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Step Forward, Harry Salt by Ross Lowe Book Review

Step Forward, Harry Salt Book Review

Step Forward, Harry Salt is a bit bonkers.

And by this, I mean that there’s a character called Royds Spittoon and a horse drop-kicks a car.

Following the equally bonkers Seven Nights at the Flamingo HotelBearded Badger Books’ second published novel – and author Ross Lowe’s debut – sees the titular Harry Salt drawn into a Hot Fuzz-esque conspiracy amongst the hills of Derbyshire.

It’s sinister at times, tremendously daft, and a lot of fun.

Step Forward, Harry Salt
Overview

‘The Change’ is coming.

Millions of people voted for it but nobody really knows why – or what The Change even is for that matter. But the will of the people is to be enacted, whatever that will might be.

Caught up in the middle of this moment of national celebration/crisis (delete as appropriate) is Harry Salt.

He’s a regular guy – pretty nondescript and bumbling through life – though far from dull. He’s your Martin Freeman-esque everyman and therefore the ideal protagonist for a novel like Step Forward, Harry Salt; a book packed with zany hijinks, set against the backdrop of Britain floating in a Brexity soup.

It’s a parody, though not a particularly subtle one. The novel re-treads familar arguments from the Brexit referendum and dials them up to eleven, pouring scorn and ridicule upon the pro-Brexit argument. 

Sometimes hilarious, other times a little on-the-nose, one thing is certain – Step Forward, Harry Salt is a brilliant novel, packed to the rafters with witty observations, brilliant characters, and a marvellous mystery.

Parental Poignancy & Parody

Step Forward Harry Salt uses a past/present twinned narrative, pinging the reader back and forth between Harry’s years as a child – his memories with his Father in particular – and the present day.

These memories feature some of the best writing in the novel. It’s often highly poignant, other times disarming – even troubling perhaps – but these passages feel reminiscent and personal; transposing Harry’s memories onto the reader in a nostalgic manner.

Meanwhile, in the modern day, the Ministry of People where Harry works, presents an almost Pratchett-like parody of Orwell’s ministries in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Whilst highly secretive, The Ministry of People is less overtly sinister than Orwell’s depictions of government – rather more bureaucratic and somewhat odd.

This ability to traipse the line between being disconcerting and humorous is disarming as a reader – it’s alienating, making for an interesting read.

Conclusion

Lowe has a lovely style of writing. It’s simple, cheerful, and witty – the sort of writing you really appreciate reading after a book like Dune Messiah; a novel with so much word salad, you could launch a vegan restaurant.

But truly, Step Forward, Harry Salt is a pleasure to read. It’s also fascinating insofar that it defies genre. 

There are Sci-Fi elements, political satire, fantasy, speculative fiction, and magic realism. It’s extraordinary, because the novel holds these elements together in a really authentic way, never feeling mismatched.

And because of this, the novel will appeal to a wide range of readers. 

It’s off-beat, but in the best kind of way. Great stuff.

4/5

Step Forward, Harry Salt can be purchased directly from Bearded Badger Publishing.

YA Fiction Snobbery Needs to Stop. Right now.

YA Fiction Snobbery Needs to Stop Blog Header
YA Fiction Snobbery Needs to Stop Blog Header

In spite of wild commercial success, it’s fair to say that YA fiction snobbery has lingered on the horizon for quite some time now. Sometimes it comes from the more literary circles, other times simply from trolls, which is what Beth @ Booksnest experienced recently.

Even Samantha Shannon, author of the highly successful Bone Season trilogy addressed the very-real topic of snobbery towards YA fiction only a few years ago.

Trumped perhaps only by so-called ‘chick lit’, YA is probably one of the more frowned upon genres of fiction, despite – or perhaps because of – an enormous readership and commercial success.

But why exactly is this?

Why YA Fiction Snobbery Exists

Ageism

There’s a bizarre shibboleth, expressed more often than not by our wizened peers, that certain hobbies or types of media are designed exclusively for a particular age range. 

Once you’ve passed the arbitrarily designated threshold, you’re no longer allowed to read said books, or play video games, or consume certain kinds of media that are deemed too ‘childish’ by the enlightened.

The inherent absurdity of this position is laid bare once you ask the accuser who they think creates these types of media. 

Are video games designed by a focus group of seven-year-olds? No, they’re designed by highly qualified developers and graphic designers, with soaring OSTs composed by actual, well, composers. 

Likewise, books for all ages are written (mostly) by adults passionate about their craft. It’s therefore time that we let go of this vacuous framing of overtly ‘children’s books’ vs ‘adult books’.

Here I must call upon our old friend CS Lewis, one of the fathers of fantasy and an author who, if writing today, would certainly be considered a YA author. 

Addressing the notion of perceived childishness, Lewis wrote this stinging rebuke:

“Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence...

CS Lewis hates YA Fiction Snobbery
CS Lewis hates book snobbery. Totes. For reals.

...But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

This perception of being ‘grown up’ from those who engage in snobbery against YA fiction seems, to me, to be a vacuous one.

Literary Pretence

I’m not sure that this group is nearly quite as large as others make out, but it’s certainly a rather vocal sect. There is an element of snobbishness in self-proclaimed literary circles about genre fiction and, by extension, YA fiction.

Ruth Graham, for example – a correspondent for the New York Times – once wrote that adults who read YA fiction ought to ‘feel embarrassed’ for reading books ‘written for children’.

Fascinating.

The general cut-and-thrust of the article, which (to be fair) isn’t without some fair points, is that YA fiction is largely simplistic in comparison to more ‘adult’ books and that readers of YA are stunting their reading growth. 

