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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.
Often lyrical, and always entertaining, this Norse-vibed YA debut has friendship, fear and coming-of-age conundrums at its heart. It tells the tale of a land ransacked by a civil war that saw a new religion and younger prince replace a brutal old regime. Some nine years later, in peacetime, friends Torny and Ebba remember nothing of the war, or life before the uprising. But with their land on the brink of fresh upheaval, the unforgettable female protagonists find themselves on separate tracks, with painful, testing, relentless repercussions. With a cast of characters that includes gods and spirits, shamans and magic-workers, the world-building is fabulous, and the dual narrative device (it alternates between Torny and Ebba) really adds to the drama and tension. Fantasy fans will be delighted to hear that a sequel is on its way.
Cassandra Clare certainly knows how to write on an epic scale - following hot on the heels of Lady Midnight and Lord of Shadows, this third and final book in The Dark Artifice trilogy is a true beast of a book due to its wildly imaginative world, doggedly determined characters, and its sheer size and scope. “There was blood on the Council dais, blood on the steps, blood on the walls…Later Emma would remember it as a sort of red mist”. Amidst this gory scene, Julian clutches Livvy Blackthorn, “resisting all efforts by the guards to lift her dead body away from him”. But, while death looks down upon them and Julian grieves, the Clave is on the brink of war and swift action must be taken if the Shadow World is to survive. To this end, Julian and Emma embark on a jeopardous journey to recover the Black Volume of the Dead, battling great peril alongside grappling with their forbidden love. And then the secrets they uncover in the Court risk destroying everything they value, and everyone they love. The sense of urgency is dazzlingly evoked and swells to a suitably heart-pounding finale to this opulent love-and-justice-driven trilogy, with the many plot threads woven together in Clare’s typically extravagant style. Take a look at our Ambassador Book Buzz for The Dark Artifices.
From passionate, all-consuming love-at-first-sight, to possession, obsession, jealousy and control, the subject of emotional abuse in relationships is here explored from every complex, confusing angle. What a devastatingly vital feat of YA fiction this is. Talented country songwriter Gemma has just started college and feels like she’s riding a wave of change: “Starting college feels like such a massive step, like suddenly the world’s got that much wider.” And then a further tidal wave sweeps Gemma up when she locks eyes with a handsome stranger – Aaron, a charismatic young app-developer who overwhelms her with big romantic gestures and expensive gifts that seem to show how much he gets her, far more than her family do, as Aaron is wont to remind her. He points out that Gemma’s passion for songwriting will always play second fiddle to her brother’s football talent, that her friends don’t appreciate her like he does. Before Gemma knows it, Aaron’s controlling, manipulative ways seep through her veins like an undetected virus and, when he isolates her from her loved ones, her world closes in, with shattering repercussions. At once tense, compassionate and (importantly) brutally honest, readers will plead with Gemma, rage at Aaron, and gasp as the crippling extremes of his toxic behaviour are made manifest. But there’s a glimmer of light through the dark, especially in the form of Gemma’s friends – Ghanaian feminist Esi who warns her to slow down and step away, and kind-hearted Callum, her loyal music partner.
This unique, incisive novel is an emotionally engrossing road-trip reinvention of Moby Dick with female characters, and a gripping mystery about what main protagonist Dinah is running from to find her place to call home. Seventeen-year-old Dinah has lived her whole life on a commune and now feels compelled to flee everything she’s ever known. After being home-schooled, a recent period in mainstream schooling has turned her world upside-down, as has turbulent upheavals at home, and then there’s the mystery of what happened between Dinah and new friend Queenie. She shaves off her hair, adopts a new name and flees, illegally driving a VW campervan (her version of Moby Dick’s Pequod ship) with a cantankerous one-legged neighbour for company. While driving, Dinah confronts her many demons, most of which stem from her confusing sense of identity. She’s mixed race, but feels neither black nor white, and she’s attracted to boys and girls. The road is bumpy, with many revelations and confrontations along the way. Eventually, though, Dinah realises that “the road that took you away has led you all the way back home”. This is a smartly-crafted novel with real resonance, a story that honestly and empathetically imparts an uplifting message to “Always be yourself first…find yourself and be yourself”.
