Book Review: Strong Stuff

strong stuff

I was happy to be offered a copy of Strong Stuff having enjoyed A. F. Stone’s previous novel, The Raven Wheel. This is an author willing to portray both the positives and negatives of growing up within working class families. Her writing, while sympathetic to issues faced, is direct and unflinching. In some ways certain books by Jacqueline Wilson came to mind due to the topics explored, although Stone writes for an older readership.

This latest story focuses on Ruby, a fourteen year old who has been primary carer for her mum, Lisa, for a couple of years. Lisa has motor neurone disease and is now developing further complications. Ruby is struggling to cope but remains unwilling to accept the help offered by social services, fearful they will separate the pair and put them into the care system. When Lisa is hospitalised and dies, Ruby loses the home they shared. Her estranged father, an alcoholic and convicted criminal, offers to take her in, the least bad of the options available.

From here we learn about life on a grim estate of high rises populated by the people many in society fear. There are drug dealers and others looking to make money through illegal enterprises. Even in the playgrounds there is regular violence. There are families brought into the country illegally, who remain beholden to their traffickers with all the fear this entails. If Ruby is to survive she must find some way to go unnoticed, to fit in. She is not always able to keep her head down when she observes wanton cruelty.

Ruby lost most of her friends during the time she cared for her mum as she had little time to socialise. The exception is Annabelle, a girl living in comparative luxury within a loving, wider family. In Annabelle’s home, food is always available and bills are paid without worry. The contrast between the two girls’ lived experiences brings to the fore how little those who ‘have’ appreciate the day to day difficulties faced by those existing on the brink, among adults who have their own serious issues to deal with.

Yet in many ways Ruby is a typical teenager. She experiments with alcohol, falls in love, worries about her appearance, and takes risks that sometimes put her in danger. Much of what she faces is down to circumstances she has no control over due to her age. Ruby’s focus is to survive the year it will take before she may legally get her own place.

The writing is taut and engaging, the structure and flow keeping the reader eager for the next development. The problems Ruby encounters add tension: her dad’s new girlfriend, the fear under which her boyfriend lives, police interest in an acquaintance. Ruby walks a tightrope of trying to improve her own prospects while supporting those she becomes involved with. In some ways there is simplification of outcomes but this is a novel aimed primarily at teenagers.

While the story retains the pace and interest of a thriller, it delves deep into social issues using characters made fully rounded and complex. There is much to consider, especially around the challenges faced by the marginalised – those too often condemned as bringing their troubles on themselves.

A timely reminder of the humanity of those on the periphery. A thought-provoking and recommended read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, SRL Publishing.


Robyn Reviews: Star Daughter

‘Star Daughter’ is a beautiful Hindu-mythology inspired YA fantasy that truly captures the idea of being a teenager caught between two worlds. Shveta Thakrar infuses every chapter with angst and conflict, and while the plot is predictable, it’s written with enough emotional to stand up as a strong addition to the genre.

Sheetal Mistry has a secret. Her mother was a star – not the star of some TV show or film, but an actual star, one that came down from the sky to spend some time on Earth. But stars must always return to the Heavens, and years ago her mother abandoned her and her father, returning to her place in the celestial court. All Sheetal has left are memories – and a warning that no-one must find out what she is. But as her seventeenth birthday comes closer, the call of the stars is getting louder, and it’s getting harder and harder to hide. Everything comes crashing down when her dad accidentally gets hurt – and, with only her best friend Minal at her side, Sheetal is left to seek out the stars for some answers, and the only thing that might save her dad’s life.

Sheetal is a likeable protagonist. Forced into a situation completely beyond her control, she spends the entire book fighting to stay afloat. Her constant worries are harrowing to read about, but she’s hardly helpless – she fights tooth and nail. She’s also never afraid to admit when she’s wrong – an unusual trait in YA characters, but one that I really appreciated.

Everyone around her, on the other hand, is very difficult to like. For a supposed best friend, Minal spends a great deal of time abandoning Sheetal or giving her conflicting advice. It’s clear that Minal’s trying to help, but I couldn’t understand why Sheetal was so attached to her. Similarly, everyone in Sheetal’s family spends more time trying to manipulate her than they do trying to understand her. I appreciated the moral greyness of almost every character in the book, but it was horrible watching Sheetal be tossed around between people who cared more about their goals than they did about her.

