20 Books of Summer 2023


Every year, Cathy from 746 Books runs a 20 Books of Summer (Winter for the Southern Hemisphere) challenge and every year I participate using books from my physical, print TBR. This year it runs from 1 June until 1 September. You can see the book lists and results from all my previous attempts here.

I usually choose books from the beginning of my TBR, the oldest books on the shelf, but I’ve decided to do something a bit different this year (and I had fun with a teaser picture of the books at an angle, with some excellent suggestions on Facebook on how I’d chosen them).

The pile …

So from the top, the oldest one …

Eniola Aluko – “They Don’t Teach This” – her life in football as a Black woman

Robert Twigger – “Walking the Great North Line” – a journey through Britain

– Matthew bought me these two from The Heath Bookshop in September 2022.

Sally Xerri Brooks – “Four Movements” – short stories

– I actually know Sally but wasn’t able to attend her bookshop event, also in September, so my friend Claire bought me this signed copy.

Jess Phillips – “The Life of an MP” – how it all works, with her customary wit and spark

– Jess did an event at the bookshop in October and I bought her new book and got it signed.

Kit de Waal – “My Name is Leon” – a novel about adoption and trauma

– when I attended Kit’s talk at the bookshop in early October, I bought this one alongside her autobiography, which I have already read, not able to resist it.

Brian Bilston – “Days Like These” – his newest book of poetry (I might read this a month a week over the summer)

– His reading at a local school in November 2022, hosted by The Heath Bookshop, was hilarious and moving and I had a lovely chat with him when I got it signed.

Lenny Henry – “Who Am I, Again?” – the first volume of his autobiography

– the Bookshop had a special event where you chose a book from the table and drew a discount from a pot – I got 10% off, having predicted that, but I didn’t mind!

Yaa Gyasi – “Homegoing” – a powerful novel

James Baldwin – “Go Tell it on the Mountain” – ditto, but a classic, as I’d never read Baldwin

Charles Mongomerie – “Happy City” – urban planning

Helena Lee – “East Side Voices” – stories from British Chinese writers

Kacen Callendar – “Lark & Kasim Start a Revolution” – YA multicultural fun with a heart

Kerri Andrews – “Wanderers” – tales of women walkers and explorers

– I bought all of these in an early January book token and The Heath Bookshop token splurge at the Bookshop.

Imogen Binnie – “Nevada” – trans road trip cult classic

– This was the book group read at the Bookshop earlier in the year, I don’t do book groups but I did want to read the book.

Dean Karnazes – “A Runner’s High” – about running sustainably as you age

– The Heath Bookshop sold Dean’s books with him at the National Running show, which I didn’t attend, but I heard they’d brought some signed copies back for the shop so nipped around to pick one up.

Ian Francis – “This Way to the Revolution” – 1960s Birmingham with images of places I remember from the 80s

– I kept looking at this one on the Big Shelf of Temptation in the bookshop; I thought someone might buy me a copy for my birthday so when they didn’t, I snapped it up!

Ross Barnett – “The Missing Lynx” – introducing predators and mammals in rewilding

– I had a book token that I’d printed out and wouldn’t work in bookshops that I wanted to spend in my January splurge, so I ordered it from The Heath Bookshop’s page on bookshop.org, therefore making sure they got a cut.

Adam Nathanial Furman and Joshua Mardell – “Queer Spaces” – a guide to LGBTQIA spaces around the world

– I was away on holiday when the authors came to the Hare and Hounds to do an event hosted by the Bookshop so I made sure I snapped up a copy before I went away.

Kavita Bhanot – “The Book of Birmingham” – stories about my city by local authors

– Matthew put a couple of remaining pounds on his Christmas book token in the Bookshop towards this

Richard Mabey – “The Unofficial Countryside” – cult classic about liminal spaces

– I asked Claire and Catherine at the Bookshop to order this in for me from Little Toller (publisher and bookshop) who had tweeted their worries about their own bookshop sales, so buying it via our indie bookshop seemed a win-win.

So have you guessed the theme yet? Yes, there’s a lovely orange / green / turquoise / white colourway going on, but also these are all books I have bought from The Heath Bookshop in the just over six months they’ve been open!

