We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan & Brian Conaghan

We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan & Brian Conaghan25310356

Nicu is so not Jess’ type.  He’s all big eyes and ill-fitting clothes, eager as a puppy, even when they’re picking up litter in the park for community service. Appearances matter to Jess. She has a lot to hide.

Nicu shouldn’t even be looking at Jess. His parents are planning his marriage to a girl he’s never met back home in Romania. But he wants to work hard, do better, stay here. As they grow closer, their secrets surface like bruises. And as the world around them grows more hostile, the only safe place Jess and Nicu have is with each other.

Nicu and Jess may be at the same school but couldn’t be further apart when it comes to their backgrounds. Or at least that’s how it seems. Nicu is an immigrant but also a Roma Gypsy and the actions of the school bullies towards him are vile. Equally vile is the treatment of Jess and her mother by Jess’ step-father, a daily trauma Jess is desperate to hide and desperate to escape from.  Jess and Nicu meet properly when they end up on a community service programme.  For Nicu, it’s almost love at first sight when he sees Jess; for Jess, can she really be friends with someone who’s always a target for her mates’ bullying?  Both have secrets they want to hide. As their paths collide, what at first seemed marked differences soon become the threads that hold them together.  Nicu and Jess’ momentary solace in each other is short-lived and their troubles soon spill over to interfere with their plans of escape.  With prejudice, hate and fear driving those around them, how can Nicu and Jess protect themselves and each other from the inevitable outcome?

We Come Apart  is a brilliantly told story reflecting the somewhat grim reality of life as an immigrant and as a delinquent teen. Gritty and full of emotion the two central characters, Jess and Nicu, keep you utterly hooked. Having worked in schools for ten years, I have come across teenagers like them; they were totally believable. I found Nicu utterly endearing, very sweet and funny.  Being a Roma gypsy, an outcast in his own society too, he seems more hardened to prejudice than some and perhaps this is why he still wants to stay in London despite being treated so badly here. Or perhaps it’s just the lesser of two evils; the other being an arranged marriage in his home country.  Jess is someone your heart aches for; a ‘messed-up’ teen in the eyes of the world – but who wouldn’t be with such a despicable step-father to deal with?  I’ve met teenagers like her who just can’t seem to move forward, don’t want to be ‘helped’ and who act so tough but on the inside are quietly screaming. She is difficult to warm to, seeming somewhat cold-hearted, but when you understand her situation your empathy for her grows.

The authors brilliantly capture teenage angst, the differences that drive many teenagers to make bad choices and how situations can escalate as a result of these choices.  The thread of humour running through the narrative thankfully lightens the mood. But the sense of calamity surrounding Nicu and Jess’ blossoming romance is apparent from the start, making the good moments they share all the more meaningful.  It also makes the hope they find in each other more significant.   Written in verse, We Come Apart may well be an ‘easier’, shorter read, but the authors ensure every single word counts in order to create the empathy and understanding so clearly felt whilst reading it. This story is all too relevant today, tackling issues of abuse, racial bullying, knife-crime and teenage delinquency. Definitely one for YA readers, and indeed adults, it should be read to understand how prejudice of all kinds can affect young people and the danger of making assumptions about those around us.  Just because our own lives may not be touched by prejudice or abuse does not mean we should stand back and do nothing about those whose lives are.

Find out more at www.bloomsbury.com or on Twitter @BrianConaghan  or @SarahCrossan

I was delighted to purchase this copy of We Come Apart at the launch evening at Waterstones in Brighton. Thank you to Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan for signing it for me.

The Memory Book by Lara Avery

the-memory-book-coverSam McCoy is 17.  Sam McCoy was going to be someone – and then she became ill.  Now, she must figure out who she is…..