‘Star Daughter’ uses several tropes of YA fantasy – the quest to get something to help an ailing family member, the competition that must be won, the ‘Chosen One’, the secret powers that must never be revealed. The ending is relatively predictable – I’d guessed the main twist by about halfway through – but it works, and predictability can be comforting. What makes each trope stand out is the Hindu culture. I loved how this was infused into every paragraph. However, familiarity with Hindu culture isn’t necessary to enjoy this book – I’m not particularly knowledgeable, but every reference was easily understood and added to rather than detracting from the narrative.

My main issue was with the romance. YA fantasy has a habit of acting like someone’s first crush is the absolute love of their life, and insisting they stay with that person forever. I didn’t feel like the romance in the latter half of the book was necessary – it would have been more realistic for both parties to move on, rather than constantly reminding themselves of past traumas. This was a story about Sheetal taking control of her own life – it didn’t even need a romantic element to it.

Overall, this is a great YA fantasy with some gorgeous writing and true emotional resonance. Recommended to fans of mythology-inspired fantasy and complex family dynamics.

Published by HarperCollins
Hardback: 3rd September 2020

Robyn Reviews: Kingdom of the Wicked

‘Kingdom of the Wicked’ treads well-trodden ground but puts a fresh enough spin on it to become an intriguing and enjoyable story. It definitely reads like part one of a series rather than fully standing up on its own, but as long as the sequels provide some much-needed answers this can stand up as a solid addition to the YA fantasy genre.

The novel follows Emilia, one of a family of streghe – witches – living secretly amongst humans. Their family is one of twelve streghe families in Sicily, but following a powerful spell cast generations ago the families are discouraged from mixing. Emilia pays more attention to her family renowned restaurant than to magic – until she discovers her beloved twin, Vittoria, murdered, her heart ripped out, and a mysterious figure drinking her blood. Her quest for vengeance pulls her into the world of the Wicked – the princes of Sin her Nonna has always warned her about.

Emilia is a likeable enough protagonist. Previously a carefree girl whose only worries were new dishes at the restaurant and her flirtation with a completely unavailable man, she becomes a creature driven only by vengeance. She rushes headlong into situations without thought of the consequences and frequently has to be rescued. It’s slightly annoying that she spends most of the novel being pulled out of dangerous places by a man (and once her grandma, which is far more badass), but the idea of a teenage girl in over her head is certainly more accurate than most YA fantasy. Her motivations and struggles are always relatable, and hopefully as she starts to understand more about her abilities and situation in book two, she’ll become less of the damsel in distress and more the damsel of distress.

The other major character is Wrath, one of the seven Princes of Sin. Wrath is the typical mysterious male figure in YA fantasy – powerful, with many secrets and unknown motives, and also exceptionally attractive. However, I appreciate that, unlike in most books, Wrath and Emilia don’t immediately fall into a romance. Emilia’s priority throughout remains her sister, and she won’t allow herself unnecessary distractions. She also innately distrusts a Prince of Sin, a very wise decision not shared by most other heroines in her genre.

Kerri Maniscalco is known for her ‘Stalking Jack the Ripper’ series, a collection of YA mysteries. I’ve never actually read any of them, but her talent for writing mystery is absolutely on show in ‘Kingdom of the Wicked’. The plot twists and turns, with the culprit for the murders never entirely evident. There are dead ends, red herrings, and far too many potential murderers to count. When the killer is finally revealed, they come from a very unexpected direction. I appreciate that Maniscalo managed to weave a difficult-to-predict mystery without making it seem outlandish or implausible.

The highlight of this novel is the interspersing of Sicilian culture. There’s a strong focus on the food – Emilia spends a lot of time at the family restaurant, and she enjoys subjecting a Prince of Sin to mortal cuisine. Sicily is a more unusual setting for a fantasy novel, and it helped differentiate this from its peers and add depth to the characters and story.

Overall, this is a solid start to a series, albeit one that – as it doesn’t entirely stand on its own – will be greatly influenced by the strength of its sequel. Recommended to fans of A Court of Mist and Fury, The Cruel Prince, and similar story dynamics.

Thanks to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Hardback: 27th October 2020

Robyn Reviews: Five Little Liars

Five Little Liars is pitched as I Know What You Did Last Summer meets One of Us is Lying, and the similarities are immediately apparent. Unfortunately, this just isn’t gripping in the same way. I’m not sure what was missing, but I wasn’t engaged by the plot and – with the exception of Tyler, who deserves better – didn’t care enough about the characters.

