Bub-Bye FOR NOW!

Now, it may have escaped your notice (because apparently not all of my subjects have been properly counting down the days until MY summer holidays start) but I only have twelve days of school left. And in those twelve days I have to:

  • Write 1200 words of a novel (which I know takes most of you guys, like, seconds, but will be a solid half hour a day for me)
  • Do sixty hours of school work, half of which seems to be actually important.
  • Go on an intensive seaside activity weekend complete with climbing, archery and dorm-to-dorm pranks (oh, I know, the hardship)
  • Learn an entire ten-page choral piece in four part harmony.
  • Sing said piece as part of said choir in the Royal Albert Hall in front of quite a few people. And possibly TV cameras.
There wasn't really any room to write ten blog posts in that list. Sorry! I will see you on the 18th of July, after which I intend to write a post EVERY DAY I'M SUPPOSED TO. (That's three times a week, for those of you who've got used to my day-skipping laziness.)

I know, I'm getting organised! Feel free to faint in shock now. *exits dramatically*
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10 Reasons to Read What's A Girl Gotta Do?

I've been overexcited since Usbourne posted this publicity poster online. And that was a LONG TIME AGO.
I won an ARC of What's A Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne from Maximum Pop Books (thanks for the giveaway, you guys!) and frankly it's a good job. Having absolutely adored both Am I Normal Yet? and How Hard Can Love Be?, the first two books of this series, I'm pretty sure I would have looted Usbourne headquarters to get my hands on this beauty. And I wouldn't have been able to make you guys read it and help their sales from prison.

And it was a blast, let me tell you. YOU NEED TO GET YOUR HANDS ON IT THE MOMENT IT COMES OUT, OKAY? August 1st. I'll be at the bookshop. You'd better be too.

Now, because it would be pointless to traditionally review a book displaying such off-the-chart awesomeness - the entire post would just be ranting and incoherent capitals - I am instead going to write a list of all the reasons I am right and you need to get your hands on this book immediately. Voila:

1. Feminism. Huzzah! You have no idea how excited I've been to find a series like Normal, a series so realistically feminist - but I guess your excitement must have at least come close.

Right?
If not: don't think because you're a guy you can't read this. Don't think that because you don't campaign for equality as strongly as Lottie, you're not a feminist.  One of the things (there are many) that I love most about this book is that, while it doesn't shy away from calling out guys on misogyny, girls get challenged too. And that's an important part of equality.

2. It's absolutely flipping hilarious. Someone once said that "humour is the gateway drug to feminism", and, well . . . I laughed out loud in public more than once. Lots of staring ensued, but nothing I couldn't bear in the name of such a glorious book.

3. The Spinster Club - Lottie, Evie and Amber - are so amazing you will want to be their friend. You will want to dive between the pages and sit on Lottie's bed and eat the cheesiest snacks you can find. You'll want to be them, I guess. And that's a good thing.

4. Lots of CAPITAL LETTERS and - admittedly - a smattering of swearing. If you're absolutely dead set against expletives, then maybe this book isn't for you, but for me? The F-words fitted in really well. They felt necessary, really helping to enhance Bourne's writing style, which is a magic spell of teenage realism and uniqueness.

5. The main character actually does some schoolwork! (This literally never happens in most YA . . . I was beginning to wonder if homework and fiction existed in seperate parallel universes.) #finallyit'srelateable

6. People get hit with cream pies. Hysterically. They deserved it, after all.

7. I (yes, me, the slowest reader in the universe) got through the whole four hundred pages in a day. Surely, this must be a testament to the gripping-ness of the story? And how easy it is to read? And basically its all-round awesomeness?

I think yes. And it also tells you that however outfacing What's A Girl Gotta Do looks in its lengthiness, it really isn't.
8. Have you seen THE COVER? Look at it just up there! I mean, the draft one on my ARC copy was good enough, but look at it. Just . . . it represents the edgy kick-ass-ness of Lottie's campaign, the way she isn't afraid to speak up, and of course the lipstick from the first scene. Argh - the brilliance of that scene. I'm a sucker for books with covers that show their true natures, especially in a deeper way once you've actually read and understood it. 

9. If you're anything like me - and by that I mean human - Lottie's bravery has to mean something to you. It's seriously inspiring. It'll make you want to . . . um . . . go to Cainbridge, like she did. Or go out and take on the patriarchy. Or . . . get off the sofa?

