Sharon Stephenson delivers her newest round of favourite recent releases.
Just Like You by Nick Hornby
Genre: Romance and comedy
This could have gone terribly wrong: a 63-year-old white, middle-class Londoner writing from the perspective of a 22-year-old black, working- class man and a 12-year-old white, middle-class single mother. Thankfully, Nick Hornby’s racial, cultural and social pick-and-mix absolutely nails it.
Joseph lives at home with his God-fearing mother and cobbles together a living from half a dozen part-time gigs – at a leisure centre, babysitting, at a butcher’s shop – while he waits for his DJing ship to come in. He’s lovely, but a bit directionless.
Lucy enters Joseph’s orbit when he serves her at the butcher’s shop. She’s head of English at a local school, mother of two boys and separated from her husband of two decades, Paul, who broke her heart and her world. “Paul had spent all their money. Paul had ruined too many birthdays. Paul had hit a Deliveroo driver and bought cocaine and dealers into the house where her children lived.”
Lucy asks Joseph to babysit and eventually their harmless flirtation turns into something else. Clearly, this isn’t going to be an easy ride because not only are they different ages and races, they also have little, if anything, in common: Lucy has children, Joseph has lots of female admirers; Lucy hosts dinner parties, Joseph has never been to one; Lucy loves Shakespeare and uses proper punctuation in texts. You know where this is going.
Set in 2016, another issue facing the couple is Brexit. Britain’s divisions echo the seismic cracks in Lucy and Joseph’s relationship – leaving Europe is inconceivable to Lucy and her woke friends, while Joseph’s scaffolder father believes leaving will guarantee him more work. Joseph is torn: “I thought you wanted us all to be British. Just because we’re black doesn’t mean we want to stay part of Europe. Half those countries are more racist than anyone here”.
Despite their differences, could Joseph be the person to make Lucy happy? Nick Hornby fans know the drill: come for the angst, stay for the hope. No spoilers, but you’ll close this novel feeling better about the world.
Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas
Genre: Young adult
I’d read a shopping list written by the magnificent Angie Thomas, former rapper and author of the critically acclaimed The Hate U Give – she’s just that good. Here we meet Maverick Carter, 17: his father’s in jail, his mother works two jobs and he sells drugs. But when Maverick discovers he’s a father, he tries to go straight. Another brilliant work from Angie, who’s participating in this year’s Auckland Writers Festival.
Cook, Eat, Repeat by Nigella Lawson
Our favourite domestic goddess wasn’t idle during Britain’s first lockdown: she wrote her 12th book. Gone are the photos of Nigella suggestively licking wooden spoons or floating around in sexy dressing gowns. This book is more a collection of essays interspersed with recipes for comfort food with a Nigella twist, such as rice pudding cake. It’s also the kind of book you can read without cooking a single thing.