Told in a diary style narrative, The Memory Book follows Sam McCoy as she deals with a life-changing illness.  Diagnosed with Niemann-Pick, a form of dementia, Sam will inevitably lose her memory.  Determined to give herself the best possible chance of remembering who she is, Sam starts a memory book, like a diary, telling her future self (Future Sam) who she is and what she wants from life.  As she writes, Sam discovers the plans she has made for herself – winning the Nationals, making the Valedictorian speech and going to NYU – are less and less likely to be achieved but with dogged determination she fights her way forward.  Sam’s friends and family provide some support and advice but it’s not always welcome; her illness affects them too.  As it progresses, Sam has less and less freedom, which for a teenager desperate to break free is increasingly frustrating.  Sam starts to realise perhaps she isn’t the person she thought she was and it’s only through the memory book that her true self is revealed.

The Memory Book is an utterly compelling young adult story and I read it in one sitting, staying up till 1am to finish it.  In practical terms, it’s very easy to read with some ‘chapters’ only one line long (so a good choice for teens who don’t want to read a ‘long’ book).  But in emotional terms, it’s heart-wrenching, with the final scenes in particular causing a flood of tears.  I loved Sam; she’s bold and brave and totally inspiring considering what she is facing.  I loved her debate partner Maddie; who takes no prisoners and says it like it is – causing conflict here and there.  I loved Coop; the unassuming, ‘dope-smoker’ from next door, who turns out to be *spoiler alert* the best friend a girl could have.  Sam’s family (Mum and Dad, a brother and two sisters, all younger) are introduced to us through childhood memories as well as ‘current’ moments and Sam’s own predictions of what she thinks her siblings will be like in the future.  Particularly poignant is the scene where Sam lapses into memory loss and ‘forgets’ one of her sisters – with her sister understandably distraught at being ‘forgotten’ even if only temporarily.  Sam’s parents work hard to pay the inevitable medical bills and to stay strong through the horrendous ordeal of watching their child’s health deteriorate.  Through the various relationships Sam has, including with Stuart Shah her schoolgirl crush, the journey of self-discovery is significant. As the reader, you rejoice with her when she manages to achieve some of her goals, mourn those she can’t and feel absolute heartache as her “body is failing”.  Slowly, Sam starts to realise those things she placed so much hope in are not as important as she thought.  This realisation helps her to embrace the life she now has and do her best to enjoy it; a lesson we can all learn along with her.the-memory-book-cover

As a mother myself, I cannot bear the thought of having my sons going through an illness like this. It’s bad enough when they have the flu – you’d do anything to make them feel better.  Magnify this by about a million and that is how I imagine Sam’s mother to feel.  Her words to Sam, her eldest daughter, written in The Memory Book are just beautiful.   The story of Sam McCoy will stay with you long after reading.

Also reviewed for the Reading Zone. Thank you to Quercus for sending me this book.

Author Interview: Patricia Forde

img_7368-soft-copy-copy-730x410I’m so excited to present my first author interview of 2017 with Patricia Forde! Patricia has written picture books, plays, TV dramas for children and teenagers as well as writing for various soap operas – in both English and Irish. Her first novel, The Wordsmith, was published by Little Island in May 2015.

Thank you Patricia for joining the blog today.

How did you come up with the idea for the character of the Wordsmith? For me, writing often starts with a single image.  With The Wordsmith I had an image of a young girl selling words in a shop. Interestingly, I spent a lot of my young years behind the counter of my family’s shop so it was a familiar setting for me. My husband had just come back from the USA and had brought me a visual thesaurus for my computer.  I remember thinking that it was as if he had bought words for me. I then spent months trying to figure out who this girl was and what kind of place would have people who needed to buy words. The story and the character began there.