Set in the 1930s and inspired by Much Ado About Nothing, this thrilling feast of coming-of-age edginess is giddy with the glamour of freethinking artists, and tingles with romantic tension. Constrained by her life in England, aspiring natural historian Bea constantly battles her parents’ attempts to marry her off: “As far as my parents are concerned, daughters aren’t a terribly useful asset. I’m not supposed to go out in the world and actually do things.” But being “too big, too loud, too clever – too much”, Bea has her own ideas about her future, which she’s able to embrace when she’s sent to stay with her wealthy uncle in Italy and discovers with glee that “things at Villa di Stelle might not be so respectable after all.” Among the villa’s vibrant collective of artists is handsome painter Ben, and sparks fly between he and Bea from the off. A lighthearted challenge sees them set out to enjoy a summer romance without falling in love, until events at a decadent party to invoke rain turn out to be explosive in more ways than one. As the heavens crack open, fireworks fly between Ben and Bea and their lives will never be the same again. Alongside Bea’s awakening of body and heart, she also realises that she cannot return to her previous life. She wants what the artists’ have: an “all-consuming passion for their work...a purpose, a vocation.” With the conflict between her free-spirited nature and societal constraints exacerbated by her Italian experiences, with the world now opened up to her, the gateway cannot be closed. The author’s Great Gatsby-esque A Sky Painted Gold was a 2018 favourite of mine, and this is every bit as bathed in coming-of-age hope and a sense of being on the brink of something special.
Rob and Maegan both have a whole lot on their plates. Rob’s rich dad attempted suicide after he was caught embezzling their community and he’s now severely disabled, unable to speak or do anything for himself. Until eight months ago, “Everyone wanted to be me,” but now Rob’s an outcast, tainted by his father’s fraud, which is something Maegan also knows a thing or two about. Previously an academic overachiever, pressures led her to cheat in last year’s exams, which in turn led to hundreds of her peers’ marks being invalidated. Connected by a Calculus project and their dads (Maegan’s cop father was first on the scene when Rob’s dad shot himself), the two outcasts strike up an unlikely friendship, and more. Alongside their romance and the gripping twists, I loved the moving camaraderie between Rob and Owen, whose single mom was thrown into crippling financial hardship by Rob’s dad. For a book that packs-in plenty of big issues, it’s also an entertaining page-turner - the perfect YA package with the overriding messages that “one mistake doesn’t define you”, and “one choice doesn’t determine your whole future.”
Being the person you want to be, proving detractors wrong, overcoming fears, and revealing the importance of seeing beyond stereotypes - beauty vlogger and dictionary-lover Tulip does all this and more in this hugely entertaining novel. While she’s frequently dismissed for being “stupid, vain and self-obsessed”, Tulip knows there’s no friction between being having a brain and being a successful vlogger. She adores the metamorphic magic of make-up, the fact you “can transform yourself ” and “make every day beautiful.” As Tulip points out to handsome posh boy Harvey when he belittles her passion, her vlog represents “creativity and hard work and self-expression.” Keen to prove that Harvey’s got her wrong, Tulip takes a place on his dad’s Bear Grylls-esque survival show. With Harvey as her team leader and her fellow contestants expecting her to fail, Tulip digs deep and surprises everyone with her resourcefulness and team-spirited outlook, but not before many comic mishaps, terrifying challenges and conflicted swirls of romance. Funny, gripping and with an inspirational feel-good feminist theme, this will have readers rooting for Tulip every step of the way.
Heart wrenching, honest, funny and bold, this exceptional novel about the life, loves and agonies of a young carer, and the love between a mum and her sons, is a storytelling triumph. Seventeen-year-old Bobby Seed is a devoted son and big brother and an all-round firework of wit and charm, wise and strong beyond his years. He’s also a young carer to his mum who’s suffering from debilitating MS. Bobby has to “brush his mother’s locks every day, sort out her medicine, sponge her clean three times a week, ooze positivity” even when all he wants to do is “punch the shit out of a walk or wail in the shower”. In his situation “the worry of death never leaves you”, but that doesn’t stop the brilliant banter between Bobby and his mum. Theirs is a beautiful, tender relationship. Bobby does what he does for her “because she’s my Mum. That pure and simple”. Bobby’s spirits are kept up by best friend Bel and attending Poztive support group for young carers. It’s there he falls for Vespa-riding Lou, who helps him fulfill his mum’s unexpected birthday request as her deterioration quickens. But then comes the ultimate request. Can he do what Mum needs to alleviate her excruciating pain and loss of function? Always warm and witty, and never sentimental, this raw portrait of real-life ravages is suffused in the magic of the human heart. Bobby is an unforgettable, inspirational character – we could all do with taking a leaf from Bobby’s book of strength and wit - and author Brian Conaghan is a writer of the highest rank.
