I’ve caught the book bug pretty bad this past week, so expect a lot of book reviews! First up, it’s All of the Above by Juno Dawson.
All of the Above by Juno Dawson (writing as James Dawson)
Publication Date: 01 September 2015
Publisher: Hot Key Books
When sixteen-year-old Toria Bland arrives at her new school she needs to work out who her friends are in a crazy whirl of worry, exam pressure and anxiety over fitting in. Things start looking up when Toria meets the funny and foul-mouthed Polly, who’s the coolest girl that Toria has ever seen. Polly and the rest of the ‘alternative’ kids take Toria under their wing. And that’s when she meets the irresistible Nico Mancini, lead singer of a local band – and it’s instalove at first sight! Toria likes Nico, Nico likes Toria, but then there’s Polly…love and friendship have a funny way of going round in circles.
I had heard a lot about All of the Above but for some reason I never got round to buying and reading it – damn my huge To Be Read pile… When the opportunity to read it arose, I jumped at the chance. I will admit that this is yet another book that has fallen victim to my book hoarding ways. I finally managed to sit down and read it on the train one weekend, and it took me two journeys to read it.
AOTB follows Victoria, or Toria as she prefers to be known, who has moved down south to a small seaside town due to her dad getting a new job. On her first day of sixth form, she meets a group of crazy individuals. We follow what happens over the year as she makes friends, loses friends, falls in love, deals with loss, tries to survive her A-levels and coping with problems at home.
AOTB is told from Toria’s perspective, and I felt it had a good pace. I have to say that I particularly didn’t like Toria. She seemed a little too try-hard for me and I didn’t like how she thought she was the expert on everything because she had a Tumblr account. Girl, do not believe everything that is on that website. There were times I wanted to reach into the book and give Toria a good slap for being so damn insufferable. I think she could have been toned down a little and not as “quirky”. Other than a few annoyances, she was a strong, well written character and I felt I could relate and sympathise to her.
One of the things that should have been explored more in my view is her dual ethnicity. Her dad was White and her mum was Indian, making Toria mixed race. She briefly touches upon this at the beginning of the novel, stating that she didn’t feel as though she fitted in with either of the cultures. I think this exploration of cultural identity could have been an excellent theme of the novel.
Let’s discuss the gang that Toria meets. What a gang! We have Polly, a loudmouth, alternative, very sexual girl who really doesn’t care what you think. Beasley; a guy who refuses to accept that he’s gay and at times, comes across as a little weird. Daisy; always positive and smiling yet fighting a huge inner battle. Alex and Alice; a couple who survive purely on the amounts of like they receive on Instagram. Zoe; a black lesbian with a vicar for a dad. And finally, Nico; teenage rockstar dreamboat. Keeping up?
Of course, it’s love at first sight for Toria and Nico, although I did enjoy Toria holding her hands up and admitting it was Instalove and poking fun at the ridiculousness of it. In true YA style, there are some bumps in the road when Nico’s band gets a taste for success and Toria realises her feelings towards Polly are not all platonic. Ooo indeed. Can I admit to loving this aspect of the novel? I like how Toria was sexually attracted to Nico, but found herself being emotionally attracted to Polly, and the internal struggle that ensued. Was she straight, gay, bi? Did she need to label herself at all? Isn’t love, just love? #deep
AOTB deals with SO many issues; sexuality, friendship, self harm, mental illness, race, family… phew! Even though I do enjoy diversity and issues in YA, I feel there were too many in AOTB. Yes, me, campaigner for responsibility and issues in books, felt there were too many! I feel that it should have been focused on sexuality, friendship and mental illness – issues that do affect teenagers the most. I did feel that some of the issues were written in and just abandoned e.g. Toria’s cultural identity as mentioned above. There was also a brief mention of Daisy being asexual but sadly this did not go any further than a paragraph. I would have liked this to have either been explored further or not written in at all. Just because Toria is the expert on asexuality because she “has read about it on Tumblr”, doesn’t mean that a reader would have and this could have been an excellent opportunity to discuss it and bust some myths. I note that there were times where there was misuse of language – “that was so OCD of me” for example – that has upset some people, but in this book’s defence, people do say these type of things in day to day life unfortunately. Not everyone is mindful of the way this trivialises a serious condition, especially self absorbed teenagers! If they had been mindful of it, I am sure people would have complained about the characters “not being realistic” or the book being “too preachy”. You can’t win!
Despite some little bugbears, I really enjoyed AOTB. I became completely engrossed in it and I didn’t want to put it down. When I had to put it down, all I could do was think about it finding a sneaky opportunity to read it – would my boyfriend notice if I read just one page?! If you like your YA full of loud, diverse characters with modern themes, give AOTB a go. It’s not 100%perfect, but it’s a damn good start at bringing heavy issues to a YA audience. More, please?