The Irish language also played a part.  I am bi-lingual and write in both languages. I feel that in my adult life I have been attending a wake for the language. Gradually, native Irish speakers are using more and more English words in normal speech.  Apparently, a minority language like Irish, dies, by being cannibalised by the stronger language, in our case English. Working in that environment and seeing the ‘list’ of words we use diminish definitely influenced me when creating Letta and her world.

the-wordsmith-coverThe Wordsmith ‘collects’ and distributes words throughout the book. I thought the List was a great – if scary – idea. I also thought it was clever to show how restricting the words that can be used affects communication. How did you decide which words to ‘keep’ when writing List dialogue and did you worry about this affecting the narrative?The list of words came from an American linguist.  I found him on the internet and asked him what was the minimum number of words needed to hold a basic conversation (How many words do you need to survive?) He very kindly responded and said 500 and then sent me a list of the 500 words you would use.  I doctored the list to my own ends. I added words like ‘desecrator’ for example.

I did worry initially about restricting my vocabulary but then I invented rules to help me get over that.  In the novel Letta speaks the ‘old tongue’ to her master, to Marlo, to John Noa, and of course, in her own head. This made easier for me to express myself fully and not feel that I too had to conform to the List.

Freedom of expression through the arts is a key theme in the book. What do you think is important about the arts in our daily lives (not just as a means to make a living)? We are the only species on Earth that has more than one life. We have the possibility of imagination. We are able to imagine what will happen- after lunch or in a thousand years time.  We not only experience the reality of every day but we have the facility to step out of the normal and into the ‘other’. Music, poetry, art and stories all act as portals to help us make that transition. I think it is central to our mental health and wellbeing to be able to make that leap. Personally, I’ve always been a reader.  No matter what calamity was playing out in real life, I had the ability to escape into a book. I passionately believe that every child should have the right to have access to that door. I was lucky to have been born into a home where books were valued and into a community where education was freely available. I was lucky to have access to a public library. I think, as a society, we need to value the arts more and realise what a great privilege it is to be able to freely enjoy artistic expression.

You touch on people’s desire or need to believe in something in the novel.   The statue of the Goddess indicates some of the people’s past beliefs. Why did you include this theme in the story?  I grew up in a very Catholic tradition and even though I have major criticisms of the church as an organisation, I loved all a the symbolism and ritual attached to it. I also loved the comfort and reassurance that faith brought. In Ireland now, the idea of faith and belief is slowly falling away. In the novel, I show a people who have left it behind them but still yearn for something supernatural to believe in.

The’ Melting’ in the novel has been caused by man’s own ignorance which has resulted in the catastrophic destruction of society.  What inspired you to write a novel with this as a central idea and did you research the issues surrounding this to inform your writing?  The destruction of the environment has been such a hot topic in recent years. I live on the outskirts of Connemara on one side and the Burren on the other. Both of these places are spectacularly beautiful with granite mountains in Connemara looking down on the wild Atlantic ocean and miles of bone-white limestone in the Burren peppered with rare wild flowers. I did a lot of research into global warming and its consequences. It is horrifying to think that we are destroying fragile places all over the world. And of course we are endangering insects, birds and animals as well. One of the things I mention in the book is that bees had become almost extinct before the Melting. I love bees. My grandfather kept a couple of hives and Ireland has a lot of folklore connected to them. For instance, the old people would say that you should always inform the bees if someone in the household dies.  Otherwise, they will swarm and leave the hive.  This is because bees are very sensitive and easily offended.

*SPOILER ALERT* – Letta and Marlo seem destined for each other (and yippee so they were!!)  Did you feel it important to have an element of romance in the story? No I didn’t!  I had no hand, act or part in it. My plan – such as it was- did not include a love story. Sometimes, characters take on a life of their own and stop going along with the writer. It started with a few glances.  She noticed he ‘smelt like sage’ and before I knew it, they were in love! Eventually I had to give in to them and I was quite happy when they got together at the end.

I love the narrative and the deliberate descriptions you include – such as when Letta is making the ink for her words using the beetroot. This being your first novel (having previously written television dramas, plays, early readers and picture books) how did the writing experience differ?  As far as books go, everything I had written before this was a sprint.  The novel was a marathon. There were times when I found it hard to be patient, hard to slow down and describe things, to let the engine idle for a minute. I had to constantly remind myself to stop plotting and to look around me and tell the readers what I saw. On the positive side, I loved having time to say all the things I wanted to say and I loved having time to spend with the characters, especially Letta. I was shocked at how much I missed her company when the story finished.

