Children’s / Teenage fiction: School stories

The Asparagus Bunch

The Asparagus Bunch

Author: Jessica Scott-Whyte Format: Paperback Release Date: 21/07/2022

Leon John Crothers is 4779 days old (thirteen years and one month, if you’re mathematically challenged), he has been ‘moved on’ from six different schools and most people think he has an attitude problem. Leon doesn’t care for the label, in the same way that he doesn’t care for Tim Burton, supermarket trolleys, train fanatics or Bounty bars. This time, however, things may turn out differently as help comes from where he least expects it - Dr Snot, a physician at pains to help Leon navigate 'normal' and classmates, Tanya and Lawrence who both face their own challenges. When school bully Glen Jenkins humiliates Leon in the school canteen and almost destroys Lawrence, Leon very reluctantly agrees to the formation of a club, The Asparagus Bunch. How Leon manages to navigate school woes and family drama – and astonishingly ends up with not one but two friends – is nothing short of a miracle, or maybe just simply down to being different.     A note from Jessica Scott-Whyte; While this book is based on my own lived experiences with autism, I did draw on important support from the UK’s National Autistic Society when addressing autism in this story’ which I would suggest being amended to ‘While this book is based on my own lived experiences with autism, I did draw on important support from the UK’s National Autistic Society when addressing autism in this story. Though there are common challenges that autistic people share, autism is a spectrum condition and affects people in different ways. The advances that have been made these past decades in understanding autism have been substantial, during which time, different diagnostic labels have been used, such as: autism, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC), classic autism, Kanner autism, pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), high-functioning autism (HFA), Asperger syndrome and Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA). Based on recent changes however to the main diagnostic manuals, Autism Spectrum Disorder is likely to be the most commonly given diagnostic term, according to the UK’s National Autistic Society. The problematic history surrounding Hans Asperger has provoked widespread debate within the autistic community. Indeed, today, many people whose profile fits that of Asperger syndrome are being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder instead. That being said, every person is different and should feel comfortable in choosing how they wish to identify themselves. Those people who have an Asperger syndrome diagnosis may well choose to keep using the term, whereas others may prefer to refer to themselves as autistic or having an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Dyslexia is a learning difference that also occurs on a spectrum; some people are mildly affected and others more severely. Everyone with dyslexia is different but there are commonly shared difficulties with reading, spelling and writing and related cognitive/processing difficulties.    The book has been set using a dyslexic-friendly font.

Read Between the Lies

Read Between the Lies

Author: Malcolm Duffy Format: Hardback Release Date: 12/05/2022

Alternating between the engaging narratives of two teenage boys, Malcolm Duffy’s Read Between the Lines is a riveting, read-in-one-sitting page-turner, sharing insights into dyslexia as it also explores family frictions and how to support the people around you. Soon-to-be-stepbrothers Ryan and Tommy are as different as ice-cream and cabbage. Tommy has recently been released from a young offenders’ prison, while Ryan is a piano-playing good lad who’s moved down south with his dad following his parents’ divorce. In Ryan’s words, “Don’t do cooking but hear it’s all about the blend of ingredients. Same with families. Ours is all wrong. Like ice-cream and cabbage”. Despite their marked differences, the teenagers do have something in common — they’re both dyslexic, but have very different ways of dealing with it. Tommy’s journey through handling prejudice against his criminal past (“a single bad decision doesn’t make you bad”) and learning to read is gripping, moving and - ultimately - uplifting, as is Ryan’s dedication to teaching Tommy to read. As Ryan’s mum announces her plan for them to move, and Tommy discovers long-buried family secrets, the perfectly-paced plot ramps up the stakes, with plenty of humour and touching moments shining through the boys’ troubles.

