10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity High School finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.
10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.
10:03 a.m. The auditorium doors won’t open.
10:05 a.m. Someone starts shooting.
Told from four different perspectives over the span of fifty-four harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.
This book caught my eye last weekend in the bookstore because I recognised the author’s name from her involvement in the writing community, particularly as a PitchWars mentor. Then I read the blurb and the idea of it gave me chills, especially in light of what happened in Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High last month.
This Is Where It Ends didn’t disappoint.
First, while I’m talking about the blurb, let me say that it’s a tiny bit misleading. This book isn’t really a “game of survival” — it’s not The Hunger Games set in a high school or anything like that. I loved THG, but TIWIE is contemporary, not spec fic; it is more realistic, and more dreadful. None of the characters manifest cool ninja superpowers or a talent with a crossbow that saves the day. They are scared teenagers who don’t want themselves or their loved ones to die.
Some of the story is told through flashbacks; the four characters all have a connection to the shooter in one way or another, and we get to explore that as the story progresses. But I don’t want to go into those connections any further, because there is a minor spoiler involved in who the shooter actually turns out to be.
The four characters are Autumn, the dancer from an abusive home; her girlfriend, Sylv; Sylv’s twin brother and teen rebel, Tomas; and track star Claire. Through them we get to see the shooting unfold from different points around the school. This means that — even at times when the characters trapped in the auditorium can’t do a lot other than watch and try not to die — the other characters have some ability to try and affect events, even in a small way. The way the storylines were interwoven was very well done, and all of the characters were well-rounded. (My only minor criticism is that I found the voices of all four characters rather similar. But each section starts with the narrator’s name, so it’s still easy to follow along.)
Another device that TIWIE uses is social media, with Twitter and blog posts at different points, as the event unfolds. Having read some of the tweets from during the Florida shooting, these particularly undid me (a little awkward when I was reading in the doctor’s waiting room, not gonna lie). They were so real — complete with a troll — and through them we got to watch smaller stories play out over the course of the larger one.
TIWIE isn’t a light read, by any means, but it is a powerful one, especially in light of the #NeverAgain movement. It doesn’t take a position on gun control — not overtly — but the fictional shooter in this book is so much like the real-life shooters we read about in school shootings. And he obtained his gun legally. Make of that what you will.
I’m Norah, and my life happens within the walls of my house, where I live with my mom and this evil overlord called agoraphobia.
Everything’s under control. It’s not rosy — I’m not going to win any prizes for Most Exciting Life or anything, but at least I’m safe from the outside world, right?
Wrong. This new boy, Luke, just moved in next door, and suddenly staying safe isn’t enough. If I don’t take risks, how will I ever get out — or let anyone in?
This book, you guys. It’s the sort of Own Voices diverse book that I often hear about but don’t often seem to read, probably because of my obsession with urban fantasy novels. It is unflinching and in-your-face, told in the first person present tense — the style that gets the reader closest to the thoughts and actions of the protagonist.
Our protagonist is Norah. She has agoraphobia and OCD, suffering debilitating anxiety attacks when she has to leave the house or when things in her environment are out of order. She’s terrified of germs and overthinks things. Like, really overthinks them — and not just the things that most people worry about, but things that might seem tiny in the grand scheme of things but to Norah’s brain are critical. For example, there’s almost an entire page of dialogue where all of Norah’s increasingly anxious thoughts are about how the other person has a piece of hair stuck to their lip.
Norah’s conditions mean pretty much this entire book is set inside her house, and for a lot of that she is alone — but her mind is so busy all the time, and Gornall’s style is so engaging, that I didn’t really notice the lack of variety in the scenery. Occasionally we get glimpses of Norah’s sass, which made me laugh, but my favourite thing was Gornall’s cleverly descriptive use of comparisons, and the way she interweaves Norah’s symptoms (such as picking at scabs or chewing her nails) into the action seamlessly.
Take this example:
A vocal tic rolls up my chest, pushed by pressure, until it flops out of my mouth and I moan like Frankenstein’s monster.
