Monday, 20 April 2015

Blog Tour: Review & Guest Blog Post for If You Were Me by Sam Hepburn (Young Adult, 10/10E)

Two power stories make up this memorable read
 2nd April 2015, Chicken House, 352 pages, Paperback, Review copy

Content: drug, criminal activity, frequent major peril, half truths, tissue needed, 

Summary from Chicken House
Not long after Aliya’s family escapes Afghanistan for Britain, her brother is accused of a bomb attack. Aliya is sure of his innocence, but when plumber’s son Dan finds a gun in their bathroom, what’s she to think? 

Dan has his own reasons for staying silent: he’s worried the gun might have something to do with his dad. Thrown together by chance, they set out to uncover a tangled and twisted truth.

Nayu's thoughts
Although there is a happy end, in general this isn't a happy book. There is constant peril, so many 'oh my goodness what will happen next moments' that there was almost one on every page. That's how many plot twists there were. It was scary not knowing who Aliya could trust - trust me when I say the major plot twist at the end is mega and will make you want to reread the book straight away upon finishing, just to read it knowing that bit of information to try and pick up more clues. I was so engrossed in the book that when a family member came into the room where I was reading I was startled. This book has short chapters so can be picked up and put down, but if possible I recommend leaving a few hours in a row so you can get immersed in the thrilling story.

Although our lives are very different I felt fond of spunky Aliya. I say spunky because she doesn't bury her head in the sand (literal and metaphorical). She can't. She has to be strong for her adorable little sister, whose silence tore at my heart. She has to support her severely depressed mother, and in fact almost be the mother in the family. When people she thought she could trust lie to her she seeks alternate ways to discover the truth about her brother which could get her killed. She's spunky for continuing her mission to prove her brother's innocence even when she's under semi-strict surveillance by the authorities - that makes her brave in my eyes. Even in real life it's often the spunky ones who can find the truth simply because they never give up, no matter how much is stacked against them. 

Although I find it easier to relate to female characters, Dan was an interesting point of view. His family loyalty in the first part of the book is sort of admiral - he was trying to avoid the truth so he wouldn't get hurt, but in time he learns he has to face up to certain cold facts in order to help Aliya. I like how the two of them worked together, each bringing a different viewpoint on what they experienced together, on the two very different cultures. It says a lot for Aliya that she at one point ditches her traditional clothes so that she doesn't get recognised- that took a lot of guts, emphasising once again how spunky she is. 

The Magical Power Of Research by Sam Hepburn
Read on to hear how muh Sam enjoys her book research, and what went into the research for If You Were Me
I love doing research. I suppose it’s because I made documentaries for the BBC for over twenty years and the starting point for any factual film is always the research. But there is a big difference between researching facts for a novel and researching material for a film because once you have found the factual elements of a novel you are free to do anything you want with them, which is exactly what I did for my latest thriller If You Were Me.
 Like millions of other people around the world I was profoundly moved by the story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban because she campaigned for girls’ education. She is so outgoing, so thoughtful, so clever and determined but also, in many ways so ordinary. She loves her family, she worries about her grades, she squabbles with her brother.  As I read her book ‘I am Malala’ it made me think about all the millions of other thoughtful, clever, determined ordinary girls in countries where their basic freedoms are threatened and that is how the character of Aliya Sahar began to take shape in my mind.
Like Malala, Aliya is from a group of people called Pashtun who came originally from the mountainous areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan and now live in both those countries. Unlike Malala, Aliya is from Afghanistan and it is her nineteen year old brother not her who is targeted by the Taliban. They put him on a death list because he has worked as an interpreter for the British army.
I began to read about Afghanistan, to look at documentaries and Youtube clips about what it was like to live there. I read about the horrific ‘Night letters’ that the Taliban slip beneath people’s doors informing them that they are going to be killed and I found out about the kind of houses that people live in the older parts of Kabul. When I saw pictures of the old timber framed houses hanging out over the steep hillside, the architecture and the layout of the land became integral to the story of Aliya’s escape from Kabul in the opening chapter.
The other wonderful thing about researching factual material for a novel is that you think you know what is going to happen and then suddenly you find a fascinating fact that you are desperate to use and which has a huge impact on the plot. That is what happened when I found a newspaper about an Afghan Warlord called Faryadi Zardad, a horrible man who was wanted for all sorts of horrific crimes. He escaped to Britain in 2000 and set up a Pizza restaurant in Streatham in South London where I live. That shocked me ( although I don’t think I ever bought any of his pizzas) and I was very glad to discover that he was unmasked by the BBC and is now serving twenty years in prison. But that got me thinking about people hiding in plain sight, criminals who slip away to other countries and hide behind another persona and that idea became absolutely key to the plot of If You Were Me.
So that is why I read the newspapers, watch the news and scour the tatty old magazines I find lying around while I’m waiting to see the doctor or the dentist, because at any moment I might find that wonderful little nugget of fact that I can weave into my next story. 

If You Were Me by Sam Hepburn out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House) Follow Sam on Twitter: @Sam_Osman_Books and find out more at
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