Book Review: ‘ When Only One’ by Meg Gatland-Veness

How do you help someone who doesn’t want to be helped?

I need to be explicitly upfront about this novel and its raw topics before I feel dive into this review. This book surrounds the tragic event of a fictional high school shooting in Australia. It provided insight into grief and loss, poverty, domestic abuse, neglect and suicide. These are heavy topics but if you are up to it, do not let that deter you. ‘When Only One’ is one of THE BEST books I’ve read this year and I have absolutely no doubt, in all fibres of my body, that this book will be winning awards in the Australian contemporary young adult category.

Let’s jump into talking about this special novel shall we?

Samson is a teenager, the eldest of five boys and belongs to an average income earning household. His father works a desk job while his mother is unfaltering in her Catholic faith, stability and routine at home with five boys. Sam’s home structure is just that – stable. However his reemerged best friend, Emily, comes from a household that is anything but stable. Her father works when he wants too, drinks too much and is abusive toward her mother. Cynthia, Emily’s mum, suffers from mental illness which becomes quite evident early on in the book. Her mother collects shoes and requires a ‘shoe-toll’ before Emily or Sam can enter the house. She hoards these shoes and gathers them around her for a sense of comfort. The shoe collecting is quite humorous at times with Emily and Sam searching all over town for shoes, to Emily missing her shoes within the floor to ceiling shoe garage, to Sam giving up his good runners for a desperate chance to speak with Emily. Until one afternoon when Emily’s dad snaps – the humour is gone.

Emily’s household is violent, neglectful and poverty-stricken. The local town, school and teenagers know this but nobody believes they can or should do anything to help, as they themselves would rather turn a blind eye and continue on with their safe and comfortable lives. Emily finds her solace and safety in sneaking through Sam’s bedroom window and sleeping on top of his clean bed. Sam lets her, while he takes the bean bag. Emily sometimes stays for meals, plays with Sam’s brothers and gets driven around by Sam’s mum if they both need to go somewhere. However, there is always this divide and ‘frowned-upon’ nature that Sam’s mother holds towards Emily. She will never quite let her be a part of their family, even though it is clearly obvious that she needs help. Emily is also adamant on refusing help, claiming she can handle the cards life has dealt her, but she’s only a teenager. She shouldn’t have to handle these challenges on her own, let alone suffer the consequences of them.

Sam and his close group of guy friends are all training for the Ironman Championship and sporting scholarship. They all want to be fit, athletic and well trained sportsmen, like on the Nutri-grain cereal box. His closest friends consist of; Daniel – a flirtatious Italian; Jeff – quiet and hardworking; Patrick – from a well off family but doesn’t like to admit it; and Milo – who grew up on a dairy farm, his mother committed suicide from postnatal depression, leaving Milo, his under 1 year old sister and their father falling apart. There is a piercing passage on pg. 218 that throws the social divisions of Australian high school and small town communities in your face. It reads;

“At our school, there are three main factions. First, there’s the rich kids from town. They mostly have two working parents and a swimming pool. Then there’s us, mid-grounders. We live in town but the wrong side of the main road. We mostly have stay-at-home mums or single parents. We have clean clothes and brushed hair, but our uniforms are clearly from the faded second-hand box and not shiny and bright from the uniform shop. Jeff, Daniel and I fall into that category. Patrick likes to pretend he does, but he’s secretly a rich kid. Then there’s the third faction: the farm kids and derros who live on the outskirts. The Emilys and Milos of the school. The ones with foetal alcohol syndrome, or mums with no teeth, or brothers in jail, or dads with restraining orders against them. They are the ones who hardly ever last to the end of Year 10.”

Meg’s ability to put social hierarchy in such plain words created real feeling for me. I believe it rang true in its bluntness and clear vision through the teenage eyes of Sam, who is discovering the awareness of adversity and privilege all around him. From this, Sam is learning the unwavering power and influence that adversity and privilege have over a persons life. One teenager in this story who was aware of their privilege was Rei. Rei has recently moved to Sam’s school and it was love at first sight for him. Her Asian background and unidentified faith plagued Sam’s mother at times, but he does truly love Rei. Rei advocates for social justice, wins schooling debates and cries over inequalities. Meg does a great job of still painting Rei as a young teenager, with emotion led decision making, self-confidence issues and the feelings of grief and loss surrounding migrating to a new country.

