Review | The Secret History of Us by Jessi Kirby

Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: 24th July 2017 

 

Gorgeously written and emotionally charged, The Secret History of Us explores the difficult journey of a teenage girl who must piece her life together after losing her memory in a near-fatal accident.

When Olivia awakes in a hospital bed following a car accident that almost took her life, she can’t remember the details about how she got there. She figures the fog is just a symptom of being in a week-long coma, but as time goes on, she realizes she’s lost more than just the last several days of her life—she’s lost her memory of the last four years. Gone is any recollection of starting or graduating high school; the prom; or her steady boyfriend Matt. Trying to figure out who she is feels impossible when everyone keeps telling her who she was. 

As Liv tries to block out what her family and friends say about who she used to be, the one person she hasn’t heard enough from is Walker, the guy who saved her the night her car was knocked off that bridge into the bay below. Walker is the hardened boy who’s been keeping his distance—and the only person Olivia inexplicably feels herself with. With her feelings growing for Walker, tensions rising with Matt, and secrets she can’t help but feel are being kept from her, Olivia must find her place in a life she doesn’t remember living.

A quick, breezy read that I need every now and then to escape reality.

The story follows Liv, who miraculously survives a fatal car accident but has lost her memory of the last four years of her life. Her journey to recovery after the accident made me question how I would react if I woke up with the realisation that I’d lost the last 4 years of my life and whether I’m happy with the person I am today. After creating a quick summary of things I would change vs things I would like to remain the same, it turns out if I were to lose the last 4 years of my memory, there are definitely things in my life that I would do differently.

The message I took from The Secret History of Us is that we shouldn’t care about what other people thinks of us or what society expects us to do. Do what you want.

“You gotta go with what seems right to you, not what you think you should be doing because it’s what you’ve been told. You’re allowed to change. We all are.”

We spend half our lives living in fear that we’ll get judged for doing something unconventional or un-us. But who cares about what other people think? Life is short, do what you want for yourself.

Jessi Kirby continues to be on my list of authors to look out for every year. I can’t wait for her future books!

2013 | First Year

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2013 | First Year of Uni

2013 started off with a trip to Nanjing, Beijing, Shanghai and Taiwan. When I got back in January, I remember thinking I needed to find myself a job but since Christmas had passed, it was unlikely any retail stores were looking for new staff. I decided to try my hand at tutoring and promptly signed myself up on a few websites where I basically advertised myself as a tutor looking for students. My first lesson was conducted at Epping Library; I was nervous but it was a successful lesson. I started receiving more messages from potential students until I was teaching enough students to earn a solid weekly income to support myself.

Semester 1 of 2013 was uneventful. I didn’t go to ANY of the Uni parties/camps because I didn’t know anyone else going LOL. I also didn’t join any societies because….it was too much commitment. I paid close to $40 during O-week signing up for each and every society that I found interesting, but legit didn’t end up going to any of the events. I therefore didn’t meet very many people; I probably made a total of 5 friends during my first semester, ALL of whom were introduced to me through a mutual friend.

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In July 2013, I made a huge decision to join BSOC’s Ski Camp. I can’t remember exactly why I decided to go; maybe it was because I’d missed out on the BSOC camp, cruise and other Welcome Back parties and I wanted to do something society related, or maybe it was because I genuinely wanted to go skiing/see snow. I don’t know. But I did sign up and went with a high school friend of mine. It was at BSOC’s ski camp that I was allocated a cabin with several other first years whom I’d never met before but quickly became friends with. Now, I don’t remember what I wanted to get out of Ski Camp; maybe it was simply to learn to ski, or maybe it was to meet new people, but whatever my intentions were I definitely did not expect to become so close to 10 other people who have ultimately shaped my Uni life.