10. The last reason you should read this book (and it's really the most important one of all, to be honest) is because I say so. You read this blog, right? I guess that means we must have something in common when it comes to bookish opinions, and you have no idea how much this blew my mind.

So I end this post where I began. READ WHAT'S A GIRL GOTTA DO? WHEN IT COMES OUT. DO IT.
***
In the comments: Are you excited about this book too? What part are you most anticipating? And what did you think of the rest of the series?
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Reading Habits Tag (I NEED my tags, peeps)

Guys. Guys. I just realised that I haven't done a tag IN A WHOLE MONTH. A whole month. That is a very long time (for me, anyway) and of course I must rectify the situation. As the title will have told you, I NEED MY TAGS.

This one is courtesy of BookTuber The Book Jazz (stolen, naturally), and it gives you an excuse to find out all about how I read (which must be a good thing because, as the best reader out there - I wish - my way must be the only real way to do it, no?). But of course you can tell me about your own reading habits in the comments, if you really want to. I guess it's possible that some reading styles are equal. *tosses hair like an elitist*

I'm hoping that wasn't too sarcastic, so that you won't all come after me with pitchforks and hardbacks for writing such arrogant words . . . shall we just get on with the tag before you find out where I live?

1. Do you have a certain place at home for reading?

It sounds odd, but I don't actually read at home all that much. Most of it happens at school, or on the way to school, or on the way back from school. My life pretty much revolves around school.

SCHOOL!

Okay. While I put nerdy Lara back in her box, I will tell you that when I do read at home, I like to do it outside. We have a sofa, we have a specially-grown vine that provides shade, and WE EVEN HAVE WIFI! It's just perfect . . . so why would I read anywhere else?


2. Bookmark or random piece of paper?

Just in case it's disastrously unclear, that GIF is supposed to represent me and my amazing memory. Because I don't use a bookmark or a random slip of paper, despite having a whole bookmark collection. I just remember the page number because I am clearly a monster of rememberence.

I'm really not. In fact, at least the first two or three minutes of my reading time is usually spend frantically searching for said page because I've forgotten the actual number. And yet I have a collection of unused bookmarks.

I know! None of it makes any sense! But did you really expect me to make sense anyway?


3. Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop after a chapter/ a certain amount of pages?

Um . . . I usually just stop . . . but that doesn't mean I want to. If I had the chance, I think I'd probably read to the end of a chapter before putting the book down just as an excuse to read more, but because "putting down" the book usually involves having it ripped out of my hands by a parent because NO IT'S REALLY BEDTIME NOW; my reading time rudely interrupted by getting to school (so I'm expected to put it away and get out of the car - urgh) or my English teacher telling me it's time to get on with the lesson, that never really happens.

It's usually all I can do to snatch a look at the page number and let go fast enough so the pages don't get ripped by the person wrestling it out of my hands.


4. Do you eat or drink while reading?

I really, really wish I could say no to this.

I want to be a neat reader so badly, you guys! I want to keep my spines pristine and my paperback covers wrinkle-less and my pages free from splashes of stuff I've been eating. But when teatime comes? I'm not going to make that oh-so-important chapter wait even ten minutes, so . . .

The one food to really avoid while reading is chorizo. It stains horribly, drips oil that will go nowhere else but your book, and also creates grimy fingers. But it's delicious. Don't hold that orangey stain in All of the Above against me, okay? I don't tend to drink while reading though, probably because the acceptable bookworm beverage - particularly the acceptable British bookworm beverage - is tea. And I don't like tea.

*cowers in fear of the tea-lovers*


5. Multitasking: Music or TV while reading?

No. I can't concentrate on reading at all if I'm doing anything else. Literally anything. I have one of the scattiest brains on earth, and I honestly think that if I listened to music or watched TV as I read, it would take me at least a year to get through a book.

And I'm seven behind on my Goodreads goal as it is.


6. One book at a time or several at once?

It does depend, but I generally only end up reading one at a time just because it means I get to find out what happens quicker. If I'm getting so fed up with a book that I don't actually care about the ending, I have conditioned myself to DNF it without any guilt.

Or at least, with as little guilt as possible? I do get guilty about things that aren't my fault pretty much constantly.

I guess the exception to this is non-fiction books. I'll quite happily dip in and out of one or even two of them whether or not I've finished the fiction I'm currently reading. It helps give me some variety, which is how I like to fight off the Dreaded Reading Slump (trademark absolutely not pending).


