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Mainly aimed at young adults, but high quality and readable for adults too, Young Adult Fiction navigates emotional stories and characters searching for who they are. This diverse genre can feature aspects from any other genre, from Family Dramas to Fantasy with a stop off at Horror and Historical Fiction along the way.
So, so readable, Of Ants and Dinosaurs with the lightest and brightest of touches, made my brain itch with its creativity and klaxon alarm. Perfect for readers from young adult on, this sets itself as a “satirical fable, a political allegory and ecological warning”. In a time long long ago ants and dinosaurs joined forces to build a magnificent civilisation, when doom threatens will the dinosaurs listen to the ants? Cixin Liu is China’s number one science-fiction writer and his The Three-Body Problem was the first translated novel to win a Hugo award. I just love the cover, and the ants marching across the chapter pages had me smiling. As soon as I started to read my attention was well and truly caught. The prologue sets the scene with wonder and I read and believed without a moment's doubt. While portraying the ant and dinosaur alliance, there is very much a warning to the human race here. Deceptively simple and brilliantly clever, Of Ants and Dinosaurs just has to sit as a Liz Pick of the Month and a LoveReading Star Book, I simply adored it.
From the multi-award-winning author of The Poet X and With the Fire on High comes Elizabeth Acevedo’s exceptional dual-voiced novel about loss, love and sisterhood across the sea, a story partly sparked by the fatal crash of a flight from NYC to Santo Domingo in 2001. Camino Rios has always lived in the Dominican Republic with her aunt Tia, “a woman who speaks to the dead, who negotiates with spirits”, a woman who’s like a mother to her: “Even when Mama was alive, Tia was the other mother of my heart.” Life’s not easy for them on the island, but they have it better than their neighbours as a result of Camino’s beloved Papi working in the US for most of year. To Camino, Papi is a “A king who built an empire so I’d have a throne to inherit”, and she lives for the summer months when he comes home to them. But all life is thrown into terrible disarray when she goes to meet Papi at the airport and learns that his plane has fallen from the sky, and then: “I am swallowed by this shark-toothed truth.” This story is blessed with such divinely piercing language throughout. At the same time, across the Atlantic, Yahaira Rios learns that her hero Papi has died in a plane crash. She already knew he had a wife on the island (but not of his secret daughter), and has always longed to reconcile her Dominican heritage with her American life: “Can you be from a place you have never been? You can find the island stamped all over me, but what would the island find if I was there? Can you claim a home that does not know you, much less claim you as its own?” When it emerges that Papi wishes to be buried back in DR, Yahaira’s Mami insists that she will never let her “touch foot on the sands of that tierra.” But Yahaira has other plans, not least when she’s contacted by a girl named Camino Rios who bears an undeniable resemblance to Papi, and to her too. As well as being exceptionally affecting on grief, forgiveness and family secrets, Clap When You Land is also devastatingly sharp on the exploitative tendencies of tourism. In Camino’s words: “I am from a playground place…Our land, lush and green, is bought and sold to foreign powers so they can build luxury hotels...Even the women, girls like me, our mothers and tias, our bodies are branded jungle gyms…Who reaps? Who eats? Not us. Not me.” Overflowing with truths of the heart, and truths about inequalities that need to be broken, while also addressing the complexities of what it means to be of a place, I can’t praise this highly enough. Read our 'Book-aneers of the Caribbean' listicle to find more unforgettable books by Caribbean writers. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
Hitting rock bottom, hanging on, and coming back from the edge. Brian Conaghan has an incredible talent for telling it like it is. His characters are authentic and absorbing; flawed underdogs with serious troubles, like 17-year-old Maggie whose dad “drank his liver into a spreadable pâté”, and whose laid-off dinner lady mum is “gifted in the art of attracting pure dickheads”. And Maggie? Maggie’s “an island: the way I dress; the music I listen to; the patter my brain discharges; everything”. Maggie’s struggling to deal with the tragic loss of her best friend Moya whose death she feels excruciatingly guilty about. Moya was a “mad riot” of a girl, but as Maggie “couldn’t be arsed with all the love-struck vom” Moya was spewing, because she didn’t speak out against the Internet trolls, she believes she was a “failure friend”. Alongside her grief, guilt and self-harm, Maggie struggles with her mother’s severe depression, but also tingles with the hope that comes from starting art college: “now’s the time to make something of myself.” Indeed, she soon forms a band with new friends. Throughout, Maggie’s love of bands like The Smiths looms large, as does her relationship with her depressed mother. Maggie’s rage at her mother’s condition derives entirely from her primal love for her. She’s desperate for Mum to be happy, and her scheme to help her find happiness is heart-achingly poignant. Grief, depression, self-harm, online abuse, this novel is no walk in the park, yet it never drags the reader down. On the contrary. It’s sensitive, insightful, funny (Maggie is a master of biting one-liners), and genuinely uplifting as Maggie and Mum begin to find their way back to the world, with glinting prospects of love and new life.
