Teen fiction: the best reads for the summer break

An Alice for the 21st century, activism in action and the bombing of Hiroshima all feature in the best new YA titles, writes Hannah Sycamore

Juno Dawson

Dive down the rabbit hole with Alice in Juno Dawson’s superb new novel Wonderland (Quercus, £7.99), a modern retelling of the Lewis Carrol classic. Rather than finding herself at a tea party, our heroine finds herself sucked into a weekend long party of excess, a world of wealth, elitism and danger. The novel addresses many topics, including drug use, sexual assault, mental health and self-harm. However, in the process it reveals the vulnerability of many young people and the challenges of the crippling social world they inhabit. An addictive and immersive read.

An equally compelling retelling is Laura Guthrie’s stunning debut novel Anna (Cranachan, £8.99), a heart-warming and uplifting adaptation of Polyanna, transported to the Scottish countryside. Anna is a young person with Asperger’s Syndrome (now known as Autistic Spectrum Disorder Level 1) who is grieving for the recent death of her father. She grapples with the move to a new place and begins to develop a relationship with her estranged mother. Despite all these challenges, Anna’s hope, optimism and zest for life shine through.

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For more stories of hope and resilience, A Pheonix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance and Hope edited by Patrice Caldwell (Hot Key Books, £7.99) is a must read. The anthology contains 16 engrossing short stories by some of the best authors of colour. From Elizabeth Acevedo’s story exploring a slave revolt in 1522 to Ibi Zoboi’s piece inspired by Carribean lore to Somaiya Daud’s entrancing fantasy and Patrice Caldwell’s vampires reimagined, there is something in this anthology for everyone.

For an engaging and informative non-fiction title, look no further than We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World by Todd Hasak-Lowy (Abrams BYR, £12.99). Each chapter in the book focuses on a different nonviolent movement, from women’s suffrage to civil rights to lesser-known movements such as the farmworkers movement led by Cesar Chavez. Whilst the book primarily focuses on the individuals who have shaped our world, the author also demonstrates that the power to change society rests with the public.

Another book that explores a key moment in history is The Last Paper Crane by Kerry Drewery (Hot Key Books, £7.99). Flicking between contemporary Japan and 1945, this story is simultaneously heart-warming and heartbreaking. Told in dual narrative verse and prose, we hear from both Mizuki and her grandfather. Mizuki is worried about him. Slowly, her grandfather tells his story and shares his experience of surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. He reveals the events that have haunted him throughout his life. By creating moving and relatable characters, Kerry Drewery has beautifully conveyed the unique, human experience of living through a catastrophic event.

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Lee Gulledge (Amulet Books, £16.99) is another poignant and moving book. This bold graphic novel explores one teenager’s experience of depression. After Mona’s best friend moves to Hawaii, she feels lost and alone and struggles to connect with others and articulate her emotions. Through art, therapy and the support of friends, she slowly begins to untangle and understand her emotions and experiences. A heartfelt and honest graphic novel for young people that many readers will find relatable.

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