Book review – Caleb Azumah Nelson – “Small Worlds”


When I read Caleb Azumah Nelson’s debut, “Open Water”, a couple of years ago, I found the narrative innovation a bit trying (it was all written in the second person singular) I thought (but didn’t say in my review, it turns out) that I would look out for what this writer did next, as I appreciated his portrayal of Black masculinities and his evocative description of London. This is the book he did next, and it’s more approachable in many ways, having what looks at first like a more conventional narrative style, but still exploring Black masculinities and still presenting an authentic and visceral London. Quite a few people in my book circles have read this recently – see my link to Jacquiwine’s excellent review below.

Caleb Azumah Nelson – “Small Worlds”

(5 April 2023, NetGalley)

It feels like a quiet life, but it’s mine. I’ve tried to build my own small world in the vastness, and it’s helping: I’m feeling more and more like the person I was, or the person I might become.

We’re in that summer where you get your A-level results and life is about to change, meeting Stephen, who is in love with fellow musician Del and working at his Auntie Yaa’s shop in Peckham, drifting a little and worried about what is to come, feeling pressured by his dad, who expects him to go and do a “proper” degree and bring wealth and prosperity to the family.

We explore his parents’ arrival in London from Ghana, his mum’s shock at arriving at a time when people were being blamed for riots and racism was rife, the struggles they had to settle and establish themselves, but we also get immersed in music, and music also informs the narrative: as you read on, you realise that certain images and phrases repeat themselves in slightly different forms again and again as the text moves through a few years of Stephen’s life, the sun reflected on people’s skin, the value of dancing as healing, people’s eyes, the appearance of a character called Marlon who is grieving a lost parent and presents a sort of model of that journey.

Like Harley in “Small Joys“, Stephen struggles at university with its strangers and microaggressions, and withdraws (this does suggest, along with non-fiction that’s around at the moment (like “Taking up Space“) that we really do need to be doing something to invest in Black young people’s experience of higher education), and other serious topics are covered subtly: the difficulty of going back “home” to Ghana when you’re perceived as being very well-off and able to look after people and the exclusionary gentrification of areas like Peckham, the two linked by Auntie Yaa’s outcome and decision as she’s threatened with being forced out of her shop. There’s also the legacy of enslaved peoples, with one female character knowing that her family came to London via Ghana but there had been a round trip via Brazil “by way of force; this history only spoken and, if not spoken, in danger of being lost”.

So lots of points are made subtly, placed in the reader’s mind to be pondered. Stephen grows, his relationship with his brother Raymond, starting a new generation of the family, shifts, and a break with their father starts to heal, turning into a different kind of care and showing yet another way men can relate to one another.

A lovely book, lyrical and almost hypnotic to read, beautifully written and, I think, a step forward for the writer. I can’t wait, again, to see what he does next.

Thank you to Penguin / Viking books for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Small Worlds” was published on 11 May 2023.

Jacquiwine’s excellent review which says all I would have wanted to say is here.

Book review – Mariam Ansar – “Good for Nothing”


I won this book from NetGalley in April but it was published in March, so it joined my May TBR (still with me) and I picked it up to read first this month. A great Young Adult novel that I really enjoyed.

Mariam Ansar – “Good for Nothing”

(28 April 2023, NetGalley)

‘I’m sure he has his own story to tell, PC Phallow,’ Eman’s grandma said in thickly accented English, smiling despite her serious words and the newness of her voice.

PC Phillips’ head whipped around quickly. ‘Phillips.’ Eman’s grandma’s eyes narrowed behind her glasses.

‘Phil-ling …?’




‘-es. Phillipses.’

PC Phillips’ eye began to twitch. ‘Never mind.’ She sighed, missing the exaggerated wink that Eman’s grandma gave to all of us on the sofa.

Good-girl hijabi Eman meets so-called bad boy Amir and determined athlete Kemi when the latter two are inscribing Amir’s dead brother’s name on a bus stop. Pushed together by a misguided police volunteering scheme for the summer, they all learn from each other and forge a strong friendship. Eman has the support of her grandma, seen in the quotation above getting her own back after the police officer has mangled Kemi’s Nigerian surname, and she’s a great force for good in Eman’s life and has clearly supported her mum through leaving her abusive dad; Amir is close to his little sister but not engaged with school life, always worrying about clearing his brother’s name and with a dad who ran off with a White woman and has a new family, and Kemi’s sister has gone to university and come back with a new posh voice while Kemi pushes back against the stepdad who she can’t bear to replace her late father.

Seen as living in the inferior (but also hip and cool) half of a divided town, they push back against poverty, racism and the posh folk of the other half of town in their different ways. Meanwhile, will PC Chris, who has one chapter explaining his background amidst the rotating ones of the three protagonists, learn, too?