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I’m going to be completely honest here and say that at first, I didn’t feel as close to these friends as the world believed. We were this massive group that posted photos every other day where ALL 13 of us were tagged and some of the people in this group were very active within societies and therefore had a huge social media following. I’m pretty sure we spammed half the first year Commerce population with our frequent updates, photos and posts on each other’s walls. Everyone thought we were this really close bunch of friends who met up every day and spoke to each other every day, which was true, but initially I wasn’t close to anyone. I was close to them all as a group , but definitely not individually. These were some of the nicest, caring and considerate people I’ve ever met in my life and I soon realised this when I started getting to know them individually. I honestly don’t have words for how grateful I am to have met them; I was a shy and awkward girl who had no idea how to navigate this complex realm of University and out of nowhere these 12 super cheerful human beingss literally infiltrated my life and showed me this whole new world of clubbing, eating out, road trips and basically going to every University event and Sydney event as a group. I love them. Seriously. My life would have been a dull, black abyss without them.

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It was thanks to #SeriousYOLO that my University life became more wholesome and fulfilling. I went to BSOC’s annual ball, BSOC’s BSXC dance party, Round House party and a whole heap of other events in Sydney at their encouragement. Suddenly, I wasn’t staying at home everyday or dining out at the same places. I was trying new things, eating out at new places and just stepping out of my comfort zone in general.

If I could use only one word to summarise 2013, it would be #SeriousYolo. I became more adventurous and outgoing thanks to these legends ❤

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Goodbye Uni!

I received my 2017 Semester 1 results yesterday and I can happily say I’ve passed everything and I’m set to graduate!!! My ceremony will be in November but according to the email I received this arvo, my “graduation date” is 31st July 2017. 

The last 4.5 years have been life-changing for me and I’m considering writing a few posts reflecting on my time at Uni, starting with detailed summaries of each year. I’ve come up with a few topics I’d like to reflect on:

  • First Year Summed Up 2013
  • Second Year Summed Up 2014
  • Third Year Summed Up 2015 – 2016
  • Fourth Year Summed Up 2016 – 2017
  • Regrets
  • Biggest Achievements
  • Happiest Memories
  • UNSW vs UBC
  • High School Grad vs Uni Grad 
  • Plans for the Future 

Of course, the list isn’t exhaustive and I will be adding more to the list as more ideas come to me.

For now, I’m going to start writing/reflecting and hopefully the posts will be up soon!!

Q&A with Patrick Ness

Thanks to Walker Books Australia, I have an exciting Q&A with Patrick Ness on the blog today! A Monster Calls was published in 2011 by Walker Books and the movie will be released in cinemas in Australia on 27 July 2017. 

I’m currently reading A Monster Calls and I’m really enjoying it so far! You can find more information here:

Book: 
Goodreads | Walker Books | Patrick Ness

Movie:
A Monster Calls Movie

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The following Q&A is an extract of an interview that appears in the back of A Monster Calls: Special Collector’s Edition . A Monster Calls: Special Collector’s Edition is a deluxe hardcover edition of Patrick Ness’ masterpiece featuring the entire illustrated novel as well as more than one hundred pages of extraordinary film-inspired content. 

From Story to Screenplay

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How did you feel when you found out that the book was going to be turned into a film?

Well, it was great, but I am always skeptical. I’m skeptical about everything, even my books – I never believe they’re going to exist until they do, with a film even more so. So much had to be in place that was completely out of my hands. I was optimistic: there were really great creative partners, who knew what they were doing and really wanted to make this happen. But I thought, movies don’t happen to people like me! So I didn’t ever count my chickens – I’m still not counting my chickens!

You have written several screenplays. What did you find interesting about adapting your own book into a screenplay? How different a writing experience was it?

I’d been very protective of the material right the way through so I held off from selling it for a very long time. Then I thought I’d actually like to write the screenplay because I thought I knew how the story works and how it could be changed. You don’t always know that something’s going to work; you just hope.

I’ll always consider myself a novelist because in a novel, for good or ill, all the choices are yours. You’re in charge of it and it’s one hundred per cent an expression of you. That’s a great freedom and a great responsibility and a great challenge – the tyranny of all that choice! It’s hard, but really rewarding, and I love it.

