Holly Bourne: Am I normal yet?

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What is normal anyway? Holly Bourne has taken on an enormous task in her book Am I normal yet? Mental illnesses are not quite the main stream in YA fiction yet, although very diverse topics are dealt with in a number of new books. It is easy to understand the lack of this topic – it is incredibly difficult to cover well.

But for Bourne, it seems easy. Am I normal yet? is funny, touching and informative. The main character Evie is just like any of us, except not quite. She has OCD and it doesn’t make her teenage life any easier.

Holly Bourne: Am I normal yet? Author: Holly Bourne
Publisher: Gummerus Kustannus Oy 2017, Finland (the Finnish edition)
Category: YA fiction
Original language: English
Rating: 5/5

Helmet Reading Challenge 2017, number 20: A book about a disabled or seriously ill person.

After three years fighting against the illness, Evie is returning back to normal life. And she is striving towards the ideal of normality harder than anyone. But it is not easy to be a 16-year-old in a new school, with new friends and a new life, dating lurking around the corner. While performing normality, Evie doesn’t notice that even the apparently normal people have their problems and not always healthy ways to deal with them.

Evie’s struggles are the main theme of the novel, but there’s a very pressing second topic – gender equality and feminism. And this is an area where Holly Bourne truly shines. The feminist girl group called Spinsters formed by Evie and her two new friends, Amber and Lottie, is wild and riveting. In a meeting they make the most innovative marketing plan for tampons, that I’ve ever heard:

“I think it would be lot better if tampons were packed in black boxes and had a chocolate bar as a bonus”.
“And they would have short slogans on them like Blame Eve or This is your burden”, I added. (a quotation from the novel, translation from Finnish to English by me.)

After reading the novel I discovered there actually are black tampon boxes… but no chocolates attached! 😉

Am I normal yet? is the first part in a trilogy, which tells the stories of Evie, Amber and Lottie. I will definitely dive in to the lives of Evie’s two best friends. Holly Bourne has the skill to write about meaningful, serious issues in a humorous, entertaining way and treat her characters with respect.

Susan

“Evie wants to be normal more than anything else. After losing three years of her life to a battle against OCD, she starts at a new school, in which no-one knows her as the-girl-who-lost-it (but perhaps as a cinema buff).
Finally Evie has the courage to go on dates too. Relationships can mess up anyone’s head and Evie begins to drift back into the world of obsessive behaviour. But how could her new friends, artistic Amber and fearless feminist Lottie, help her, when Evie doesn’t want to tell about her problems to anyone?”

 

Tampons in a black box (but no chocolates):

Or a more sustainable version for the vampire fans: Vampire tea bags

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Salla Simukka: As White As Snow

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Salla Simukka’s Snow White trilogy has been enormously popular and has been translated into dozens of languages. I happened upon the second part of the trilogy, As White As Snow, and unfortunately it didn’t really woo me.

Salla Simukka As White As Snow

Author: Salla Simukka
Publisher: Tammi 2013
Category: YA fiction
Original language: Finnish
Rating: 3/5

HelMet Reading Challenge 2017: number 2. A book discussed in reading blogs.

The novel is well written and full of action, but lacking motivation and a goal. It is easy to read as a stand-alone novel, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything not having read the first part. In fact it is hard to see how this part adds anything to the series. The reader doesn’t receive any new information regarding Lumikki’s family, which is depicted as secretive to the extreme and which seems to be the main mystery of the series.

What bothered me the most was the lack of credibility of the plot. A teenager like Lumikki – albeit 18 years old already – may make unorthodox decisions, but in this story her actions are not really based on the nature of her character. In fact, the decisions Lumikki makes, seem quite the opposite of what might be expected based on everything the reader learns about her. The final resolution also comes a bit too quick and easy to my taste.

As the number two of a trilogy this book seems to be just an unavoidable stepping stone to the final climax. I’m not quite sure, whether I’ll give a try to the two other parts. If for just one reason, I might do it to find out whether this trilogy has any connection to the Snow White fairy tale, as implied in the name and the MC’s name (translates to Snow White). In this part I didn’t find anything pointing to that direction.

Susan

 

“Lumikki Andersson is backpacking in Prague, where the weather is scorching hot. A girl approaches her in a small café and claims to be her half sister. Lumikki’s parents seem to be hiding a secret concerning the family’s past, so the girl’s claim rouses Lumikki’s interest. Despite her erratic behaviour, the girl manages to persuade Lumikki to join a religious family community. Later it turns out that the members are no relation to each other, after all. But it is not until Lumikki learns that the cult leaders are planning mass suicide that she understands just how dangerous the cult is. Furthermore, someone is planning to profit from the tragedy. Lumikki gets acquainted with the streets and graveyards of Prague when she is forced to run for her life to prevent the tragedy. The religion of the cult is not pure; and innocence is not as white as snow.”

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Want to Publish Books from Finland? You’re in for a Treat!

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Finnish literature is taking a big step forward in the international publishing scene. There are several new authors, who’ve signed plenty of foreign rights deals, even movie options have been sold to Hollywood. This is quite an achievement from such a small language and such a different publishing market from many other countries.

