Children’s / Teenage fiction: Relationship stories – Romance, love or friendship

Stay Another Day

Stay Another Day

Author: Juno Dawson Format: Paperback Release Date: 12/11/2021

Pacey, racy and reeling with real-life struggles, comforts and joys, Juno Dawson’s Stay Another Day is a cracker of a Christmas novel, with a compelling home for the holidays set-up - if you watched the TV series Why Women Kill, you’ll also appreciate how the novel is framed through the 120-year history of the family home. Sparkling with the author’s trademark talent for writing authentic dialogue (funny, thought-provoking, always on the mark) and rounded characters, this seasonal story is as satisfyingly-formed (and moreish) as a chocolate orange. When the three McAllister siblings convene at the family home in Edinburgh for Christmas, secrets, lies and lusts come together to create an absolute banger of a novel. Star student Fern, a self-professed embodiment of Lisa from The Simpsons, arrives from London with her stunning boyfriend, Thom, while her twin Rowan (gay, an aspiring actor, and consumed by FOMO) brings his best friend Syd. Though Fern is, as always, determined to enjoy the perfect family Christmas, she notes that “Christmas with a mixed-race boyfriend and a non-binary and mixed-race best friend is a potential minefield. Where are you from? But where are you really from?” Then there’s the twin’s younger sister, Willow, still living at home and constantly scrutinised due to her anorexia. As the big day draws closer, past liaisons and unfolding secrets envelop the family like a tangle of Christmas tree lights, setting the scene for a series of snowy showdowns and a whole lot of soul-searching. Hearty, satisfying stuff, with seasonal cheer shining bright through the real-life strife.

Skin of the Sea

Skin of the Sea

Author: Natasha Bowen Format: Paperback Release Date: 04/11/2021

This thrilling debut is infused with the history, language and mythology of West Africa. Set in the mid 1400’s when the Portuguese first began abducting and then buying West Africans, it pursues an interesting perspective on the terrible human cost of the Slave Trade. The author describes in a note how she came across many stories featuring Yemoja, a Yoruba deity with the tail of a fish. Stories of giving comfort to Africans on the ships, or wrecking slave vessels or escorting home the souls of those who died and were discarded in the sea. From this and her own fascination with the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, the author has created an unforgettable story. Yemoja has created many Mami Wata, mermaids tasked with escorting the souls of enslaved people thrown into the sea. Simindele, a teenage girl, is one of them, but when she instead saves the life of a boy, she unwittingly puts all the Mami Wata in peril and must seek the forgiveness of the supreme deity. The boy she saves also has a dangerous mission to save his family and on their perilous journey they grow dangerously close. Just like The Little Mermaid, if Simi were to act upon her feelings she would dissolve into sea foam and just like Andersen’s creation Simi’s travels in human form on land cause her terrible pain. In the denouement there is also a hint of Persephone and Hades in her dealings with the oceanic equivalent of the Underworld. Throughout this action packed adventure the narrative is enriched with elements of West African language and we learn fascinating detail about their sophisticated societies, mathematical prowess, customs and religion. This is an innovative and refreshing mix of western and African myth wrapped up in a really rewarding read that should find many fans.

