Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

ISBN: 9780571258093

This novel is quite unlike anything I’ve read. At first it seems to be the simple story of an English boarding school, and students growing up. The characters are full of promise and blossoming with life, which is ironic as their true identities are slowly revealed.

This book is darker than it first seems, like the tendrils of shadows that appear when you’re reading by lamplight. And yet there is so much humanness about it that we question our own reality and what it is to be completely alive.
Set in a fictional England, Ishiguro’s observations of our own world, through his narrator Kathy, are pithy and hauntingly accurate. Yet there is a disjointedness that is apparent from the very start, something that is distinctly but clandestinely wrong about this world.
The exchanges between characters are exactly right and sometimes startlingly funny, but always incredibly moving, especially as the novel progresses. This book blurs the lines of genre, stepping on the toes of science fiction, horror and the Gothic novel, whilst simultaneously being entirely contemporary.
Rating: 8/10

I Capture The Castle – Dodie Smith

ISBN: 9780099460879

I drank down this book like a sweet glass of iced tea. The backdrop of the castle is charming in every sense in this book that sparks magic, mostly in the personality of the characters. Each character glows with life so that they’re almost four-dimensional.
The opening image of a young woman writing in the kitchen sink for the sake of somewhere to be struck a chord with me. This story, while not fast-paced or action packed, is told through the narrator Cassandra Mortmain, Smith’s prose dripping with life and promise, as this young woman is on the cusp of becoming an adult.
Concentrating on relationships of every nature, this novel shows us what it is to truly feel emotion, to feel them potently and for the first time. It feels so very real and so very English that it will stay with a reader for a long time after being put back amidst the dust of other paperbacks. It particularly haunts me when I visit National Trust properties.
Rating: 8/10

The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

ISBN: 0349101779

I studied this during my A-Levels and I haven’t been able to forget about it since. Banks lets us inside the head of Frank, the narrator, and he drags us through his world as though we are being towed behind a truck, and he doesn’t let up until the very last page.
Frank is a teenager in Scotland who leads an unconventional life, somewhat isolated, receiving comments that “he’s not all there”. But his wit and intelligence makes itself apparant as the prose continues and we learn to sympathise with and even like this self-professed murderer, “It was just a stage I was going through.”
Set in the very real backdrop of being a teenager in the 80s, in this novel Banks makes us question madness and morality whilst ever being under Frank’s power. He draws on Gothic convention and the timelessness of human nature, whilst still being incredibly relevant.
There are moments that genuinely turned my stomach and gave me nightmares, and others that made me laugh aloud, while the whole novel sparkles with literariness. And who doesn’t love a book with a good twist at the end?
Rating: 8/10

Stargirl – Jerry Spinelli

ISBN: 1841219266

Perhaps unconventionally, I’m starting this literary venture with a novel for teenagers. I first read this as a young teenager, lured by its florescent pink cover, but rediscovered it recently and devoured it in an afternoon. This is a shining jewel among books. Reading it is like basking in the sunshine after a particularly cold winter.

The first-person narrative of a teenage boy bounces along with optimism and poise, although at times it does seem as though this voice more suits a female narrator. Leo’s high school is shaken one day with the appearance of a quirky new student, Stargirl Carraway. What makes her stick out is primarily her longing to bring joy to others.

On the surface this is a very simple novel, giving hope to those stuck in the mundane. It explores group mentality and the consequences of being different. But Spinelli also delves into what it means to truly be yourself and where happiness comes from. I think this book can’t fail to change its reader, and it promises to make our communities brighter places.

Rating: 9/10