7. Reading at home or everywhere?

Get it? Home?
As you'll have seen in my answer to question one, I read in random places so often that it's rare to find me with a book in my hand at home. In fact, I do everything in odd places at odd times: I'm writing this particular section of the post on my phone while being driven to school.

Why, might you ask? (You probably didn't, but I'm going to ramble on and answer anyway.) It's because, when I am actually in a semi-sensible place for reading or blogging or homework, I'm watching YouTube or procrastinating in one of a thousand other inventive ways.

So these random reading habits are vital for disorganised me to actually get anything done. 


8. Reading out loud or silently in your head?

If I wasn't silent, I couldn't read in half of the weird and wonderful places that I do. And I'm pretty sure quiet reading time would be a bust.

9. Do you read ahead or even skip pages?

Are you - did you just bang your head or get a little tipsy? Or both? SKIPPING PAGES IS THE CARDINAL SIN, PEOPLE. Sure, maybe it will make you more efficient than me (maybe it's why I seem to be the only person around that is seven books behind - only slightly bitter about that - on their Goodreads goal) but what if you miss something seriously important?

The only reading ahead that is possibly permitted (although still impossibly frustrating) is when your eyes move to the bottom of the page by accident. Am I the only one who wonders why it's always a mahoosive plot twist your eyes land on, and not just someone asking what's for breakfast?


10. Breaking the spine or keeping it like new?

Unbroken spines are one of my favourite things about well-kept books, but I am absolutely incapable of maintaining them unless I literally don't read the book. And we all know that isn't an option, so ... MY SOUL IS CRYING A LITTLE BIT. I'm not going to say anything else in case I shed actual tears and have to retreat to save face.

11. Do you write in your books?

Usually, no. I try and maintain as many appearances of a reader with pristine books as possible, and while I struggle to keep the spines from breaking or prevent food splashes, I can just about refrain from reaching out for a biro and scribbling on every page in sight. Usually.

The exception was The Diary of a Young Girl. I started making notes on it for my lovely little Read-Along-Diaries post, and that soon spiralled into highlighting a few quotes which I wanted to use to break up the text (just because I didn't have another piece of paper handy, you understand). That then unravelled into highlighting quotes that resonated with me, which basically meant almost every word because the entire diary's just a melting pot of resonance. Some of the pages are now more highlighter than page.

So when it gets out of hand again - spreading to other books, of course - and I have to attend the next meeting of page-scribblers anonymous, I will let you know.



I'm tagging Ely and Inge because I feel like maybe they'll need some light relief after all the hard work they put in to Read-Along Diaries this week. Hannah, as my newest follower, I feel I must honour you somehow, and I'm genuinely interested in your answers to this one. No pressure, obviously, but I'd love to see all three of your posts if you want to write them.

If I haven't tagged you, that was clearly a massive oversight on my part. Sorries! Please take the tag and run with it if you fancy. Don't forget to share your link in the comments so I can have a peek!


***
In the comments: Thank you for listening about my probably boring reading habits! What sort of habits do you have when reading, then? (I'm not the only one who has to share things, you know.) Do your reading choices change depending on what you read? Have they changed over time? TELL ME NOW!
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Heart-Wrenching Creepiness | Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill

The first (and probably most important) thing that I have to say about this book is that it's creepy. But creepy good.

Okay, review over.
In Which I Review A Heart-Wrenchingly Creepy Book (Just Read It, Okay?)
I'm kidding - hopefully you worked that out - but I honestly think the creepiness is the most important part of Only Ever Yours. It's set in a world where women are no longer born, but manufactured. They're raised solely to please men from day one, ranked on their beauty and taught to compare their bodies to one another, that putting on a gram of fat makes them lazy and worthless. And then, when they turn seventeen, they are either chosen as a young man's companion, their sole purpose to bear his sons and do as he says, or condemned to life as a concubine.

Fun, huh?
However dark this premise sounds, though, I promise you will be able to get through the book, and it's really important that you do. I mean, think about it. Why do we get creeped out by things? What makes them creepy? Humans generally become frightened of things because we see them as a threat, as something real enough that it could hurt us. And if we find a world where women are objects a real threat, a real possibility . . .

That shows how much we need books like this, especially books that have been so well-written and imagined. Hopefully, Only Ever Yours can help us remember why gender inequality needs to be fought in the first place, and what could happen if we don't.