A lovely if rather fairy-tale set piece ends this book positively: the three main characters take their own fates in their hands and have all changed by the end, and it is a lovely read.

There’s a glossary at the back, which I don’t always love as I think people should be able to look things up for themselves, however this is aimed at young adults who might not have experienced people from the communities represented here, and it’s a good mix of both the cultures.

Thank you to Penguin for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Good For Nothing” was published on 16 March 2023.

Book review – Kit de Waal – “Without Warning and Only Sometimes”


Without Warning and Only Sometimes by Kit de Waal -image of the book

A last read from April and this was part of my effort to read hardbacks I buy new before the paperback comes out (the paperback came out on 13 April, so nearly!). I bought it at an author event at the wonderful The Heath Bookshop, our relatively new local indie bookshop, buying her novel, “My Name is Leon” at the same time and getting both signed. October 2022 was a bit of a record book-acquiring month and I can report that I have read four of the 21 print books that came to me then (still early days, though, right?!)

Kit de Waal – “Without Warning and Only Sometimes”

(13 October 2022, The Heath Bookshop)

I will die. I will die for wanting Christmas, for the slip of red ribbon from a huge box, for dreaming of the presents inside, Fry’s Chocolate Cream, things off the telly, other children’s presents. (p. 1)

The author’s memoir of growing up poor in a house with a suddenly converted Jehovah’s witness mother who works at several jobs at once to keep the household going (cleaner, hospital auxiliary) and a father who insists on buying fancy clothes and shoes for himself and sending money and goods back to the Caribbean (but cooks spectacularly for the kids and doesn’t like his old home when he returns for a visit) and a set of siblings, and notable for being set, like “The Go-Between“, in a house on a road within a couple of miles of where I sit writing this.

As others have said before, it’s both lively and bleak, heart-breaking and heart-warming. We follow Kit and her brothers and sisters through school life, through annual visits from her father’s friends when they get to see a different side of life, through the various strictures of their mother’s religion and her wavering mental health, and through their escapes as they get older. Kit falls in with the ragtag of Moseleyites, alternative livers and people on the edge of society (a feature of the suburb when I hung around there in the 90s; more sad than eccentric now, although sad then, too, and also featuring in Charlie Hill’s books), gets her independence, and finally gets introduced to the world of books, very late, discovering wodges of classics to help her chronic insomnia.

There are terrible moments, like when a hungry Kit’s posh friend Wendy sends her mum away from her (own) bedroom still clutching a tray of sandwiches she’d offered them, knowing Wendy would be kind if she said, but unable to say, but there are moments of support and joy, too, and although her mom* is difficult to be around, it’s a moving tribute to her, too.

I see her. I see her beige woolly hat pulled down low, her dark-brown coat with a high-buttoned neck and her dark-brown lace-ups with the spongy soles, the better for creeping around sleeping women and brand-new babies. I see her square hands, cold and mottled, gripping her sensible bag full of market bargains and bruised fruit, and I see her brokenness and her stories, like they are written on her face, bowing her down, overlooked by her mother, unloved by my father, and the combined five of us not enough to plug the hole those two have made. (pp. 213-214)

Of course I loved the local setting, woven through the book, with them spending time around Sarehole Mill and enjoying watching cars going through the ford and seeing if they get stuck in a flood, something we still like to do here.

An absolutely wonderful book and one that will send me to all her other work, even with its distressing themes, because I know she’ll look after the reader and not include anything gratuitous.

*Midlanders use “mom” where people from other areas of the UK use “mum” and other variants.

Interior of The Heath Bookshop with Catherine and Claire the bookshop owners and Kit de Waal with Catherine O'Flynn
Post author event through the window of The Heath Bookshop with Catherine and Claire the bookshop owners and Kit de Waal with Catherine O’Flynn who interviewed her

Book review – Chelsea Kwakye and Ọrẹ Ogunbiyi – “Taking Up Space”


Having finished my April NetGalley reads, I went back in time to those earlier ones that have lingered for years: I picked off Beth Moran’s novel first but this one was the oldest one on the whole NetGalley TBR! It was worth a read and really interesting to see what the authors were saying pre the big Black Lives Matter resurgence from mid-2020 onwards and publishing frenzy of 2021. This was published by Stormzy’s #MerkyBooks imprint, which is still doing well and publishing excellent titles today.

