Teenage books round-up: feminism and fairy tales

A vivid history of the suffragettes and a new version of The Little Mermaid are among this month’s standouts

Feminism and women’s history are richly woven into children’s and young adult books this year, taking their lead from the success of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls and the centenary of the first British women to win the vote. Illustrator David Roberts is both writer and artist of Suffragette: The Battle for Equality (Two Hoots £18.99). In a lavish colour hardback replete with his distinctive, perceptive art, he offers fascinating insights into the complex history of the movement, looking beyond the stereotypes to include working-class women and diverse stories from around the world.

Despite Disney’s best efforts, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid has always occupied a dark place in the fairytale canon. In her contemporary reimagining, The Surface Breaks (Scholastic £12.99), Louise O’Neill harnesses that darkness and transforms the ...

Book clinic: what titles might help children deal with grief?

The Bookseller’s children’s and YA previews editor selects three titles offering a variety of perspectives on bereavement

Q: What books do you recommend for children aged four and up to prepare for, and deal with, a death in the family? What are the best kids’ books on grief?
Postdoctoral student, two book-loving kids (four and eight) and a terminally ill, much beloved relative

A: Fiona Noble, children’s and young adult previews editor for the Bookseller and member of 2017 Costa book awards judging panel
Talking about death can be overwhelming for adults; where to start with a child? Books are an invaluable way to open dialogue. Rebecca Cobb’s Missing Mummy is a straightforward but warm, tender look at the loss of a parent through the eyes of a small boy. Cobb excels at capturing a child’s perspective and a whole spectrum of emotions: anger and guilt, sadness and confusion. The child finds solace in being ...

Children’s books round-up: fantasy epics to the fore

A 16-year-old’s struggles to restore magic to her kingdom and a bewitching blend of thriller and fantasy are among the week’s stand-out titles

Film adaptations, of everything from The Hunger Games to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, have boosted young adult fiction sales for the past decade. Tomi Adeyemi’s debut, Children of Blood and Bone (Macmillan £7.99), is the latest to attract Hollywood’s attention. In the fantastical land of Orïsha, a 16-year-old girl is her people’s only hope to restore magic and overthrow the oppressive ruling classes. Infused with the rich mythology of west Africa, Adeyemi’s lush world-building and consummate plotting breathes new life into the YA fantasy epic. Themes of oppression and racism resonate all too strongly in today’s political climate. The cliffhanger ending may leave some readers reeling but, rest assured, this is first in a trilogy.

Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood (Puffin £7.99) is ...

I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan review – uplifting and empowering

This debut novel about a coming-of-age British Muslim teenager is fresh and funny, while also tackling serious issues

Early in 2015, three Bethnal Green schoolgirls fled to Syria to join the self-proclaimed Islamic State. I Am Thunder is a response to that event, written by secondary school teacher Khan to explore the lives of young British Muslims.

His 15-year-old protagonist, Muzna, dreams of being a writer; her friend’s response, that “you don’t hear of many Muslim authors, do you?”, seems only too fair considering the dearth of non-white voices in UK publishing. Muzna feels invisible; her life is a jumble of teenage angst, stifled by loving but controlling parents and the sharp edge of racism everywhere.

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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green review – dark and complex

Teenager Aza embarks on a mystery and a love story but both are soon derailed by her own anxieties in John Green’s first novel in six years

The Fault in Our Stars and its subsequent film adaptation catapulted John Green into literary stardom. In his first new novel for almost six years we’re back in familiar territory, the “gloomy” canvas of middle America populated by astonishingly articulate teenagers with a penchant for existential debate and cultural references – Star Wars, The Tempest and fan fiction in this case. Against this backdrop 16-year-old Aza and her “best and most fearless friend”, Daisy, investigate the disappearance of a fugitive billionaire in the hope of pocketing a reward. The detective angle is quickly sidelined, though, when Aza falls for his teenage son, Davis, and a tentative relationship develops. But Aza is prey to a “tightening spiral” of anxiety and OCD, which affects ...

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend review – a magical debut

This enchanting adventure of a ‘strange little girl with black eyes’ more than holds its own against a certain H Potter. Roll on the franchise

A barrage of hype accompanies this magical debut: a film deal, a storm of foreign editions and Harry Potter comparisons galore. Happily, this supremely entertaining adventure deserves the attention. Fans of the boy wizard will find much to love here, but Nevermoor has its own charm in spades.

Morrigan Crow, a “strange little girl with black eyes”, is a cursed child, blamed for her town’s every misfortune and doomed to die at midnight on her 11th birthday. Enter the enigmatic Jupiter North, a mysterious benefactor who plots her escape from the murderous Hunt of Smoke and Shadow, whisking Morrigan to the city of Nevermoor. There, Morrigan discovers that she must compete in a series of trials for a place in the prestigious Wundrous Society, pitted ...