YES PEOPLE. It is a SERIOUSLY IMPORTANT subject and you need to read the book just for that. But don't think it's preachy! Or reading it will feel a chore! Look, the writing is good too:

The world is so deeply thought out, with every detail shown how deeply ingrained sexism is in that culture. Details such as how girls' names are never capitalised, because they don't count as proper nouns. The way that having a period is called womenstruation, because presumably it's far too "unclean" for men to be associated with even by a couple of letters. I obviously don't want to give away too much, but tiny touches like that suck you in through the entire book without being obtrusive or clunky (which happens all too often in dystopia-y books).
Only Ever Yours is therefore an insanely intricate web of captivating darkness.

I'm not going to say much about the characters, because it was sort of the point that they weren't unique or stand-out. Which isn't to say they aren't memorable - I'm not sure freida and isabel and everyone else will leave me for a long time yet - but just shows how they've been trained out of their own personalities. (Although, if you have read the book, can I just say that I'm absolutely intrigued by agyness and chastity-magdelane? AUTHOR AUTHOR I NEED TO HEAR THEIR STORIES.)

Now. I hate to talk about negatives, because I really think you should be off reading this book right this minute, but there were a couple of things that stopped this being a five-star read for me. They're really subjective, so honestly? I'm not sure you'll even notice.

The ending *pauses while trying to hold back a torrent of spoilers* was just a little . . . unsatisfying for my liking. And I'm sure that at least half of it was because I stupidly managed to guess the twist that punched out the climax, but I just wanted something more surprising to happen, you know?

IN CONCLUSION, YOU STILL NEED TO READ THIS. I'M GONNA MAKE YOU.

***
In the comments: Have you read this book yet? What did you think? If not, why not? (I promise I won't get mad if you disagree, BTW.)
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Dear Anne | Read-A-Long Diaries

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a contribution to the brilliant Read-A-Long Diaries Event; if you haven't read The Diary of a Young Girl yet, or would like to go again along with other people so you can discuss, remember to use #readalongdiaries on Twitter and Instagram! I'd check out Ely and Inge's blogs too - they've worked so hard to organise this, and it really is amazing, so make sure you stop by and say hi.
***
(Ely made this banner. She said I could steal it.)
Dear Anne,

I have often wondered what it is about you that makes your story so inspiring, that has allowed it to survive through the generations even when you didn't. Don't get me wrong: I'm glad it did. I'm glad that, through your diary, we've been able to recognise all the pain and sacrifice Holocaust victims suffered just so they could try to maintain a normal life.

But why you? Why did your voice get heard above the millions of others who died?

Of course you went through terrible, heart-wrenching things, but those people did too. Your beliefs and behaviours were ripped apart, changed almost completely by these terrible things - but lots of people felt their beliefs change during the war. I see all this, all these similarities that could arguably make you just one of many, and yet there's no way I can deny the unique effect your words had on me and other people around the world.
"And all I really want is to be an honest-to-goodness teenager!" ~ Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
Maybe it's because you were so young. It's one thing to have gone through the Holocaust as a child and write about it as an adult, like Elie Wiesel did with Night (another beautiful book that had me in tears, but in a very different way), but to write down those thoughts as you had them, without the filter of experience or regret? That, to me, created something entirely different, something raw and unapologetic. However you want to put it, Anne, you did go into that Annexe seeped in innocence. What made your diary so moving is that I could see first-hand as that innocence got stripped away by the horrors of persecution. Because it was logged day to day, I barely noticed at first - I doubt you did, either - but as soon as I really thought about it? The Anne on Page 283 was the same girl, but almost unrecognisable to the girl on Page 1.

If that makes any sense whatsoever. I think it does, just about.

“It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” ~ Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
Maybe it's because, even as that situation stripped away your innocence and your thirteen-year-old self, you held on to her morals. It would have been completely understandable for you to become bitter and unbelieving after all you had to suffer: many of the strongest did, after all. That wouldn't have been wrong. But what made your story inspiring as well as heartbreaking was that you stubbornly refused to let go of your ideals.
"I'd like to spend all my time writing, but that would probably get boring." ~ Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
Maybe - and this thought is very specific to me, I suppose - it's because you were a writer. I can relate to those endless hours attempting to scratch out something of worth, and look up to how organic your words are, how it's more like you're thinking on the page than actually writing. I hope even non-writers can understand what it's like to find release in something, to want to do it every second of every day until it almost takes you over. The joy and frustration and fascination . . . it seeps through the pages, and it's so inspiring that you managed to follow your dreams even cooped up like that for so long. I guess I must be able to at least try, if you did.

Maybe it's because there's no other book about the Holocaust that's so raw, and unfiltered, and real.

