Book reviews: The best reads for teens this festive season

Juno Dawson PIC: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images
Juno Dawson PIC: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images
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Turtles all the Way Down (Penguin, £14.99) is the much-anticipated new release from bestselling American author John Green. When Aza’s fearless best friend Daisy first suggests they should investigate the case of a missing billionaire in a bid to win the $100,000 reward, Aza is reluctant. She is uneasy about using her former friendship with the missing man’s son, Davis, to gain information. Not wanting to disappoint her best friend though, Aza tags along and soon she and Daisy get tangled up in Davis’s life. As the plot thickens Aza and Daisy’s relationship is put under increasing strain as the ever-tightening spirals of Aza’s OCD threaten to overwhelm them both.

Green’s prose is as lyrical and moving as ever as he sensitively weaves Aza’s battle against her own damaging thoughts into a gripping story that cuts to the heart of friendship and first love. Daisy’s character is a joy to read, her obsession with Star Wars fanfic and her bright and breezy take on life an interesting counterpoint to Aza’s constant self-analysis.

Vanilla (Scholastic, £14.99) by Billy Merrell charts the intense and heart-breaking relationship between two boys in a series of beautiful and raw poems. Vanilla and Hunter have been together since they started high school. They came out together, they do everything together, they love each other. But as Hunter starts to put pressure on Vanilla to take their relationship further, a gap opens up between the boys that becomes increasingly unnavigable.

This is a moving coming of age story of two boys trying to find out who and what they want from life and from each other. Each poem tells its own story of heartbreak and love while feeding into the wider narrative of their relationship.

Seventeen years after the final book in the His Dark Materials Trilogy Philip Pullman is back with a new ‘equel’ trilogy: The Book of Dust. Set ten years before the action of Northern Lights, The Book Of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (Penguin Random House and David Fickling Books, £20) begins with Lyra as a helpless baby beset on all sides by factions that want to claim her for themselves. The hero of the story is young Malcolm Polstead, an inquisitive boy who rescues Lyra in the middle of a great flood. With only his trusty canoe (La Belle Sauvage) and a formidable kitchen girl called Alice, he battles against powerful forces to bring Lyra to safety.

In La Belle Sauvage, Pullman sets the scene for an epic battle between good and evil, free speech and authoritarian control. This is a must read for all fans of the original trilogy.

Fans of ghost stories, meanwhile, will love Grave Matter (Barrington Stoke, £7.99) by Juno Dawson, another in Barrington Stoke’s “super readable” series of books for teenagers. Samuel is heartbroken after a car crash kills his girlfriend Eliza. Unable to move past the tragedy he seeks help from the sinister Mr Milk, who promises to bring him exactly what he asks for but at a price. Desperate and grief-stricken, Samuel agrees to Mr Milk’s terms, little understanding how high the true cost of his actions will be.

Peppered throughout with Alex T Smith’s haunting illustrations, this book is a beautiful object as well as a gripping page-turner for teenagers looking to be thrilled and chilled.

“I’m just going outside and may be some time” were the last words of Lawrence Oates as, suffering from gangrene and severe frostbite, he stumbled out into a blizzard and died during Scott’s ill-fated return from the South Pole. Into the White by Joanna Grochowicz (Allen and Unwin, £7.99) is an astonishing work of narrative non-fiction that charts the fascinating tale of the Terra Nova expedition. Brimming with interesting information and punctuated by original photographs from 1910-13 the reader is grounded in the reality of the story. The personalities of Scott and his crew are vividly brought to life in a way that fully brings home the human tragedy that took place.