Chelsea Kwakye and Ọrẹ Ogunbiyi – “Taking up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change”

(27 September 2019, NetGalley)

So from the beginning, we always wanted Taking Up Space to offer that sisterhood: brutally honest whilst reassuring, almost like an older sister telling you what fashion trends to avoid because she’s been there and done that. it is now a book laced with personal anecdotes, as well as more general commentary from a wide group of black female and non-binary students on how their identity as black women and students has mediated their experiences of university – with the hope that black girls everywhere will find solace in their stories.

That quotation sums the book up. It takes us through the university experience with the two authors’ personal stories branching out into discussions of research and studies, with others’ experiences woven in. It has a lot about Cambridge, because that’s where they went – but then Oxbridge is a place of known and highlighted racial inequality and struggle that needs talking about in a nuanced way beyond the quick-win media reports. It also looks at the intersection of class and race, as well as the intersection of gender with both.

The work the authors and those they quote have done is impressive – setting up groups, campaigning, effecting change – but there’s an emphasis on self-care and not having to be an activist that is reassuring and supportive. It’s a bit dispiriting that the things the authors and their cohort talk about are still being talked about now, five years after they wrote the book: has anything really changed? Maybe the fact things are still being talked about is good, though: it hasn’t all been pushed back under the carpet.

The book has a book list and resource list at the back; obviously both could be updated now but they’re still valuable and useful.

I would definitely recommend this book to any young Black person I knew who was setting off to university (whatever gender, actually, as attitudes to young men are also covered and it’s useful for everyone to know what’s going on).

Thank you to Merky Books for choosing me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review (and sorry for taking so long: not a comment on the book itself at all). “Taking up Space” was published on 27 June 2019

Book review – Stephen Buoro – “The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa”


This book offers a punch in the guts and is not for the faint-hearted. It’s wonderful and devastating. The ending can be the only ending this book could have, even though you won’t like it. Weaving a critique of colonialism and the kind of mental colonialism that exists when independence claims to have been gained, a small town coming of age story, maths, PanAfrican theories, religion, friendship and love, this is a book I won’t easily forget – and not just for the trauma.

Stephen Buoro – “The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa”

(03 April 2023, NetGalley)

In Eileen’s living room, I watch her pack. I help her load some books into a suitcase, zip it. Outside, illuminated by streetlights, protesters are meandering with torchlights on their heads, placards held high, screaming. We can’t hear them because of the closed windows and the distance. Suddenly, from nowhere, policemen descend on them. they wallop them with clubs, chase them into the darkness. They are especially ferocious because this is where expats live, where Eileen’s people live.

There is so much to unpick in this debut novel and I won’t do it justice, I’m sure. First, that title – the Five Sorrowful Mysteries are to do with the rosary of the Catholic Church and depict Jesus’ suffering at five key stages moving towards his death. Andy Africa is the nickname given to Andrew Aziza by his teacher, Zahrah, so both a home-grown name and what could be a reference to the Western propensity for seeing Africa as a unit, a single country.

Andy lives in Kontagora, Nigeria, with his single mother, unable to ask her who his father is, he’s 15 and he hangs out with his “droogs”, Slim and Morocca, goes to school, has a good friend he can’t appreciate in Fatima, an equally gifted student, and lives for the opportunity to see, see a picture of, fantasise about or even think about a White girl. Then one magically appears! Eileen, the niece of the local missionary/priest, comes to visit and everyone is transfixed.

So far, so YA – but this is embedded in a critique of contemporary Nigeria from someone who has escaped, so among the theorems, Zahrah’s theory of anifuturism (I diligently tried to learn about this and look it up only to find it was invented for this book, a mix of animism and Afro-futurism), Andy’s theory of a great curse over the whole of Africa (so a yin and yang of pan-African theories), critiques of government, descriptions of life in a small town with a Christian minority and a Muslim majority uncontrolled by a corrupt police.

When Eileen is welcomed into the community, a mob bent on revenge approaches, when a wedding tries to happen, the groom is accused of importing Western ideas and fomenting student uprisings. And even though Andy’s life looks like it’s turning round when he meets a long-lost relative who has the trappings of wealth, while the boys receive phone calls from their rather feeble friend who has managed to reach Spain with his uncle and is enjoying pizzas and a job, it soon becomes clear that the boys, plus Morocca’s girlfriend and their young daughter, need to take their chance to escape.