However, I’m not sure that this is particularly solid ground. 

I’m no scholar of YA literature, and indeed I personally get a lot more enjoyment from classics and literary fiction, but to take The Hunger Games as just one popular example – it’s hardly a simplified, ‘childish’ novel. And I don’t just mean the murder. Suzanne Collins’ trilogy raises a wealth of moral, ethical, and social issues in a fairly mature manner.

It’s intellectually dishonest to claim YA fiction has no depth, in the same way that it would be absurd to claim that James Joyce’s writing is nonsensical drivel. Perhaps it appears to be so on the surface, but if you’re a half-decent reader, you’re presumably capable of reading between the proverbial lines.

Is it more beneficial to read different kinds of genres? Sure. Confining yourself to only certain kinds of writing limits your perspective – and you’re missing out on some really great literature.

But ultimately, we read for pleasure, right? And there’s a vibrant community of readers who derive an enormous amount of pleasure from YA fiction. 

Life’s too short to worry about what other people are, or aren’t, reading.

'Tropeyness'

Yes, YA fiction is quite tropey.

Whether it’s ‘the chosen one’, ‘enemies to lovers,’ or the dreaded love triangle – it’s not unfair to point out that YA fiction has its fair share of tropes. 

But here’s the thing – some people like these tropes. And quite a lot of people really like them. Goodreads has entire shelves dedicated to trope fiction because, ultimately, they’re comfort-reading for a certain type of reader.

YA fiction helps its readers navigate the often complex landscapes of identity and belonging – more so than other types of writing. And no matter the age of the reader, this is pretty important. After all, one doesn’t cease learning about one’s self purely by passing the vague threshold of adulthood.

And of course, it’s still reading. I’m not sure it’s anyone’s place to doubt or ridicule another’s preferences.

So, own your love of YA fiction and enjoy what you enjoy reading – you don’t owe anybody anything and it’s nobody else’s business.

Juvenility lies purely at the door of the accuser.

10 Brilliant Book Bloggers to Follow in 2022

10 Brilliant Book Bloggers to Follow in 2022

So, the wonderful folks at Pages Unbound are running a monthly posting challenge designed to support book bloggers in 2022.

There aren’t any particularly strict rules to #BookBloggerSupport22 – feel free to try the challenges in any order – but it must focus on bloggers. We love our BookTuber and Bookstagram comrades and friends, but this is designed to promote longer-form written content.

The first challenge I’m choosing to tackle is to list 10 brilliant book bloggers to follow in 2022 – if you’re not on this list, I still love you. Promise.

Pages Unbound

The creator of this challenge deserves a shout out.

Pages Unbound is easily one of the best book blogs on the internet, with a diverse mix of classical literature and YA fiction. 

Briana & Krysta are amazing at creating (and promoting) their bookish content – if I’m ever half as successful as them, I’d be thrilled.

Rebbie Reviews

Rebbie Reviews is an absolute star. Again, a really fine book blogger. She takes part in The Write Reads book tour circuit fairly frequently, so you can guarantee you’ll find some interesting independently published books on her blog.

She also brought my attention to a really interesting used book scheme that is promoting literacy in the UK, whilst reducing waste.. 

Spells & Spaceships

Alex @ Spells & Spaceships has cornered the SFF book blogging game like an absolute pro.

His interviews with authors are always interesting, and his famed #Norsevember month of Norse-based content is really impressive.

Little Bird Book Blog

Little Bird Book Blog has captured a really neat aesthetic; it’s approachable and captures what Rosie, the blogger, is all about.

She has a very conversational writing style, which brings you closer to the writing itself. I really enjoy that aspect of her blogging.

Esther @ Cozy With Books

Cozy with Books once posted 100 blog posts in 100 days. That’s how seriously she takes blogging. Her dedication is matched equally by her quality of content.

We don’t typically read the same books, but that’s partly why I enjoy her blog so much – it exposes me to other types of writing.

Plus, Esther’s just a really flipping nice person.

Literary Time Machine

Speaking of great people, Chantelle’s blog, Literary Time Machine, is one I started following only recently. She’s a historical fiction book blogger and possesses a MA in Holocaust Studies.

An active social media user, Chantelle is kind, conscientious, and always posts something fascinating each day.

I don’t tend to read much historical fiction, but there are a handful of books on Literary Time Machine that I’ve since added to my TBR!

Lit Lemon Books

Mackenzie @ Lit Lemon Books is brilliant. She posts regular, diverse book-related content – as well as some fun ‘beyond bookish’ posts including her favourite scary movies

Interestingly, she’s also challenging herself to ‘read for free’ in 2022, by supporting local libraries. For many of us, the idea of not buying new books for an entire year is virtually impossible, so do check in and see how she’s doing!

Owl Be Sat Reading

Owl be Sat Reading is a phenomenal book reviewer and a real credit to the Book Twitter community. On her blog, expect to find reviews of the latest ARCs – especially in both women’s fiction and horror.

Jennie @ The Redhead Notes

Jennie only started her book blogging journey recently, hence I only came across The Redhead Notes a short while ago.

It’s a stunning website and I think she’ll go really far in the book blogging community, so head over and give her a follow. Her guide to tea drinking is a great place to start! 

Bookaholic Bex

Bex is one of the funniest, most authentic people on Twitter – and a super passionate blogger. After all, she’s focused on ‘books, more books, and nothing but the books’!

If you’re not following Bex, you’re missing out big time.

Got any bloggers you want to give a shout out to? Post a link to their site below!