His smile sets my kitchen on fire.
I could go on for days with examples (I chose those two by opening the book random), but I want to talk about the “he” in question. Luke is Norah’s new neighbour, and he’s basically the sweetest thing. He decides Norah’s cute when he glimpses her through her bedroom window and soon realises she’s not what he expected — but curiosity, a good heart and an understanding of mental illness due to a family member having it mean that he persists in trying to get to know Norah when she’d probably prefer he didn’t.
Although Luke is possibly slightly too good to be true, I was pleased to see that he wasn’t your typical magic bullet trope. I won’t go into details of what I mean here, because I don’t want to get too spoiler-y, but Hollywood definitely has certain stereotypes about women being “saved”, shown the error of their ways by a man, and let’s just say that’s not what happens here. Yes, Luke does broaden Norah’s horizons (before she met him she really only had in-depth conversations with her mother and doctor). But she isn’t magically cured by virtue of his presence.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough, you guys — and also, before I finish up, take a moment to admire the pretty cover. There are three different-coloured versions of this cover, all in different shades of pink; I got the palest pink one and I love it!
She’s supposed to cover the stories.
Not be one.
Madison Winters has life in the bag. Gorgeous fiancé? Check. Promotion to become editor of the country’s hottest fashion magazine? Check. Limited edition pair of Manolo Blahniks? Checkity-check. Catching her fiancé with his pants down isn’t something she expects. In the space of twenty-four hours, Madison loses it all—not even her shoes will be saved. Swapping sass + bide for sweatpants and Dior for the downward dog is going to be hell. The last thing Madison’s broken heart needs is a run-in with America’s newest playboy. Can she ever recover from this?
Tate Masters has it all—Hollywood’s latest golden boy has washboard abs, a killer smile, and a leading role in the next A-list movie. Until a secret from his past is splashed all over the headlines, and that ‘good boy’ image fast-tracks to the gutter. Now the media hunt is on, and they’re baying for Tate’s blood. One night of wild behaviour sees him wake up next to a gorgeous Aussie brunette—and she’s everything Tate’s afraid of.
Keeping secrets has never been this hard.
I’ve said before that Lauren McKellar is one of my very few one-click contemporary authors. She usually writes some young adult and some new adult, and I knew going into Fame that it wasn’t a tragedy like most of her other stories. What I didn’t realise was that this is adult contemporary. Adult-y adult. Now with more adult.
The chemistry — and, let’s be honest, the raw lust — between Madison and Tate sizzles off the page from the first time they meet. And the sex scenes (is that a spoiler?) are scorching. *fans self*
At first I wasn’t sure about Tate. He comes across as a cheat at the start of the book, and no amount of megawatt smiles and ripped muscles made up for that in my mind. Still, it’s not too long before we discover more about Tate — his reasons for doing the things he does — and soon I was swooning and wishing for a Tate in my life too.
It turns out McKellar does sex scenes as well as she does romance. The latter is her bread and butter. It’s not usually my favourite genre, but the relationship here, as embryonic as it is, is well executed. Tate and Madison discover in each other someone who will let them be real, not pushing them to do anything they don’t want to or judging them.
The other thing that’s worth mentioning is that the book is just downright funny. Madison attracts the worst kinds of random luck, but at the same time her approach to handling things is kind of hilarious. While she naturally grieves for her failed relationship with Mike and the consequent struggle with who she is, she’s generally quite resilient and doesn’t take BS from anyone. Her disdain for the trappings of “wellness” (a word I rather dislike myself … mostly because it’s just ugly, tbh) had me giggling on more than one occasion. Her banter with not just Tate but her bestie Courtney was hilarious. And I can’t talk about the humour without mentioning Madison’s parents. They only appear in a handful of scenes, but her father — oh my god, what a scream!
The other touch I liked was the shout-out to How to Save a Life with the cameo of Jase, the tattooed bartender from that book. I wanted to give him a hug, like a long-lost friend.
If you’re looking for a sexy, feel-good story, then I can’t recommend Fame highly enough.