Book review: Teen fiction round-up

Candy Gourlay
Candy Gourlay
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Beth Goodyear picks the best new YA releases

Candy Gourlay is a master storyteller, capable of transporting her readers completely into her world. In Bone Talk (David Fickling, £10.99) she plunges us headfirst into the Philippine jungle at the end of the 19th century and into the life of Samkad, a boy on the cusp of manhood, desperate for and yet also dreading his coming of age. But before he can join his father and the other men of the tribe, a strange man with white skin bursts into their village, along with a brother Samkad never knew he had. They bring news that will change Samkad’s life forever: there are foreigners in the jungle, a tribe of men calling themselves “Americans.” Bone Talk is a richly-wrought novel that feels cinematic in scope. The reader is transported to a different time and place and feels completely engulfed by the sights, sounds and smells of this lost wilderness.

Set over the course of one week at secondary school, Everything All At Once by Steven Camden (Macmillan, £7.99, also available in audio via Soundcloud) is a beautiful, chaotic and emotional collection of poems by one of the most unique and powerful voices in YA fiction. From the thrill of first love in “It Happened” to the pure joy of running in “Gazelle,” all the minutiae of high school life are here. Each poem has an authentic voice and shares a relatable and recognisable experience of growing up.

Floored (Macmillan, £7.99) is a revolutionary kind of YA novel, a completely collaborative project from start to finish with each character written by a different YA writer, each bringing their own unique style to the story. Non Pratt, Sara Barnard, Holly Bourne, Tanya Bryne, Melinda Salisbury, Lisa Williamson and Eleanor Wood lead us through the unexpected, funny and moving story of six young people brought together by a chance incident in a lift during their work experience placement. They decide to meet once a year to commemorate their strange first encounter and, as the years progress, their lives become more intertwined and complicated. This novel is as unpredictable as it is heart-warming; every character is unique and fizzing with life. It really is a celebration of the very best of UK YA fiction today.

Published by Scottish publishing company Scotland Street Press, Black Snow Falling by Liz MacWhirter (£12.99) is a historical novel with a dark streak of fantasy running through it. Ruth is a girl with spirit – she is curious, quick-witted and independent, a dangerous combination for a young girl in 1592. Her step-mother is bent on marrying her off but, as her future husband rides towards her, a darkness surrounds Ruth and her village. A nightmare she has had since she was little resurfaces and intensifies. As darkness descends she is forced to confront her deepest fears and the possibility that she may not have been dreaming after all. The world-building in this book is exquisite, from the finely textured tapestries to the deadening blackness of the ship of shadows. It’s a tale which will haunt readers’ dreams long after the final page.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Simon and Schuster, £7.99) opens in the weeks following Aaron’s dad’s suicide. Aaron is struggling to recover from the shock and is only surviving through the support of his girlfriend Genevieve. Just as Aaron thinks he might be turning a corner a new guy, Thomas, arrives on the block. Soon Thomas and Aaron become close. Rumours start to fly around the estate about this new friendship and Aaron’s not sure he can deny them. In desperation, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s experimental memory-alteration procedure to help him forget Thomas and make life simpler. But what if it goes wrong? And what if he forgets who he truly is?

This book is a rollercoaster of a read. Silvera effortlessly portrays the complexity and angst of a teenage boy struggling with his identity. The complicated relationships between characters are expertly drawn and have the power to both devastate and enthrall.