Quick book picks for May

Only a few for this month, but a good bunch of fiction featuring some historical, some globe-spanning, and some very focused on the personal.

  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer – A bittersweet comic novel about a struggling writer who takes up invitations to strange events around the world in order to avoid his ex-boyfriend’s wedding.
  • House of Gold by Natasha Solomons – Europe poised on the cusp of World War One is the setting for this historical novel, about the Goldbaum family and how rebellious Greta attempts to reclaim her own life. Mixes the personal with the large scale history surprisingly well.
  • We Are Young by Cat Clarke – Another tense YA novel from Cat Clarke, this one focuses on how a car accident can bring various issues in a community to the forefront, from the perspective of the girl whose new stepbrother is the sole survivor.
  • The Pharmacist’s Wife by Rebecca Tait – A dark historical novel set in Victorian Edinburgh, where  Rebecca Palmer’s pharmacist husband tries to control her using heroin and manipulation.
  • Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey – This novel tells the story of a girl who goes missing and then is found a few days later, unwilling to discuss what happened. Told from the perspective of her mother, it looks at depression and how a biased viewpoint can lead to assumptions.

We Are Young by Cat Clarke

We Are Young is another powerful novel by Cat Clarke that combines suspense, serious issues, and real, flawed characters. Seventeen year old Evan’s mother gets married to breakfast DJ Tim on the same night that her new stepbrother Lewis is involved in a terrible car accident. As the only survivor, Lewis is scapegoated by the local media, but Evan and her journalist father Harry think there’s more than meets the eye. Their investigating turns up a complex story of disturbing truths, mental health problems, and complicated relationships that not everyone wants to face head on.

Clarke writes a rich narrative that gives a lot of detail to characters and their lives, particularly Evan and Lewis, which makes them feel realistic and immerses the reader in the novel’s world. As well as the tragedy and the problems with her new stepfamily, Evan deals with her relationship with her somewhat estranged dad, her complicated band-made-up-of-exes situation, looking after her little brother, and some teenage secrets she’d rather keep from her mum. Glimpses into the lives of supporting characters suggest similar ranges of things going on in their lives. This combined with the narrative that looks into solving the mystery of a tragedy makes the book feel multi-faceted: a young adult novel that combines the suspense of plot with richness of character and regular teenage concerns.

We Are Young is not a light book: it features death, a car accident, mental health problems, and suicide, along with abusive relationships and the pressures on modern teenagers. However, it is also a book full of finding support and working on the relationships that matter. Once again, Cat Clarke creates a vivid tapestry of older teenage characters who behave like teenagers do—not shying away from either the major issues in the narrative or others like drink, drugs, and sexuality—and uses a tense plot to keep the reader turning the page.