And finally, to any aspiring writers out there what would your three best pieces of advice be?!  

1. Read everything you can and especially read books that you love.

2. Write as much as you can. Write every day if you can but don’t get hung up on that.  Everyone is different. There is no right way and there is certainly no wrong way to write. You are the only one who sees the world from behind your eyes. Tell us what you see and we will be interested.  Don’t worry if you don’t see vampires or wizards. I don’t think anyone will mind.

3. And finally, never, ever give up.

Wonderful advice,thank you Patricia! And some really amazing answers here too.

 

The Wordsmith by Patricia Forde

the-wordsmith-coverThe Wordsmith, Patricia Forde

Ark is a place of tally sticks, rationed food and shared shoes, where art and music are banned, language is severely restricted and outcasts are thrown to the wolves. Letta’s job is to collect words and dole them out to people who need them.  When she discovers that John Noa is planning to rob the people of language altogether and make them Wordless, she has to stop him. But she’s only a young girl and he’s the leader of the known world.

Letta is an apprentice, learning the trade of the Wordsmith; perhaps the most important role in all of Ark.  Letta makes the word cards that people are allowed to use in their daily lives – anything not a ‘List’ word is forbidden.  For words are considered to be the cause of the Melting; they are the root of all evil and therefore restrictions ensure there will be no more trouble. The rule of law is created by John Noa and Ark is policed for him by gavvers; ruthless men who will do anything they can to ensure the law is followed.  Anyone found to be challenging the law, a Desecrator, is banished to the wild. Benjamin, the Master Wordsmith, has been Letta’s family since her parents were lost.  He often reassures her that all will be well, even when unrest spreads across Ark and outside the walls in Tin Town. When Benjamin meets his death on a word-finding trip and a Desecrator named Marlo shows up in her shop with bullet wounds, Letta starts to question everything.  The reality of Ark suddenly becomes more like a prison; Letta realises John Noa is not all he seems and that everyone is in danger.  Now the Master Wordsmith, Letta must overcome her fears and challenge all that she thought she knew to uncover the truth.

The Wordsmith is a beautifully written tale illustrating the importance of language and creativity and the power they have to change lives. Suitable for ages 11+, it has a detailed narrative and clever plot, you are instantly drawn into the post-apocalyptic world of Ark.  It takes a moment to get used to some of the conversation which takes place using only ‘List’ words, but this perfectly creates the atmosphere of what it must be like to live in a world without proper communication. The heroine Letta, for whom you feel great empathy, is full of imagination considering the time she lives in, and very brave.  Saving Marlo leads her to find out what life should really be like and how creativity is part of being human – as well as discovering the Desecrators are not the monsters she thought.  The monster, is in fact, John Noa, who has clearly become obsessed with controlling all those around him through taking away their words.  It is a frightening thought and there are some unpleasant moments where you realise just how far he will go to ‘save’ society.

As Letta’s journey to discover the truth unfolds, we find out what happened in the Melting (global warming) and how this has destroyed the world as we know it –a potential future that is a little too ‘real’ for comfort.  Letta meets many brilliantly described characters; each of whom has a different experience to share; each of whom lead her on to the inevitable confrontation with John Noa. As well as being a great adventure, with plot twists to keep you on the edge of your seat, The Wordsmith captures many of the concerns we have in society today. Raising questions of science, faith, religion, old age, poverty and the power of freedom of expression , I thoroughly enjoyed this story and really hope there will be a follow-up!
Check out my interview with Patricia Forde; not to be missed!

Find out more about Patricia Forde at www.patriciaforde.com and follow her on Twitter @PatriciaForde1

Thank you to Little Island for sending me this book to read and review.

