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A coming-of-age novel set in contemporary London and Hertfordshire. Fifteen-year-old Donald Leroy Samson is the son of an absentee St Lucian father and a drug-addicted English mother. Growing up in dire poverty in Hackney, East London, his life is shaped by casual violence, gang initiation, drug-dealing and knife crime. When Donny’s bored, rich, white girlfriend Zoe is offered a dubious modelling audition, the couple ‘borrow’ a barge and navigate the 29 locks on the canal system from Hertfordshire down into Kings Cross. When they start out on their journey, the future for both of them looks unpromising, like the fake audition, but as each lock is navigated and conquered, as the waters fall then rise again, their adventure takes on a new dimension. Life will never be the same again. A gritty, urban tale of redemption!
Winner of the Everything with Words’ YA Competition 2019, Rebecca Henry’s The Sound of Everything is an authentically gritty, involving coming-of-age novel that speaks to young people who struggle with feeling unseen, unheard and unloved. Shipped from foster home to foster home, frequently betrayed, and having “never had a dad that I could call Daddy”, it’s no wonder Kadie (aka Goldilocks) has trust issues. The only thing she’s sure of in this world is music - listening to it, and creating it. It’s the “only thing that keeps my head straight.” To protect herself, she’s set out three rules: “1. Don’t count on anyone. 2. Act. Always act. 3. Be prepared to lose everything.” Constantly in trouble at school, though told she has potential, Kadie bonds with a boy called Lips, aka Dayan, the name he reserves for use by special people, of which Kadie is one. Dayan records with his AMD mandem (Amalgamandem) and she’s happy to be invited to hang out with them, while remaining ever-mindful of the fickleness of group dynamics: “one day you’re in the group, the next you’re invisible.” But, just as things start to take an upturn, everything explodes in the aftermath of hideous online trolling and trouble with her foster sister. What’s unique about this novel is the author’s considered, long-game exposition of Kadie’s complex character - it’s not rushed, not forced too soon to serve the plot. And, true to life, her problems aren’t easily solved either - it really is powerfully authentic all round, from Kadie’s voice and interactions, to its portrayal of mental health problems, among them self-harm. At times Kadie will have you pulling your hair out at her own-worst-enemy outbursts, but mainly, though, you’ll warm to her. You’ll will her to find her way. Appropriately enough for a girl named Goldilocks, there is - ultimately - a glint of gold among the grit. I don’t want to spoil it, so let’s just say she finds what might turn out to be her “just right” and begins to learn to open up to people she can trust.
June 2021 Debut of the Month | New life, love, friendship and unexpected talents and dreams blossom in the wake of a teenage girl’s life-saving heart transplant. Everything I Thought I Knew, Shannon Takaoka’s enthralling debut, provokes thought and all the feels, and comes highly recommended for fans of Nicola Yoon and Sara Barnard. Seventeen-year-old Chloe was on track to attend a top US college - until she collapses and discovers she’s in urgent need of a heart transplant. Thankfully for her, she’s able to get one in time and makes a good recovery, though eight months on, things feel a bit weird. First up, Chloe’s developed a new desire to surf, which she does in secret from her worried parents in the company of attractive surf teacher, Kai. Then there’s the strange dreams that haunt her. Propelled by her new friend, Jane (a rebel to Chloe’s good girl), she begins to wonder if the source of all this weirdness might be connected to the person her new heart came from. Threaded with themes of identity (figuring out who you are, and who you might be), this is a moving and heartfelt read, with plenty of funny moments too.
Potently pertinent, William Hussey’s The Outrage wears its messages loud and proud on its sleeve. Think a YA LBGTQ+ version of The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Wizard of Oz; speculative fiction underpinned by aspects of present-day realities, and a belief in the importance of representation: “To see yourself reflected as a human being, with worth and dignity? I really think that has the power to change minds. Even save lives.” Deeply in love with his boyfriend Eric, the son of the chief inspector of Degenerate Investigations, aspiring filmmaker Gabe doubts he’ll ever be able to make the kind of movies he loves. Not in this England. Not living in the aftermath of the Outrage. In this society, it’s illegal to be gay, libraries have been shut down, and families who’ve contributed to the country have been put on “repatriation trains”. Sound familiar? The Outrage’s version of England certainly chimes with recognisable elements of the current political and cultural climate. And, through their discussions of trans rights, Windrush scandal-esque “send them home” policies, and the effects of climate change, the characters are powerful mouthpieces for big issues as they journey the gripping plot. Talking of which, Gabe, Eric and their fellow Rebel friends attend Mosley Grammar school. Though they’re excused from national service as a result of their Special Educational Exemption, they have a whole lot to hide when Protectorate Investigations arrive for their “annual scare-the-shit-out-of-the-kids assembly”. Then, everything unravels when Gabe and Eric are seen doing a whole lot of stuff they shouldn’t have been doing - under this regime, at least. A spirit of resistance surges as Gabe fights for a freer future in this most hostile of environments. Oh, and if that’s not enough, there’s romantic love, movie love, parental love, and love between friends who’ll always have each other’s backs, plus a powerful, heart-melting Wizard of Oz motif replete with Toto, Scarecrow and a quest to reach the Emerald City of the Emerald Isle - where the grass really is greener. All in all, a thought-provoking, page-turning reminder that “difference is good...defiance is essential” from the inventive author of Hideous Beauty.