This novel moves from poetry to prose, and back again, as it explores a girl’s relationship with her Grandfather. Mizuki can see something is deeply troubling to her Grandfather Ichiro, but she can’t find its source, except it is somehow connected with an old book and Ichiro’s need to create origami paper cranes from it. Mizuki’s worries are expressed in verse before we jump back into prose - to the at times brutal description of the day the bomb fell on Hiroshima and Ichiro’s role in that day and beyond. The descriptions of the effects of the bomb are based on effective research and from survivor’s tales and told in such a way that the reader is entirely there in the moment and the long days after as Hiro rebuilds a life for himself. As we return to Japan in 2018 the novel reverts to poetry to the very modern tale of how Mizuki uses the internet to try to get to the bottom of the problem facing her elderly grandfather. The illustrations in the book help create the many impressions and emotions aroused by the story – they are based on Japanese brush and ink techniques and add a further layer to this already impressive book. This is a harrowing tale but the ultimate redemption in the story leaves one with a sense of hope. Highly recommended.
Award winning author Jenny Valentine is justly renowned for never using three words where one will do, but every word she uses will count. Hello Now is another short novel that punches well beyond its weight. Every novel she writes is completely different, but you always know that you are in for an unforgettable reading experience. So, you would not expect the obvious wish fulfilment fantasy love story of finding true happiness with the perfect time-travelling love object and while that is the bare bones of the story of Jude and Novo, what we get is so much more. Jude is cleverly non gendered throughout the book and so this romance can take on multiple interpretations. The mechanics of Novo’s existence are never logically explained either, but we do have an intense dive into the powerful emotion that often seems beyond rationality and beyond time. It is only when Novo meets Henry, the old reclusive sitting tenant in the house Jude has just moved into, that Jude realises the harsh dilemma facing them. In one of the most touching scenes, Henry and Novo recognise each other for what they are. As Henry later explains to Jude alone, if Novo stays with Jude in her present time, he sentences himself to eternal loneliness once Jude inevitably dies, the same loneliness that Henry currently endures. A sacrifice that Novo is desperate to make but one that Jude cannot live with. Doing what is right is not always easy but embracing the moment, embracing change, and moving forward after loss are lessons worth learning. Exquisitely done and a thought provoking, rewarding read.
Like When We Collided and Open Road Summer, The Map from Here to There demonstrates Emery Lord’s talent for capturing the exhilaration and angst of characters on the cusp of adulthood. “I was beginning to think that half of growing up was figuring out when to let go and when to hold on,” Paige muses partway through her story journey, but being an anxiety prone over-thinker, that’s not an easy conundrum to crack. After the pain of her first boyfriend passing away a few years back, life has taken an upward turn. She has a set of supportive friends, she’s excited by the prospect of studying screenwriting, and she’s besotted with her new boyfriend Max. But having such an active life – working shifts at a cinema, applying to college, taking on a theatre internship, wanting to spend time with Max and her friends - begins to take its toll. Paige wants it all, but big decisions must be made, and the trouble is, saying yes to one thing (like choosing where to go to college) means saying no to another. When fatalism kicks in and affects her close relationships, Paige takes heart from her mom’s wise words: “As much as I love a pro-and-con list – and you know I do – sometimes you have to ignore all of that. Your gut instinct can say a lot.” Authentic, honest and shot through with empathy, this offers a helping hand to young adults navigating similarly confusing crossroads, alongside being an out and out entertaining story.