Do you know what? I think that's it. I think all the other things I've talked about - your youth, your stubborness and your fascination with writing - have combined with a thousand other things to create something uniquely true. And I've suddenly realised that, in my quest to work out what it is that makes your story so special, I've forgotten to do the most important thing.
I've forgotten to thank you.

You'll never know the effect your diary had on so many people. You'll never know that it's had me in tears three times, or that last time I read it I was so moved I pulled out a yellow highlighter and started marking quotes I wanted to remember. You'll never know that on some pages, there's more yellow words than there are un-highlighted. But I really, truly wish you could know that you've been published, and that your book has been read by millions of people in dozens of languages. That would have been what you'd wanted, after all.

Happy birthday, Anne. I hope you are proud of what you have created.

***
In the comments: Is there anything that you'd like to say to Anne, if you could? Would you want to thank her, or ask her questions, or tell her what her work has meant to you? I'd love to hear how her diary has affected you, because I'm sure we've all been touched in very different ways.
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Beautiful People #18 (AKA I Know Nothing About My Character Day)

Hello, lovely humans! It's BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE TIME! *cue manic cheering*

If you don't know what Beautiful People is, then you're clearly messing out. It's a meme created by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In (which was a blog I hadn't looked at before now, but is undeniably too cool for school) that allows writers to get to know their characters better by asking them questions every single month (or less, if you fancy skipping I guess - but why?). Trust me, this is a brilliant thing; it's SO USEFUL, especially when you're still not 100% sure of your characters and their motivations.

Hopefully, this Childhood Edition will be super useful to me because . . . um . . . I know pretty much nothing about my main character’s life before the age of about thirteen. So I'm making this up as I go along.

Good luck me?

Today, I'm answering from the point of view of Grace, MC in the book I'm re-kindling with the 100 4 100 Challenge over at GoTeenWriters. Its working title is "Harrow" (although that's obviously going to change at some point, since it sucks) and it's basically a tangle of boarding school, posh boys and poker. I think I explained a bit more last month.

What is their first childhood memory?

Like most things in Grace's life, it has to do with Texas Hold 'Em. She can't have been older than three? At most? But her Uncle was staying in their crummy little Wembley flat (more details about that in a bit) and managed to sleaze the place up even further by inviting a bunch of his "buddies" - why do dodgy people always say buddies and not friends? - to a poker game. High stakes, lots of drinking, and of course they hadn't told Grace's straight-as-an-arrow Dad anything. 

Little Racie (embarrassing parental nickname alert!) was woken up at about two in the morning by her Uncle yelling at someone to make their bet, toddled down the stairs and sat herself on the man's lap, pushing all his chips into the middle pile. She can't have understood what she was doing (unless there's lots about this character that I don't know), but the guy stuck with the bet and won. Her Dad came down in the morning to find his incredibly drunk younger brother handing his two-year-old niece her second glass of whiskey.

Grace hasn't seen Uncle Raymond since.

What were their best and worst childhood experiences?


Well . . . there was this one New Boys' Tea that probably qualifies in both categories. It was the climax of Grace's Secret Past With Anthony (trust me, that's a big thing here) and ended in a hot mess so messy it's still boiling almost a year and a half later. If she even attempts to think about that conversation - or go into the boys' toilet where it happened - tears start to prick at her eyes.

But at the same time, she can't help but grin as she remembers setting out the fruit salad and custard tarts, realising that the boys she's about to meet would be HER AGE, and that she could finally speak to someone who wouldn't look down on her like a vaguely entertaining pet (this was the summer before she met Lorna, her best friend, and everyone at school thought she was a weird posh girl). She'll smile at the memory of Felix hoarding brown-breaded sandwiches and them giving her half when he realised she liked them, just because Anthony was ignoring her and she looked a "bit sad".

Oh, the confusion.

What was their childhood home like?

Grace and her Dad moved into the boarding house when she was ten, but that's never really been her childhood home. To her, childhood is a shabby little flat in Wembley with a peeling green door and a windowbox which kills its plants no matter what you do. Childhood is her Dad commuting with a bus and two trains to get from a beautiful part of London he could just about afford to live in to a building with urine-infested stairwells that isn't even in the nice bit of Wembley. Because her Mum might come back one day.

If she had, I guess the whole Harrow mess might never have happened. And Grace would be poorer for it.

What’s something that scared them as child?

