Our Recommendations for Young Adults

Becoming Dinah by Kit de Waal

‘Call me Ishmael…’  The first line of Moby-Dick is also the wonderfully offbeat premise of Kit de Waal’s YA debut.

16-year-old Dinah’s world is collapsing. The commune she lives on is disbanding and her parents have separated, taking her closest friend away in the process. Oh, and things aren’t going too well at school either… So, Dinah decides to take to the road, cut her hair and assume a new identity: call me Ishmael! What she hasn’t banked on is her grumpy old neighbour inviting himself along for the ride, or quite how complicated life on the road might be… A brilliant adventure story, Becoming Dinah also explores how we navigate issues of gender, sexuality and identity on the way to becoming comfortable in our own skin.

The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff

One dazzling summer, a happy, raucous extended family make their annual pilgrimage to their home by the sea. Their expectations of golden days filled with sun, sea and wine are suddenly overturned by the arrival of newcomers into their midst. As the Godden brothers - languidly handsome Kit and dark, brooding Hugo - are assimilated into the group, ripples of disquiet threaten to upset the family’s equilibrium. In beautifully spare prose, Meg Rosoff perfectly captures the experiences of characters on the cusp of adulthood – and the dangerous power of love. A captivating and atmospheric read which will stay with you long after you put it down.

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

Frances Hardinge has a reputation as one of the best young adult authors around, and A Skinful of Shadows doesn't disappoint. The novel is set at the start of the English Civil War, and centres around Makepeace Lightfoot, a young girl who must unravel the shadowy secrets of her family’s past after her mother is killed. To do so, she travels to her ancestral home Grizehayes (the creepiness of which is described in vivid, Gothic detail - one of the highlights of the book!) and uncovers a web of ghostly intrigue with her family at its heart. This is a wonderful combination of historical drama, coming-of-age adventure, and supernatural thriller with a strong and unusual heroine. I couldn’t put it down!

The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi

Elin’s mother has a very special job - caring for the magical Toda beasts that protect their kingdom. But when something goes wrong, Elin must flee and begin a new life, where she discovers a talent for caring for wild creatures and an astonishing ability to talk to them. But, in a land where politics seeps into every strand of life and the balance of power is delicate, Elin must keep it a secret or risk losing everything. Nahoko Uehashi has created a fantasy world that feels very real and the story is wonderfully paced, with sophisticated ethical dilemmas and a gripping narrative, and is full of subtle, heartfelt moments that bring Elin’s story to life. A beautiful read!

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

This novel is set at an indeterminate time in the future where ghosts rise at night, attacking and even killing people with their sinister ‘ghost touch’. ‘The Problem’ as it has become known, has led to the forming of psychic detective agencies, whose job it is to seek out and destroy the source of these apparitions. This book follows the investigations of Lockwood & Co, a small agency consisting of the mercurial Anthony Lockwood, his assistant George Cubbins and new recruit Lucy Carlyle. I think you’ll find that their spooky adventures have tension, thrills and atmosphere in abundance.

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

The much anticipated prequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy takes us back in time to Lyra’s infancy and introduces us to the boy who becomes her unwitting protector, in a land which is at once so like our own and yet so very different. Malcolm Polstead lives a quiet life in his parents’ pub by the Thames. But as menacing factions begin to develop in the realms of science and religion, an insidious evil begins to creep into even Malcolm’s peaceful world.  And as the weather itself becomes ever stranger, threatening to engulf everything in a devastating flood, Malcolm must rely on his precious canoe, La Belle Sauvage, to carry a small child to safety on a perilous journey into the unknown. With characters full of courage and an atmosphere which is both strange and wonderful, this book also contains the intellectual subtly we’ve come to associate with Pullman’s great writing.

A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

This book truly shows the skill of David Almond’s writing - poetical, precise and beautifully painting pictures with words such that you sit up slightly straighter when reading it. I wanted to read the story as quickly as possible to find out what happens, but at the same time, to read it at a slower pace to allow David’s language to be savoured. A Song for Ella Grey is a stunning retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth with the North East at its centre, appealing to both teenagers and adults.

A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood

In the glittering, dreamy summer of 1929, 17-year-old Lou is stuck at home and bored. Her life changes when she is drawn into the glamourous world of the Cardew siblings and their ‘set’ – a world of moonlit parties, endless cocktails, secrets and lies. It’s the world she has longed for, but she soon discovers that not all is as beautiful as it appears on the surface. This romance for older teens is wonderfully drawn with some great period detail – and a stunning cover to match! (Not that we judge, of course…)

​I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

I Am Malala expands Malala’s story beyond being the girl who was shot by the Taliban. This version has been written especially for teenagers and younger readers, and chronicles Malala’s family and school life in Pakistan as well her activism and the changing political undercurrents of a war-torn country. It is a compelling, inspirational and powerful read that explores many of the issues and complexities that countries and cultures face today.

​Smart by Kim Slater

The book is all about Kieran Woods, an autistic boy who is having a hard time living with his overworked mum and abusive step dad Tony. He only has two real friends, Jean, a homeless lady he talks to down by the river and Miss Crane, his incredibly supportive teaching assistant. Things change for Kieran when he finds a body in the river and, convinced the man has been murdered, he sets out to investigate. He needs to use all of his skills to get to the bottom of the mystery and in the process puts himself in danger and emerges a real hero. This is a gripping story told through Kieran's brilliant and authentic voice. You can't help but cheer him on as he navigates his way through life's mysteries.

​Looking at the Stars by Jo Cotterill

This is an incredibly powerful and moving story about a family who find themselves as refugees due to the horrendous civil war in their country. Jo Cotterill sensitively deals with some very challenging and brutal issues. Her characters are brilliantly drawn and throughout the hardships Amina and Jenna face, there are beautiful moments of kindness. Everyone should read this book; it opens your eyes to the plight of refugees and to the importance of kindness. Looking at the Stars is a testament to the power of stories and our imaginations.

​The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeill

This is a great story full of fantasy, danger, friendship, courage and humanity. The author has an incredible imagination and the worlds he has created are intriguing and full of wonder, his characters are eccentric and he raises thought-provoking questions about the battle between art and science. Although this is quite a complex read, our book group really enjoyed it and we had a great discussion sharing our interpretations of what happened in the story and why.

​The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Set in Alaska in the 1970s, the story is in fact four stories about four teenagers whose very different lives become entwined. Despite the characters facing incredibly difficult and emotionally complex issues, the author’s sensitive approach makes this a very engaging read about family relationships. It also provides an incredibly insight into the rural communities and the politics in Alaska at this time. Brilliantly written, I’m surprised this book is not more widely known.

​The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

This is an amazing novel full of interest, subtlety and a daring plot device. The novel is set at a point in time where science and religion were in direct conflict following the publication of Darwin's Theory of Evolution. Hardinge uses this conflict as a stepping off point to examine human pride, ambition, delusion and frailty. In addition, running throughout the book, is a rousing commentary on gender politics which adds lustre to the already brilliant central character, Faith. The device of the lie tree itself, so central to the complex plot, is a great feat of imaginative writing, used to excellent dramatic effect. I would highly recommend reading this book-whatever your age!

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