Ellie Pillai is Brown

Ellie Pillai is Brown

Author: Christine Pillainayagam Format: Paperback Release Date: 05/05/2022

Navigating loss, love and family strains while standing out as a brown girl in a predominantly white school isn’t easy for Ellie, a budding songwriter and music aficionado. A beautiful, funny ode to finding the strength to sing up and stand out, Ellie Pillai is Brown is sure to chime with readers who also feel they don’t quite fit in, with QR codes peppered through the book bringing Ellie’s songs to life, and adding extra depth to the experience. Ellie Pillai is a girl who know what she loves — music. And, against her parents’ wishes, she’s set on making a go of her drama GCSE, determined to find a way to overcome feeling invisible. While her family are mourning the loss of her little brother, which has left Ellie and her mum terribly distant from each other, Ellie has the stable support of her best friend. But her life is well and truly shaken up when a new boy and his twin sister arrive at her school. While handsome Ash is the only person who gets all her music references and understands the power of a playlist and finding the right song for every situation, it looks like he’s hooked up with her best friend, so Ellie tries to put him out of her mind. At the same time, Ellie’s new drama teacher instils her with confidence: “I think you have presence, something special about you. Something different”. If only Ellie can stop putting herself in a box and making herself small. Exploring grief, consent, family expectations, self-confidence, first love, same sex love and mental health through its well-drawn cast of characters, Ellie Pillai is Brown strikes a smart balance between humour and emotion.

Debut Books of the Month
The Armourer's House

The Armourer's House

Author: Rosemary Sutcliff Format: Hardback Release Date: 15/01/2022

What a treat it is for a Rosemary Sutcliff treasure to be newly presented to the world, and in a beautiful package that befits the story’s historic charms and thrills, with charming chapter heading illustrations by Isabel Greenberg, and an introduction by Lara Maiklem, the acclaimed author of Mudlarking. This Manderley Press edition of The Armourer’s House will make a glorious gift for fans of historic fiction who relish intrigue and atmosphere, and comes highly recommended for readers who love Eva Ibbotson’s writing, and contemporary writers like Celia Rees and Katherine Rundell. First published in 1951, The Armourer’s House is set in London during the reign of Henry VIII, and rich in the engaging period detail Sutcliff is renowned for. When her grandmother dies, Tamsyn leaves her Devonshire seaside town and ship merchant Uncle Martin to live with Uncle Gideon in his armourer’s house on the Thames. Having a wife and large family, Gideon is deemed a more suitable guardian, but Tamsyn “did not want to be brought up properly, she only wanted to be happy”. She also longs to “have adventure and sail the seas of the world” — how on earth will she manage so far from the sea? Though something of a fish out of water in London’s chaos, Tamsyn’s imagination and heart are captured by the river traffic that passes Dolphin House, with her new excitement engagingly evoked alongside details of life in Tudor London — the Royal Dockyard, Billingsgate fish market, the autumnal “pink-flushed sky” behind Westminster, King Henry VIII himself travelling in the Royal Barge with Queen Anne Boleyn. Tellingly, Tamsyn “liked the Queen best, observing how her eyes were “terribly unhappy”. Then, on magic-charged Midsummer’s Eve, a Wise Woman presages that Tamsyn will find her “heart’s desire”, enhancing the novel’s aura of enchantment, and leading to a delightful denouement. Heartily satisfying for 9+ year-olds who love historic fiction, this also comes recommended as wonderful book to read together — no one is too old for the joys of reading aloud and being read to, and this ideal for exactly that.

You'll Be the Death of Me

You'll Be the Death of Me

Author: Karen M. McManus Format: Paperback Release Date: 02/12/2021

Ivy, Mateo and Cal used to be close - best friends back in middle school. Now all they have in common is a bad day. So for old time's sake they skip school together - one last time. But when the trio spot Brian 'Boney' Mahoney ditching class too, they follow him - right into a murder scene. They all have a connection to the victim. And they're ALL hiding something. When their day of freedom turns deadly, it's only a matter of time before the truth comes out . . . It's Ferris Bueller's Day Off with murder, perfect for fans of One Of Us Is Lying and A Good Girl's Guide To Murder. This explosive new thriller is impossible to put down.