 

30 December: Kat Ellis

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YA Author joins us on our penultimate day!

kat-ellisKat Ellis grew up in North Wales and studied English with Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is an active blogger and amateur photographer. Kat has had short stories published and wrote Blackfin Sky last year after trying her hand at sci-fi. Her first published novel, Blackfin Sky will also be released in the US next autumn.

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Notebooks (I have a bit of a collection building… some might call it a hoard), fancy coffee (because I usually spend January trying to be a bit posh in my drinking habits, but inevitably go back to instant), and a novelty mug (to put the fancy coffee in).

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? Christmas Day for me usually involves bustling around to visit family members, but on Boxing Day – which is also my husband’s birthday – we traditionally go out for a curry, just to do something completely un-Christmassy.

(Curry on Boxing Day sounds like a great idea!)

What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? Growing up, Jenny Nimmo’s The Snow Spider was my favourite Christmas read. Last Christmas I read Katherine Rundell’s The Wolf Wilder, which was snowy and wonderful, and I think this year I’ll be reading Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan for a bit of festive romance.

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be and why? David Bowie, for sure. As well as being an amazing musician, he was also an artist, starred in films like Labyrinth – which is one of my all-time favourites, especially at Christmastime – and he just seemed like a fascinating person. I bet he’d have some good stories to share over the Christmas crackers!

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Purge is your third YA novel. Mason is often in trouble in the novel; do you think Father Christmas would visit him and if so, what would he give him? I think if Father Christmas paid Mason a visit, the only thing he’d give him is a stern telling off. Not that Mason would be bothered, mind you. He’d probably nick Father Christmas’s sleigh and go joyriding.

(*laughs out loud* Definitely belongs on the naughty list!)

You’re a keen photographer; what or who would your ideal Christmas photo feature?Living in North Wales, I have plenty of amazing scenery to photograph, so maybe a nice snowy castle or forest.

winter-1027822_1920Reader’s question from the children Warden Park Academy: we sometimes have to correct our creative writing. How do you feel when you have to make corrections to your work? Before I share a story with anyone else, I read it over and over, looking for mistakes and polishing it to make it as good as possible. But – and I don’t think I’m alone here – I inevitably reach a point where I can’t look at my own work objectively, and I might miss a mistake that’s obvious to someone reading it for the first time. That’s why I’m always grateful to work with editors; they offer me expert guidance to make my stories flow better, and make my writing more polished. Writing is a skill you never stop learning and honing, so it’s great when you have someone helping you to improve.

(Wonderful writing advice!)

Turkey or goose? Turkey, always.

Real or fake tree? Fake (if you’ve ever trodden on pine needles with bare feet, you’ll know why.)

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Errrrr….neither? I’m more of a sherry trifle fan.

Stockings –  end of the bed or over the fireplace? Over the fireplace.

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? Christmas Eve!

Thank you for participating in our festive Q & A! Wishing you a Happy Christmas and New Year! 

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Find out more about Kat at katelliswrites.blogspot.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @el_kat

27 December: Eve Ainsworth

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Carnegie Medal 2017 nominee Eve Ainsworth on Day 27!

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Eve Ainsworth’s first Young Adult Novel published by Scholatsic, Seven Days, focused on bullying from the perspective of the bully and the bullied. Seven Days was a huge success, for which Eve was nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2016 and has won regional awards including the Wandsworth Teen Award and the Dudley Teen Prize. Her second YA Novel, Crush, is equally gripping, looking at the topic of abusive teenage relationships and is told with Eve’s warmth, humour and hope. This too has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal for 2017.

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Family-time, laughter and books.

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? Christmas Eve at my mum’s is a favourite tradition – freshly made mince pies and mulled wine with my crazy family and all the excitement to come!  A silly tradition is our Secret Scrooge. The family does it every year – finding the worst/most useless present they can for a pound and exchanging it on Boxing day – it’s heaps of fun, but you end up with a load of rubbish that you don’t really don’t need. I honestly don’t think we have a bad tradition – I love them all whether they are silly, fun or crazy.