The story follows five students – Ivy, Cade, Tyler, Mattie, and Kinley – taking a summer psychology course taught by Dr Stratford, the single most unpleasant teacher in existence. I hated him to the extent that I wasn’t sure why he was allowed to be a teacher – the way he treated his students was emotionally abusive at best. The five students aren’t friends – Mattie is from out of town, Ivy the once-Queen Bee who’s fallen from grace, Cade the millionaire’s son who’s quite frankly unpleasant, Kinley the nerd, and Tyler the delinquent. However, they are forced together when they all become involved in the murder – and subsequent cover up – of Dr Stratford.

The premise is excellent, with the tension hinging on who’s going to crack and tell first. However, much of that tension is lost because the story doesn’t make the reader care enough about the characters. I wanted Tyler to be safe, but the others almost seemed to deserve to be caught. They all had secrets of their own and – as much as many of them were in dreadful situations which explained their terrible decision making – I didn’t like them enough to worry about their fate. Their interactions with each other also suffered from several tropes of young adult literature, with insta-lust if not insta-love distracting from the plot. As a bisexual, one of my biggest pet peeves is the bisexual teenager who’s unfaithful to their partner, because it perpetuates the harmful stereotype that bisexuals are more likely to cheat. When it comes amongst other LGBTQIAP+ representation I can allow it, but when it’s the only representation in the story I become very uncomfortable.

There are strong aspects. Tyler in general is an excellent character, and I liked his interactions with his brother, Jacob, and with Kinley. Kinley is an interesting if hard to like character, and I like the exploration of parental pressure – the lengths her dad goes to make me very uncomfortable, but I suspect that’s the point. In fact, part of the reason that this review comes across as very harsh is because there was so much potential. It was an excellent story idea and, whilst the characters are tropes, they could have been fleshed out into very intriguing people. I also thought the final chapter was a great way to end. However, the pieces never clicked together, and the characters never quite elevated themselves from tropes into full people.

Overall, this is a good idea lacking somewhat in execution. It’s unfair to compare books, but this compares itself to One of Us is Lying and just feels a bit like a knock-off version. For those looking for a quick young adult mystery it provides entertainment, but there are better options out there.

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the contents of my review


Published by Simon & Schuster
Paperback: July 7th 2020

Robyn Reviews: The Cheerleaders


The Cheerleaders is solid YA crime fiction. There are plenty of threads, making it difficult to guess exactly what the ending will be, and while some twists are predictable some take you by surprise. The final chapter neatly ties up loose ends and lets the reader decide for themselves whether justice was served.

The book follows Monica, the younger sister of Jen – one of five school cheerleaders who tragically passed away nearly five years ago. As the five year anniversary of the deaths approaches, Monica is dealing with struggles of her own – affairs, battling for her place on the dance team, keeping up her GPA – but a chance conversation leads her to make a discovery, and suddenly she isn’t sure that the right killer was apprehended.

Monica is a very accurate portrayal of a teenage girl dealing with major traumas. Frustrated and angry, she pushes everyone she knows away and struggles to care about her previous passions. She makes mistakes in attempts to feel genuine human connection and rebels against all her mum and stepdad’s attempts to keep her safe. Monica isn’t always a likeable protagonist, but it’s impossible not to feel sorry for her situation.

Most of the book is from Monica’s point of view, but there are occasional flashback chapters from Jen’s, adding intrigue and context. Unlike Monica, who is popular for being the attractive dancer rather than for her personality, Jen is a genuinely lovely person. The flashbacks turn her from someone considered a saint – after all, who would speak ill of a dead girl – into an ordinary teenager with her own issues. Dealing with squabbles with her friends, a new girl on the cheerleading squad, and the most unsuitable guy in school crushing on her, Jen’s life makes it clear that there might have been multiple people wanting the cheerleaders dead after all.

There’s nothing groundbreaking about this book. The characters are relatively well-developed, the plot well-constructed, the high school dynamics believable – but it never steps out of the safety of standard YA crime tropes. It’s also, for a book being published in 2020, lacking in diversity. That being said, there’s nothing particularly unlikeable about this book either – it’s a fast read that pulls you in, and it’s difficult to connect the dots before the book wants you to. I also appreciated that there was no unnecessary romance – Monica isn’t in the right place for a relationship and has too much to do juggling her normal life with trying to find out what really happened to her sister and the other cheerleaders.

Overall, this is good without being great – a solid read for fans of YA crime novels that doesn’t do anything new but executes the standard tropes of the genre well.


Thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan Children’s for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the contents of this review


Published by Macmillan Children’s
Paperback: 3rd September 2020

Robyn Reviews: Challenger Deep

Challenger Deep is a brilliant exploration of what it’s like to be a teenager with psychosis. Told in first person, it chronicles the insidious development of mental illness and its impact – on school, family, and the individual. Alongside this, there is a story about a ship on a quest to the Marianas Trench, with the narrative alternating between the two. The purpose of this second storyline is not immediately clear, but as more is revealed the two cleverly intersect. Each plotline provides relief when the other gets too heavy – this isn’t a book that shies away from the dark parts of mental illness.

‘The things I feel cannot be put into words, or if they can, the words are in no language anyone can understand’.

The protagonist, Caden, is fifteen and an American schoolkid. He’s always been a smart, social kid, the type to flit effortlessly between friend groups and fit in anywhere. He’s an artist, spending his free time drawing and designing video games with his friends.

In the parallel story, Caden, is a crewmember on a ship. He’s the youngest member of the crew, still trying to figure out where he fits in. He shares a cabin with the ship’s navigator, a man with a fondness for alliteration and rhyme who spends his time creating maps and star charts. At night, he dreams about the White Plastic Kitchen, a kitchen full of sparkling white appliances that regularly plays host to monsters.

The highlight of this book is the language. The way Caden’s internal monologue is narrated is gorgeous – often harrowing and disturbing, but written so well it’s hauntingly beautiful. I’ve read other books by Neil Shusterman, but this is undoubtedly where his linguistic skills are at their best.

‘What’s going on? I’m in the back of the car of a roller coaster at the top of the climb, with the front rows already giving themselves over to gravity. I can hear those front riders screaming and know my own scream is only seconds away… I’m leaping off a cliff only to discover that I can fly… and then realising there’s nowhere to land. Ever. That’s what’s going on.’

Shusterman mentions in the notes at the end that he created Caden with collaboration from a family member who suffered from psychosis. Having worked with psychosis patients myself, it seems – from an outsider’s perspective – to be an excellent depiction. His mannerisms, actions, speech, changes in emotions – all of them change with the course of the disease, subtly at first until they become overwhelmingly obvious. Later in the book, Caden also meets other patients with various mental illnesses, and – whilst we only get Caden’s perspective of them – their presentations also feel accurate. I’m always wary of fictional depictions of psychosis because of how much stigma there is against it, but Shusterman avoids all the major pitfalls here.

‘The fear of not living is a deep, abiding dread of watching your own potential decompose into irredeemable disappointment when “should be” gets crushed by what is. Sometimes I think it would be easier to die than to face that, because “what could have been” is much more highly regarded than “what should have been”. Dead kids are put on pedestals, but mentally ill kids get hidden under the rug.’

This isn’t always an easy read, and – despite the very short chapters – isn’t designed to be a quick one. However, in many ways, I think it’s an essential one. Psychosis is hugely misunderstood and very common, affecting at least 1% of the population at some point in their lives. This is one of the best depictions I’ve ever read. If you want to understand psychosis and start breaking down the stigma, this is a good place to start.

Overall, this is a highly recommended young adult book for teenagers and adults alike with an interest in psychology and mental illness.


Thanks so much to NetGalley and Walker Books for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review


Published by Walker Books
Paperback: 6th August 2020

Robyn Reviews: Cinderella is Dead

Cinderella is Dead is pitched as Queer Black girls take over the patriarchy – and it pretty much does exactly what it says on the tin. This is a fun, quick read – the sort of book I’m so glad today’s teenagers get to grow up with. The plot is mostly predictable, the twists standard young adult fantasy fare, but the fierce sapphic women are delightful enough to read about to make this a worthy addition to the genre.

The book follows Sophia – unapologetically herself, but born into a world where that person isn’t accepted. In her world, men rule the roost. Women are required to attend once-yearly Balls – in homage to the original Ball where Cinderella found her Prince Charming – where they will be selected by a husband. If a woman fails to be chosen, she is cast out. There is no space for women who think for themselves – let alone women who happen to fall in love with other women. Sophia does both, and she can’t understand why no-one else seems to be fighting for change.

I love Sophia. Plenty of teenagers will empathise with her rage at the world and its injustices, and her determination to fight against it – even when everyone else has given up because of the seemingly insurmountable odds. Sophia is feisty and reckless, but also beautifully caring and human. She’s fiercely loyal to her friends – even when they can’t see it – and sticks fast to her principles even when they get her in trouble. She isn’t unflawed – her practical skills are lacking (which leads to a brilliant scene between her and Constance about making bread, my favourite part of the book) and she trusts incredibly quickly – but her heart is always in the right place.

