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Boy Meets Hamster by Birdie Milano

Instead of starting this review with a summary of the plot and characters, this reviewer has to start with a thank you to the author and publishers. This is TOTALLY the book that 12 year old me needed to have in his life. It super duper isn’t their fault that it came out 26 years too late now I’m properly old.

So, now that’s out of the way, let’s begin. This summery, lovely book is about Dylan who is fourteen and is being dragged along to a £9.50 short break holiday in a caravan park in Cornwall. The bonus is he’s been allowed to bring his best friend Kayla along, which is important to him as his family doesn’t know that he likes boys. His parents are busy dancing and being soooo embarrassing and often leave him to baby sit his four year old brother Jude.

He wouldn’t normally mind this, but his attention is focussed on Jayden-Lee, the caravan park’s resident bad boy. Dylan is smitten at first sight and is determined to be noticed. How much will Kayla help him in his quest for love before she feels neglected? Will Jayden-Lee feel the same if Dylan can work up the courage to be seen? Surely he can’t be that naughty underneath it all? More importantly, just why does the Park Mascot, Nibbles the hamster, seem to be in his way being so annoying and meddling in his attempts at every turn?

This book is sweet and funny, with Dylan’s ability to get into ever increasingly catastrophic situations providing a lot of laughs and thrills. Not only that, it’s heartfelt as it has real issues faced by kids between its covers.

With an exciting, romantic ending, this will stay with you much longer than any £9.50 mini break in a dingy rubbish caravan park!

A PARENTS PERSPECTIVE

We don’t like to put an age range on reading, but despite its gently romantic theme, it is not explicit at all, and is suitable for all older children. Most reviewers say 12+, but depending on the maturity of the child I would argue there’s nothing here that slightly younger ages than this couldn’t read.

As well as dealing with themes of unrequited crushes, and understanding the beginnings of romantic feelings, this book touches on themes of complex family dynamics, coming out to family members, and bullying.

This book has both a positive, not overwrought attitude towards LGBT issues, and a lovely representation of disability. Dylan’s little brother Jude has cerebral palsy and the book provides an honest look at what it must be like for a family with a member in a wheelchair without ever being preachy. His best friend Kayla is plus sized and has a very body positive attitude and one of the romances touched upon is racially diverse.

We would totally recommend this book to any reader, gay or straight, but if you think that your child might be LGBT+ but not ready to talk to you about it, mixing this book into their reading is a great idea. It will give them the message that who they are is ok, teach them they are worth something lovely and ‘normal’ happening to them and show them they’re not alone. It may also give them the tools and the courage to talk to you about how they feel and who they are – without ruining a whole fairground event (don’t ask, Dylan already feels bad enough about it!).

This is a funny, heartwarming tale, with madcap set pieces which verge on slapstick thanks to Dylan’s complete inability to de-escalate any situation.

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Books for tweens and teenagers who don’t fit in

As a mother who is a bibliophile, there is often a temptation to try and find the answer to all of life’s trials in the pages of a book.

Kids won’t sleep?  Kids won’t eat?  Kids won’t do anything they are supposed to do, including getting their uniforms on, eating their breakfast and JUST GETTING OUT OF THE DOOR PLEASE OH FOR THE LOVE OF… You get the picture. And there are some great books out there for parents that, even if they don’t actually fix the problem, give you the comfort of knowing you’re not alone, and this too shall pass.

But what about when they hit that age – and if you’re there, you know exactly what I’m talking about – that stage between childhood and ‘adulthood’ where the parenting manuals just can’t fix it? The stage of “you don’t know what it’s like…” 

You want to tell them “it will get better” or “those people who seem so confident probably feel just as frightened as you” or “you are an incredible human being, and it may be hard to understand that now, because you have only been on the planet for [insert age] years, but believe me… Believe me when I tell you that out there, in the big world, you are going to soar”.

You’ve perhaps read this far waiting for a link to a magical new book that holds the answers to this new challenge in the journey that is parenthood. Sorry.

I believe that books do hold the answers to life’s trials. And they do give the comfort of knowing you’re not alone, and this too shall pass. But the books that matter here are not for you.

They are for our children who want to fit in and be like everyone else. To learn that they are not alone in feeling like an outsider. The excruciatingly difficult lesson of learning that what makes them different from everyone else may well be the thing that makes them so incredibly awesome.

Below are a few books that can help them along that path. Books that let them share the stories of young people figuring out what it means to be who they are. And sometimes, that can be enough. To feel that that journey is a shared one.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – a coming-of-age story about an introvert who learns the value of being herself.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – championing and celebrating inclusivity and tolerance by showing both how people can blossom when they are accepted for who they are, and how painful life can be for people who are ignored or mistreated.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli – an insight into every teenager’s mind, figuring out whether different is good, and being true to yourself.

Share your recommendations on our Facebook page – what books helped you get through those difficult teenage years..?