Last month’s blog featured my top fifteen books of the decade. I was originally intending to limit this to ten, which was impossible, and the only way I could keep it down to fifteen was to save all the YA favourites for their own, special list. So here we go, and no, this isn’t cheating. They’re separated in the bookshops. So it must be ok.
What is YA anyway? Hard to define; arguably it’s not a genre per se in that it straddles so many recognisable genres: fantasy, sci fi, horror, romance, comedy….Maybe the protagonist has to be a young adult (although this is not true of at least two books on my list, namely Code Name Verity and Buffalo Soldier). Usually the protagonist is ‘coming of age’, however you wish to define this. In addition, the narrative is often pacier than general adult fiction.
Anyway here is my list, and it was just as hard as last month’s. I know I’ve missed out some brilliant books. I’ve tried instead to offer a variety of books; some recent, some a bit older, but all completely different. Looking forward to hearing what you think.
- The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness.
Patrick Ness is probably the best YA writer around and it’s very hard to pick just one of his books, but I’ve selected this one as it is so unique. Four friends just want to graduate from high school and get on with their normal lives without too much drama, and this is the main narrative thread. Meanwhile weird and wonderful adventures are happening to the ‘indie kids’, summarised in a short paragraph at the beginning of each chapter. Any normal fantasy book ‘should’ follow the ‘indie kids” stories, but Mike and his friends’ small dramas are totally captivating. This is such a brilliant spin on Patrick Ness’s usual fantasy offerings (Chaos Walking for instance, due out as film in 2021,However, there are some weird happenings, some overlaps with the indie kids, and as this is Ness World, one of Mike’s friends just happens to be a god.
2 Eleanor and Park – Rainbow Rowell
The best teen romance/ first love book you’ll ever read. That’s all there is to say. Oh but it’s not sentimental, the drama of the main characters’ lives make sure of that, and dark things impinge on them from the world they inhabit. Think Marian Keyes for teens.
3. Everyday – David Levithan.
Imagine you awoke each day in a new body. This is what happens to the main character in Everyday. Sometimes male, sometimes female, rich, poor, healthy, ill… Every day is different. And it has always been this. Intriguing concept for sure, but what I adore about this book is that the voice of the narrator is so strong, and yet I really never pigeonhole them as male or female. It is an incredible feat to create a character who is so real, and yet so indefinable. (And if you enjoy this, try his later book Another Day, which is exactly the same story, told from the POV of the secondary character in Everyday. It works, folks, it really does.)
4 The Art of Being Normal – Lisa Williamson.
Having said I was going to offer you books which are all completely different, there are some similarities between the last book and this, in that the protagonist in this book is transgender; a boy who wants to become a girl, but doesn’t have the courage to say so until a new boy joins his school – with his own problems. It’s a startling and very sympathetic read, with brilliant characters and an awesome twist.
5 Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein
Set during the second world war, this follows the deep friendship between two female characters, one of whom is captured and tortured by the Gestapo. It is part epistolary (told through a diary) and this device is used exceptionally well. More recently the author has written a prequel The Pearl Thief and I found this such a poignant read, knowing already how things will turn out for these two girls.
6 Buffalo Soldier – Tanya Landman
Another historical novel, this one set just after the emancipation of slaves in USA. A freed slave girl, not knowing what to do with her life now, and realising she is incredibly vulnerable in this new world, dresses up as a man and joins the US army. No holds barred, there are some disturbing scenes in here, but it is a totally riveting read.
7 Silver Skin – Joan Lennon
This also has an historical setting – a prehistorical one. All the action takes place in Skara Brae, which is an amazing archaeological site in the Orkneys. A boy from our future falls through time and ends up here. Even if you’ve never visited this amazing place, you will love the story which really brings it to life.
8 Everything, everything – Nicola Yoon
Back to contemporary setting; Maddy is seventeen and has never been outside. She is severely allergic to just about everything and has to live in a sterilised environment. She doesn’t seem to mind this until Olly moves in next door….
9 The Farewell Tour of a Terminal Optimist – John Young.
A road trip is always a great novel, but I’m not sure there has ever been one quite like this. Terminally ill teenager Connor breaks out of the institution where he is confined with Skeates, and sets off on a road trip through Scotland to meet up with Connor’s father, who is in prison. They have no money, no resources, and Connor needs regular medication which he’s left behind. The highlight for me was when they ended up camping on the Broxden roundabout at Perth, surely hell on earth as anyone who drives up the A9 will know.
10. We were liars – E Lockhart
From poverty to riches. This last book on my list features a family who own a private island off Martha’s Vineyard where they spend idyllic summer holidays. (We’re talking billions here). The family squabbles eternally about money, while simultaneously ignoring anything unpleasant or distasteful (like arguments). But something happened to our main character, Candence, during the summer of her fifteenth year, and now, aged seventeen, she is back for the first time, and trying to remember.