The lift up to that flat was notoriously unreliable. It would make horrible growling noises and stop between floors for a few seconds; I guess Grace's fear of it wasn't helped by the older kids in the flat opposite, who delighted in telling her horrible stories about the children it had apparently swallowed and the amount of times it had supposedly plummeted people to their deaths

She'd probably still be wary of lifts if it wasn't for Lorna. Apparently, having a disabled best friend who refuses to let you go up the stairs can kind of destroy the fear through necessity.

Who did they look up to most?

It depends who you ask. Her Dad's convinced it was Peppa Pig (as proven by her two-year quest to jump in all the muddy puddles she could possibly find), any member of the family would tell you it was her Dad, and of course Anthony secretly believes he's been the light of Grace's life since they were four.

Grace would probably say Victoria Coren, so I guess I'll go with that.

Favourite and least favourite childhood foods?

I said something a couple of questions ago about Grace's love of brown bread, although to be honest it's more of a hatred of white bread. Don't bother to comment on the weirdness. She was the five-year-old that refused chocolate spread sandwiches because of the bread. She's been informed.

For some reason, she was a real raisin fan between the ages of about two and six . . . and now they literally make her want to throw up. She was forced to eat them for truth or dare once (you know, because cousins can be vicious sometimes) and it wasn't pretty. Vomit doesn't come out of shag pile carpet easily.

If they had their childhood again, would they change anything?

Well, she isn't really done with childhood yet, but by the end of this book there'll be things that she regrets, trust me. Like, multiple things. But would she choose to change them, if she could?

That would be telling.

What kind of child were they? Curious? Wild? Quiet? Devious?

Unpredictable. Short-fused. Far too perceptive. Basically everything that made her an unintentional handful (and a big one) for her Dad, however helpful she tried to be. 

What was their relationship to their parents and siblings like?

Grace doesn't have any siblings, which considering how grouchy she is with the boys (who live in a whole other part of the house) is probably a good thing for everyone's sanity. Especially her Dad's.

They were actually really close when she was younger, what with the whole single-parent-small-family-we've-only-got-each-other mentality, but since then? Not so much. She's never quite forgiven him for moving them to the boarding house, and he's never quite forgiven her for the terrible incident that explains why she lives at Harrow instead of going to a girl's boarding school like the other housemasters' daughters.

What did they want to be when they grew up, and what did they actually become?

As you can probably tell from basically everything I just said, Grace wants to play poker. Preferably in Monaco. And I don't know if she actually manages it yet, because she has at least four years to go and I can't even see as far as the end of the book.

I hope she gets there though.

***
In the comments: Did you do Beautiful People this month? I think it was harder than it's ever been, to be honest! (But in a good way.) And what do you think of Grace?
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Mind Your Head (A Review, Not A Warning)

Um . . . this is a non-fiction book. I don't usually read non-fiction, let alone review it, so if I make a terrible mistake and fall flat on my blogger face, bear with me, okay?

Hopefully, I'm fabulous enough to do this brilliant - and absolutely important - book justice.

It's basically a book about mental health for teens. I say "basically" because there are probably a thousand books about mental health out there for teens, but (as far as I'm aware) none of them are anything like this one. It's absolutely, undeniably...

Normal.

You wouldn't think it was possible to write a book that normalises such a taboo topic without trivialising it, but if anyone can do it, it's Juno Dawson. And boy, has she. By starting the book with an explanation of how we all have to think about our mental health - because it turns out that we all have brains - she single-handedly manages to remind even the reader most removed from those "issues" that the topic is relevant to them too.

The cartoons help.

If I had one complaint about this book - and it's really hard to find, let me tell you - it would be that maybe it assumes very little knowledge on the part of the reader? That's a good thing, now I think about it. I love the fact that young teenagers especially will be able to access this fabulous resource, and that nobody will feel shut out from it. It's just that, if you know a bit more about certain aspects of mental health, you might not learn as much. But that doesn't mean that it isn't worth reading! You'll still learn stuff! And even be entertained. (No seriously, it's FUNNY. However impossible that sounds in a teen book about depression and body issues and all those other serious things.)

One part of Mind Your Head that I found really interesting, or useful, or fascinating, or whatever adjective you prefer, was the case studies. No-one can truly understand what it's like to deal with mental health issues like those who are dealing with them, or have dealt with them, after all, and the empathy that is created just from being able to read their own words and then have those words backed up with a simple description of their diagnosis. It might be impossible to quantify exactly what gives this book its perfect balance between friendly advice and doctorly knowledge, but that combination must have something to do with it.
To conclude this horribly messy review (I told you I wasn't used to non-fiction), you'll just have to trust me and read this book. Please? It's incredibly important for everyone to understand mental health, so that they can look after themselves more than anything, and I truly believe that Mind Your Head is an amazing way to do that, especially as a younger teenager or someone who feels a little outfaced by the whole thing. But everyone needs to read it really. Throw it at your friends. Your enemies. The family dog.

