Monday, 14 September 2015

All of the Above, James Dawson

Pages: 319
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Release Date: 3rd September 2015
Edition: UK e-proof, NetGalley review copy

Other Titles by this Author: Hollow Pike, Cruel Summer, Say Her Name, Under My Skin

A funny and moving love story about friends, first love and self-discovery by the Queen of Teen 2014.

When sixteen-year-old Toria Bland arrives at her new school she needs to work out who her friends are, all in a crazy whirl of worry, exam pressure and anxiety over fitting in. Things start looking up when Toria meets the funny and foul-mouthed Polly, who’s the coolest girl Toria has ever seen. Polly and the rest of the ‘alternative’ kids take Toria under their wing. And that’s when she meets the irrestible Nico Mancini, lead singer of a local band – and it’s instalove at first sight! Toria likes Nico. Nico likes Toria…but then there’s Polly.

Love and friendship have a way of going round in circles.

I feel head over heels in love with All of the Above and it’s definitely one of my favourites of the year so far.

James Dawson is a known advocate for diversity and he really puts his money where his mouth is in All of the Above. This novel has characters from across the LGBTQIA+, but very importantly, it features an asexual character! This was the first time I'd never seen this openly in a YA novel and I cheered. And then Toria is mixed race as her mum is Indian and her dad white and one of the characters has an eating disorder. The portrayal of the eating disorder felt very important. Dawson highlights the stigma of an eating disorder – and other mental illnesses – and how it is never seen as serious as a physical illness until it’s noticeable by someone else. The experience of the characters in All of the Above demonstrated the danger in that and just how grave it can be.

Even though I’ve only read one other of Dawson’s books – Under My Skin – I feel like he really found his voice and his style with All of the Above. Toria’s narration felt authentic and current and so incredibly real. All of the characters are so much more than what they are to each other. I loved that Toria wasn’t just a part of the story going on with Polly, Nico and the rest of the gang, she has a separate life with parents, an online presence with friends and a fandom, and she loves making digital art and writing poetry. Toria’s poetry was a really unexpected element of the novel and I really loved it. Sadly, it wasn’t quite formatted in the e-proof I read, but I was still able to enjoy and appreciate it.

It would be easy to dismiss Toria’s story as an ‘issues’ book, but it’s really not. It just so happens that ‘issues’ happen to people in everyday life. It made way for a conversation about labels as Toria struggled to understand what she felt and then the pressure to define what that was. Labels carry weight for the person being labelled. They have pressures and expectations to conform to what makes up that label and it’s pretty ridiculous really – why should you have to define your feelings or yourself for others?

All of the Above is heartbreaking, hopeful and empowering and I hope we get more of this kind of contemporary from James Dawson in the future.

Thanks to NetGalley and Hot Key Books for the review copy.


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