Debut Books of the Month
Medusa

Medusa

Author: Jessie Burton Format: Hardback Release Date: 28/10/2021

Jessie Burton’s fiery feminist re-telling of the Greek myth of Medusa blazes with intrigue and beauty courtesy of author’s elegant style and Olivia Lomenech Gill’s fabulously evocative colour illustrations. It’s an incredible feat of intellect and imagination that takes down toxic masculinity and victim-blaming culture through an ingenious reframing, reclaiming of Medusa. The gods have exiled Medusa to a remote island, with no one for company but the snakes she has for hair. That is, until impossibly beautiful Perseus arrives and transfixes her: “I know a lot about beauty. Too much in fact. But I’d never seen anything like him…I wanted to eat him up like honey cake.” Desires awoken, Medusa won’t reveal her name, or let him see her: “I was just going to sit on the other side of this entrance rock and pretend that boys like him washed up on desert islands all the time.” This excerpt encapsulates one of the many marvellous things about this book. The writing - cleverly, and compellingly - feels both timeless and modern. Medusa’s narrative, and the dialogue, is laced with wit, and infused with tremendous detail. But betrayal swoops in the wake of desire, and all-too familiar mechanisms of patriarchy come into play with ferocity. Ultimately, though, and with a magnificent sense of sisterhood, Medusa comes to a new state of being: “Self-awareness is a great banisher of loneliness. And my sisters, the immortals, are with me.” This is terrifically inspiring and empowering in the ways of timeless myths, but also in ways that are very, very real - “you will find me when you need me, when the wind hears a woman’s cry and fills my sails forward. And I will whisper on the water that one must never fear the raised shield, the reflection caught in an office window, or the mirror in a bathroom.”

A Curse So Dark and Lonely: The Complete Cursebreaker Collection

A Curse So Dark and Lonely: The Complete Cursebreaker Collection

Author: Brigid Kemmerer Format: Paperback Release Date: 28/10/2021

Masterfully melding the contemporary world with a richly evoked fantasy realm, this is a fairy tale re-telling of the finest order. Harper has lived a tough life, what with her mom being sick and her brother forced to take on their absent father’s violent debt collection work. She has cerebral palsy but “can move quickly when I want to”. She’s a fighter too, so when she’s snatched by a stranger and deposited in Ironrose Castle, in the heart of a parallel realm called Emberfall, her captors are thrown off-guard. “Most of the girls Grey drags from her world won’t touch a blade or a bridle,” Prince Rhen observes with admiration. And Rhen has seen plenty of girls in his time. Blighted by a curse inflicted by a spurned enchantress, he’s forever fixed at the age of eighteen until someone truly falls for him. This curse has seen his kingdom all but disintegrate and many die and, if he fails with Harper, Rhen will be “condemned to spend eternity as a monster.” With Harper adamant she’s not going to fall for him and Rhen certain the curse will never be broken, they make a pact: “I’ll help you save your country and you’ll help me get home,” Harper agrees. The road ahead is paved with pulse-quickening perils, alongside Harper’s tortuous conflict between love for her family and doing the right thing in Emberfall, not to mention her growing feelings for Rhen. There’s a tangible frisson between them, but is it love? As time ticks on and the powers of the malevolent enchantress heighten, worlds collide to take the stakes even higher. Replete as it is with romance, relatable coming-of-age conflicts and all-out action, fans of Cassandra Clare, Marissa Meyer and Sarah J. Maas will relish this novel, the first in the Cursebreakers series, and its cliffhanger climax will leave readers aching for the sequel.   Read reviews of books 2 & 3 in the series; A Heart so Fierce and Broken and A Vow so Bold and Deadly.

Bad Girls Never Say Die

Bad Girls Never Say Die

Author: Jennifer Mathieu Format: Paperback Release Date: 07/10/2021

Gritty, authentic and inspirational, Jennifer Mathieu’s Bad Girls Never Say Die explores the tangled aftermath of an assault with incredible power. There’s tragedy, there’s heartache and, above all, tremendous love felt through this story of a young woman who bravely resolves to forge her own path (“I refuse to live my life for someone else”). In short, it’s the perfect coming of age novel. Like SE Hinton’s The Outsiders (on which this is based), Bad Girls Never Say Die is set in the sixties against a backdrop of deep social divide. Evie and her friends are from the wrong side of the tracks - bad girls who are seen as “trash.” But when Evie is assaulted by a rich kid, she’s saved by one of his kind - beautiful, wealthy Diane, but her sisterly action has tragic consequences. Though set some decades ago, the themes of Bad Girls Never Say Die remain as resonant today - class division, class conflict, and the bad that comes from making judgements on the basis of background and appearance. Then there’s the friendship, peer pressure, loyalty, and falling in love. The unfair family expectations, troubled home-lives, and the fact that it’s “different for boys”, who are afforded greater far freedoms than girls. Gripping, relatable and emotionally engaging, Bad Girls Never Say Die is a triumph.