Screenplays, on the other hand, are kind of like puzzles: a movie at best if a long short story, so how do you take the essence of your story and communicate everything in it in a shorter space? That kind of creative challenge can spur you on. I’ve always found limitations can be a great spurt to creativity.

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What needed to change in the story? How did you feel about altering things from the book? Was there a strand from the book that you wanted to be emphasized in the film?

The bullies get emphasized in the film because they’re Conor’s connection to the outside world and, given Conor’s world is so interior (he’s always in his home, or his grandmother’s house, or in the tales), it’s important to have this visual link to the outside world in his film. We need to know what the outside looks like, and how the world regards him, and how small his world has shrunk.

There were some changed Director J.A. Bayona wanted – the director always brings things. He was very interested in the idea of legacy and what a parent leaves behind. So he had the idea that Conor loves drawing because his mother is an artist, and this works perfectly visually because it links right into the tales, which erupt from his drawings. It comes together just gorgeously at the end. Throughout the whole film there’s been a locked room in Conor’s grandmother’s house. At the end we discover that the grandmother has been making it into a room for Conor and it’s full of all his artworks and all his mother’s old drawing pads. The final shot shows him opening one up and finding a drawing of the monster on his mother’s shoulder, so she has clearly seen the monster herself, probably when she lost her father. So the monster had come for her as well and they share that. It’s a beautiful addition.

 Were you involved in the casting process for the film? What do the individual actors bring to your characters?

Casting is half desperate desire and half chance. You make lists of actors you want and they’re just ridiculous because, if you were to get them all, the salaries alone would be $300 million. Liam Neeson is so perfect for the role it’s almost slightly obvious, but we thought, let’s try him anyway. And he turned out to love the book, and he’s a truly lovely man so getting him involved felt like a bit of a blessing.

As for Sigourney Weaver, I don’t think we thought she’d be available, but then Bayona called me one day and said, “We’ve got Sigourney Weaver,” and I thought, whoa! And she’s perfect – she is physically perfect and her manner is perfect.

Bayona and the producer Belén Atienza suggested Felicity Jones and got her before The Theory of Everything – before she was too busy! So that was a great bit of timing. I once talked to a director who said casting is important but, in some ways, if you get good people, the film will sort of shape itself to fit them. But still, how amazing to get Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver for a film that didn’t have a huge budget! And among all the kids who were auditioned, Lewis MacDougall just stood out. He’s auditioned for three things in his life and he’s got all three, so that says it all really.

 Did you spend much time on set? What did you enjoy most about the film-making process?

I was involved in the process all the way through. The director, J.A. Bayona, and the producer, Belén Atienza, were very generous and very collaborative. There were lots of script meetings in Barcelona where we’d talk and talk about scripts, scenes and order. We hashed it out until we were all happy. I was on set about ten or twelves times. It was a fairly lengthy shoot because they had a juvenile lead, so could only shoot a certain amount of hours a day. Throughout the whole process they would send me scenes. They would always ask me about additions to the dialogue – every single line of dialogue they were thinking of adding in. Sometimes actors suggest things on set, and some of it’s just fantastic and needs to be woven in.

The first two weeks were spent with Liam Neeson in a suit doing motion capture for the CGI monster. Because the monster is created using CGI, they had a big model of the monster’s head on set to give Lewis something to act to. And the final tale, which is set in a graveyard, was filmed in an abandoned hospital-studio on the outskirts of Barcelona, with a huge construction of a graveyard. It looked half impressive and half not there, but then in the film it looks amazing.

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A Monster Calls is a very emotional novel. How difficult was it to translate into motion onto the screen?

I think we’re a good match, me and Bayona (Director J.A. Bayona). He’s very outwardly emotional and passionate, like a lot of directors are, and I’m very reserved (which doesn’t mean unemotional, just privately emotional). So I thought between us we could probably get to a really good central point which neither of us could get to on our own. I would always want to make sure the emotion is really true. I want ugly crying, not pretty crying. I don’t want any easy outs (not that Bayona would have gone for easy outs), and he probably instinctively distrusts lack of expression in emotion. So, together, we find the right path that most people are going to fall into.

