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This edgy, well-written collection of short stories captures the gritty reality of being a teenager. Experiences of being excluded, not fitting in, being bullied, being pressured to meet expectations -- all are common feelings during adolescence. For my generation, Janis Ian's song, "At Seventeen" rang true. Reading these stories brought that song to mind. Life as a teenager can be a struggle. If you enjoy short stories, give this book a try. I bet you will be able to identify with at least one of the characters. Teenage angst is universal and timeless.
Best collection of short stories I've read in a long time. Eclectic group of authors who mesh completely when their works are published together like this. Not a bad story in here! Very pleased to have something good to read over the last couple of weeks. Debating buying a physical copy as well. :)
Reviewed in the United States on December 29, 2013
One of the authors of a story in the collection Heathers (published by the Pankhearst Writers Collective) offered me a review copy, and I thought, “A book of short stories written by adults for teens about teens. Uh-oh.” In the world of indie-publishing madness and self-important MFAs too concerned with style to say anything of substance, I opened this book with no small amount of hesitation and a deep well of cynicism. Would it be some earnest but misspelled, ungrammatical mess, or would it be the bastard child of Raymond Carver and Franz Kafka telling teens that their young lives climaxed on the first page and had no resolution? Sure, the editors had the good taste to pick a great epigram from Margaret Atwood, and the introductory essay was so good I will be sharing some of it with my teenage students when I explain why YA literature is not just good but vital to surviving adolescence, but could Lucy Middlemass and E.R. McTaggart pick stories to cash the check that essay was writing? The proof is in the pudding and all that.
I was hooked from the very first story. Wow.
Here’s what this collection gets so right: Teenagers are not monsters. I know this because I teach them every day in my high school English classes. They are not one hundred year-old vampires. They are not the know-it-all brats who aggravate their parents on TV sitcoms. They are human beings. My ninth graders are squirrelly and hyperactive sometimes, but that’s a function of their age, not a judgment of their character. I have to remind myself of this occasionally. They are people, complicated and imperfect. If you don’t love people and all their multifaceted and sometimes ridiculous struggles, this book is not for you. Find something where the characters are amalgamations of a few interesting traits with no soul underneath. But if you, like me, are inspired by the way people strive in the face of an onslaught of suffering and find hope and love where none should reasonably exist, this book is for you.
Shizuyo, in Simon Paul Wilson’s “Sushi,” is more than just the new-kid-in-school archetype. She’s a real person who has fallen in love with the wrong girl and has pissed off the wrong bully. Barbara, in Karen Eisenbray’s “Hat,” isn’t the alternative loner who needs a make-over to win the popular guy. She’s a girl who has been turned invisible by a witch and needs a magic hat to allow the kids at her school to see her (and to allow her to see them).
Real teenagers are not all heroes, any more than they are villains. Some are kind and others cruel, some are shy and others outgoing, and some are good while others are jerks. And then there’s Pete in E.R. McTaggart’s “Girls, Interrupted,” who reminds us that some are kind of douche-y but still have very real feelings they hide under a proto-frat boy suit of armor that is just as real.
This collection is full of characters like this. There’s the girl who is about to learn the perfect thing on the London subway train in Lucy Middlemass’ “Metro,” and the 19-year-old fatherless heroin junkie who is about to learn the exact opposite in PS Brooks’ “Chairoscuro.” There’s the girl who can weave through every defender on the basketball court and every distracting through in her head in Layla Harding’s “On the Line.” And then there’s Trevor, the autistic boy simply trying make it through a week of junior high in Evangeline Jennings’ “Walking to School,”… …oh, just spending time with Trevor will make you ache for him, make your guts twist with a sympathy that can never be empathy…
The only real question I had when I was halfway through the collection was: Should I buy one copy for myself or six copies for all the teachers in my school’s English department?
Short story collections are becoming quite popular among the Indie Author community, mostly because it ends up being a great way for authors to pool their fanbase resources and try to get more people to like them all collectively.
Heathers appears to be one such book.
I love these books. They tend to be rather inexpensive and they are a great way to try and locate new favorite authors, seeing as the indie author market is so vast and the skill levels of the authors are so varying. Of course, that exact statement can be made as a point against such anthologies.
I personally believe that short story collections presented with works from multiple authors can really only be reviewed one story at a time. There will be good stories, there will be bad ones. It's difficult to review such a collection as a whole without recognizing the fact that some pieces are 'meh' (or worse, while some are okay (or, hopefully, much much better).
The case for Heathers is that the good stories are amazing, and the bad ones fall more along the meh lines. In fact, reading through the first 2 or 3 stories, I found myself thinking that this collection might somehow buck the dangers of various author anthologies and really knock it out of the park. But it turns out that this was more due to appropriate realization of quality and the decision to put those first. But like I said, the lesser tales in this collection aren't terrible. They are all very well written and, considering this is a collection aimed at trying to connect to the school aged children in each of us, will probably connect much more deeply with other readers. But I can say that there are some great pieces in here as well, and if there were any reason to check out a collection like this, it's to find those gems that hide in among the rest.
When I was first asked to review a collection of short stories centering around YA true fiction stories and the teenage years of "our lives," I shuddered and asked myself why -- why were they writing these stories, why would I want to review an entire collection, and why would anyone in his right mind read them.