Books of the Month
Not Here To Be Liked

Not Here To Be Liked

Author: Michelle Quach Format: Paperback Release Date: 16/09/2021

Refreshing, funny and packed with essential feminist themes, not to mention an authentic, engaging protagonist in Eliza Quan (a no-nonsense teenager who doesn’t give two hoots about what people think of her), Michelle Quach’s Not Here To Be Liked is at once deliciously entertaining and empowering. With pithy observations like “Girls get judged for their past; guys get judged for their potential”, it’s also a thought-provoking reminder (if one were needed) that there’s some way to go before patriarchal structures are disassembled - thanks goodness, then, that Eliza is on hand to speed up the process. Oh, and the novel features a whole lot of cute kissing to boot.   Eliza is set to be the new editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper. Firstly, she’s the most qualified candidate. Secondly, she’s the only candidate…until former baseball player Len joins the paper for want of something better to do and winds up winning the vote. Justifiably angry that he - male, handsome, popular and utterly inexperienced - was picked over her - Eliza’s venting inspires a feminist movement that exposes the gulf between those who want - and recognise the need for - gender equality, and those who think she’s just annoyed about being overlooked. Alongside exploring such pertinent themes in slick style, the novel also sees Eliza face the ultimate conflict when she finds herself falling for Len. Fast and furious, Not Here To Be Liked flies in the face of anyone dumb enough to think that books about feminism (and feminists themselves) can’t be smart and funny.

Kissing Emma

Kissing Emma

Author: Shappi Khorsandi Format: Paperback Release Date: 02/09/2021

Hard-hitting and, ultimately, infused with hope, Shappi Khorsandi’s Kissing Emma tackles big issues (poverty, class divisions, toxic masculinity, victim-blaming, and male coercion of women) with incredible honesty and authenticity. Inventively riffing on the true story of Emma Hamilton, Lord Nelson's mistress, this tells the gripping story of a young women’s journey to self-determination in a society obsessed with looks and economic status. Emma and her mum have long lived with her father’s abusive, controlling ways: “Sometimes he said to Mum, ‘Put some slap on, you look half-dead,’ so she’d do her face. But if she put on some lipstick and a bit of mascara without him telling her to, he’d scream, ‘You look like a tart!’ till she cried and took it off. No way of predicting it”. When he’s suddenly gone from their lives in extreme circumstances, Emma and Mum are forced to move into her grandmother’s small flat. There’s never enough money, and her mother hopes that attractive Emma will find a nice rich man to rescue them both, while Nan advises her to “Put less on show, love. Men can’t help themselves around a bit of flesh. You can’t dangle a lamb chop in front of a lion and expect it not to bite”. Amidst such poor advice, Emma discovers she has a talent for acting and resolves to up her aspirations, deciding, “I had to kill the girl from the estate. It was time to reinvent myself.” As a result, when Emma meets a couple of apparent nice guys from a modelling agency, she’s quickly coerced into an abusive situation while hoping to find Instagram influencer fame and fortune. Emma’s story is utterly gripping - readers will come to really care for her, and find themselves urging her to make different decisions, to find a different path in life. Being an authentic kind of novel, there’s no simplistic happily ever-after-ending here, but there is a glorious sense of triumph and transformation as Emma feels a surge of enough-is-enough self-pride and vows to live a life free from male coercion; a life in which she’s in control and happy, as she deserves to be.

The Passing Playbook

The Passing Playbook

Author: Isaac Fitzsimons Format: Paperback Release Date: 03/06/2021

Love, Simon meets Friday Night Lights in this feelgood LGBTQ+ romance about a trans teen torn between standing up for his rights and staying stealth. Fifteen-year-old Spencer Harris is a proud nerd, an awesome big brother and a Messi-in-training. He's also transgender. After transitioning at his old school leads to a year of bullying, Spencer gets a fresh start at Oakley, the most liberal private school in Ohio. At Oakley, Spencer seems to have it all: more accepting classmates, a decent shot at a starting position on the boy's soccer team, great new friends, and maybe even something more than friendship with one of his teammates. The problem is, no one at Oakley knows Spencer is trans - he's passing. So when a discriminatory law forces Spencer's coach to bench him after he discovers the 'F' on Spencer's birth certificate, Spencer has to make a choice: cheer his team on from the sidelines or publicly fight for his right to play, even if it means coming out to everyone - including the guy he's falling for. Perfect for fans of Red, White and Royal Blue.

