Saturday, February 27, 2021

Words and Feelings

Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicoll 

Knights of, 2021 

Elle McNicoll arrived on the scene in a blaze of passionate storytelling last year with 'A Kind of Spark'. The book picked up, as one of its themes, the Scottish witch trials explored through the sympathetic voice of its neurodivergent protagonist. It was a masterly debut. McNicoll told a vivid and original story (increasingly rare in today's saturated children's literature market), added to which her viewpoint as an #OwnVoices writer, was beautifully interwoven into the texture of the story, never overwhelming but always challenging in the best possible way. 

Now Show Us Who You Are is here. In this, her latest novel, McNicoll has created - if anything - something even more rich and compelling than her first. For me, A Kind of Spark was masterly but this one is something exceptional. 

Beyond knowing that, what has been difficult - in fact impossible -  is putting into words how this book has affected me. Once I'd read the book, I tweeted:

"I’ve finished reading this now. Umm. I actually don’t know what to say..."

And I'm afraid I am still struggling to get into words what reading Show Us Who You Are has done to me.

It's to do with the story certainly, the fact that it is refreshingly new and boldly plotted. It satisfies in the best kind of literary way. But then there are also the characters. They walked into my life, Cora and Aiden in particular, and surely they are there now for good. Then there's the voice - the voice is something very special indeed; once heard it is unforgettable.  

There are many other layers, shades, reflections, sides, planes to the novel, but the joy is going to be for every reader to discover them for themselves. So I thought that the best thing I could do is to offer some prompts that you might like to consider while you're reading the book. What will the book say to you? How will it speak to you? Maybe the questions, too, might be helpful in engaging young readers you know to develop their thinking about the book too. 

In the end, I've come to the conclusion that, for me,  Show Us Who You Are transcends feeling: it's not about telling, it's all to do with the showing. McNicoll's writing does this effortlessly, and that is rare writing indeed. Her book left me speechless - for weeks afterwards too! - because the whole act of being told the story changed me so much as a reader, maybe even as a human being, that there was literally nothing more to be said. Only felt. 

And that's probably the best kind of reading you can ever hope to enjoy. 


Questions to think and talk about:

  • What does the title mean? What has it got to do with the story that is being told? 
  • Cora and Aiden are intensely good friends, but not girlfriend and boyfriend. This is an important distinction to make when thinking about their relationship in the story - why?
  • Mirrors appear in the story in key scenes. What is so significant about them? 
  • Cora is an old name that derives from the Greek name 'Persephone'. What do you know about the Persephone myth? What other connections (and disconnections!) does the novel have to that story?
  • There are many twists and turns in the storytelling. What surprised you most in the novel? 
  • There are many science fiction aspects of the book. Despite this, does the story feel 'real' to you? How does it do that if so?
  • What do you think matters most to the author in this book: the characters or the plot? 
  • Which was the last book you read with a main character who is neurodivergent? What other books have similar characters?
  • If you have read A Kind of Spark, does it feel like the books are connected by the same author? How or how not? 

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