I now have the answer to all these questions: Because. These. Are. Really. Good. Stories! And written by really good writers. Not only that, the stories are edgy, honest, sad, funny, charming, and truly about the stage of life called teenage angst.
And I knew at the Introduction, I had not fallen victim to anything less than genius when they quote Margaret Atwood:
...When you're young, you think everything you do is disposable. You move from now to now, to crumpling time up in your hands, tossing it away. ... You think you can get rid of things, and people too -- leave them behind. You don't know about the habit they have, of coming back.
Life itself comes back at us and to us, and the memories make certain we can never run away from where we have been in the past.
We've all had it, been through it, suffered it, and settled large doses of it on our parents. Take the story, "Hat," by Karen Eisenbrey. Eisenbrey writes of things we have all felt: turning ourselves invisible to avoid discomfort and disliking/hating our names. Remember not raising your hand even if you knew the answer to avoid being conspicuous? Opting out of playground games because of the silly rules that ended up with everybody running around and yelling? And this all happened in grade school. To see what Eisenbrey writes about in junior high and high school, you'll have to read the book.
Eisenbrey writes with a comfortable, genuine style and made me feel as if I were right there with her as her childhood morphed into the teenage years. Her characters are somewhat quirky and that makes them more believable as I remembered my teens and the characters I grew up with.
This is just one example of the excellent writing found in this collection of short stories. What I took away that is most important about these stories is that nothing about those teenage years changes. We weren't bad kids then, and today's kids aren't bad kids either (perhaps just bored). We didn't intentionally hurt those around us, and today's kids don't mean to either (things just happen). We were quirky, and so are today's teens quirky (so they have green hair and wear their jewelry more permanently than we did). We are in this collection, people!
Yes, we have problems among our teenagers today but we have to remember too that media plays to the worst in all of us, if they get the chance. But truly not much has changed, as shown by Heathers.
* * *
Heathers is a good read for those who are lovers of short stories, no matter the subject. I believe it would be a good read for parents of teens to reflect back on what they were like when they were the ages of their children. Maybe that would be scary, but not too much so. I also think it would be an excellent teaching tool for those teachers charged with teaching our kids to write short stories.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this collection from one of the authors in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Reviewed in the United States on December 17, 2014
This definitely isn't your average YA book. In fact, I had to read it, go read something else, and then read it again to form an opinion about it. The first time left me strangely hollow, not exactly satisfied. Upon reading it the second time, I figured out why. Most of the stories featured in this book are remarkable, deep insights into the doubts, insecurities, highs and lows of teenage minds. Unfortunately, those gems are settled in between a handful of stories that simply try too hard to be cool. I get that disdain for all things non-adolescent is one of the distinct features of adolescence, but I'm probably too old myself to appreciate a story built solely of said disdain. Nevertheless, I'd highly recommend this book, especially the stories by Simon Wilson, Karen Eisenbrey and Lucy Middlemass.
I am quite an obsessive fan of short stories and big reason for that is they often feel so much more ‘real’ than a full-on novel. Written well these are glimpses into life as its happens and I am quite the voyeur when it comes to that kind of thing. Heathers gives us stories which take us back the drama and emotion of being a teenager. That sensitivity, that rawness that some of us grow out of and become super sensible, whilst most of just get better at editing, disguising or just much better at shrugging it all off. We are now adults and we need to at least appear stable and mature I guess. The Heathers pulls us back to a time where arguably we were all so much more honest and potentially better human beings. And this is part of the reason why it was such a joy to read. It’s kind of heartening in itself to be reminded of- although simultaneously I felt relief that I would never have to go through any of it again.
I burned through the collection in a couple of sittings and it really was a pleasure. I was comforted and reassured by the poetic justice of Brian’s Got Talent and Suchi. Other stories just made me smile quite a lot like Metro and Jet Girl. Some made me cringe because I recognised the story all to well and felt my own flaws reflected. Some were kind of heartbreaking like Girls Interrupted and All The Girls. And I will never make a mix tape again for fear of the implications. But it was all wonderful and dark and in some places quite hot, and I am sad to have finished it. I should have paced myself better but I have no self control. And I guess the downside of short stories is that, well they are short and over quickly.
I’d quite like to get others to read them so that we might discuss them but I won’t lend this book out because I’d probably never see it again :)
As a mature male this is certainly not my usual genre but if one of the benefits of reading is getting to know something of what is in other people's heads then Heathers did this for me big time! The variety of writing styles refreshes the reader throughout and I especially enjoyed the stories by Lucy Middlemass who is clearly a huge writing talent. Her 'Mrs West's Lesson' would make a really good illustrated book on its own as a well crafted tale of an experience which many, especially middle class, teens could identify with. There are huge lessons for parents in that one and it should be compulsory reading for them. I also enjoyed 'Sandwiches' by E.R McTaggart which is another example of a cleverly written story which makes you think. Overall, I am very glad that I was given this book as a Christmas present and that, for someone who reads mostly non-fiction, it was by far my best read for a long time! Thoroughly recommend it and especially to those who think that they would not enjoy 'teen fiction' - because it is far more than that!