June 2021 Book of the Month | Honest, authentic and (ultimately) uplifting, Holly Bourne’s The Yearbook will strike a powerful chord with young women on the brink of leaving secondary school. Realistically raw in its portrayal of toxic relationships (from poisonous school peers to abusive partners), with an underdog protagonist readers will wholeheartedly root for, and a sweet, slow-burning romance that will melt the most cynical of hearts, this is classic contemporary YA. Budding journalist Paige lives a lonely, isolated life - “the undeniable truth was that I was invisible as well as unlovable. Nobody could see me see me at all, let alone look at me and see the potential to store their heart there. People don’t fall in love with wallpaper. Or silence.” At the same time, her parents’ marriage shows the jeopardies of falling in love with the wrong person. She and her mum walk on eggshells around her erratic, coercively controlling dad who flips from jolly joker to enraged monster over the tiniest thing. At least Paige has the school newspaper to keep her occupied - until it’s hijacked by malicious narcissists from the official Leavers’ Committee who want to create a yearbook. As Paige’s family life disintegrates, she realises that the infiltrators steering the yearbook are re-writing history. The same goes for Paige’s dad and his ilk - people who think “they’re the hero of their own story, but, actually, in the pursuit of being so important, they’re often the villain of everyone else’s”. Thankfully, though, hope comes in the form of her independent-minded aunt Polly (“she seemed to genuinely care for me”) and soul-lifting Elijah, who supports Paige’s quest to find her voice and speak the truth after they meet through a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.
16-year-old Brightonians Caddy and Rosie have been best friends all their lives, their relationship enduring even when Caddy’s aspirational parents send her to a private school. But when an enigmatic new girl arrives at Rosie’s comprehensive, Caddy’s longing for “something of some significance to happen” in her “hopelessly average” life is set in motion, along with a shift in the dynamic of her relationship with Rosie. While Caddy is initially terrified that the beautiful, impulsive Suzanne will replace her, the three of them form a deep friendship. As Suzanne’s self-destructiveness escalates, it emerges that she’s struggling to cope with the ordeal of having suffered physical abuse at the hands of her stepfather, and Caddy finds herself laying everything on the line to save her downward spiraling friend.This powerful, punch-packing debut is an utterly compelling, authentic portrait of the intricate ebbs and flows of friendship, and of a young adult trying to navigate the tempestuous waters of past traumas. Accessible and profoundly moving, Caddy, Rosie and Suzanne’s story is sure to resonate with many a young woman - a phenomenal feat for any writer, let alone a first-time novelist.
This companion to Beautiful Broken Things is a vital, powerful portrayal of the complexities of mental health, friendship and love. Now a legal adult, Suzanne, the self-declared “queen of fresh starts”, leaves her foster parents, acutely aware that “this time, I’m on my own”. She’s moving back to Brighton, the only place she’s ever felt a sense of belonging. “I’m overdue some goodness”, Suzanne muses as she moves into a basic bedsit, with Auntie Sarah and dear friends Rosie and Caddy on hand to help her settle in. But Rosie and Caddy soon head off to their respective universities, leaving Suzanne feeling abandoned. Lonely and struggling to make ends meet on the wages from her café job, she forms a friendship with her 79 year-old neighbour, a storyline that swells with raw, life-affirming beauty. Alongside this, painful mental health setbacks are triggered, and further rollercoaster rides come courtesy of a confusing, overwhelming romance with musician Matt. Honest, authentic, moving and entertaining, this all-consuming story is sensitive and wise on the complexities of growing up, and offers a guiding hand to young adults facing mental health struggles.
Sixteen-year-old Steffi has been selectively mute since she was five. No-one really knows why, least of all her, but teenage readers will recognise the different pressures that she feels so acutely. Her mutism heightens her loneliness, and the loss of her much-loved step-brother in an accident has added terribly to her isolation. We meet her as she’s starting sixth form, set on reaching university, the pressure to speak greater than it’s ever been. Things change when Steffi meets Rhys, who is deaf. Steffi can sign and as their relationship grows we realise that real communication takes many forms. This is very much a story of two individuals but it will resonate with readers, who will understand Steffi’s problems, and be reassured by its message that you don’t have to be noisy to have lots to say, or to be heard. Readers will also enjoy Holly Bourne’s excellent Spinster Club books, or the Zelah Green books by Vanessa Curtis. Find more books with Positive Images of Disability.
Written in a light and witty style the ongoing sagas of the Casson family remain a must for that nearly teenage market and this one sees Caddy falling in love and getting married but not to the person everyone thinks. McKay’s ability to understand young people and to be able to write about their daily life – falling in love, going out, living as a family and keeping relationships – is second to none.