Author: Leon Garfield
Publisher: Puffin 1994
Smith is a young pickpocket, living in the streets of the London which Charles Dickens knew so well. Smith witnesses a murder and finds an important document belonging to the victim. This important piece of paper leads him through a series of exciting adventures where he is often in danger. He befriends a blind man and his daughter and this friendship, along with the document, leads Smith eventually to a better life.
Leon Garfield always admired Charles Dickens. Not only does the story remind us what Dickens wrote about, but Garfield captures the atmosphere of those days with the language he uses. There is not quite so much heavy description, but the characters in Smith speak the way the ones in Dickens’ books do, and a convincing atmosphere of old England is maintained.
It’s not all that easy to get into at first, but once you do, the plot is thrilling. After a while, you get to enjoy the language anyway.
Author: Malorie Blackman
Publisher: Macmillan, 1999
Gemma does not remember her mum. Her dad seems to take more notice of her older brother. So Gemma keeps a scrap book of newspaper cuttings about other mums, which is how she comes to recognise the new boy at school. He has a terrible secret about his mum. Gemma starts to blackmail him. As the story goes along, we gradually learn the truth about Gemma’s and Mike’s mothers.
This book is so well written that we are soon pulled into the issues with which Mike and Gemma struggle. We watch each character make more and more mistakes and hold our breath, hoping that they will come good. They have very hard lives. We see them make wrong decisions and regret them, and then make the right ones. There is no big happy ending to this story, but we are left with hope.
Author: Eric Campbell
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books, 1992, London
Alan Edwards considers Africa to be his home, rather than England, where he has recently completed A-levels. But his fate is firmly tied up with that of his friend Kimathi, the boy with six fingers on each hand and exactly the same birthday as Alan. Both boys love the mountain Kilima Njaro and know it well. But it is on that mountain that Alan is destined to confront his fate. The modern world struggles with tribal ritual and the mystery of the Song of the Leopard.
The story is told from several points of view – that of Alan Edwards, of Kimathi, of the WaChui, of John Edwards, the father of Alan, and of Makayowe, the African police inspector. We are intrigued by the powerful magic of the tribal ritual and we hold our breath both for Kimathi and for Alan as they struggle with the fate that the Song is imposing on them. At the end, we are left asking ourselves what really happened. The story is told in beautiful, evocative language and we are transported to the countryside surrounding Kilima Njaro, and later up on to it.
Author: Benjamin Zephaniah
Martin is a member of the intrepid Gang of Three. His two mates, Mark and Matthew are single. Martin has a girlfriend, Natalie. Life is fun and normal as it would be for any teenage boy – until one day there is a terrible accident and Martin has to come to terms with major disfigurement.
We watch Martin struggle with many aspects of life which are made more difficult by his injuries. He loses his girlfriend to another boy. His friends become awkward with him, because they don’t know how to react to his injuries. He is dragged to the edge of the drugs and crime world.
Zephaniah treats his readers with respect. He uses grown-up language, but at the same time retains the voice of the young man.
Author: Cathy Hopkins
Publisher: Piccadilly Press
Nesta does not like having to wear a brace. So, she goes to a drama class instead of being in the school play. Is it fate? There she meets Luke and with him comes a whole heap of mystery about their two families.Nesta sets to to solve the problems.
The whole book is written form Nesta’s point of view. She writes it almost like a diary. We follow her thoughts and are involved in her reactions to events. At the end of each chapter, she gives us a little advice. We face all those problems – from which face pack to use to how to find a boyfreind – with Nesta. Her happy, bubbly personality and her warm, fun-loving friends will certainly cheer all of us up.
A really good read.
Author: Lian Hearn
Takeo’s life is saved by Lord Ortori Shigeru. Up until this point, he had been brought up by the Hidden, a reclusive and spiritual people. Yet he also possesses the skills, some of them supernatural, of the Tribe, to which his mysterious father belonged. Takeo is thus pulled in three different directions. This is further complicated by his falling in love with the girl who was to marry Lord Ortori Shigeru.
We watch Takeo’s struggle, which is something with which most middle teenagers can identify. The story is action packed, and at times blood-thirsty, but also deals with human emotions. There is a strong romantic element.