Even the cats will need to step up at some point.
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7 Things to Remember When You're Around a Disabled Person

I know this subject matter is a little different today, but bear with, okay guys? This post is important - and I wanted to write it.

7 Things to Remember When You're Around A Disabled Person
I fully believe that ableism (the discrimination or mistreatment of disabled people) is more difficult to deal with than racism, or sexism, or homophobia or any of that over rubbish. I guess that, as a fully licensed card-owning, badge-wearing Disabled Person, you're going to listen to me when I say that. Hopefully, anyway. This is important.

It's a difficult issue because, however hard you try, you can't fix it the same way as the others. Sexism can be stopped by treating both genders in the same way. Racism folds in on itself as soon as you ignore the colour of a person's skin. Let a person have the same rights no matter what their sexuality, then the problem is solved.

But if you refuse to give a disabled person a wheelchair, or a hearing aid, or an assistance dog in the name of treating them the same way as a able-bodied (non-disabled) person? That problem has not been solved. And you're probably going to come off as a massive pooface.

The trick is learning how to give disabled people what they need without pandering to us, or misleading us, or giving us advantages we don't deserve. (Seriously, this last one doesn't help anyone. If I get something I might not need, my classmates get bitter, I feel guilty, and the whole situation is just royally unfair on all sides.) It's a tough balance to strike, but these seven things should help you in everyday situations.

#1 - We're normal humans!

That can tell you many things.

Firstly, the glorious Penny (I'm a bit of a Big Bang Theory nerd) is unfortunately wrong on this occasion. Lots of handicapped people are nice, sure, but some are mean. Some are shy, some are confident. Some are introverted, some are extroverted. Able-bodied people don't have hive minds, so neither do we. This also means that, if you know and care for one disabled person, you can't necessarily care for all disabled people the same way. Some might need you to interact with them in different ways because of different needs, but often it's because of different preferences. I might have practically the same impairment as another person at my school, but just because I'm okay with you pushing my wheelchair doesn't mean they are.

Secondly, it means that you shouldn't be scared of someone because they have a physical or mental difficulty. It doesn't make them an alien. If someone's wearing a t-shirt with a cool quote on it, you'd usually go up and talk to them about it, right? (Assuming you're the kind of person that does that.) Just because the person wearing that t-shirt is disabled shouldn't stop you doing that.

Being disabled doesn't make us incapable of friendship or even - shock horror - romantic love. See the person, not the disability. That's rule number one.

#2 - Be careful with the word "Inspiration"

Continuing with the t-shirt analogy, there is one sentence I would advise you (or SCREAM AT YOU) not to let pass your lips when you've finished talking about that cool quote.

Please don't tell the person you're talking to that they're an inspiration.

Well, you can if you've been admiring their career from afar for years and want to be like them. As long as they haven't inspired you by existing as a disabled person, it'll be fine. But please don't tell any and every handicapped human you see that they are an inspiration. For what? Getting out of bed in the morning? Managing to make their way down the street without breaking down into tears?

If someone called you an inspiration for those things, I'm guessing you wouldn't be happy. You'd probably be pretty mad at them for implying that you were almost too fragile to do anything. I get that you're trying to give a compliment, but just be careful. It's not like you want to end up insulting someone by accident instead.

#3 - We know what help we need 
Festival organisers (I'm just putting it out there) this usually means a working disabled Portaloo. Take notes from Hay Festival, okay?

If you want to be a nice person and do a good deed, great. You're allowed to do good things because they help people and generally make the world a tiny bit better. But giving a disabled person help they don't need isn't actually help: it's annoying, and can sometimes make a person's day harder or more dangerous.

It's okay though, because we know the help we need! If you want to offer help, go ahead and ask if we need it. Here's an example (it's pretty simple, I know, but you'd be suprised how many people deviate from this script so much it might as well not exist):

Person Helping: Hi, do you need a hand with that?
Notice that the person does not reach out to help immediately. They give me a chance to reply.
Me: I'm okay. Thanks for offering though!
Person Helping: Oh, cool. Have a good day.
Notice that the person does not pretend I just said yes or ask me again, as if that can't have been the answer I wanted to give. They just trust that I know what help I need, and I'm entitled to say no.

