The best young adult fiction this autumn

Will Sutcliffe
Will Sutcliffe
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Sixteen-year-old Romy Silvers is the only surviving crew member on a spaceship tasked with colonising Earth II in Lauren James’s Loneliest Girl in the Universe (Walker Books, £7.99). Hurtling through space towards an uncertain future, completely alone, Romy is struggling to keep herself together. With a time-lapse of several years, meaningful communication with Earth is impossible, so when she starts to receive reports from a relief ship rapidly converging on hers, Romy allows herself to hope. As the second ship approaches, however, it becomes clear not everything is as it seems. This is a tense psychological thriller that will suck you into the claustrophobic interior of Romy’s ship and leave you gasping for air.

Things A Bright Girl Can Do (Andersen Press, £12.99) by Sally Nicholls follows the story of three bright young girls from very different backgrounds as they battle for female emancipation in the early 20th century. Evelyn must fight for her right to attend university, May and her mother have been on the campaign trail for years and Nell just wants to be allowed to be herself while struggling to support her family. As war is announced in 1914, their lives are plunged into uncertainty and each must decide what is worth fighting for the most. The lack of control experienced by these girls is powerfully felt as each of these beautifully-drawn characters struggles to be heard and respected. A fascinating and emotive read for any budding feminist.

Freshers (Chicken House, £7.99) by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison paints a ruthlessly honest and hilariously funny portrait of life as a new student. Luke is a bit lost. Despite leaving school as one of the popular lads, he’s floundering and struggling to connect with anyone. Phoebe, however, crashes through her first term accumulating a rag-tag band of devoted friends and a fairly sizable list of regrets. As their lives become increasingly intertwined, they both need to figure out who they are and what they want. Bursting with vibrant characters, every reader will find someone to relate to in this refreshing, frank and funny novel.

Deirdre Sullivan’s collection of retold fairy tales, Tangleweed and Brine (Little Island, £12.99, illustrated by Karen Vaughan) offers a dark and twisted take on the classics. Each story is given a feminist makeover in a style reminiscent of Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber. The haunting lyricism of the prose gets under your skin as you are drawn into the unfamiliar familiarity of each tale. Each story is unexpected and disconcerting, from hearing the witch’s perspective in the rewritten Hansel and Gretel to discovering Snow White’s sinister ambition as she tries to usurp her step-mother’s power. Throughout, Sullivan makes the reader question female characters’ agency in their own stories and the tales that emerge are surprising and fresh.

Edinburgh-based author William Sutcliffe’s latest book We See Everything (Bloomsbury, £12.99) is a chilling glimpse into a dystopian future where warfare is conducted remotely by armed drones and victims are left at the mercy of absent killers. Set in a three-mile wide strip of London the book alternates between the viewpoints of Lex, trapped within the exclusion zone, and Alan, the drone operator tasked with reporting his family’s every move. Sutcliffe’s expert building of tension between the two sides provides a terrifying glimpse of a potential future where human lives are just pixels on a screen waiting to be wiped out with an indifferent flick of the joystick.

Change is Gonna Come (Stripes, £7.99) is a bold new anthology putting BAME writers firmly in the foreground of young adult fiction. The book features 12 startlingly-vivid stories from established and debut authors on the subject of change. Each story is unique and powerful in its authenticity, from the thrill of first love in Hackney Moon by Tanya Byrne to the oppressive isolation of living with OCD portrayed in Marionette Girl by Aisha Bushby. Every aspect of teenage life is reflected in these pages. This anthology showcases an astounding array of talented writers and puts new voices at the centre of YA fiction.