Our Recommendations for Young Adults

Unraveller by Frances Hardinge

Unraveller is a beautifully written fantasy with a twist of darkness. The kingdom of Raddith has an unusual problem. Its people have been granted the ‘gift’ to curse those who mistreat them. Designed to liberate people, in practice this gift has become a burden. So, when Kellen discovers he can unravel curses, his services are much in demand. Recovering from a curse herself, Nettle shows Kellen how empathy can heal cursers as well as the cursed. Hardinge’s world-building is extraordinarily vivid and her flawed and complex characters grab you by the heart; I hope you enjoy Unraveller as much as I did!

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

A swashbuckling tale with hidden depths, I would defy anyone not to enjoy Daughter of the Pirate King. Alosa is as feisty a heroine as they get, managing her own all-female pirate crew in a world where morality is as fluid as the waters they sail. Suffice to say there are reasons why Alosa is the way she is: exacting, loyal and prone to fits of violence. When her quest for a hidden map is interrupted by an irritatingly handsome enemy, will Alosa’s carefully-controlled world be overturned? A fair and brilliant leader, Alosa makes us consider the impact of our choices, especially in positions of power.

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

In a world just like ours, there is one difference. Technology can now predict when you will die. Unsurprisingly, an industry has grown around this, with a warning from ‘Death-Cast’ alerting you that you have reached your ‘end-day’, and apps such as ‘LastFriend’ helping people make the most of their final hours. This is how Rufus and Matteo meet – and somehow, in Silvera’s hands, their first and final day together manages to be both fun and funny. A powerful meditation on finding your own way in life, friendship and love, you may know how this book ends, but there’s no predicting how it will make you feel!

A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Set at the beginning of the 20th Century, Jennifer Donnelly captures period and place perfectly. Mattie is torn between familial responsibilities and her own desire to further her studies and become a writer. Life on the homestead is painfully hard but the arrival of a new teacher brings unexpected energy to Mattie’s hopes. This is a brilliantly written coming-of-age story intertwined with a true-life murder. Donnelly’s skill of subtly introducing a myriad of powerful details makes for a sophisticated read, drawing the difficulties and restrictions of small-town life alongside the support and care of a community. I thoroughly enjoyed Mattie’s play with language and her love of literature, a great choice for our YA book group.

The Rewilding of Molly McFlynn by Sue Reed

Set during the Covid lockdown in the Northumberland countryside, we meet Molly McFlynn being driven by her mum, a front line nurse and single parent, to stay with Nan and Grandad who grow their own food and make their own clothes. Molly is embarrassed by their difference and it adds to her worries about 'fitting in' with her own friends. When a young woman mysteriously appears, living rough in the woods, the links between past and present are brought to life and Molly comes to feel pride in the knowledge and strength of her female relatives. Molly grows throughout what becomes a thrilling story; the setting is lovingly described and the relationships between the characters are convincing and affecting.

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne by Jonathan Stroud

Welcome to The Seven Kingdoms: the cities are under surveillance and scrubland shelters savage beasts – and worse. Seemingly thriving in this lawless hinterland is Scarlett McCain; an ace shot with a knack for heists and knowing when to move on. What she doesn’t need is a clumsy sidekick, and certainly not a friend… so when Albert Browne stumbles onto the scene, she is less than pleased. But there are enemies on their trail – and the troubling talent Albert tries so hard to hide may make the difference between life and death. A superbly written YA adventure.

Cane Warriors by Alex Wheatle

Based on true events, this dramatic novel follows teenage Moa’s experience during Tacky’s Rebellion, the 1760 uprising of enslaved people in Jamaica. Moa has a best mate and a girl he has his eye on – but his life is anything but ordinary. Forced to work long hours in excruciating heat on a sugar cane plantation, where he is enslaved, and barely allowed to see his parents, Moa has no choice over his destiny and no power to help those he loves most. Until he hears underground rumours of a rebellion…. Moa’s story is sensitively told, reclaiming the pivotal agency of enslaved voices in Jamaica’s history and celebrating the contributions young people make in fighting for equality and freedom.

The Edelweiss Pirates by Dirk Reinhardt

Illuminating the roles young people played in resisting the Nazi regime, this brilliant and moving novel presents a new perspective on this period of history. Told through the diary entries of Josef, a teenager in 1940s Germany, as they are read by Daniel in the present day, an extraordinary tale unfolds – based on the real experiences of members of rebel youth movement, the Edelweiss Pirates. Harrowing in places, this is not a gentle read but it is an important one.

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.

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 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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