I’ll Be Home for Christmas Anthology – Book Review
I’m a bit late with this review, but I got here in the end! Over Christmas, I took part in a read-along for I’ll Be Home for Christmas, a festive short story anthology with the theme of “home”, with my friends from The Little Contemporary Corner. We aimed to read one story a day (I got a bit behind – oops) from 11th to 24th December. I took part in a little blog tour for this which you can read here. I’ve already reviewed Juno Dawson’s short story, Homo for Christmas, and this time I’m back to review the whole book!
The UK’s top Young Adult authors join together in this collection of new stories and poems on the theme of home.
Contributors include: Tom Becker, Holly Bourne, Sita Brahmachari, Kevin Brooks, Melvin Burgess, Katy Cannon, Cat Clarke, Juno Dawson, Julie Mayhew, Non Pratt, Marcus Sedgwick, Lisa Williamson and Benjamin Zephaniah.
£1 from the sale of every book will be donated to Crisis, the national homelessness charity. To find out more about Crisis, see www.crisis.org.uk.
The anthology has a whole range of stories. Some I loved, some were OK, and some I couldn’t finish. It’s one of the reasons I like anthologies of short stories. I could dislike some stories and love others, whilst others might have the complete opposite opinion! I’ll briefly review every story in the book, as well as the book as a whole.
I’ll Be Home for Christmas:
The Book Itself
This book is so PRETTY. I’m a sucker for judging a book by its cover, and this one instantly jumped out at me. It looks like a warm Christmas jumper or a vintage Christmas postcard! What makes it even more beautiful is the red sprayed edges. Again, if books have colourful sprayed edges, I want to stare at it for hours. I’m very simple-minded and easily pleased. 😀
I’ve read a few festive anthologies in the past, and this one lived up to the others. The stories range from warm and festive to realistic and eye-opening, and my opinions varied for each and every one. I’ll go through each of the stories and let you know what I thought. If you agree or disagree, let’s discuss!
I’ll Be Home for Christmas:
Home and Away by Benjamin Zephaniah
This is a powerful poem which really opened my eyes to the difficulty of being homeless around Christmas. As the first piece in the book, it made me look forward to reading the rest. Poetry is something I’m learning to appreciate – it’s not something I’ve always been able to fully understand or enjoy – but I’m starting to like it a lot. I liked that the first piece is a poem because it’s short and easy to read, full of power and emotion, and I knew I’d like this book already!
Ghosts of Christmas Past by Non Pratt
I related to this one in a lot of ways. The story follows Samuel, a teenager who has moved out of his family home and into his nan’s house with his mum and brother. He misses his old house and despises seeing the ‘SOLD’ sign outside it. He longs to go back in… and this is when he meets Amy, a new girl in school, who has moved into his old house. I loved seeing him view his old house after it’s been inhabited by someone else, looking at how different the place looks and how he preferred things his way, or prefers them as they are now. My family have moved house several times during my lifetime, as well as me living in 3 different places in university, moving into a house with my sister, and soon moving into another new flat! So I definitely know what it’s like to feel nostalgic over an old home and I often wonder what they now look like with new people living there. I enjoyed this story a lot and it was probably one of my favourite ones in the book.
If Only In My Dreams by Marcus Sedgwick
I initially thought I’d love this story. That was my instant reaction. It’s set in space, which is one of my favourite book settings, so I thought I’d really like it. Unfortunately, I just didn’t enjoy this story. I can’t even say what it’s about because I’m not 100% sure. It’s about a creepy dream that all of the members of the crew had at the same time, involving Earth being destroyed or something… I think. I had a hard time following it because of the way it was written. The dialogue is written with dashes instead of speech marks, for example:
– Grey, you still out here, buddy?
– Yeah. I’m here. Go again.
– We need the reading on the array.
You get the drift. It’s very confusing to read and I had no idea who was talking, so I couldn’t really follow it. If you read this, did you understand this one? If so, please explain it to me!
Family You Choose by Cat Clarke
The main thing I loved about this story was the diverse range of characters, and the character development in such a short story. Family You Choose is about 18-year-old Effie who ran away from her birthday party hosted by her mum. She doesn’t want to be surrounded by her family; instead, she spends the evening surrounded by a group of friendly misfits in what one of the characters calls The Annual Waifs and Strays Anti-Christmas Dinner. I absolutely loved getting to know some of the characters and finding out about Effie’s background, and why she wanted to escape her family. I appreciate the LGBT representation without it being too in-your-face. This story seems to be a popular one among reviews, and I can see why – it’s so sweet and lovely and it made me feel warm!
The Associates by Kevin Brooks
This was a very short story – only a few pages – so I read it in less than 20 minutes. Two men, Manny and Hugh, sit out on the street and watch the world go by. That’s the majority of the story; their conversations, the things they see, and the pangs of envy as they watch people get into their cars, look in estate agent windows for their new home, and live happy lives. Towards the end of the short story, you learn that these two men don’t have a warm “home” like everyone else; their home is a dilapidated, derelict mansion house, littered with stray beer bottles and rubbish. But it’s home to them, and they’re happy.
I didn’t feel very much towards this story at first; it didn’t have the same warmth as some of the other stories. However, I scanned over it a second time, and once I realised the reality of these two men, I felt more towards them. It might be the shortest piece in the book, but the story the author told in just a few pages showed me a lot about these two men, homeless but seemingly happy with what they have.
The After School Club by Holly Bourne
Weirdly, I own two of Holly Bourne’s books but this short story was the first thing I’ve read by her. It gave me a great introduction to her writing, because I enjoyed this story a lot. It was a bit darker than some of the others, but still had a message of hope. Friends Ben and Mercedes meet after school to go to the park, Mercedes hiding a bottle of vodka. They sit in the play area until dark, sharing the bottle and talking about their friendship, why they sit in the park when the weather is so cold, and more importantly, the difference between Ben’s privileged upbringing compared to Mercedes’ not-so-privileged background.