The language in the book is almost like poetry and there are vivid images of a place which resembles mediaeval Japan. It is a book which may be enjoyed more than once.
Author: Margaret Mahy
Publisher: Collins, 2003 (first published 1984)
Laura has to risk all and give in to her supernatural powers in order to rescue her baby brother Jacko. This puts her into contact with the strange three generation family of Winter, Miriam and Sorry Carlisle. Laura has to take a step to a place from where she cannot return. At the same time, here is a girl plagued with the problems which many teenagers face: her parents are divorced and she has to get to know and accept both new step-parents, she makes her first awkward steps into the worlds of love and romance and she has to deal with her changing body.
We watch Laura overcome these problems, scared but competent. We follow her incredible journey into the unknown. Should we be reading this book late at night? Margaret Mahy gives full reign to her imagination and takes us to the darkest places. Yet Laura remains a teenager as well and we can recognise her hopes and fears.
Though the language of the book is very easy to read, there are some beautiful passages where we come close to really understanding the coast and towns of New Zealand.
Author: Rachel Klein
Publisher: Faber and Faber Ltd 2004
A boarding school girl becomes concerned about the health of her one time best friend, Lucy Blake. Her growing illness seems connected with Ernessa Bloch, who, like the heroine, has lost her father to suicide. Puzzling circumstances seem to surround Ernessa. She never seems to eat. A strange smell comes from her room, possibly connected with a strange smell in the cellar. She never seems to be in her bed at night. There is a strong suggestion that she might be a vampire.
The story is presented in the form of a diary kept by the heroine for one whole school year. Thirty years on, at the suggestion of her psychiatrist, she has reread the diary and put in a preface and afterword. We are not sure as we read whether it is all in her mind or whether something strange really is happening.
Rachel Klein convinces us that this really is the diary of a young girl. As well as grappling with the mysterious happenings at school, the diarist and her friends have to face the other problems which concern young adults. The writer also uses a language which is evocative yet easy to follow.
Author: Oisín McGann
Publisher: O’Brien 2004
The young trainee pilot, Chamus Aranson, survives a massacre and puts his life together again only to get into great danger behind enemy lines as the result of an avoidable accident. There he encounters another aspect of the truth he knows already and becomes involved in a heroic deed.
Oisín McGann has created an alternative reality for us and placed three strong-willed young people in it. We are able to empathise with all three. He has introduced us to “mortiphas”, “sirenisers” and two societies, one of them much more primitive than our own and the other resembling what we know to some extent. We are not, however, subjected to lengthy descriptions. McGann shows us these new worlds, rather than telling us about them.
This is an exciting read for young people. We watch as the main characters come to understand each other’s ways. So, it is definitely a Young Adult book. I would also like to put it on the reading lists of Mr Blair, Mr Bush and Mr Bin Laden. They could learn a lot.
For more information about Oisín McGann see www.oisinmcgann.com
Author: Melvin Burgess
Publisher: Penguin 2004 (First published Andersen Press 2003)
This tells the story of three young men, finding out about and experimenting with sex. We follow the exploits of Dino who wants to lose his virginity to girlfriend Jackie, but something else happens instead. Jonathon gets into a relationship with a fat girl. Ben becomes involved with his teacher.
The narrative wanders from point of view to point of view. We watch the boys closely. We sometimes see what the girls are thinking and occasionally what their friends are seeing. We are even with Dino’s mother for a short while. Perhaps an interesting sub-plot is the different understanding of the various situations.
This text is extremely explicit in the true sense of the word. It takes an honest look at what it is like for a young male getting to know his awakening sexuality. It shows the messiness, the extreme physical nature of male feelings in the inexperienced. It also shows sympathy for female emotions. The boys are naïve and vulnerable. This would be a comforting read for many a young male and would explain much to members of the opposite sex.
Author: Aubrey Flegg
Publisher: O’ Brien 2003
Louise Eeden knew that she may be expected to marry Reynier de Vries, the son of one of her father’s rivals and a childhood friend. She is not sure that this is what she wants, and becomes even less sure as she has her portrait painted by one of the Dutch masters and gets to know his assistant, Pieter.
This is a tender love story in a historic setting. There are also examples of politics, prejudice and the worst and the best sides of human nature. We have an accurate picture of the atmosphere of an old Dutch town.
