Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. The column covers fiction and non-fiction with reviews by Alicja (Under Shifting Stars) and Emma (Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency).
Under Shifting Stars by Alexandra Latos
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers, 29 September 2020 (eBook edition)
Under Shifting Stars by Alexandra Latos is a contemporary young adult novel dealing with the coming-of-age story of twins sisters, Audrey and Clare.
The coming-of-age story of Audrey and Clare in Under Shifting Stars couldn’t be more real, honest and heartbreaking. Alexandra Latos introduces the reader to those twin sisters who couldn’t be more different from each other when they are grieving their older brother’s tragic death. At the beginning of Under Shifting Stars, they couldn’t feel more distant. Alexandra Latos uses the first-person interchanging narration between Audrey and Clare, which allows the reader to get to know both sisters better and experience their emotions and events that unfold almost first-handed. What’s interesting about the interchanging narration in Under Shifting Stars is that the formatting of chapters by Audrey and those by Clare varies. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure whether I liked the formatting of Audrey’s chapters, but as the story progressed, I found it inevitably fitting. Audrey and Clare are so different, and they deal with growing up and the aftermath of Adam’s death in their own manner, which is highlighted in the way their thoughts, conversations and events are explored in the narration of Alexandra Latos’ book.
Under Shifting Stars is not my usual genre of choice, and yet I was pleasantly surprised about Alexandra Latos’ book. The book deals with typical teenage angst accompanying most young adult books, but it also explores other important (and heavy) issues, amongst others: grief and discovering one’s identity. Alexandra Latos’ book is incredibly exclusive, with gender-fluidity becoming one of the important topics touched by the story. I wish there have been more books like that. The portrayal of Audrey and Clare feels incredibly real, and I would recommend Under Shifting Stars who is looking for a good and timely contemporary young adult novel.
Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency by Olivia Laing
Published by Picador, April 2020
“We’re so often told that art can’t really change anything. But I think it can. It shapes our ethical landscapes; it opens us to the interior lives of others.”
This collection of essays, letters, reviews and biographies by acclaimed writer and literary critic Olivia Laing is intelligent literary non-fiction at its best. Laing’s writing is immersed within the turbulent political ‘weather’ of the past five years, yet she uses art as a pathway or sightline as a way to create distance from such moments of crisis, and thereby see them all the better. Her subjects are intensely cultured, but it is her writing that dazzles first and foremost, and the clarity of her prose allows the reader easy passage through complex topics.
She casts her net widely, her subjects united by the central idea that art matters. From a book review of Sally Rooney’s Normal People to a biography of Georgia O’Keeffe, Laing pierces the heart of the matter and finds room there to expose fundamental themes that shed new light on familiar and unfamiliar works. The Picador hardcover edition is also beautifully designed with its clothbound embossed cover.
Laing is an excellent biographer, offering real insight into the artist’s lives and their works. Laing also draws on her friendships with some of Britain’s most illustrious contemporary writers and artists, recording conversations we’d all like to have with Hilary Mantel, Ali Smith and Sarah Lucas. Olivia Laing’s insistence on the connection of art to the ‘real’ world goes both ways. In her conversation with Mantel, she highlights the financial aspect of art and artists. In fact, throughout the collection, Laing is as interested in how art is shaped by sickness, political turbulence, addiction and loneliness, as much as how art shapes the world around it.
Many of us will have felt that art has been a solace; “a force of resistance and repair” through the tumult of the past few years. Laing confirms this throughout this well-considered and wide-ranging collection.