Cleverly and playfully-formed, this is a sophisticated, thought-provoking novel of love, heartbreak and second chances. Eugene and Tatiana are 27 and 24. They’re both unsettled by a fortuitous encounter on the Paris Metro ten years after they last met, and the significance of the moment is made potently clear when the omniscient narrator interjects, “Look how shaken they are to see each other again. Look at their eyes”. Throughout, the all-knowing narrator directs readers’ responses in this way, introducing episodes with foreshadowing commentaries that tell us what to watch out for. It’s the narrator who announces “it’s time to go back about ten years into the past, back where it all began.” And so we’re presented with the origin of their connection, when Tatiana was a self-conscious bookish fourteen-year-old, and Eugene was the enigmatic, pessimistic seventeen-year-old friend of her older sister’s boyfriend. The narrative slips between the frisson of their re-acquaintance and the tragedy that struck their teenage years. In some ways, reading this is like observing an intense play. In others, it’s like being granted access to Eugene and Tatiana’s innermost thoughts, anxieties and desires through their impassioned soliloquies. In every way, it’s a unique and emotionally honest portrait of the grip and ache of young love.
Eighteen-year-old Birdie is fanatical about mystery and crime fiction, a world in which she immersed herself while being brought up by her strict grandparents following the death of her mom. Birdie’s perception of detectives reveals much about her own aspirations and personality: “Detectives were cool, calm, and capable. They were usually loners, helping people from a distance...underdogs that people miscalculated.” Now, following the death of her gran and with the support of her mom’s fabulously flamboyant best friend, Birdie tries to find her own way in the world by taking a summer job as a night clerk at a glamorous historic hotel. It’s here that she forms a swoon-some, life-changing relationship with Daniel, the hotel’s handsome, hearing-impaired night driver, as they try to solve a real-life mystery involving a guest. Then, alongside the edge-of-your-seat twists and turns of their investigation, and their fast-blossoming, fated romance, it turns out that Daniel is harbouring secrets of his own. Underpinned by relatable real-life complications and curveballs aplenty, this engaging feast of young adult fiction fizzes with multiple mysteries and the jittery joys of first love. Head here to discover the author’s previous novels, which come equally recommended for their compassionate championing of offbeat, authentic young adult characters.
“I am normal. I like being normal”. Such is the mantra of fifteen-year-old Sam. But when he’s uprooted from his Stevenage comp and thrust into the North London Academy for the Gifted and Talented being normal just doesn’t cut it. Simple as. No ifs or buts. To fit in at this “poncey arty farty school” for “Exactly the Kind of People [Sam] Instinctively Hated”, a person needs to stand out. Gel one’s hair in eight directions. Be the offspring of, for example, an Argentinian tango dancer, or a French electro-pop pioneer. The comic characterisation of Sam and his family is as impeccably tuned as a Primrose Hill piano, from his mum’s foray into Hampstead yummy mummy blogger-dom, to his unicorn-obsessed little sister. Sam’s hilariously honest, self-deprecating tone is utterly engaging and put me in mind of an older incarnation of Luke from David Solomons’s fabulously funny Superhero books. Talking of funny, Sam’s turning point turns out to be his talent for comedy (“making people laugh was a thrilling buzz”), and so he finds himself in the unlikely position of performing in the school play. This entertaining romp around pressures to fit in and teenage boy-dom in all its involuntary undercarriage-twitching awkwardness truly shows the diverse talent of its author, whose previous YA novels are every bit as brilliant, but have heavier themes. This is a laugh-out-loud witty wonder of a book.
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.
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.