What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? It has to be A Christmas Carol doesn’t it!?! What better story to curl up in front of a warm fire and get into the Christmassy mood.

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be? David Bowie because he’s my hero, Andrew Lincoln (Rick from Breaking Bad) because, well he’s so yummy and Charlie Brooker because he is very clever and funny.

You write about some difficult issues in your books Crush and Seven Days. What would your advice be to a young person experiencing similar difficulties to help them get through the festive season, which can sometimes be an even more emotional time?Christmas can be hard when you are going through a difficult time so you need to be kind to yourself. Give yourself space if you need it and don’t be afraid to talk to someone you trust if you need to. If it’s all too hectic and crazy, give yourself some calm time doing something that makes you feel more at peace and relaxed. Above all, don’t put pressure on yourself. Sometimes there is this belief that EVERYONE must be happy and having fun at Christmas and this is really not the case. Many of us struggle at this time – you are not alone.

(Great advice)

If you could give Anna, the central character in Crush, a Christmas gift what would it be?An acoustic guitar so she could learn to play.

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Reader’s question from children at the Inkpots Writers’ Hut; how long do you write for per day? I write 1,000 words a day. Sometimes it takes an hour – sometimes much, much longer….

Turkey or goose? Turkey

Real or fake tree? Real! My tree is fake but I prefer real – the smell is so gorgeous!

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Mince pies – especially my mums.

Stockings –  end of the bed or over the fireplace? End of bed of course (although it makes it tricky for Santa).

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? I am Christmas Eve!

(*Laughs out loud*!)

Thank you for joining our author advent! Happy Christmas!

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Find out more about Eve visit www.eveainsworth.com and follow her on Twitter @EveAinsworth.

21 December: Nikki Sheehan

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Delightful author Nikki Sheehan on Day 21!

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Nikki Sheehan is the youngest daughter of a rocket scientist. Following a career as a feature writer, her first novel Who Framed Klaris Cliff? won the North Herts Book Award for 2015. Her second, Swan Boy is one of The Guardian’s Best New Reads for this year and has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal 2017. She is also a story mentor for Little Green Pig (part of the Ministry of Stories) taking creative writing into schools in Brighton, where she lives with her family and too many pets.

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Socks. I’ve developed a bad new sock habit and I still have a small amount of space in my sock drawer.Books. Natch. An editing robot.

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? Hmm… New pyjamas for Christmas eve is the best. The worst, which we discontinued immediately, was when we made a huge best-shaped thing which combined meat and nut roast for the vegetarians. It looked great, but didn’t cook properly

What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? A Christmas Carol, The Grinch, and of course, at bedtime The Night Before Christmas.

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be and why? Michael Buble so he could sit in the corner and sing all day.

(Ahh, the romance!)

In Swan Boy, swans bring a wonderful magical element to the plot. If you had to choose an animal or living creature to represent Christmas what would it be and why? A white stag I think because, like Christmas, it’s magical and elusive but, most importantly, because it would look great with tinsel around its neck and baubles hung from its antlers

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You do lots of work with Little Green Pig helping children with creative writing. During the busy festive season what would be your best advice for aspiring writers on how to get any work done?! Many writers write every day, even if it’s just a few lines, because once you stop it can be hard to get going again. But as it’s Christmas and you’ll be full of turkey and chocolate, maybe just before bedtime try to capture what the day was like in a poem?

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Reader’s question from children at the Inkpots Writers’ Hut; are any of your characters based on real people?  Ooh, yes, but I sort of harvest attributes from various people. I used to know someone with a white streak like Johnny, and Mojo is a bit like one of my children. As for the frazzled mum, I’ve literally no idea where I got her from…

 

Turkey or goose? Neither – I’m veggie!

Real or fake tree? Real!

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Both please!

Stockings –  end of the bed or over the fireplace? Hung on the bedroom door handles.

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? Christmas every time!

 

Thank you for joining our festive Q & A! Merry Christmas!

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Follow Nikki on Twitter @NicoletteShhh