Finnish Literature and Agents by Read, Write and Publish

FILI helps foreign publishers

Behind every successful author, there’s a determined agent and publisher. But that’s not all. Besides excellent literature, the new Finnish success has benefited from the back up of the Finnish Literature Exchange (FILI), an export organization awarding grants to more than 300 different projects every year totalling in 600 000 euros. Typically these grants go to translation and publishing costs of foreign prints of Finnish books. If you’re considering to translate and publish a Finnish book, check with FILI – they might give you a grant!

Our Dear Neighbours Again!

Despite the recent surge of Finnish literature out to the world, we’re still far behind our neighbours in the west. As the Finnish literature exports was valued to appr. 2,3 million euros in 2015, the Swedish exports were in the region of 15 million euros already in the 2010. The Swedes have been rolling on the crime wave, but the Finns have found the YA fiction boom. Such authors as Salla Simukka (Snow White Trilogy) are paving the way for a new kind of northern literature.

The authors need help in telling the world about their books. Finland has long been a lonely wolf in the world filled with literary agents – there hasn’t been any. In the domestic markets Finnish authors can still send in their unsolicited manuscripts to all publishers. Traditionally foreign rights sales have been taken care of by the publishing houses, but now there are a few independent literary agents working in the field. This market is still very small as is evident from the value of the exports.

New Agents Wanted

However, potential is there. FILI arranged yesterday a seminar to plant the seeds of a new literary agent career into the minds of interested participants. While the Swedes are talking about hundreds of titles being exported every year, the Finns still move in dozens. More agents are needed to bring the market on the level it deserves.

Besides the fiction, non-fiction could prove an interesting field in this perspective. Non-fiction books are seldom translated from Finnish into other languages (while the opposite is very common). Publishers outside Finland are happy to take in good ideas for non-fiction titles, but produce them later on by themselves. This can be prevented by offering content that cannot be reproduced by anyone other than the original author.

Susan

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Kerstin Gier: Just Dreaming

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Kerstin Gier Just Dreaming Read, Write and Publish

Kerstin Gier: Book of Dreams trilogy: Dream a little dream (2015), Dream on (2016), Just dreaming (tbp)

Kerstin Gier is a German author whose two trilogies have completely charmed me. The Gem trilogy is about time travel and the Dreams trilogy about a second reality in the world of dreams. Gier writes smoothly flowing prose and hooks up a reader from the page one.

Her stories mix fantasy with reality, have a female main character in her teens and of course a budding romance or two. Sounds familiar from a whole bunch of YA fiction, so what’s so special in Gier’s stories?

3 things separate them from the mass:

  • Authentic description of the life of teens. The plots are fantastical and family life lacks any serious problems. Yet, there is an authenticity that is definitely lacking from so many other similar series. Maybe the best way to describe it, is to call it unpolished.
  • Europeanness. These books are clearly and wonderfully European.
  • Fresh optimism. These books are essentially feel-good books. There’s mystery, action, suspense, romance and danger, but the overall feel is still happiness. Life is good, even if there are problems and hick-ups in the way. And sometimes it’s just good to feel good.

Liv is not just dreaming…

Book of Dreams trilogy’s main character is 16 year old Liv, who moves with her mother and little sister Mia and their ”nanny” Lottie to England. Liv is an independent, but somewhat scatty type of girl, who’s moved around the world with her family. Mia is a perfect sidekick to her with a kind of irony and quick wit so often present in a preteen girl. Lottie takes the place of warmhearted mother figure while Liv’s real mother is hoping her daughter would take up a bit wilder teenage existence in her footsteps.

She shouldn’t worry too much on Liv getting bored, though. Soon Liv discovers a second reality in her dreams, where she meets some of her new school mates. The dream world is exciting, but gets quickly completely out of hand. Well, just imagine that you’d actually shared the same dream with the people in it… and they would remember it just as well as you on the next day.

The problems with school, new friends, romance and family clash between the day world and the dream world. Gier weaves a net of mysteries, which tightens book by book and gets even a wee bit too tangled.

Mystery solved

Gier’s superb description of relationships and characters makes the story shine. Liv, and all the characters surrounding her, have their own unique personalities. There is no love triangle, which is refreshing, but the relationship between Liv and Henry goes through some very relatable and real problems. What perhaps makes these problems even more tangible is, that they are not caused by rivaling boyfriend candidates, but stem from the inner workings of the pair. Insecurities, misunderstandings and miscommunication. Yet, Gier hands them out in perfect portions, not causing irritation over overtly clueless characters. In the last book the problems of Liv’s relationship with Henry are all caused by her own insecurities and create some incredibly humorous situations. In this book Mia really comes into her own and has a crucial part in solving the mysteries and fighting the villains – just like a reincarnation of Miss Marple should.

I would warmly recommend this series, as every part of the trilogy has left me looking for the next, at the same time thoroughly happy of the time I’ve spent in the world created by Kerstin Gier.

Susan

 

”Liv’s dreams are becoming more and more dangerous and the relationship with Henry needs working up too. Somehow they have ended up in a situation, where Henry thinks Liv is incredibly experienced in all aspects of life, although that is not at all the case. A lot is happening at the home front too: Liv’s mother is getting remarried, which is causing all kinds of headaches. On top of all this, Arthur – hungry for revenge – is not only causing damage by night, but he has discovered a way to control people also outside the dream world. Liv really has her hands full, as she tries to stay alive both in the real and dream world.” (Translation from the Finnish version of Just dreaming: ”Liitto”.)

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