Ultimately, the adversities, disadvantages and addictions faced by the characters in this story, create the demise for severe loss of mental control and physical actions. The escalation is chilling, sickening and unexplainable, but arguably explainable from the perspective of the one character committing the action. I have to say that the novel does not keep you in this heaviness. It gives the reader a clear feeling of immediate grief and how that looks in the realistic lives of teenagers, yet we also see and feel the ongoing cycle of grief. We learn its moving sensation and how it becomes a part of who you are, then you keep growing, then growing, then growing. To say this novel touched me is an understatement. Even now writing this review, I am flipping open pages and thinking gosh I want to write about this, and this, but I can only give you so much book lovers. I need to leave the rest up to you 💖

4 June book releases I’m ecstatic about

‘The Woman in The Library’ by Sulari Gentill

Crime Fiction. A murderous scream. One dead woman. Everyone in the reading room is a suspect.

Excitingly, Sulari is a close friend of ours at the bookstore, so we celebrated the book launch of ‘The Woman in the Library’ in style! She is adored by our local book community, our staff and our readers. For the month of June, ‘The Woman in the Library’ is the centre of our events, our discussions and our bookclubs. I am privileged enough to be organising an enlarged book club meeting with Sulari and three of our Collins Book Clubs. This will take place in a calm and relaxed setting, with myself and Sulari facilitating the conversations.

The Woman in The Library is about Hannah and Hannah is writing a crime fiction novel. The main character in Hannah’s crime fiction novel is Winifred, or Winnie. Winnie is also writing a novel, therefore the physical book in your hands has another book and ANOTHER BOOK inside of it. Trust me, it is harder to explain than it is to actually read this fantastic book 🤣 In Hannah’s world, there is a scream in the Boston Library Reading Room and of the people surrounding her in this Reading Room, one of them is the killer – but who is it …

I, for one, could not put this down! I will have a full review coming in the next few weeks as I re-read ‘The Woman in The Library’ ready for our book club event.

‘Paperbark Hill’ by Maya Linnell

Maya is such a kind, caring and honest soul and this comes through in her novels. She writes country romance with all the drama, love and addictiveness that we all need in our lives!

This series of Maya’s follows a family of sisters, with each individual novel showing each different sisters’ stories and perspectives. Paperbark Hill surrounds Diana and her four sons after a tough eighteen months. Diana is trying to get her family back into the routines of normal life when locum pharmacist, Ned Gardiner comes to town and creates a whole lot of change. Change in feelings, change in life plans, change in family structures. I am excited to feel all the feels and fall right into Maya’s comforting writing.

‘The Blood Traitor’ by Lynette Noni

AHHHHHHHH!!!!! This is a finale I have been waiting all YEAR FOR!!

You guys know from my reviews, suggestions and recommendations – how much I adore Lynette Noni’s ‘Prison Healer’ series. I first discussed them in my ‘5 Reasons to read YA Fantasy’. I have raved about them in the shop and also listed the second novel in the series, ‘The Gilded Cage’ as one of my top books of 2021! Big call folks, big call ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This story will be the end of Kiva’s story and reading her as our main character. Kiva has been a prisoner in Zalindov for more than half her life. She practices as the inmate prison healer and learnt all her skills from her Father. Life is dull, dangerous and blood thirsty in Zalindov, until the Rebel Queen enters the prison unconscious and Kiva is tasked with healing her. An additional secret message finds Kiva; “Don’t let her die”. Being the Rebel Queen, many want her dead, so when she is sentenced to the Trial by Ordeal – a series of elemental trails and tasks that with the Queen being so sickly, she will surely die within the first minute of entering. Kiva bravely and cohesively takes her place – this is where her action packed story begins! This series is so fast-paced, full of heart dropping chapter endings and beautifully woven connections. The Blood Traitor is the third and final instalment. I am sure it will not disappoint!

‘You made a Fool of Death with your Beauty’ by Akwaeke Emezi

Now this book, I have to admit honestly – captured my eye with its bright cover 😍 How spectacular is it! Additionally, there were a number of limited independent bookstore copies brought out especially with the BookBar in London, UK. I LOVEEE following this bookstore online!! Luckily, this bookstore is set to host Akwaeke for a signing and special book event which will include a number of funky giveaways.

The brightness and eclectiveness of this cover represents a romance novel at its core. Described as a decadent and delightful new age novel, our main character Feyi is about to be given the opportunity of a lifetime. Feyi has the chance to escape the City’s blistering heat for a dream island holiday: poolside cocktails, beach sunsets, and elaborate meals. As Feyi opens her heart to new experiences, new friendships and new romance, there is only one problem – she’s falling for the one man she absolutely cannot have. dun dun daaaaa… not to be dramatic but doesn’t this sound like a nice, fun read! When I’m needing my next “get me out of a book slump read” this will be it!

Will you be adding any of these books to your TBR? Are there any other new releases you’re excited about this month? Share them with me in the comments 💬