While there are flies and machetes, poverty and gender/religious violence, this by no means lives within the stereotypes we can so often be fed. There are brilliant flashes of humour and live is lived fully; the language fizzes and is full of Nigerian small-town culture laced with the Western culture everyone seems to aspire to (yes, there are look-it-up moments, yes, of course that’s OK). As we follow the Five Sorrowful Mysteries to their conclusion, it is inevitable: Buoro achieves a technically well-done and hugely engaging book that socks it to you in the intellect and the emotions, while leaving us with no conclusion apart from the need to escape at all costs – I can’t decide whether it’s actually bleak or not, as it’s so full and rich as well.

I would like to read thoughts by Nigerian / Nigerian disapora readers about this one.

Thank you to for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa” was published on 13 April 2023).

Book review – Jenny Jackson – “Pineapple Street”


An interesting novel from NetGalley today, set among the one percenters of New York living on the “Fruit Streets” of Pineapple, Orange and Cranberry in Brooklyn Heights. Not a natural milieu for me to read about but the book certainly pulled me in and I learned about some things I would otherwise have no knowledge of …

Jenny Jackson – “Pineapple Street”

(25 October 2022, NetGalley)

Her own family was a restaurant booth, you could always scoot in and make space for one more. Cord’s family was a table with chairs and those chairs were bolted to the floor.

I was a little confused by this book, narrated in turn by two very privileged sisters and their middle-class sister-in-law (who they refer to as The Gold Digger, unattractively). It’s often very funny, skewering family pretensions, and there’s a hilarious note near the end where a house basically takes its own revenge, but also there’s quite a lot about how difficult it is to be super-rich and not know whether people are going to take advantage of you, explaining why the super-rich only hang out together; although I had sympathy for Sasha, the sister-in-law, I couldn’t really, as a good socialist, summon up much for Darley and Georgiana, the spoilt sisters.

Although their brother just bumbles along, taking a good while to realise what the family dynamics are doing to his wife, who he has once told he will always put family first (and he doesn’t mean her), the two young women do try to do good, Darley giving up her trust fund so as not to undermine her husband (it doesn’t disappear, of course, but goes to their children, a hilarious chaotic pair she struggles to contain without her mother-in-law and her mother’s housekeeper) and George belatedly realising her privilege and trying to give her riches away. Well, we learn how difficult it is to give away a trust fund, anyway. There’s also a whisper of understanding of the power dynamics in the relationship she has for part of the book, and presumably the divesting of trust funds theme in the book reflects a real-life phenomenon, which is interesting.

It’s also competently written and plotted and nicely structured; we don’t realise until a long way through the book the import of the person centred in the Prelude, for instance, and there are some plot doublings and echoes that come to light as we progress which are very nicely done. And there is a lot of humour in it: the three siblings’ mum, Tilda is certainly satirised (and those grandparent names!), a classic WASP more interested in table settings than prospective grandchildren who can only communicate with her daughters via tennis matches, but then all of her prejudices and connections come good when someone needs to be punished.

Sasha was trying to think of what might seem strange about her life to the Stocktons. Maybe it all did? She knew that to the vast majority of people she met, the life that she was describing was completely ordinary, but they were listening to her as though she were describing an upbringing in a yurt on the salt flats.

This quote above sums up a lot of my relationship to the book: these people are so far outside my own experience or even really what I read about (the only comparison really being to those glitzy 80s novels you used to get with jetsetters and international business owners, but it wasn’t trashy like those). It was escapist but with a heart, and certainly reminded me what I know I would do if I happened to have those millions.

Thank you to Random House for selecting me to read this novel via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Pineapple Street” is published on 13 April 2023.

Book review – Jacqueline Crooks – “Fire Rush”


I requested this first novel from NetGalley and then quailed a little at the description of a section of it being around gang culture. Then I gave myself a talking-to (even though I can be quite timid in my tastes, I’ve read other strong stuff, including “Yardie” back in the day, and Timothy Mo’s “Sour Sweet”, James Kelman and Magnus Mills) and, helped by Laura Tisdall saying she was enjoying it (her review here, I didn’t read it until I’d written my review) I did pick it up and was very glad I had, instantly absorbed in the beautiful, unusual writing and atmosphere.

Jacqueline Crooks – “Fire Rush”

(19 August 2022, NetGalley)

The air is tangerine-coloured and sweet, the black sea spread out, empty. Lights and beats in the distance. Carlton follows the drums, just like Asase, Rumer and me tracked the bassline in search of raves, back in those dub-dancing times.

