This is the first James Dawson book I have read, and his stuff seems pretty hyped, so I was excited. After reading the acknowledgments I found that this is different to the majority of the stuff he’s done before, apparently he does more horror(?) but All Of The Above was refreshing with it’s realism and what makes it even better was the protagonist was completely unapologetic for how crazy her life was. If I could use a meme to describe this book it would be: ‘sounds fake, but okay.’ It’s so jam-packed with teenager-y themes that it feels a little overwhelming at times, but I guess that’s life.
The characters were all misfits. Polly was your classic manic pixie dream girl and Toria, no matter how many times she tried to explain that this wasn’t a coming of age story, journeyed through unchartered sexuality waters, making regular pit stops at mental health ports. The rest of the rag-tag group included: Daisy (who’s anorexic), Adam and Alice (boy genius, girl who likes Instagram – no one quite understand why they’re together although they’re inseparable), Freya (who only wants to read), and Beasley (closeted gay). Then there’s Nico, the love interest. The nature of Toria and Nico’s relationship was unoriginal and could be predictable at times. How many different ways are there to write musician boy dates girl but has to leave because of a contract deal, anyway? If you liked Adam from If I Stay then you’ll probably find a similar personality in Nico.
The most original element of this story was Poppy and Toria’s relationship. I think it’s really important to talk about sexuality and gender in teen fiction, and All Of The Above didn’t sugar coat anything. Practically every teen was scared about what would happen if they admitted they might be gay or bisexual, which I suppose is realistic, although I feel as though sexuality is something that is talked about a lot more now, so hopefully teens are becoming more comfortable with the idea that everything isn’t so heteronormative. Their relationship was only slightly underpinned with all the other crazy happenings in Brompton-on-Sea.
Sometimes I felt that the story was muddled. Was it about Toria becoming sexually active with Nico, dealing with the death of a friend, fighting mental health issues, being bisexual, having a Mum that drinks, saving a golf-corse, organising a prom or growing up? It was all of those things and more too, would you believe it? The story might have been more intense if Dawson had stuck to one of two themes and rolled with that, but the challenge of writing about so much really added a sense of realism. Because things don’t just happen one after the other, they happen concurrently, confusing and frustrating everyone involved!
Toria had an interesting way of telling her story that was almost conversational. She’d interrupt herself to explain how ridiculous it sounds or how naive she was, and every now and again there’s a free verse poem that adds more dimension to the story. Overall, All Of The Above was an interesting story and I would recommend it if you want to feel understood, because guaranteed you will be able to relate to this story in some way, if not all ways.