A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Holidays these days come in the form of super baby-friendly, easy to get to conveniences that actually end up being far less convenient than staying at home. So I’m going to travel back to a simpler time to tell you about the two books I read on our last long haul destination: Goa. It was February 2014 and I’d brought along the book everyone was talking about; ‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt and ‘The Interestings’ by Meg Wolitzer.
One of my favourite books of all time is Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’ as it had a lot of my favourite ingredients: Greek literature references, murder, mystery and relationships. I was then massively disappointed with the follow up, ‘The Little Friend.’ I decided to give the author another chance with ‘The Goldfinch’ and was glad I did. The opening scenes of a bombing within an art gallery, mixed with the clouded nostalgia of the narrator Theo’s memories of his mother were immediately gripping, although the pace would slow as this opening would just set the scene for what was to come. I enjoyed the relationship threads that held the fragmented story together – from the little girl Theo falls for at the gallery later rejoining his life, to the emotional impact the atrocity had on his more ill-advised relationships in the middle of the book.
There’s an interesting contrast between the Haves and Have Nots, as he is both taken in by a rich but dysfunctional family, and by his debt-ridden neglectful father. Another beautifully depicted contrast is between his two homes of New York and Las Vegas, almost a reflection on his fight between his conscience – the drug taking and fraud he involves himself with and the sweet, vulnerable boy he still seems to be.
I found the book beautiful, compelling and sad, and it made me think how our relationships impact our whole lives.
‘The Interestings’ was more of a smooth ride being terribly easy to pick up and hard to put down. Another dip into nostalgia, this has the rose-tinted element as it’s based around a memory of a summer camp in the 1970s and the teenage heartache that went with it. It’s more than that, though – there were echoes of ‘The Corrections’ as we follow the children’s passage into everyday life and adulthood, really depicting the regret and jealousy adults can have for their peers as their own lives become less charmed than their summer camp dreams promised.
Everything in the book is about making choices – in love, career and relationships, and it’s hard for the reader not to identify with at least one key theme in the book. There is tragedy, and I found myself wishing for alternatives as I cursed the stubbornness of certain characters. The feminist element puts a magnifying glass on marriage and money alongside independence, and there are several very strong, though flawed, female characters.
Overall I found it a fantastic book to read on holiday as we have a tendency to ruminate on the past when relaxing on a beach – but the excellent writing and portraiture ensured I wasn’t rolling my eyes.
BETHANY STRAKER is an illustrator and designer working in Kent and London. She is currently working on 6 picture books for Skyhorse publishing and currently has a book out written by Isabel Atherton, called ‘Zombie Cat: The Tale of a Decomposing Kitty’. Her new books include a book she wrote called ‘The Funny Bunny Fly’, ‘A Curious Robot on Mars!’ written by James Duffett-Smith and ‘Smelly Ghost’ by Isabel Atherton. Previously, Bethany has illustrated for magazines for Disney, CMP Information, Bliss magazine, the National Magazine Company and GoGo’s Crazy Bones. You can see some examples of her work on her website, www.bethanystraker.com