Sunday, 16 August 2009

Summer Reading

One of the best things about writing YA books is that it gives you every legitimate reason to read them. There are so many good books for teenagers out there, that it’s a shame that more older readers don’t give them a chance. They might learn something, and they’d certainly enjoy themselves.

Anyway, here are my top recent reads, recommended to everyone.

1. Crossing the Line by Gillian Philip. Let’s get this one out of the way first, because it's given me a severe case of book envy made worse by the fact that it shares one theme with When I Was Joe. It is completely brilliant, a very clever, beautifully written story of a Scottish boy whose sister’s boyfriend has been stabbed. All the characters spot-on accurate, the portrayal of first love makes you shiver, and it doesn’t really matter if you guess one of the twists before the end because there are so many and they’re so well told. There is a spooky similarity in one scene to a bit in When I Was Joe, which made me feel ill with inferiority, but there you go. It’s wonderful. Buy it, read it and then please try and forget it before you read mine.

2. Bad Faith also by Gillian Philip. Look, the woman’s a star, what can I do? Also she’s set her book in an unnamed Glasgow, which is my favourite city in Britain. Scotland’s been taken over by religious extremists and there’s a dead bishop to account for. Great stuff and an absolutely beautiful cover.

3. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Deservedly won trillions of awards last year. Imagine a world where you could hear men’s thoughts out loud. Patrick Ness handles this idea so deftly that you forget what a hard task he’s set himself. Really exciting and followed by a sequel The Ask and the Answer which asks hard questions of readers about terrorism and torture.

4. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. Clever, funny, exciting, moving book, about teenage hackers in San Francisco which comes under attack from terrorists and is taken over by security services who set about stripping citizens of their rights. A fast-paced plot, real breathing characters and a great examination of the issues of freedom versus security.

5. Guantanamo Boy by Ann Perera. Tackles similar issues to Doctorow’s book - a complete coincidence that I took both of them out of the library on the same day – Perera tells the story of a Muslim boy from Rochdale who goes with his family to visit family in Karachi, and is kidnapped and handed over to American forces as a potential terrorist, then shopped to Guantanamo Bay. She tells his story so well that I was breathless with anxiety until - thank God – a lawyer arrives to help him. My only slight niggle was that some of the characters are just there to provide their viewpoint, then they disappear, but it’s well worth reading.

6 Rowan the Strange by Julie Hearn. Another boy imprisoned, but a very different story. Rowan is suffering from schizophrenia in 1930s London and at the start of the war is sent to an asylum in Kent where he undergoes experimental electro-convulsive therapy. What I loved about this book was its ambivalence – you’re horrified by the treatment and yet you can see that Rowan needs help, you start by hating Rowan’s doctor, you grow to understand and sympathise with him. Really great story-telling too, and against the odds an up-beat ending.

7. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen. I’d never read any Sarah Dessen books before, although I knew she was a hugely successful writer of YA books and I love the beautiful UK covers of her books. I wasn’t sure about The Truth About Forever at first - too much backstory I thought, too much introspection as she established the story of Macy Queen, who wants to be perfect as a way of dealing with her father’s death. But then the story sucked me in, especially because she creates the perfect love interest - Wes, artistic reformed bad boy with a tattoo. It compared very well with most adult rom coms I’ve read recently, and I’m definitely going to read some more by Sarah Dessen.

8 The Ashleys by Melissa de la Cruz. Not at all my usual sort of book and I was all set to sneer, except that it was recommended by my daughter who said it was excellent. And it was - very funny, sharp writing, a good eye for the rich girls’ world of San Francisco private schools and characters you hate just enough to still care what happens to them.

9 The Red Dress by Gaby Halberstam. Strangely enough Gaby and I were friends when we were 15, and now here we are, both writing YA books. When I knew Gaby she had just moved to England from South Africa and it’s this background that she’s drawn on to write her first two books Blue Sky Freedom and The Red Dress. The dress in question is given to Rifke, a Jewish girl living in Johannesburg in the 1940s but her mother disapproves. On the spur of the moment Rifke runs away, catching a train to the middle of nowhere and ending up staying with the Van Niel family, poor white farmers The clash of cultures, and the feeling that anything could happen is completely compelling.

10. The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan. How could I have forgotten this one? Great fantasy book. At first I was comparing it unfavouably with The Amulet of Samarkand which is also demon-based, but the story of two brothers - kind quiet Alan and angry Nick sucked me in. And the ending was stunning - I really didn't see it coming.


  1. I loved Crossing the Line, Bad Faith (even more than CtL!) and The Truth About Forever (my favourite Dessen). Great books you've read!

  2. Little Brother was a great book with an important message for both young and old. I haven't read any of these other titles, but they sound good!

  3. Keren, I was at school with Gaby - saw her at the CWIG conf last summer, were you at HBS?

  4. Okay, so now I HAVE to find Gillian's books somewhere! I loved The Truth about Forever, I still think it is one of her best books and I've read several of them.
    Have you read Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely - also well worth the read.

  5. Catherine - no, she lived in Hertfordshire for about a year before moving to London and we knew eachother then. But I do know various other people who went to HBS.

    Nicky - don't know that one, will seek it out.

  6. Hi Keren,

    Just wanted to let you know you've been nominated for a blog award.