The author has revealed just how much of this searing novel is based upon her own experiences at school which lends credibility and authenticity to the situations described, but she has also created utterly believable and relatable characters with truly authentic teen voices and dialogue. Within a few pages we are thrust into the raw pain of grief and utter disbelief in the aftermath of a teen suicide. The narration alternates between 15-year-old Nathan, the younger brother who discovered Al’s body and Megan the school friend who shared Al’s passion for art, but each chapter is cleverly introduced by the voice of Al himself. Both Nathan and Megan are wracked with guilt, blaming themselves for letting Al down. Nathan, by not picking up the call from Al on that fateful afternoon and Megan by sticking with the ‘cool’ kids and not acknowledging Al as a friend. Nathan wants to understand why Al was driven to suicide and Megan wants to prove to the world how special he was. Gradually we develop a deep and nuanced understanding of their growing relationship and of all the characters involved: be they friends, family or even ‘villains’. There are no cardboard cyphers here. The thought provoking, intelligent writing also reveals the overwhelming influence of social media on the lives of young people. Megan can use Instagram and Facebook to positively celebrate Al’s artwork, but together they discover the extremes of cyberbullying he had been exposed to and which ultimately pushed Al over the edge, helped by the casual spite which colours so much daily interaction on social media.
This debut novel was inspired by the author’s work creating Run the World, an organisation that empowers women and girls from marginalised backgrounds through sport and storytelling and the authenticity of this, at times harrowing story, is palpably evident. As is the skill of the accomplished writing which makes great use of typography and layout to really make every word count. This speeds the reader through the narrative, but it also cuts deep to reveal the emotions experienced by our narrator. Amber Rai is only ‘truly alive’ when running and shows great potential. But her alcoholic, abusive, misogynistic father refuses to allow her on the track. She has seen her older sister Ruby denied university and married off against her will and her downtrodden, abused mother is literally powerless to help, trapped as much by illiteracy and lack of English as the violence of her equally illiterate, unemployed husband. Amber has friends and teachers who believe in her, but she cannot explain what really goes on at home. She is a complex and believable character with very real flaws that she painfully recognises: ‘inflicting pain on others/halves your own hurt’. But the story is cleverly structured on The Anatomy of a Revolution and inspired by her reading about revolutions for history, Amber, Ruby and her mother gradually empower each other to take small steps to freedom. This is an important, rewarding, highly empathetic read which, despite the dark subject matter, offers hope but no simplistic solutions.
Published in partnership with Girl Up, the UN women’s foundation, Feminists Don't Wear Pink (and other lies) is an exhilaratingly empowering anthology of essays by 52 women written in response to the question: what does the F word mean to you? The contributors’ answers are as varied and individual as womankind itself, with the book innovatively divided into sections covering Epiphany, Anger, Joy, Poetry Break, Action and Education, followed by helpful Further Reading recommendations and rousing Last Words essays. Often amusing, and always honest, edifying and powerfully personal, contributors from the world of screen and stage include Keira Knightly, Emma Watson, Lolly Adefope, Kat Dennings and Amy Trigg, while activist authors include anti-FGM campaigner Nimco Ali, Amika George, creator of the #FreePeriods campaign, and Alice Wroe, founder of Herstory. Readers beginning their feminist journey will find Claire Horn’s ‘A Short History of Feminist Theory’ especially useful, summarising as it does the movement’s origins, multi-stranded history and contemporary incarnations. Diverse, empowering, and united by a spirit of sisterly solidarity, these essays are a motivational, supportive rallying call to young women.
