Young Adult fiction: Five of the best novels for teens

Gary D Schmidt's Orbiting Jupiter
Gary D Schmidt's Orbiting Jupiter
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Frances Hardinge’s recent Costa Book of the Year win with The Lie Tree – the first time a book for children or young people had won the award since Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass in 2001 – has brought YA fiction back into the spotlight. Here are a few of the best YA books appearing this spring.

Frances Hardinge’s recent Costa Book of the Year win with The Lie Tree – the first time a book for children or young people had won the award since Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass in 2001 – has brought YA fiction back into the spotlight. Here are a few of the best YA books appearing this spring.

Gary D Schmidt’s Orbiting Jupiter (Andersen Press £10.99) may seem slim compared to the current fashion for 500-page tomes, but every one of its 180 pages feels rich and weighty. Fourteen-year-old Joseph is being fostered by Jack’s farming family in rural America. After apparently attempting to murder a teacher at Juvie, Joseph went to Stone Mountain prison and is still considered an extremely challenging case. He also has a three-month-old daughter, Jupiter, who he’s never met and who he’s fighting to be allowed to see. But it will take opening up about his past for his foster family to help him.

Reflecting bare landscapes and honest characters, Schmidt uses beautifully sparse language to tell a big story. He gives readers insight into how outside influences shape us and how hard it is to keep on the straight and narrow when life feels less than kind. This is a punchy and emotional book which will draw you in then spit you out crying at the end.

Clare Furniss’s debut novel The Year of the Rat won many fans, so her second novel comes pre-loaded with expectation. In How Not to Disappear (Simon & Schuster £7.99) 17-year-old Hattie has just discovered that she’s become pregnant by her unreliable best friend Reuben. He’s left for adventures abroad while she’s still waiting tables at a greasy cafe. When she receives a call about her long-lost great aunt Gloria it comes as a welcome distraction. And Gloria turns out to be an eccentric, retired actress with Alzheimer’s who wants to tell her life story before she loses all her memories. Together they embark on a road-trip, switching between 1950s Britain and the present-day, and looking for a safe route into the future. It’s a thought-provoking, mature novel that should leave you outraged at the unfair treatment of women not all that long ago.

Another powerful novel about women comes from Finnish author Maria Turtschaninoff. Maresi (Pushkin Children’s Books, £10.99) was published to international acclaim with rights sold in 11 countries and it’s not hard to see why. In an alternative world where women have no rights at all, Maresi has been at the sanctuary of the Red Abbey since she was 13, a unique place where women can do as they please. When Jai arrives, clothes stiff with dirt and scars on her back, they quickly become friends. However, Jai is being chased by her remorseless father and a terrible clash is inevitable. This dark, deceptively simple story is a great addition to the growing feminist fantasy genre.

Melissa Keil’s The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl (Stripes Publishing, £6.99) is the most recent of some excellent YA fiction from Australia. Alba has to decide what to do with her life – stay in the sleepy town she grew up in, or leave in the hope of realising her dream of becoming a comic book artist. When a doomsday vlogger announces Alba’s home town of Eden Valley will be the only safe place on Earth when the world ends in two weeks’ time, gangs descend upon it. With them comes Daniel, Alba’s old friend who’s now a famous TV actor, and his appearance rocks her relationship with new best friend Grady. This is a novel with a funny, quirky heroine who has a healthy body image. Teen fiction needs more kick-ass Alba’s.

Congratulations to Danny Wallace, whose novel The Piper (Andersen Press, £7.99) won the Older Readers category of the Scottish Children’s Book Awards this month. Taking us back to the Second World War, 13-year-old Peter and his six-year-old sister Daisy are evacuated from London to the countryside. They 
are housed on a remote farm but Peter becomes worried about his sister who hears ghostly music, speaks to dolls and sees girls dancing in the garden at night. Then he uncovers a family curse linked to an unpaid debt. An atmospheric, tense, well-written read and a very worthy winner.