The story is well written with a good balance of dialogue, description and inner thoughts. It is easy to read and makes us want to read the other stories in the trilogy.
Author: Susan Gates
Publisher: Puffin 2004
Dusk is a freak of a creature. She is a girl and yet she is not. She is the result of a cruel experiment by the military. A chance accident gives her her freedom. Jay finds he needs her help when he gets trapped in the wild. Later, it is his turn to help her.
This is not just the story about an outsider. Dusk is different, but Jay is like many a teenager from a broken home. He is a tough, streetwise guy – until the local nerd gives him his come uppence. He is humiliated and wishes to escape. But it is not just the street bullies he wants to avoid. He is tired of his mother’s constant nagging and obsessive religious belief. As one parent disappoints him, he turns to the other, who lets him down as well.
This story is disturbing. It is not a comfortable read. We are shocked that Dust should exist at all. We are reminded about how we are actually powerless against nature and how easily it can reassert itself over us. There is no fantastic happy ending. We just have the hope that Jay will manage to keep Dust away from the authorities. He copes with the situation by living for and in the moment.
Author: Catherine Ford
Publisher: Egmont 2003
Jimmy Kelly is fat. He is also a wonderful cook, but he keeps that a secret. He is bullied by the other kids from school and also by some adults who ought to know better. Then he learns to swim. Soon he finds out he is not the only one with a secret. He also gradually learns the identity of the shadow shape which haunts his dreams.
We stay very close to Jimmy throughout this story. The words we read are the ones which would be in Jimmy’s head. We end up liking him because he is just like any other teenager: not too sure of himself, interested in girls – well in one in particular – and slightly distrusting of adults but quite fond of his mother, his aunt and his coach, GI Joe, aka a local priest.
Fat Boy Swim presents us with a teenager with huge problems. He begins to overcome them, though there is still work to be done – and one or two surprises – by the end of the book. Satisfyingly for the young adult reader, there is no definite happy ending. After all, life is not like that. There is, however, hope.
Author: Judy Waite
Publisher: OUP 2004
Elinor lives with a cult group. She is one of the Chosen. She has been brought up to believe that she and everyone else who lives there has a purpose. Everything she does has to serve that purpose. Then she meets Jamie and she is invited to question her beliefs.
Throughout the story we are very close to Elinor. She tells her thoughts and feelings throughout. She often uses very short sentences, which reflect the chants of the cult. For those of us who have never understood how groups like the True Cause can take in people, Judy Waite offers us some understanding. We are able to see how much Elinor really believes in all that the group has taught her, though we ourselves may have the impression that she has been fooled.
Forbidden is certainly a story that makes you think. It gives you the chance to look at how young people can be sucked in by religion – and how they might escape from the pressure of a cult.
Author: Kathy Stinson
Publisher: Penguin Canada 2003
Ruby wants to be known by her first name, instead of being known as Nan, which is her second name. This goes hand-in-hand with being treated more like an adult. She wants to choose her own swimsuit, her own boyfriend and her own curfew time.
Ruby has an ally in her grandmother. However, Gramma becomes ill and dies. Ruby wants to visit her at the hospital, but is shocked by what she sees. This woman lying sick in bed is not the grandmother she knows.
Eventually a compromise is reached with Mum. Ruby realises that her mother was only trying to protect her. However she remains Ruby, and does not revert to being called Nan. This story should appeal to any teenager who is struggling to assert their identity.
Author: Hazel Edwards
Publisher: Lothian Books 2002
Zoe finds out that her gran was not quite the person she had thought. Zoe has to deal with all the funeral arrangements for her grandmother, as her mother is stuck on a polar expedition and cannot be there. A mysterious box appears and poses questions about Gran’s true identity.
There is a mystery to be solved. There are many practicalities to see to. Zoe does have a friend, Luke, who helps her get to the bottom of things, even though the road there is not easy. A friendly adult does help, but she is not one of the ones you would expect. Her Mum is absent and Mrs Donna, though helpful, seems not to want to get involved. It is an old friend of her grandmother’s, one who had a connection with her mysterious past, who is the most helpful. However, more than anything else, this is a story about how Zoe has to learn to cope on her own and how, by becoming stronger, she learns to understand about her gran’s fake identity.
