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I don’t know who else is writing YA literature of this caliber, willing to take a hard look at the real world.
All I can tell you is that these stories are incredibly vivid and real. Each story and each voice is uniquely unforgettable, and these stories will definitely stay with you. The writing itself shifts unpredictably from lyrical to a gut-punch. (Favorite: ‘We’ve been having this conversation in our heads for a year. I don’t need her here for her half.’) Intensely difficult situations and issues are explored, like a window opening into the most intimate part of these characters’ lives. It makes you remember there are people out there living difficult and painful lives, are seeing their worlds shatter, or are destroying (or finding) their chance of happiness.
Jennings’ story, threaded through the chapters of this collection, is an unforgettable progress of desire, control, loss. But, while I wouldn’t normally pick favorites, Middlemass’ story Felicity stands out particularly for its tight-focus nuance and its shocking ending.
And the introduction by Jennings is worth the price of admission all by itself.
As regards books from Pankhearst, I've come to expect high quality writing, strong and many-layered characters, brutal honesty, stories that will leave you either an emotional mess or angry enough to want to hit something, lesbian love, and liberal use of four-letter words. This book is no exception. Nine stories, five of them written by Evangeline Jennings, and connected via an overall story arch, four of them written by Lucy Middlemass, and not connected. None of the stories waste any time on introductions or lengthy settings of the stage. You get right dumped into what I can only describe as alive with a vengeance. I don't think you'll find many books out there with this level of intensity. These women have stories to tell and they don't care whether you like them or not - and it's exactly this sort of ruthlessness that sucks you in. The only negative thing I can say about this book is that in one of the stories, Miss Jennings got a bit carried away describing sights and architecture. That could have been cut down, but that's just my humble opinion. I've never been to New York (only for a two-hour stop between flights, the coffee at the airport was horrible, sorry, I digress), so those parts meant nothing to me. Anyway, highly recommended.
It's always exciting news when these two authors release new work. You can count on it to be fearless, honest and surprising. This latest collection does not disappoint. The nine stories are braided into a cohesive whole while maintaining the individual flavor of each. Each story turns on a moment – sometimes small, sometimes large – when everything changes; fitting, I think, in stories of teens and young adults, for whom everything is absolute until it suddenly isn't.
The two authors have distinct yet compatible voices. This is not a novel, but it all happens in the same world and propels itself forward through time. Jennings' five stories, all titled with the place names of their settings, revolve around two characters, one anonymous and unsure, the other the confident and captivating Alex. They meet briefly and part, but remain in each other's minds for years afterward. Compelling Alex goes at life full tilt; a little of this commanding persona rubs off on her more timid friend for a time. The reason for Alex's recklessness remains a mystery until the end. I was glad to know, but would have been satisfied had it not been revealed.
Middlemass's four stories alternate with these. Although less globetrotting, they deal with a range of perspectives and plots, from an early act of protest that changes midstream from one injustice to another; the creepy outcome of an adolescent crush; anxiety turning to reckless courage; and a community and family punishing the innocent for the sake of the guilty.
Sex and death, love and hate, beauty and dysfunction – they're all here. I won't tell who is the first girl on the moon. You'll have to find that for yourself.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Lucy Middlemass and Evangeline Jennings are a pair of writers who consistently write, edit, and publish some of the best independent works on the market, and First Girl On The Moon might be their best anthology to date.
Middlemass keeps her characters and stories unrelated, connecting them only loosely in space and time. Meanwhile, Jennings focuses on two characters, but flings them wide apart across continents and years. The two writers maintain different styles and concerns, but their message remains the same: We are here. And we won't let you forget it.
Jennings' chapters take you from Mallorca to Dubai, from France to New York to the end of the world (or at least, San Francisco), offering glimpses of the lives of two young women who meet on vacation, fall in love (or something like it), and go their separate ways, but never forget each other. Alex is a young woman who, for reasons that don't become clear until the end, is marching down a road of self-destruction, and taking no prisoners en route. She leads you through half of Jennings' stories without apology, or explanation.
The unnamed narrator provides the other half of Jennings' chapters, and bookends the anthology. She functions as the reader's eyes and mind, arguably more sane and self-protective than the rest, and resultantly hardly able to keep up with it all. Like the reader, she falls in love with Alex and her world, despite the damage and moral questioning it brings.
In typical Jennings fashion, the author prods the boundaries and definitions of love and intimacy, pushing them to the point of breaking. Ultimately, our heroines' stories are less about their romance, than they are about defining yourself in a world which tries to do it for you, and about honouring the people who help you find that identity, even if you have to let them go.
Meanwhile, Middlemass keeps her characters grounded in contemporary England, showing off her knack for seeing things exactly as they are.
Many of Middlemass' narrators are nameless in a way that feels intentional as they move through the humdrum problems of the modern "normal," exposing how painful normal can feel, especially if you're standing just outside of it. Her characters are falling through the cracks in a divorce; they are quiet, queer girls overshadowed by outgoing, pretty friends; they are younger sisters trying to keep up with older brothers; they're overlooked by family and underestimated by the readers. But each of these girls are scheming and surprising, they are perceptive and clever in a way we forget girls can be. They're pushing their way back into the light; they're injecting a bit of justice into the world; they are making themselves heard.
Middlemass and Jennings set the anthology loosely around a summer of panic-buying, providing a perfect backdrop to reflect the tension and urgency of their stories. They create complex characters who experience the full spectrum of hurt and happiness, and inflict the same on those around them. They can be generous and full of love, they can be manipulative and horrible. They are arming themselves against a world designed to hurt them, they are making decisions, they do not need you to understand.
This is the world you built for them. And they are taking control of it.