Wednesday 29 November 2017


Vanilla by Billy Merrell

I love the variety of YA novels that are currently released, especially by publishers such as Scholastic. Whether I'm in the mood for sci-fi or a comedy, they'll likely have something to suit my every mood. The last Scholastic book I read was fairy tale fantasy A Shiver of Snow and Sky, and while this may sound a million miles away from the contemporary Vanilla, which explores gender identity and sexuality, both were very excellent in their own right.

Hunter and Vanilla are inseparable BFFs, and sometimes a little more than that. They've been together for as long as anyone can remember and their friends and family assume that they're together romantically as well. But Hunter wants to move on from hugging and kissing to something more, and Vanilla isn't ready – and he's not sure he'll ever be with Hunter.

Their relationship is closely observed by Clown, a boy in their school who is the life of the party and has an entire gang of gay friends flocking around him at all times. He's the sun they all orbit around and yet while Clown seems confident and outgoing, wearing his full face of make-up as a proud mask of who he believes he truly is, there is more to him than is painted on the surface.

Hunter, Vanilla and Clown are all trying to find themselves underneath layers of teenage angst, changing feelings and prejudice. Tackling 21st century social issues head on, this book explores their different journeys in an honest and beautiful away.

Vanilla initially caught my interest because it's written in verse, something you don't come across often within young adult fiction (though I wish it was more commonly used as it works so well for this audience, I feel). I am a big admirer of what Sarah Crossan has done with One and Moonrise, which are both told in verse, and I was curious to see how this way of storytelling would work with another author's voice at heart.

And I can say that it was incredible.

Though using less words than an average novel, I find this approach conveys so much more meaning and emotion, and it really allows the reader to understand the characters on a much deeper level. Each word, each sentence and each placement has been carefully chosen to add depth to the story. Not only does it work exceptionally well, it makes for a constantly surprising reading experience too (which doesn't happen often when you read as many books in a year as I do).

And the contents of Vanilla was a beautiful one too, not only for the way it was written but even more so for the story it conveyed. It was an eye-opening and thought-provoking exploration of gender identity and sexuality; not just focusing on one or two options, but instead delving into the myriad of different directions the characters go in on their journeys to self-discovery.

Diversity in all its shapes and forms might be hot theme in young adult fiction right now but don't let that make you think this is a book just jumping on that bandwagon. Vanilla was honest, raw and evocative – and a worthy addition to any YA reader's collection.

Vanilla is published by Scholastic and you can get your copy now from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.

🎵 Listening to: The Greatest Showman – The Greatest Show on Earth
🔹 Mood: Busy

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