The current hot topic in teen fiction is mental health. In June, Superstar Blogger Zoella based her book club selection around mental health themes and the Scottish Book Trust ran an Author’s Live broadcast with Juno Dawson about her new non-fiction book, Mind your Head. Here are five entertaining, thought-provoking and important teen novels all featuring mental health issues.
Debut author Louise Gornall’s Under Rose-Tainted Skies (Chickenhouse, £7.99) tells the story of agoraphobic 17 year-old Norah who lives alone with her mum. When her mum is hospitalised after a car accident, Norah has to cope on her own both in the house and in her head. When handsome and kind 17 year-old Luke moves in next door, Norah’s life gets even more complicated. Will her head allow her to have a normal relationship?
Honest and moving, this book doesn’t pull any punches. It is both hopeful and realistic and paints a vivid picture of how crippling anxiety can be. Norah’s voice is sympathetic rather than pathetic, layered with slowly revealed strength, and it will stay with you long after finishing.
Following a Carnegie Medal win must be an intimidating prospect, but Kevin Brooks’ new book once again highlights his uniqueness in a crowded field. Like Gornall’s novel, Born Scared (Electric Monkey, £7.99) also tackles anxiety, but with souped-up thriller elements. It’s Christmas Eve and, due to a mix-up, Elliot’s anti-anxiety meds have run out. His mum has gone to fetch them, but when she doesn’t return, Elliot, helped by the voice of his dead twin sister in his head, has to find her. He only has to walk 482 metres down the road to his aunt’s house, but she might as well be on the moon. In true Brooks style, this barreling sprint of a novel also features bank robbers, deer poachers and a drunk driver, all hurtling towards its explosive climax.
Night Wanderers (S&S, £7.99) is Branford Boase award-winner CJ Flood’s brilliantly evocative novel. Shy Rosie and daring Ti are closer than sisters. They like to wander their little seaside hometown in the night, sharing secrets and setting the world to rights. But when one of their wanderings ends up in a teacher’s garden, Ti gets expelled for threatening behaviour. Rosie can’t bring herself to own up to being there that night as well, and when both Ti and her twin sister disappear, she has to choose if she wants to remain quiet or if she is willing to speak up for the people she loves.
Exploring friendships, troubled families and choosing tough rights over easy wrongs, this sharp and funny novel also dares us to consider the wild idea of women wandering in the dark, alone, without being threatened or assaulted. Relationships tie them down, while night wandering sets them free.
The ties that bind in Meaghan McIsaac’s Movers (Andersen Press, £7.99) are real rather than metaphorical. The titular Movers are tied with a person in the future: Shadows. Movers are shunned by society because their future Shadows are blamed for the world’s overpopulation and scarce resources. When Patrick witnesses his bullied classmate Gabby apparently move her Shadow to their own time, they are hunted by the police. Yet they’re not only on the run for the authorities, but also from the Shadow, who has a vital interest in Gabby and what she will achieve when she’s older.
This compelling novel ticks many of the current YA boxes for high-concept themes and star-crossed romances, but delivers enough originality and twists to leave readers breathless for more.
Zana Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow (Orion, £12.99) is set in an Australian refugee detention centre. Ten year-old Subhi was born in the camp. When he was little, his mother and older sister used to tell him wonderful stories about a life before they came to the camp, but now Subhi’s mum mostly just sleeps, barely eats and seems to have lost all her hope. Jimmie lives outside the camp and when her mum died she left a book of family stories which illiterate Jimmie cannot read. Subhi can however. And when Jimmie finds a way into the camp one night so begins a tender friendship. The power of this timely book lies with its subtlety and it’s ultimately impossible not to be profoundly moved.