The Explorers by Katherine Rundell review – wildly exciting adventure

The gripping tale of four youngsters plunged into the Amazon forest will delight with its warmth and wisdom

From the whimsical streets of Victorian Paris in Rooftoppers to the frozen white plains of Russia in The Wolf Wilder, Katherine Rundell conjures an extraordinary sense of place in her novels, no more so than in the lush Amazon rainforest of her latest. Readers are plunged, quite literally, into a wildly exciting adventure when four children crash-land hundreds of miles from civilisation after their pilot suffers a heart attack. They are alone and in absolute peril, without food or water, at the mercy of the ferocious jungle. But it’s also a place of wonder: Rundell’s rich, descriptive prose will transport her young readers to a mesmerising world where they can swim with river dolphins, eat a tarantula and discover a ruined city. The mystery deepens when the discovery of a map ...

Indigo Donut by Patrice Lawrence review – gripping urban teen fiction

The award-winning author gets to the raw heart of her diverse characters in this winning sixth form tale of romance and identityHer award-winning debut Orangeboy, a gripping urban thriller, announced Patrice Lawrence as a bold, fresh voice in young adult fiction. This promise is realised in her second book, a tender and complex story of first love, family and belonging. The chemistry is instant when Indigo and Bailey meet at sixth form. But these are two teenagers from very different places. As a small child, Indigo witnessed her father kill her mother and has grown up in the care system. Her notorious story and her own reputation for losing it shadow her start at this “last-chance” school. Mixed-race Bailey, meanwhile, who’s known for his love of guitars and distinctive ginger afro, lives with his middle-class parents. A hesitant romance develops between the pair, beautifully capturing both the shine of mutual attraction and the awkwardness of fledgling ...

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave – review

The award-winning author’s second novel, set in the early 20th-century Philippines, is another beautifully told page-turnerSecond books are notoriously tricky beasts and the standard is set high here: Hargrave’s debut, The Girl of Ink and Stars, was that most elusive thing, a book that came from nowhere and caught fire, becoming a bestseller and winner of the Waterstones children’s book prize. Happily, this new novel confirms her as one of the most exciting emerging talents in children’s books. This time the story is rooted in history, set in the early 20th century on Culion Island in the Philippines which was the world’s biggest leper colony. Twelve-year-old Ami was born on the island; she is disease-free but lives with her mother who is “touched”. The arrival of Mr Zamora, a sinister government official, brings the life-changing decree that all healthy children must leave the island and move to ...

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls review – a real inspiration

From activists and lawyers to pirates and inventors, Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo present young readers with a lifetime’s supply of brilliant female role modelsChildren’s nonfiction books about women’s lives are a long overdue trend, and this empowering, resolutely “anti-princess” storybook is a very welcome addition. Initially funded by a $1m Kickstarter campaign, the authors wrote it in response to the gender stereotyping they found across children’s books and media. One hundred extraordinary women are profiled in mini biographies alongside striking full-page portraits by female artists. Countries from across the globe are represented, with around a third of the women from the US. Elizabeth I, Ada Lovelace and Jane Austen lead the British entries, which do feel a little predictable – my daughter fruitlessly scanned through for JK Rowling; the most recent entry is Margaret Thatcher – but this is a minor gripe. Continue reading...

We Come Apart review – star-crossed teen lovers

Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan join forces for this bittersweet romance set against the backdrop of Brexit BritainThis complex and original novel about modern Britain brings together two stars of the children’s literary world: Sarah Crossan won the Carnegie Medal for One, and Brian Conaghan’s The Bombs That Brought Us Together won this year’s Costa Children’s Book of the Year award. Collaborations can be a tricky business, but this one flows effortlessly between the distinct voices of two very different teenagers, Romanian immigrant Nicu and troubled British girl Jess. The book is written in a series of free verse poems, a format that is unusual in YA fiction, but it makes for a surprisingly compulsive read: every word counts and carries emotion and power. Continue reading...

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson review – a perceptive tale of a 12-year-old sleuth with OCD

A missing toddler, and a witness with OCD… this kind and confident debut is a fine addition to the ‘child detective’ genre Mystery stories for children have had something of a revival, with a rich seam of titles by authors including Katherine Woodfine and Robin Stevens. Those in the recent crop have all the pace and adventure of Blyton, but combined with something altogether more thought-provoking. The Goldfish Boy is a fine example. Twelve-year-old Matthew is confined to his house by obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is manifested in a severe fear of germs and sickness. In a scenario reminiscent of Rear Window he spends his days at his bedroom window observing the inhabitants of Chestnut Close, keeping notes of their daily routines. When a neighbouring toddler goes missing it soon becomes clear that Matthew was the last person to see him alive. Can he overcome his fears, turn detective and solve ...