Constance is the badass warrior woman all girls want to be. Need to make a bomb? She’s your girl. Want to know how to kill a man? She’s got that down. I actually wish we got more of her backstory because her upbringing sounds incredible but very little of her past is revealed. Her relationship with Sophia was delightful – perfectly paced and believable, which is something of a rarity in young adult romance. I was rooting for them the entire time.

Overall, this is an excellent young adult fantasy. The twists might not surprise you, but it’s still fun with characters you want to root for. Recommended for any teenager and any young adult fantasy fan – especially those who need more sapphic characters in their lives.


Published by Bloomsbury
Paperback: 6 August 2020

Robyn Reviews: All the Stars and Teeth

All the Stars and Teeth is a fun young adult fantasy that should appeal to all fans of the genre. Rather than striving for unique elements, it combines typical tricks and tropes to great effect, weaving a compelling – if predictable – story.

The book is told from a single point of view. Amora Montara, princess of the island kingdom of Visidia, is preparing for the biggest day of her life – the day when she proves her mastery of soul magic, to take over her father’s role as High Animancer. The High Animancer protects the kingdom from the Beast, a mysterious force which gains power if anyone in Visidia attempts to learn more than one magic. However, Amora’s demonstration doesn’t go to plan, and her life may be on the line – until she’s rescued by the mysterious Bastian, a pirate from the exiled kingdom of Zudoh. Together, Amora, Bastian – and Amora’s fiancé Ferrick, who sneaks after them – set off on a quest to save Zudoh – and potentially the whole kingdom.

Amora reads exactly like a teenage princess should – spoiled, entitled, sheltered, and desperate to be free and make her own choices. At times, this makes her an unlikeable protagonist, but I applaud Adalyn Grace’s decision to make Amora realistic. Her interactions with Ferrick and Vataea are excellent – Vataea especially helps make Amora more human. On the other hand, the romance was predictable and toed the line of insta-love, and I never felt the chemistry – I feel like a little more build-up would have helped.

Bastian is a great character. For a pirate, he’s a very nice, caring guy – even if he does spend a lot of time stealing and threatening people with swords. I’m slightly disappointed there weren’t more pirates – the story around Keel Haul is great, and a magic ship is always going to be a good thing, but a pirate crew is an opportunity to add humour and banter, and a book sold with pirates on the tagline really needs more than one pirate. As only Amora gets a point of view, much of Bastian’s story remains a mystery – but he’s still a well-enough rounded character.

My favourite part of this world is the magic system. The idea of each character having a magic – most based on their island of origin, but not all – is intriguing, and I wish we got to see more of it. I also adore soul magic – Grace didn’t play down how horrific it could be, and it’s fascinating seeing the other characters’ reactions to Amora using it. Amora oscillates between delight at her power and horror at the costs, which can be jarring – but for a teenager who’s been doing this since she was a child, her reactions seem realistic.

Overall, this is a solid young adult fantasy. Recommended for fans of interesting magic systems, strong female heroines, and pirates (with the caveat that there’s not a great deal of piracy).


*Thanks to NetGalley and Titan Books for providing an eARC of this book – this in no way affects the content of this review*


Published by Titan Books
Paperback: 4th August 2020

Robyn Reviews: Sorcery of Thorns

Sorcery of Thorns is young adult fantasy at its finest. Elisabeth, an orphan girl raised in one of the Great Libraries of Austermeer, knows two things – books are dangerous, and sorcerers are evil. She wants nothing more than to become a warden, protecting Austermeer from the powerful grimoires contained in her library. However, when she becomes the only witness to an attack on the library, her life gets infinitely more complicated.

Elisabeth makes a fantastic protagonist. She’s smart and determined but also incredibly naïve, jumping to conclusions and regularly acting without thinking. Having been raised in a library, she knows little of the real world and the consequences of that can be hilarious. She’s also one of the few female protagonists I’ve ever seen described as tall – a refreshing change from the tiny, innocent looking protagonists the genre seems to favour. Elisabeth’s friendship with Katrien was lovely, as was her evolving, convoluted relationship with the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn – her only ally, but also a man who has to be evil – after all, all sorcerers are. However, her best interactions were with Silas, Nathaniel’s enigmatic assistant who’s far more than he initially seems.