In a movie it’s the performances that are going to do it, and all the actors understood that it’s not a movie about grief, but about sadness and anger.

 Both film and illustration are activities that transform a writer’s words into images. What do you feel about that visual process?

I’m not an artist, and I’m not a film director, so I felt a huge curiosity about how Jim Kay, the book’s illustrator, and Bayona would respond to my work. Jim is so talented! Some of the stuff he drew I could never have thought of and some of the stuff Bayona shot I could ever have thought of. That’s what you wish for – somebody who knows different things than you know and brings those to the work. The important thing for me always is to keep learning. I never want to be complacent – that’s why I wanted to do the screenplay myself. Even if I failed I wanted at least to try.

3 Reasons Why ‘All The Bright Places’ Wasn’t My Cup of Tea

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All The Bright Places
by Jennifer Niven
Published by Penguin Australia 
on January 6th 2015

As soon as I saw the cover and read the quote “This is the next Fault in our Stars” I had a feeling All the Bright Places wouldn’t be my cup of tea. I should probably listen to my gut feeling more often haha. While I didn’t find All the Bright Places life-changing or soul-crushing – in fact, I found one third of the book particularly boring – I’ll admit that the last one hundred pages were rather memorable and I would highly recommend it to my friends/anyone who liked The Fault in our Stars i.e. 99% of the population but definitely not me.

The main reasons why All the Bright Places didn’t work for me

  • Couldn’t connect with the characters

This is a it’s not you it’s me thing, but I felt there was no intimacy between me as the reader and the characters I’m reading about, and that’s a very serious issue for me. If I can’t connect with the characters on any level, then there’s no point in continuing with the book.

The story is told from alternating perspectives of Finch and Violet, an approach that was executed terribly. I couldn’t distinguish between the two voices as they sounded exactly the same. On more than one occasion, I started reading a new chapter thinking it was from Violet/Finch’s perspective, only to later realise that it was actually from the other character’s POV. Violet and Finch had the same dull voice and that truly frustrated me as a reader.

  • The characters didn’t have chemistry

Violet and Finch had no chemistry, in my opinion. I realise this is probably a result of feeling disconnected from the characters and the storyline, but the fact remains: I didn’t feel any chemistry, which made it infinitely more difficult for me to root for them.

  • The constant references to dead poets and statistics

I’ve always hated poetry. I can’t wrote poetry nor can I analyse them. I’m sure there are readers out there who appreciated the references to dead poets and the death related statistics, but I wasn’t one of them. It ruined the flow of the story for me because I had no interest in the information and skipped most of it.

I considered giving up after 100 pages but forced myself to continue reading because I make it a point to always finish books that I paid for. (Otherwise I’d feel like my money was wasted) . I ended up skimming almost 260 pages until FINALLY after page 260, Mr Embryos/Finch semi-explained what was wrong with him. As soon as I discovered Finch’s possible ‘diagnosis’ – or since Finch hates labels so much, the possible explanation for his erratic and uncontrollable behaviour – I developed a newfound interest in the book. I wanted to know more about Finch and what this illness could do to a person if untreated.

As I mentioned before, the last 100 pages were extremely memorable; Finch’s condition was heartbreaking and I wished someone had noticed what he had been going through for so long. I didn’t understand how everyone just brushed off his behaviour as “it’s just Finch”, like it’s completely normal for anyone to just up and disappear for months and then come back as if nothing had happened. I didn’t understand how Finch’s older sister Kate was aware that he was away from school for months but didn’t care enough to see what wrong with him? I especially hated Finch’s mum; how could she be completely oblivious to everything that was going on under her roof?

All in all, All the Bright Places wasn’t for me but I would recommend it to all contemporary readers! I think I’ll give Jennifer Niven’s books another go sometime in the future, but I’ll be approaching them with caution and low expectations.

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