Empress & Aniya

Empress & Aniya

Author: Candice Carty-Williams Format: Paperback Release Date: 07/10/2021

From Queenie to Empress, Candice Carty-Williams’ first YA novel is a fresh, authentically engaging, read-in-one-sitting exploration of class, compassion, friendship and empathy that uses a fab Trading Places/Freaky Friday device to tell the tale of two teenage girls who form a life-changing friendship. Empress lives in poverty on a South London estate. Being a bright, young thing, she’s won a scholarship to a fancy school, where she’s thrown in with a bunch of privileged girls who (mostly) mock her poverty. It’s also where she meets Aniya, who’s assigned to help her settle in. They share a birthday, but (on the face of it), not much else, given that Aniya lives in a huge house and her parents have high-profile jobs. The rich-poor divide is thrown into stark contrast when Empress goes to Aniya’s house (Aniya wants to make sure Empress eats) and meets her family. Her kindly, successful barrister dad is “a tall, handsome man who looked a bit like a budget Obama”, though their home and lifestyle are anything but budget. When Aniya resolves to understand how it feels to live in Empress’s shoes, they cast a spell that sees them swap bodies, setting in motion a succession of life-changing circumstances. Honest, warm, and utterly gripping, this heart-felt page-turner also provides generous insights into managing emotions and fostering empathy.

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.

After the Rain

After the Rain

Format: Paperback Release Date: 08/07/2021

Natalia Gomes’s dual-narrative story of survival, survivor’s guilt, friendship and rebuilding one’s life and identity is a potent, authentic feat of YA fiction. US-born Alice is a dedicated bookworm who believes “there’s nothing like the smell of a library”, and considers running to be a form of “voluntary torture.” In contrast, Jack lives to run - it’s freeing, exhilarating, a means of “creating your own music.” Unsurprisingly then, despite attending the same school, Alice and Jack’s paths have barely crossed, until their chance encounter on Leicester Square at the precise moment a bomb explodes. A bomb that kills 22 people, and leaves them forever changed. Their initial floods of thought and feelings are powerfully evoked in all their heart-stopping intensity, especially as Jack runs through all the imminent athletic adventures he had planned and realises, “My legs are gone. There’s nothing from my thighs. It’s all gone.” As his “thoughts are heavy and they hurt. My memories hurt. My past hurts”, Alice is gripped by anger and also feels driven to find Jack, while he dreams of her, “the girl with the yellow polka dot umbrella.” The ebbs and flows of their struggles and friendship are stirringly evoked. As Jack begins to feel hope when he’s fitted with prostheses (“I’m finally starting to feel like the old Jack. Maybe it’s time to start putting my old life back together again”), Alice struggles with PTSD, with survivor’s guilt, and with debilitating panic attacks. Then they switch roles again, with Jack slipping into depression as Alice finds solace in a therapy group. He realises he was being overly optimistic about his road to recovery - it’s a marathon, not a sprint, which hits him hard given that’s he’s already set himself on taking up his London marathon place. But Alice is there for Jack, every step of the way, and he for her, and therein lies the heart of this novel - the power of friendship to heal and keep a person going when all feels lost.

The Crossing

The Crossing

Author: Manjeet Mann Format: Paperback Release Date: 03/06/2021

A trailblazing new novel about two teenagers from opposite worlds; The Crossing is a profound story of hope, grief, and the very real tragedies of the refugee crisis. Natalie's world is falling apart. She's just lost her mum and her brother marches the streets of Dover full of hate and anger. Swimming is her only refuge. Sammy has fled his home and family in Eritrea for the chance of a new life in Europe. Every step he takes on his journey is a step into an unknown and unwelcoming future. A twist of fate brings them together and gives them both hope. But is hope enough to mend a broken world?

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.

The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh

The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh

Author: Helen Rutter Format: Paperback Release Date: 04/02/2021

Billy Plimpton is an eleven-year-old boy with a big dream. He wants to be a stand-up comedian when he grows up: delivering pinpoint punch-lines and having audiences hang on his every hilarious word. A tough career for anyone, but surely impossible for Billy, who has a stammer. How will he find his voice, if his voice won't let him speak? The idea for this story came from Helen Rutter's son, who has a stammer: she wanted to write the book that he would love to read, starring a child like him.

Proud of Me

Proud of Me

Author: Sarah Hagger-Holt Format: Paperback Release Date: 04/02/2021

All I want is for my family to be proud of me... An accessible child-centred story about self-acceptance and the importance of opening up to those closest to you. Becky and Josh are almost-twins, with two mums and the same anonymous donor dad. Josh can't wait until he's eighteen, the legal age when he can finally contact his donor, and he'll do anything to find out more ­­­- even if it involves lying. Becky can't stop thinking about her new friend, Carli. Could her feelings for Carli be a sign of something more? Becky and Josh both want their parents to be proud of them...but right now, they're struggling to even accept themselves.