Nathaniel contrasts Elisabeth brilliantly. A confident, flamboyant bisexual sorcerer and Austermeer’s most eligible bachelor, Nathaniel saunters through life like a man who has it all – but he’s the only survivor of the Thorn line, a famed family of necromancers responsible for some of the worst crimes in Austermeer’s history. How much of Nathaniel’s personality is authentic and how much is simply to distance himself from that legacy is unclear – but what is clear is that he has a heart of gold and a sense of humour to match. His quips and anecdotes add a much-needed lightness.

This is a young adult fantasy but successfully avoids all the pitfalls of the genre. The romance is slow-building and believable, adding to rather than distracting from the main plot. Elisabeth has aspects of being a ‘Chosen One’ but is definitely the least powerful of the three main characters, so it doesn’t feel like a cop out. The plot has predictable elements but also completely unpredictable ones, with an ending that’s hopeful but not without sacrifice. Yes, there are tropes, but every part feels fresh enough to be highly enjoyable – a credit to Margaret Rogerson’s creativity and writing.

The setting is the highlight of the book – how could a book about magical libraries fail to appeal to bookworms? The idea of dangerous grimoires needing to be locked away and guarded by wardens with swords is excellent. I also like the magic system, with its clear limitations and constraints – there is a price to being a sorcerer after all, and any magic takes time and a great deal of effort.

Overall, this is one of the best examples of young adult fantasy that I’ve read. It takes both familiar tropes and original concepts and combines them into a beautifully readable novel full of likeable, three-dimensional characters and a world you want to live in. Highly recommended.


Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster)
Hardback: 13 June 2019
Paperback: 23 July 2020

Robyn Reviews: The Extraordinaries

The Extraordinaries is a fun, modern YA fantasy – funny and heartwarming in places and serious in others. The characters are cute, the LGBT representation fantastic, and I suspect modern teenagers will enjoy it. The story and setting are unoriginal – I predicted every single plot twist miles before it happened, and I’ve read several similar books before – but that doesn’t prevent it being a good read.

The main character, Nick, is sixteen and just entering Junior Year of High School in Nova City – very similar to any city in the US, except there are superheroes, known as Extraordinaries. Nick is a fan. In fact, he’s such a big fan of the city’s Extraordinary – known as Shadow Storm – that he spends his time writing self-insert fanfiction and owns a pillow with Shadow Storm’s face on it. Nick dreams of being rescued by his idol and subsequently joining him on his adventures to save the city. Of course, that’s not precisely what happens.

Nick is a sweet, naive, oblivious sixteen-year-old. He also has ADHD – this is exceptionally well written and one of the highlights of the book. With his well-known superhero crush and constant stream of random thoughts, he isn’t the most popular guy in school – but he has his own tight-knit group of friends. His relationships with them were brilliant and another strength, even if Jazz and Gibby felt more like caricatures than characters at times. LGBT rep is always brilliant, but the butch can-kick-your-ass girl and her head-cheerleader girlfriend was almost too cliché.

Seth, Nick’s best friend since they met on the swings ten years ago, is equally adorable. Orphaned at a young age in a train crash, Seth has always been a strange, chubby kid who struggled to make friends – but in him, Nick found the patient listener he needed, and Seth found the human connection he craved. I loved them – their relationship was often painfully awkward, and both of them are ridiculously oblivious, but it was pure and adorable. The reactions of everyone else around them were also perfect – their disbelief and frustration matched mine as I was reading perfectly.

Owen, Nick’s sort-of-ex and now sort-of-friend, had the potential to be an interesting character, but too much was left a mystery. I never quite knew what to think. Hopefully future books will develop him further – his arc in this didn’t feel complete.

The setting was a completely standard US city, plus superheroes, giving a thoroughly contemporary feel – except perhaps for the highly limited number of news channels, and the way everyone watched them instead of Netflix. Why the superheroes were left to continue unchecked was never explained, nor why they existed – or how. For what is essentially a YA fantasy romance, this doesn’t matter too much, but I would have liked a little more explanation.

Overall, this is a solid enough read. It’s great fun, with laugh out loud moments, and the characters are adorable – but the story is predictable, and characters just the wrong side of cliché. With the exception of Nick and Seth – who were themselves clichés – none of them were expounded on enough to take them into 3D territory, which left the novel a little lacking. But for younger teenagers, this will likely be a story to love.


Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Hardback: 14 July 2020