If you thought The Little Mermaid was a lovely fairy tale with singing crabs and happy endings, think again. Louise O’Neill’s searing retelling of the original tale in The Surface Breaks (Scholastic, £12.99) could not be further from Disney’s sanitised version if it tried. The book crackles with darkness and discomfort and shines a harsh light on the troubling misogyny tied up in so many fairy stories.
Gaia’s mother disappeared when she was very young and she has grown up cowering in the shadow of her controlling father, all talk of her mother strictly forbidden. She yearns for freedom from the life that has been mapped out for her.
Then, on her first trip to the surface of the ocean, she sees a boy, full of life, carefree and smiling. She instantly convinces herself that she’s in love and will do whatever it takes to be with him. O’Neill’s prose cuts to the bone as she tears apart any hope of a Disney happy ending.
In Rebound (Andersen, £7.99) by Kwame Alexander, it’s the summer of 1988 and Charlie is struggling to come to terms with the loss of his dad. His mum is working long hours and struggling too. When he gets into trouble one time too many she decides to send him away to his grandparents’ house for the summer. At first Charlie hates it – he’s away from his friends and everything he knows – but then his cousin bounds on to the scene and introduces him to a new love: basketball.
Rebound is written entirely in verse, and Kwame Alexander manages to distill huge emotions into punchy poems that leap off the page. Interspersed throughout with vibrant comic strips drawn by Dawud Anyabwile, this is an energetic and dynamic story that is full of heart.
The Colour of the Sun (Hodder, £12.99) is David Almond at his finest: a dreamlike journey across the infinite expanse of one sunny day in Tyneside.
A boy has been killed by the church and Davie thinks he knows who is responsible. He sets off with his sketchbook and his memories to wander the familiar streets and paths of his home and reflect on what has happened. As the day passes, reality warps and bends until the real world and his dream world become irrevocably tangled.
This is a lyrical and moving story about a boy on the cusp of manhood, mourning his dad and trying to look forward to a new chapter in his life. There is a touching innocence to this book and a warmth that glows from every page.
Philip Pullman has made the leap into the vibrant world of graphic novels this year with The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship (David Fickling, £14.99). Illustrated by Fred Fordham this is a ghostly thriller bursting with action and colour.
Shrouded in fog and folktales, the Mary Alice jumps erratically through time, acting as a refuge for those lost at sea. Her motley crew are all survivors desperate to find a way home to their own time but they can’t control where or when they go. As rumours about the mysterious ship build there are some who will stop at nothing to have control over time itself and a dangerous game of cat and mouse begins.
The Weight of a Thousand Feathers (Bloomsbury, £12.99) by Brian Conaghan explores what it’s like to grow up as a young carer. Bobby Seed is exhausted: he spends every minute of his free time caring for his mum and his little brother Danny. His mum has MS and they’re all struggling under the weight of it. Bobby joins a young carers’ support group where he meets someone, a boy with a vintage scooter called Leo, who is everything Bobby has been secretly dreaming about.
But as his mum starts declining rapidly, there’s no space left for Bobby to think about himself anymore – he needs to be there for her and do whatever she asks of him, even if she’s asking the unthinkable.
Conaghan’s lightness of touch and sense of humour shine through this heartbreaking story, and each of the characters lingers in the imagination long after the final page.