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Has your 11+ reader has moved on from middle grade chapter books but struggling to find something more challenging? We have a selection of books we think might fit the bill..strong storylines, excitement, social realism and sometimes a bit of danger. Guaranteed to draw even the most reluctant reader in...
New York City. June, 1982. When eighteen-year-old Beth arrives in Manhattan for a prestigious journalism internship, everything feels brand new – and not always in a good way. A cockroach-infested sublet and a disaffected roommate are the least of her worries, and she soon finds herself caught up with her fellow interns – preppy Oliver, ruthless Dan and ridiculously cool, beautiful, wild Edie. Soon, Beth and Edie are best friends – the sort of heady, allconsuming bestfriendship that’s impossible to resist. But with the mercury rising and deceit mounting up, betrayal lies just around the corner. Who needs enemies … when you have friends like these? From bestselling, award-winning author Meg Rosoff comes a gritty, intoxicating novel about a summer of unforgettable firsts: of independence, lies, love and the inevitable loss of innocence. Sharp and irresistible, it's perfect for fans of Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends and Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan.
And so for anyone who didn't really know what it means to not be able to breathe, REALLY breathe, for generations, now you know. And those who already do, you'll be nodding yep yep, that is exactly how it is . . . Intimately set within the walls of a family home, this book is an incredible artefact of the historic year we have all lived through. We travel from the depths of despair but not without hope; the mundane details contained within four walls becomes our sanctuary. This is a gift in commemoration of a time and place, of a world wide pandemic, of loss and of the murder of George Floyd. It is a reminder of how, in uncertain times, we can cling to the simple things for respite, for hope. A reminder of how comforting books and artworks are in times of extreme stress.
Alternating between the engaging narratives of two teenage boys, Malcolm Duffy’s Read Between the Lies is a riveting, read-in-one-sitting page-turner, sharing insights into dyslexia as it also explores family frictions and how to support the people around you. Soon-to-be-stepbrothers Ryan and Tommy are as different as ice-cream and cabbage. Tommy has recently been released from a young offenders’ prison, while Ryan is a piano-playing good lad who’s moved down south with his dad following his parents’ divorce. In Ryan’s words, “Don’t do cooking but hear it’s all about the blend of ingredients. Same with families. Ours is all wrong. Like ice-cream and cabbage”. Despite their marked differences, the teenagers do have something in common — they’re both dyslexic, but have very different ways of dealing with it. Tommy’s journey through handling prejudice against his criminal past (“a single bad decision doesn’t make you bad”) and learning to read is gripping, moving and - ultimately - uplifting, as is Ryan’s dedication to teaching Tommy to read. As Ryan’s mum announces her plan for them to move, and Tommy discovers long-buried family secrets, the perfectly-paced plot ramps up the stakes, with plenty of humour and touching moments shining through the boys’ troubles.
This impactful tale is beautifully crafted from a variety of viewpoints, written in a mixture of prose, narrative verse and journal entries, woven together with evocative illustrations by Natalie Sirett. While it is Kai’s story and his fall into darkness that is at the heart of the story, we also hear the voices of Orla, from the high-rise flats like Kai, and Zak from the big houses across the other side of the wilderness. This is the place where they spent most of their out of school time growing up and where they discovered and restored the bothy, which becomes the dramatic backdrop to astounding creativity but also danger, degradation, despair and near death. We later hear from new arrival Omid who has faced trauma and loss himself, which helps him make the connection with Kai, whose family has fallen apart following the loss of his beloved baby sister Sula. Despite the best efforts of his friends, Kai falls in with a dangerous crowd, gets excluded and his self-destruction seems inevitable. But the bonds forged in their childhood ultimately prove stronger. Kai’s deep connection to nature and in particular to a pair of ravens, who have their own narration, and the creativity which is sparked by Omid’s inspiring art, help to bring him home. There are so many important themes in this multi-layered novel which speaks so powerfully about the importance of urban green spaces and community and the way society can fail to recognise the true value of things. This highly original novel perfectly captures raw adolescent emotions and fills the reader with empathy and understanding. Highly recommended.