Another insightful and compassionate free verse novel from the queen of this increasingly admired form, this time exploring the transformative relationship between an abused runaway teenager and an elderly lady with dementia. Allison has grown up “stepping on eggshells” to circumvent her father’s violence. While she often wonders whether his behaviour was “all my fault”, one of his outbursts compels her to run away. With nowhere to go, she finds sanctuary in the house of an elderly woman called Marla. Marla has dementia and thinks Allison is Toffee, her best friend from childhood. After spending some time in Marla’s company, Allison decides to “stop correcting her… I like the idea of being sweet and hard, a girl with a name for people to chew on.” Moreover, in meeting Marla, Allison has found an unlikely kindred spirit: “I am not who I say I am. Marla isn’t who she thinks she is… Here, in this house, I am so much happier than I have ever been”. Returning the favour, Allison enriches Marla’s life – she listens, she indulges Marla’s desire to dance - while Marla’s carer and son show no real regard for her happiness, as if she’s beyond life, which makes Allison’s attentiveness all the more heart warming. Both vulnerable, they find strength through each other. With incredibly moving insight, Marla says of Allison’s dad, “none of it was about you. It was about him. It’s always about him. Surely you know that.” The writing is compellingly fluid, flowing freely between Allison’s precarious present and the tragic, abusive circumstances that sent her careering down this path. While fleeting, the impact of their time together is monumental, and I felt privileged to have spent time in their company.
Renée Watson’s remarkable What Momma Left Me is a wise and nourishing story rooted in themes of resilience, healing and love. With high school on the horizon, African American Serenity is struggling to piece her life back together following the brutal death of her beloved momma and the loss of her dad. Amidst this sensitively evoked maelstrom, Serenity finds hope in the form of her wholesome grandparents, church (where Grandpa is a pastor), brother Danny and new friend and confidante Maria, a bright beam of light who harbours her own bleak secrets. Serenity handles her grief, set-backs and challenging dilemmas with dignity, her grandparents a constant, calming presence as they impart wisdom, such as this nod to Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise’ poem: “That’s why we say ‘we rise’, children. There have been lots of things that have tried to keep us down. But we’ve got resilience running through these veins.”Empathetically charting Serenity’s grief, first romance and growing up (what Serenity does to save Maria from an unsafe situation shows strength and wisdom way beyond her years), this huge-hearted novel comes highly recommended for its honesty, depth and engaging readability, along with Watson’s Piecing Me Together and Watch Us Rise (the latter co-authored with Ellen Hagan). Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
"I feel like, in an equal world, there would be more penis admin ..." Kat Evans doesn't know much about feminism, but she does know this. Utterly hilarious and boldly honest, Kat tells it how it is - and it is INCREDIBLY embarrassing. 15-year-old Kat wants to do GOOD FEMINISM, although she's not always sure what that means. She also wants to be a writer, get together with Hot Josh (is this a feminist ambition?), win at her coursework and not make a TOTAL EMBARRASSMENT of herself at all times. But the path to true feminism is filled with mortifying incidents, muddling moments and Instagram hell. And it doesn't help that Hot Josh is just, well, properly, distractingly hot. And when everything at school starts to get a bit too much, Kat knows she's lost her way, and the only way forward is to ask for help ... Bold, authentic and laugh-out-loud funny, Kat's diary fearlessly navigates mooncups, mental health and #TimesUp - perfect for fans of Geek Girl, Juno Dawson and Sex Education.
The years leading up to your 20s are such a vibrant and vivid time in your life. Adventure, friendships, self-discovery are all there in spades, but there’s frustration too, impatience and a strong desire to be understood. This section of fantastic books for young adult readers is filled with stories that reflect all of these feelings in settings that will give flight to your imagination. Be inspired by tales of self-discovery, run the rocky road of romance, battle big issues in mysterious worlds, beat the bleak future of dystopian regimes, or laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of it all. There’s something here for all tastes and moods from half-god heroes to horseback holidays and literally everything in between.