Tokyo Ever After

Tokyo Ever After

Author: Emiko Jean Format: Paperback Release Date: 27/05/2021

A Reese Witherspoon Book Club YA Pick! A hilarious and heartfelt novel perfect for fans of To All the Boys I've Loved Before and The Princess Diaries Izumi Tanaka has lived an uneventful seventeen years in her small town, keenly aware of all the ways in which her family is different from most of her classmates'. But then Izumi discovers a clue to her previously unknown father's identity . . . and he's none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Soon she's traveling overseas to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she's only dreamed of. But being a princess isn't all ball gowns and tiaras. There are conniving cousins, a hungry press, a scowling but handsome bodyguard who just might be her soulmate, and thousands of years of tradition and customs to learn practically overnight. Izzy soon finds herself caught between worlds, and between versions of herself-back home, she was never American enough, and in Japan, she must prove she's Japanese enough. Will Izumi crumble under the weight of the crown, or will she live out her fairytale, happily ever after?

Felix Ever After

Felix Ever After

Author: Kacen Callender Format: Paperback Release Date: 18/05/2021

From award-winning author Kacen Callender comes a revelatory YA novel about a transgender teen grappling with identity and self-discovery while falling in love for the first time. Felix Love has never been in love - and, yes, he's painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it's like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What's worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he's one marginalisation too many - Black, queer and transgender - to ever get his own happily-ever-after. When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages - after publicly posting Felix's deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned - Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn't count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi-love triangle . . . But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself. Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognising the love you deserve.

As Far as You'll Take Me

As Far as You'll Take Me

Author: Phil Stamper Format: Paperback Release Date: 04/03/2021

Wearing its heartfelt messages proudly on its sleeve, this coming-of-age nail-biter sees a gay American teenager in London struggle to find the sweet spot between embracing new experiences and self-care. “Being a gay kid with sometimes shitty parents isn’t easy” - so Marty sums up his situation as he moves from his “conservative shithole of a town” in Kentucky to London, hoping to make it as a musician. He arrives giddily excited, on the verge of a new life, but also seized by anxiety when he’s met at the airport by his cousin’s handsome musician mate, Pierce. Marty’s first months in London are a whirlwind of first-time experiences - busking in public, drinking in pubs, going on road-trips, falling head-over-heels in love. But navigating a new life in a new city with debilitating anxiety and overwhelming romantic awakenings sure ain’t easy. Then there’s the crushing disapproval from his religious parents, and toxic trouble courtesy of his best friend back home. Alongside the principle refrains of finding yourself, finding your tribe, and the life-enriching power of music, this theme-focussed novel also tackles toxic friendships, and explores anxiety, homophobia, body image and eating disorders with bold honesty. It’s nothing but direct and driven by empathy and compassion, much like the author’s debut, The Gravity of Us.

Anna K

Anna K

Author: Jenny Lee Format: Paperback Release Date: 05/03/2020

Welcome to New York's Upper East Side: where privilege, partying and scandal rules. Anna K is the golden girl of New York high society. She's beautiful, she's kind, she's unbelievably rich, and she has the perfect boyfriend. Until she meets Alexi Vronsky. He's a notorious playboy, totally gorgeous, and he only has eyes for Anna. Despite everyone who matters in New York talking about her, Anna still just can't resist Vronsky. Even if it means her carefully crafted life could come crashing down. Perfect for fans of Crazy Rich Asians and Gossip Girl this is an addictive and subversive reimagining of Leo Tolstoy's timeless love story Anna Karenina.