If you've made this mistake before, don't worry. I understand you were trying to make things easier for whoever you spoke to. That said, it can be embarrassing to keep denying help, and I've even heard stories of people tipped out of wheelchairs when people insisted on pushing them, or endangered by being led across a road without their stick or guide dog.

Just ask, okay?

Side Note - If you feel compelled to ask a stranger if they need help IN THE TOILET (this has actually happened to me, guys) you probably don't have to go through this script. Would you go about your life knowing you'd have to rely on random people off the street to urinate?

#4 - Words hurt as much as actions

One of the sad truths of our society is that ableist slurs have become part of some people's everyday language, to the point where - sometimes - they don't even know that those words can be offensive. The amount of times I've heard someone at school or in the street throw the word spastic around actually makes me cringe. The bottom line is that an offensive word doesn't have to be directed at you to be offensive. No-one's ever actually called me a spaz, but that doesn't stop me hating them a tiny bit when I hear it come out of their mouth.

I don't have much more to say about this TBH. Just consider it today's friendly reminder to try and remove offensive words from your vocabulary, and if you hear someone you know say something off . . . the best course of action is to gently remind them it can be hurtful. Chances are they won't even have made the connection or thought about it.

#5 - We don't owe you any explanations

I completely understand the natural curiousity that surrounds disability. If you're not used to something, you instinctively want to find out more about it - and that's fine. It's good that conversations around the issue keep happening, because let's face it: those conversations are the only thing that could one day stop it from being an issue.

The thing is that it's not the responsibility of every disabled person you pass on the street to educate you. Being disabled doesn't immediately make us disability rights activists who will campaign and explain things to you at the drop of a hat. And, yes, there are some people (me included) who will be absolutely happy to tell you why they're disabled, or a bit about the way they're medically treated or even how they think their disability affects their everyday life, but a lot of people won't want to answer those questions, and that's perfectly fine too. Maybe it's too painful or embarrassing for them, or they're not in the right mood or they just don't have the time. (Someone I know once had to spend forty minutes explaining ONE ASPECT of his - admittedly rather complex - disability to a girl in our class.)

Because disability is such an obvious part of many people's lives, it can be easy to forget how personal a topic it really is, and how annoying it can be if a perfect stranger wants to ask you such a personal question. I still think it's okay to ask someone about their disability, but you have to go about it carefully. It shouldn't be the first thing that comes out of your mouth when you meet them, and you should never act as if you're entitled to an answer. Prefacing your question with the words "I get that you might not want to talk about this" or "it's okay if you don't want to answer this" can go a long way.

#6 - Not all disabilities are visible.


This means two things. Firstly, do not utter the sentence "can you stand then?" when someone gets up out of a wheelchair. The fact they are in the process of standing kind of answers your question, and besides . . . I've been reliably informed that hearing that over and over (and believe me, it's not just one person that says it) is more than a little bit annoying.

The second - and more important thing - is that you should never ever EVER accuse someone of faking or overplaying their disability. Just because you've seen them walk a few steps one time doesn't mean they don't still need the wheelchair. Just because they can see light difference or tiny details or whatever doesn't mean they're not legally blind. Even if someone looks completely and totally able-bodied, they could have any number of conditions that means they need to use an accessible toilet or a lift. By turning your nose up at someone who doesn't "seem" disabled, 999 times out of 1000 you're just making another person - possibly someone vulnerable - feel horrible.

#7 - Don't get hung up on everything I just said.


What I mean here is don't sweat the small stuff. (See, the pancakes are grinning at you to make sure you're okay!) Yes, I would avoid making fun of your new colleague's limp and calling them a spaz, but if you struggle to speak to them because you're so worried about saying or doing something wrong, that isn't going to create a positive relationship. If you realise that you've just asked a deaf person if they "heard" the news or a blind person if they "saw" Top Gear last night . . .

I'd just carry on the conversation. Apologising makes the situation more awkward (unless they're the one that brings it up) and chances are they haven't even noticed. I tell people I was "walking" down the corridor or "standing" in a room the whole time: it's a figure of speech, not an obligatorily accurate statement.

Basically, I get that interacting with disabled people can feel difficult when you're not used to it, but it shouldn't really have to. Just try not to make it a big deal, and you can't go far wrong.

***
In the comments: Are there any questions you want to ask about this post and disability in general? Did I write it properly? Is there anything you want to add?
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