The stark difference between these two friends made them gel more, as they both kind of evened each other out – Mercedes brings Ben down to her level and makes him realise how lucky he is, whilst Ben makes Mercedes rethink the reasons behind her misfortune so that she does something about it. The ending made almost made me shout: I won’t give any spoilers, but it’s left on such a cliffhanger that I really want to know what happens next. I guess I’ll have to leave it up to my imagination!
Homo for Christmas by Juno Dawson
I won’t say too much about this one here because I wrote an entire post about it! You can read that post here.
Amir and George by Sita Brahmachari
This is one of the stories that has stuck in my mind the most. I don’t know why – I’m not sure what makes it more memorable than the others – but it’s one of the ones I remember most vividly. The story is about Amir, a refugee, who is travelling to take part in a public speaking competition. The whole story is written in his broken English, which I love. I’ve read stories written in broken English in the past, and they always help me to get inside the head of the character and understand their struggles. Throughout the story, we discover more and more about Amir’s tragic background as a refugee and it made me want to cry knowing that it’s the reality of so many thousands of people.
The Letter by Tracy Darnton
Tracy Darnton is a rising star – she won the Stripes YA Short Story Prize and got her story, The Letter, published in this anthology. I really liked this story, so she’s definitely a promising newcomer to YA fiction! The main character, Amber, is on a day out with someone called Julie. We discover that Julie is from social services, and she is trying to find Amber somewhere to live. Her mother died and she hasn’t seen her abusive dad for ages, but when he gets back in touch, will she put everything behind her to be reunited? It’s all about being too afraid to ask for help even when you seem to others like you have everything under control; like nothing can affect you. I know Amber is a fictional character, but I hope everything works out for her!
Claws by Tom Becker
As much as I liked this story and it’s stuck out in my mind, I feel like it also sticks out among the other stories for being so utterly different. It feels so unique compared to the other stories because it’s almost an entirely different genre. Where the other stories are mostly about friendship, relationships, and finding home, this one seems more like a psychological thriller.
Holly goes to stay with her gran in a tiny village where everybody knows each other and no secrets are kept hidden. When things start becoming very weird, Holly realises that there’s something odd about this small town: several people have gone missing some years ago, each on Christmas Day. Holly sets out to find out the truth about the mystery, but can she do it without getting in trouble herself? I was amazed at how much story Becker could squeeze into a few pages, without it seeming too jam-packed. I raced through the story and I was stunned – and still am – by the ending!
Christmas, Take Two by Katy Cannon
I was glad to be back to the heartwarming, family-related stories with Christmas, Take Two. This one is about Heather, a sarcastic teenager who has to go and stay with her dad and his new family for Christmas. She really doesn’t like the idea of spending Christmas with people she barely knows instead of her mum, and she does everything to try not to get too involved with her dad’s seemingly perfect family.
As somebody with separated parents, I understand how difficult it can be to have to split time between two families, especially as a teenager, and especially around Christmas. I really wanted her to come to her senses and realise that it’s not all that bad to get to know new people, and that it could actually be fun! When Holly meets somebody she clicks with and they spend Christmas Eve talking on the roof, he finally makes her decide that actually, spending some time with her dad and the people important to him is worth a shot. This was a lovely story and I could imagine everything so vividly!
When Daddy Comes Home by Melvin Burgess
This is when I started to lose focus. I managed to read a couple of pages of this story before I had to give up. I just couldn’t read it, simply because of the writing style. There aren’t many writing styles that I absolutely cannot read, but one that I just can’t get on with is very short, snappy sentences. Obviously, I understand what short sentences are used for effect, but when every single sentence is no longer than 5 words, it winds me up and I can’t read it. I just get so frustrated and want to DNF the book straight away. 😀 So, yeah. I don’t really have anything to say about this one.
The Bluebird by Julie Mayhew
The next story didn’t keep me focused, either. I tried so hard to read it but again, I just couldn’t get my head around the way it was written – I couldn’t get a sense of what the story actually was. It seemed warm and festive with a lot of description, but for some reason I just couldn’t get into the story. Sadly this was another one I had to DNF.
Routes and Wings by Lisa Williamson
After two stories in a row that I couldn’t finish, I worried that I’d finish the book on a negative note. I really hoped I liked this one. Luckily, it was one of my favourite stories in the book! Lauren works in a crappy low-paid job in a sandwich shop with an awful boss. She’s frustrated because he keeps giving away all the shifts to Angel, a provocatively-dressed girl he seems creepily close to, leaving Lauren with only 2 shifts in the week leading up to Christmas. She complains about her job a lot, and I first wondered why she stays – she could try and find another one that’s better, but she seems to be settling for what she’s got. It’s only later on in the story that I realised something important: she’s homeless, and she doesn’t want anyone to find out. So she can either stay in this badly-paid job and earn at least a bit of money, or earn nothing at all.
The character development in this story was the best of all of them. I love when a character I dislike goes from being negatively perceived to someone admirable. There was a character in this that did that – I won’t tell you who, but for me, it came as a big shock. I loved it! I made me realise I need to stop judging people by their character – or what I think is their character – and learn what they’re really like behind their facade.
When it comes to Christmas, the most important thing is a sense of belonging; that you have somewhere to class as home. Most of these stories really showed me just how important this is, and how it can differ for every person.
If you’re after a new book to read next Christmas, please consider picking up this one. Remember that £1 for every sale goes to homelessness charity Crisis, so just buying a copy of the book can support a great cause! You can grab yourself a copy on Amazon here*.
*Note: Affiliate link used – click here for details. 🙂