May 2022 Book of the Month - Interest Age Teen Reading Age 8 | Patrice Lawrence’s new book for Barrington Stoke is heartrending and thought-provoking, a taut first-person narrative that many will find themselves reading in one sitting. 15-year-old Charlene is struggling to say in control of her life. She’s been in care since her mother died two years ago and desperately misses her little sister, who is living with her own father. Knitting is Charlene’s therapy, the click, click, click of the needles helping her find calm, but the pressures she faces at school and outside are overwhelming. An act of cruelty against her leads Charlene to rage and violence. As the security she has known unravels, readers will understand her despair and frustration, particularly at the constant demands on her to be sorry. Written to be accessible to all readers, Needle lets us see through someone else’s eyes, highlighting the restrictive effects of society’s expectations of individuals. Vivid, powerful and unforgettable. Particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant and dyslexic teen readers
Haunted by her mother’s death, and now uprooted from Limerick to a rural village, 18-year-old Saoirse is desperate to leave school and start her life afresh. Her tremendously tough journey through guilt and anxiety - quite brilliantly related with raw compassion by Helena Close - makes for an engaging, thought-provoking, moving read that sheds light on the realities of depression while offering honest glimmers of hope. Just ahead of sitting her sitting the Leaving Certificate, Saoirse’s ex-boyfriend commits suicide. It’s no secret that she cheated on him with his best friend, and she’s cast out by her peers. Devastated by guilt, grief and feeling isolated, her counselling sessions do little to help. Yet even as she descends into the darkest clutches of depression, Saoirse shines as a wise and witty young woman. She sees people for who they are, beyond her years, with her narrative casting a glaring light on the reality of attitudes to depression: “You are not allowed to be sad. People have no tolerance to sad. You can be Insta sad – sad because you saw pictures of dying refugees or abandoned puppies. You can’t be ongoing sad.. You can’t be scared or anxious or upset”. As everything becomes too much for Saoirse, she’s taken to a psychiatric hospital. Though painful, her journey to regaining herself is powerfully raw and touched by hope, with the wider cast of true-to-life characters (from Saoirse’s siblings and peers, to her straight-talking, gin-swilling grandmother) adding to the enlivening authenticity.
Otherworldly, yet rooted in patriarchal realities, Kelly Barnhill‘s When Women Were Dragons is a storytelling masterwork. Set from the 1950s, it presents a magnificent maelstrom of fire-breathing women who refuse to keep quiet, exposing the trauma of enforced silence, and shining a blazing light on how vital it is to transcend imposed shame and live your own way. “I was four years old when I first saw a dragon. I was four years old when I first learned to be silent about dragons. Perhaps this is how we learn silence — an absence of words, an absence of context, a hole in the universe where the truth should be”. So shares Alex, the narrator of this brilliant novel, who lives at a time when adults remember the “mass dragoning” of women that occurred on 25th April 1955, but never mention it. Alex’s aunt Marla was among those who rose up and transformed into a dragon, but it’s as if she never existed. Marla is never spoken of again - not by Alex’s sick mother, and not by Alex’s father, who leaves her to raise Marla’s daughter Beatrice. Before her transformation and vanishing, Marla told Alex that, “All women are magic. Literally all of us. It’s in our nature. It’s best you learn that now”. Fearing little Beatrice won’t be able to resist her powerful urges to dragon, Alex shuns any such notions, and silences Beatrice’s talk of dragons. But librarian Mrs Gyzinska, who supports Alex’s plan to become a mathematician, shares her learned insights, and frames the phenomenon of dragoning in the context of patriarchy: “There are people who have problems with women, and alas, many of them are also women. That is because of something called the patriarchy… an unnecessary and oppressive obstacle, and best disposed of as soon as possible.” As Alex grapples with tremendous conflicts and prejudice, we’re presented with a spectacular prom scene, a tense but glorious reunion, a beautiful love of a lifetime, and glorious sisterhood. What a story.
