All of the Above is an absorbing and moving novel, written by Juno (formerly ‘James’) Dawson.
When sixteen year-old Toria arrives at her new school, she needs to work out who her friends are in a crazy whirl of worry, exam pressure and anxiety over fitting in. Things start looking up when Toria meets Polly; funny and foul-mouthed and the coolest person Toria has ever seen. Polly and the rest of the ‘alternative’ kids take Toria under their wing.
That’s when Toria meets the irresistible Nico Mancini, lead singer of a local band. In the small faded seaside town of Brompton-on-Sea, Toria hardly expects to fall in love once, let alone twice. But life has a habit of pulling you in strange directions, and when it comes to matters of the heart, sometimes you just have to let love chose you.
My thoughts for this book are a little all over the place, but are overall positive – much like this book, to be honest. Let’s start with me trying to decipher my thoughts. So I liked this book – really liked it, in fact. However, there’s also that overwhelming feeling that this book simply attempted to incorporate so many factors into it that it kind of felt like a big jumble of less significant factors. You might know some of those overly inclusive teachers that try to use a name from each country and religious background in a test paper – like, If Stacy had twelve pieces of candy that she shared equally between Johann, Joseph, Nan, Salla, Anisha and Bob, how many pieces of candy would each person get? But instead of just on test papers, now this is happening with books in regards to mental illnesses, sexuality and literally everything. I understand that this book is trying to reflect society and how people are all unique, blah blah blah, but it felt like too much was going on. For instance, one character had an eating disorder, another was closet-gay, another had depression, another was asexual, another self-harmed, another was an alcoholic, another was effectively a pansexual who was against labelling… exhausted yet? I know I am.
I felt like this book would have been a lot more effective if it focused on just a couple of these issues instead of trying to do it all. I applaud this book for trying to incorporate different types of people into this book, but it felt confusing and unnecessary. I would have much preferred it if there were only a few issues we had to deal with. Instead everyone had a ‘problem’, and this simply isn’t representative of society. I know that a lot of people have mental illnesses and a lot of people have a different sexuality to heterosexual, but let’s just look at the facts and figures here for a moment. One in four people have a mental illness and one in two aren’t ‘textbook heterosexual’. So um… is it just me or is not everyone different from the ‘norm’? This book makes it seem like a person has to have a mental illness or not be heterosexual in order to be ‘interesting’. And I know that this isn’t what the author was trying to say at all, but it felt that way at times.
BUT… there was an aspect to the whole jumble of themes that I enjoyed. It meant that everyone reading this book could relate to at least one of the characters, if not all of them. It meant that everyone could feel represented and feel heard. I think that’s a big part of what literature is trying to do today – write stories that lots of people can relate to, not just the heterosexual white members of our society. So yay for diversity! The one character that I really related to was Polly. I would have been happy to read an entire book on her, to be honest. She was complex and interesting and there was a lot about her that I could see in me. Reading about her was a great experience. Never before had I read about a character that I could relate to so much and see so much of myself in. I connected to her so deeply and really felt like she could have been my twin. Except, she did swear just a little bit more than me…
Even though Juno Dawson is a big advocate for diversity in YA novels, she did include quite a few phrases that can be offensive to many people in regards to mental illness. What I don’t understand is that he tries to show that people all struggle with different things, including mental illnesses, and then just casually drops in mental illnesses to describe a behaviour or action? Inexcusable. I understand that he was trying to sound like a teenager, but what kind of uneducated teenager would say things like – ‘does that make me sound autistic’, ‘it was pretty OCD’ and Toria even described herself as ‘borderline mentally ill’ for obsessing over a boy – and think that it was completely okay? I’m a teenager and I find it quite offensive that she thinks we actually say things like that. Some people might, but surely the majority of us must know what is right and wrong when talking about mental illnesses.
It feels like I’ve just been dragging this book in this review, but I did quite enjoy it. One of the reasons why I enjoyed it so much was because of the beautiful array of vibrant characters. Each of these characters had a specific thing that you could identify them by, sure, but that didn’t define them. I speak a lot about mental illnesses and sexuality in this review and all of these people are different and unique in the problems they are facing, but these ‘issues’ don’t define them. I don’t see a character’s name and think ‘oh, she’s the one with the eating disorder’ or anything. I think one of the best points that the author makes about this book is that people have issues and their flaws, but these don’t have to define them. I liked getting to know these people for who they really are, not just the label that society puts on them.
There was definitely a lot of characters in this novel, each of them starkly different from the next. Some of them I connected to more than others, Polly being a character I really connected with. However, I didn’t feel as though I completely connected with Toria. I felt like she was always going on about how hot she was and how much all the guys were checking her out in the beginning and how annoying it was, and that was part of the reason why she felt kind of distant to me. Of course women shouldn’t be objectified and ogled at, I’m just saying that she sounded quite arrogant about her looks and treated people at her new school according to the people they hung out with, judging them as a group rather than individuals.
However, that leads onto another point of this book that was heartwarming to read about. I loved seeing the breakdown of stereotypes throughout the novel. It was beautiful to see people realising that they aren’t just one thing and that they’re a sum of all their experiences, good and bad. Each of these characters are so human. They make mistakes and they’re flawed and that’s why I loved them. Another thing I particularly loved about this book was the inclusion of poetry. Toria secretly writes poetry, and it was honestly like magic pouring out of the pages. It was delightful to turn the page and see another poem. Each word was carefully chosen and stringed together to hit you right in the feels. But those weren’t the only times that ‘the feels’ were induced. A lot of the novel is beautifully worded and peppered with metaphors. I could feel the life in these characters and hear their heartbeats. This book really felt alive.
So there’s a mix of good and bad in my review, but my overall feeling about this book was that it was good. It has its flaws – heck, what doesn’t? – but it’s an absorbing read that I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end. I haven’t read any other books by Juno Dawson but I’m thinking I’ll have to now! I’d give All of the Above a score of 8 out of 10. I’d recommend reading this book if you like high school drama/romance with a lot of diversity in characters – but it’s probably best to give this one a miss if you get offended easily and are sensitive to issues such as mental illness. So what did you think? Have you read this book or any other books by Juno Dawson? Have you read a lot of other books with character diversity? Do you have any opinions on the issues I’ve raised? Let me know! 🙂
Thank you to Hot Key Books Australia for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review!