Yamaye, Asase and Rumer live on an estate in late-1970s West London and, two women of Jamaican heritage and one of Irish, they live for dub reggae parties, illicit nightclubs, one in a church, and house parties they go searching for. They’ve known each other forever but there are fracture lines – Asase has always taken what she wanted and that includes anything or anyone Yamaye wants or likes, and when Yamaye, our main character, meets gentle Moose, she worries Asase will annex him. But Moose knows his mind and for a while, they work on forming a solid relationship, doing ordinary couple things that are extraordinary for a woman who’s grown up with her physically abusive, scary single dad, her mum a memory and a ghost held inside her bones.

Tragedy, in the form of police brutality, intervenes, and then another act of violence, and while Yamaye grieves and tries to campaign, gathering brief allies, people start to split and return “home”, leaving her with few options. A chance encounter takes her to Bristol and an alarming gang: she holds her own, MCing at a local club, music and her mum always within her, but soon she needs to escape from there, too.

Will she find peace in Jamaica, find Moose’s beloved grandma and even her mum? Will she find the solace of her roots and the strength to escape her chaotic past? Who is that man on the beach and why does he remind her of someone who shouldn’t be there?

An incredibly lyrical patois (nothing explained, no glossary: just as easy or hard to work out as a James Kelman novel), soaked in music and dancing, whips you straight into a sweaty underground club, even though this is not music I’m that familiar with. There are also interactions with layers of history, both the archaeology of the land she lives on in London and collective-unconscious flashbacks to women’s lives as enslaved peoples (it’s also brilliant that many of the characters talk about the slave rebellions in the Caribbean, a story kept alive while it’s not taught by the colonisers).

This is such a self-assured debut, although apparently (see Laura’s review) a long time in the making, and, while the author states it’s a fictionalised account of her life, she’s made a beautiful new work out of that, and also has a full bibliography at the back – fair play to her there.

Themes of women and the patriarchy, of women carving out their own lives from the spaces they can, makes it a very attractive book, even though there’s violence and shocking scenes: it’s essentially a warm book of supportive relationships – even between Yamaye and her dad at times, and an amazing read.

Thank you to Jonathan Cape for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Fire Rush” was published on 2 March 2023.

Book review – Lauren Fleshman – “Good for a Girl”


Virago Books kindly sent me a copy of this book in return for an honest review in Shiny New Books; as I quite often do, I wanted to share a slightly more personal review, too, so now my review is out on Shiny, here are some more of my thoughts on the book.

Lauren Fleshman – “Good For a Girl: My Life Running in a Man’s World”

(18 January 2023, from the publisher)

Millions of women carry an abundance of positive memories of their time in sport, but they also carry the invisible wounds of their sports experiences. As women, we’ve justified these wounds as normal or internalised the belief that we were to blame. (p. xii)

This is not your ordinary running book. Yes, it includes the story of Lauren’s journey from school athlete through to international competition, but there’s a lot more than that to the book; namely, the damage that the current set-up of competitive athletics in the US, both at school and college level and at professional level, does to young women. I will note that there is a lot about disordered eating and eating disorders in this book that were quite distressing to read about and will be triggering to anyone who has lived with an eating disorder; I am not taking about that much in this review because of the trigger risk for others.

So Fleshman takes us through her experiences through competitive running, but continually relates them to the wider picture as she understands it now. So when she retains her pre-pubescent figure and keeps competitive with the boys, we see how delaying puberty through heavy exercise affects young women’s bone density and other health measures. When girls develop and drop out, we see why this is and how universal it is. When eating disorders or disordered eating become rife, we see an examination of why this happens and the prevalence. When women naturally plateau aged about 19 as their bodies go through further development, we see what happens to their coaching (not good) and how they disappear, discouraged and injured. Then, when she turns professional we see how sponsors make things gendered, how women are penalised if they become pregnant, how women’s sports clothing is much more revealing and tight than men’s for no reason, how catalogues offering women’s apparel include images of models rather than sportswomen.

It’s all pretty damning, and Fleshman has certainly been through the mill. She tries to remain positive, while ending up with stress fractures due to the pressures her body has been under. She fights and fights Nike for women’s equity but is rebuffed, and it’s wonderful when she develops a relationship with the smaller indie brand Oiselle (who I have heard about but not worn), who are actively happy and excited when she reveals she’s planning to have a family. She does real, practical things, becoming a coach herself and sharing honestly on her blog including not-so-perfect images before that was really a thing, and setting up a training diary for young girls that covers all aspects, menstrual health and mental health as well as training sessions.