Following her Carnegie shortlisted debut novel Guard Your Heart, this is another searing story set in Northern Ireland in 2019 but gradually revealing the lives of three generations of women affected by The Troubles. The author has a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies and a career in community relations, which lends an unmistakable authenticity to the narrative. Narrated by two teens from very different backgrounds and dealing with very different issues with each voice unique and distinctive. Tara, the Catholic daughter of a two-generation single parent family from Derry, is angry and grieving after the suicide of her boyfriend Oran. Faith, the daughter of strict Evangelical Protestants from rural Armagh is hiding her true sexuality from her family for fear of being disowned. When they come face to face on an interfaith residential, they discover they look almost identical. When they unite to untangle the mystery, a DNA test reveals they are related and Faith’s father is not who she thinks he is, while Tara has never known hers. This powerful and totally absorbing novel, with its unforgettable characters, is at its heart about truth and forgiveness, but inevitably also about social justice and how political decisions and the continuing legacy of violence and conflict continues to affect lives today. A reader cannot help but be moved and informed. A must-have as both a brilliant novel and for valuable insight on a historical period.
Stirring, honest and deeply compassionate, Jane Mitchell’s Run for Your Life tells the powerful story of an endearing, relatable refugee as it reveals the realities of Irish Direct Provision centres. Run for profit, the centres were, as the author explains, “designed as a short-term emergency measure to provide for the basic needs of people who are awaiting decisions on their applications for international protection. Instead, it has lasted more than 21 years”. This novel is a pertinent, personal, beautifully-crafted account of a girl’s experiences of this system. Azari and her mother have fled to Ireland to escape the unimaginable brutality of her father and uncle. On arrival, they’re terrified when they’re brought to the authorities’ attention: “My only constant is my mother, and I am hers. We cling to each other like two people drowning.” Azari’s mother is struggling more visibly — she can’t read and won’t speak to men, so Azari translates, talks to officials, fills out complex forms, and handles crucial interviews as they’re shunted through the system, sharing rooms with strangers, uncertain of their futures. The finely-woven narrative slips between the present and Azari’s earlier life, to a time of hope: “When I was seven years old…the famous runner Jinani Azad won gold for my country in the summer Olympic Games…I wanted to be the next Jinani Azad. I wanted my village to celebrate my achievements as a famous woman”. But, like her older sister whose tragic story compelled Azari and her mother to leave, Azari’s father forced her to abandon school (and running) to work in a factory when her periods begin. In Ireland, the welcoming book club she’s invited to join and the friend she makes through running contrast with the racism of some locals, among them Azari’s school peers. But, after hostilities reach a terrifying crescendo, beams of hope and humanity glint through the darkness. Run for Your Life comes hugely recommended for young readers interested in world affairs and social issues, both for reading at leisure and in the classroom.
When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she's not a boy. She knows she's a girl. George thinks she'll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte's Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can't even try out for the part . . . because she's a boy. The timely and touching story from Stonewall Award Winning author Alex Gino, Author of Rick and You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P! Gino's latest book, Alex Austen Lived Here, is out in April 2022
Following her highly acclaimed debut novel, And The Stars Were Burning Brightly, we have another powerful story depicting an authentic story of young lives impacted upon by the institutional and everyday racism experienced here in the UK; which makes it an even more important and challenging read. Narrated by three very different teenagers brought together by a moment of terrible violence when they witness a stabbing and for whom the overwhelming impact of this experience is exacerbated by what they are forced to confront. For rich and privileged Jackson at an exclusive school, the casual assumption of his classmates and potential girlfriend that the crime is gang related and the victim blamed, together with police failures and the subsequent biased media coverage, really opens his eyes and draws him closer to Chantelle and Marc. They live in Manchester’s Moss Side and attend the same school as the victim, but even there, the school will not challenge this biased view and it is where we see Chantelle struggle to overcome negative teacher assumptions about her abilities. When Jackson becomes a victim too, we see the ultimate failure of the justice system. But this is not just an angry novel, although it should indeed spark anger and awareness of white privilege, it is a nuanced portrayal of three individuals and those around them and emphasises the importance of family and friendship. Marc, after a life in care, finds his family with these friends and both he and Chantelle gain confidence that they can make something of themselves. The touching, gentle romance between Chantelle and Jackson and the strength of his own family ties gives him and the reader hope that his life has not been ruined by injustice. An absolute must have for schools.