There is no glorious happy ending to this story. The mystery is to some extent solved, though Zoe remains in shock. But perhaps that is part of the appeal of the book. If she has loose ends to tie up, Zoe is more like us and her story is a reflection of real life.
Author: Tabitha Suzuma
Publisher: The Bodley Head 2006
This is the story of how Flynn confronts his mental illness. He is a young music student with the other burdens of his age: college exams, relationships, and pressure to perform well.
Tabitha Suzuma has created a beautifully written novel which evokes a strong atmosphere of London, young people and music. She also takes us right into the head and heart of a Bipolar 2 sufferer. The text moves smoothly between realistic dialogue, evocative descriptions and enough back story to explain but not bore. It becomes a book which will not let you go.
A Note of Madness deals with a difficult subject in a sensitive way. We grow to love Flynn. We suffer and rejoice with him. This is a really good read for young people aged fourteen and above. It is particularly helpful for anyone who has friends or family suffering from mental illness. Yet it does not leave us in despair. It leaves us with hope, but also with the realistic outlook that coping with any form of depression will never be an easy ride.
Personally, I could not put the book down. My daughter also read it in four hours, hardly stopping to sleep or eat.
For more information, visit the author’s website at www.tabithasuzuma.com
Author: Katarina von Bredow (Maike Dörries, translator from Swedish into German)
Publisher: Beltz 2002
Amanda and Ludwig are brother and sister. They fall in love and start sleeping together. Amanda tells the story. They both try to resist what they know is wrong, but being in love is too powerful a feeling for them to deny.
The first person narrative works well in this book and brings us right into the head and the heart of one of the two main characters. The fictional Amanda seeks to make us understand and does not speak from the point of view of the person who has had the growth. She tells us her story exactly as it happened.
This novel treats a difficult theme with great sensitivity. We are gripped as we read and ask ourselves whether the two main characters will fulfil their feelings and continue as lovers or whether they will find another pathway through life. A fantastic read!
Author: Tabitha Suzuma
Publisher: Bodley Head 2007
Raven is disturbed and in this novel we watch him struggle with settling into his new foster home, his own feelings about his mother’s death and the school bullies.
Tabitha Suzuma keeps us guessing the whole way through. Despite the very close viewpoint we get of her central character, Raven, he holds back the final secret from us. We may suspect that everything is not exactly as he would have us believe, but whatever we may think, the truth about Raven is stranger than any fiction we might invent or suspect that the author has created. Suzuma presents us here with recognisable and rounded characters form the world of adolescence. We are only too willing to follow their stories.
From Where I Stand is an engaging and convincing psychological drama, which keeps us turning the pages. It is one of those books that you are sad to leave, even though it is not all that comfortable a read.
Author: Carolyn Mackler
Publisher: Walker Books
Mara Valentine seems to have everything under control. She has become vegan to help herself to get over the break up of her relationship with Travis. She is doing brilliantly at school and promises to be a successful university student – and then along comes V, her dysfunctional niece, who is just two years younger than her, and along comes real romance... and everything topples.
This is a “Chicklet-lit” book with a difference. As well as the usual concerns about relationships, image, identity, sexuality and general adolescent angst, and although there is plenty of humour, here, we have a story with a slightly more serious side. Mara is a believable character with whom the reader can identify.
In addition, the story cracks along at a good pace. The voice is authentic and digestible. All of which makes for a very readable and enjoyable text.
Author: Beverley Birch
Publisher: Egmont 2006
This is the story of how five young people go missing whilst on an expedition in Africa. It is told mainly from the point of view of Ella, the younger sister of Charly, the journalist who accompanies the school group.
Beverley Birch has written this beautifully. But we almost don’t have time to appreciate this because the suspense is all-consuming and we have to race on. There are implications that a crime may have been committed, or that something supernatural has happened or indeed that this is just a terrible tragedy. Despite all of our speculation, the end takes us by surprise. The trick then, I guess, is to read it all again more slowly and savour this writer’s outstanding craft.
Rift is an engaging novel for any young adult or teenager. The characters are their age and easy to identify with. The emotional range of the text would not be too sophisticated for younger teenagers nor would it be too tame for older ones.