I made a commitment to grow up and win and fail in public in my little world of running, because I wanted to provide at least one person’s accurate representation of chasing big goals for the next person who searched the internet during a low point. I hoped it would inspire other pro athletes to do the same, and it did. But the biggest winner in the short term was me. The more my life expanded off the track, the more satisfied I was on it. (p. 211)

It’s encouraging to see her activism growing with her community, and her commitment to intersectionality, too: she certainly honours the women from global majority communities who have pushed the agenda with sports sponsors. And at the end of the book she makes a clear call for better support for female athletes including woman-specific training for coaches and qualifications to make sure runners are kept more safe. She’s clear right from the start that this book represents her one voice and that discussion about changing women’s sports must include the voices of global majority people, women with disabilities, trans women and non-binary people (she doesn’t cover issues with the latter much but we can see she is supportive of trans and non-binary rights).  She is honest about her education in social justice around race, finding out how she has white privilege in being allowed to fail more frequently, even while facing sexism, but then still taking time to engage in becoming an “active ally” – and she admits the mistakes she made later in not noticing the overly white advertising of her new sponsor.

The influence of her dad is clear through the book, however hard he was as a father, with alcohol and anger issues, and she’s honest on the ongoing issues she’s had with her sister. Very touching scenes at the end of the book cover his illness and passing. She also talks at the end about the difficulties with her own mental health she had during lockdown and writing the book. The process of applying for colleges and getting professional sponsorship is covered in detail and this can be a little bit bewildering for the British reader, but is perfectly copable-with: all you really have to understand is she had lots of college offers and tried to decide on somewhere that promoted women’s mental health and actively worked against promoting disordered eating. A good, honest and passionate book that offers an interesting track-based and mainly White addition to books such as Alison Mariella Désir’s road-running based “Running While Black” (which she mentions in the resources section).

Thank you to Virago Books for sending me a copy to review honestly on Shiny New Books and here on my personal blog.

A running book with a difference which hopes to make a difference.

Book review – Nikesh Shukla – “Stand Up”


Finally getting through my NetGalley reading, though also continuing with Reading Ireland and Reading Wales, here’s an entertaining YA read from campaigner and author Nikesh Shukla (he edited the Good Immigrant books and has also written “Coconut Unlimited” which I’m fairly sure is somewhere on my Kindle.

Nikesh Shukla – “Stand Up”

(30 January 2023, NetGalley)

‘Come on, dude, I’m trying to work. I’m not a walking encyclopaedia of India, just cos I’m brown. I don’t ask you whie guy shit like why Kanye is actually a proper artiste or why Mad Men’s sexism and racism is actually cool or why railways were a good exchange for all the resource- and asset-stripping the British empire did, right? You can’t just go around assuming people like me will drop everything to answer your facile questions that you’ve decided we must know the answers to because of the colour of our skin. I would tell you what word we use to describe that behaviour but I’m actually just wondering, seeing as it’s my job to do so, that your wine is looking a little low. Would you like another bottle?’

Madhu is 17 and her Kenyan Indian parents have been running a shop since shortly after they arrived in England, although they’ve moved away from living over it into a flat and Madhu works at a pizza place rather than in the shop. She misses her older sister, whose story we gradually discover, and she’s feeling pressured to apply for law at university when what she really wants to do is stand-up comedy.

When she tries an open mic night for the first time, Madhu freezes and panics, but then her take-down of a friend’s ex, filmed and shared without her permission goes viral and she’s invited to go on her comedy idol’s TV show. However, idols can become nemeses and when, after practising and learning with the support of enemy-to-friend Jazz (there’s a fair bit of not judging by first appearances as Jazz’z mum seems awful at first but comes out with some good stuff) and an inclusive cafe locally, the experience with Kareena isn’t what she expected, and that “you can’t be what you can’t see” role models can also be super-protective of their unicorn status, she can either buckle down and do what she’s supposed to do or push through for her dreams.

Set in Bristol, a nice change from London-based books, and full of realistic micro- and macro-aggressions, friendships and struggle, it’s a nicely done novel, with learning points but a good dose of humour.

Thank you to Hachette Children’s Group for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Stand Up” was published on 2 March 2023.

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