have come at a better time in my life – 22 years old, at home in lockdown, travel plans cancelled; it’s only made me look forward to post-lockdown life even more and excited to throw myself into the unpredictable passage that is your 20s.
5. Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens
Another popular book that’s been raved about on social media; I had to pick up a copy of this to stop it teasing me. Does it live up to the hype? Considering I finished it in two days, I would argue yes. Owen makes the most of the novel’s few characters and marshland setting with carefully crafted descriptions that seem to perfectly reflect the landscape she’s describing. Set in the 1950s and 60s, Where the Crawdads Sing is a romantic coming-of-age story and murder mystery in one. It follows the life of young Kya, labelled the ‘Marsh Girl’ by the townspeople as she struggles for survival out alone in the marsh, abandoned by her family. Finding comfort in Mother nature, Kya’s life changes forever when she catches the eyes’ of two young men who are intrigued by her wild beauty. Owens’ beautiful imagery and use of flashbacks cause the reader to fall in love with the marsh as Kya does and root for this fragile yet resilient character from page one.
P.S. If you struggle to find the patience to read heavily descriptive passages, I recommend listening to the audiobook instead!
6. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
Following the death of George Floyd, this book is just one of many by Black authors that have soared to the top of the book charts in recent weeks. I first read this book when it came out in 2017, and found it a shocking eye-opener then. I decided to return to it again however to remind myself of Britain’s role in legitimising racism, and how far we have yet to go. This time around, I armed myself with sticky notes and highlighters to underline historic events that need to be acknowledged and remembered, shocking facts and figures that I should recall, and the names of those who have fought and suffered against discrimination. Split into seven chapters, Eddo-Lodge addresses the appalling state of race relations in Britain piece by piece clearly and comprehensively. She deconstructs the weighted term ‘racism’ in an order which makes it easy for readers to understand. First, she educates you on Black British history, laying the groundwork for why Britain is the way it is, before dismantling the system – police, politics, education – and then moving onto white privilege, immigration, feminism and the relationship between race and class. In under 300 pages, Eddo-Lodge delivers an irrefutable argument to the existence of racism in Britain today. An excellent introduction into race relations in Britain for anyone who lacks an essential education on the matter. What I found most admirable when reading Reni’s book was the measured and professional tone in which she delivers it. She lets the horrifying accounts and hard-earned facts speak for themselves. A must-read.