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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.
Wearing its heartfelt messages proudly on its sleeve, this coming-of-age nail-biter sees a gay American teenager in London struggle to find the sweet spot between embracing new experiences and self-care. “Being a gay kid with sometimes shitty parents isn’t easy” - so Marty sums up his situation as he moves from his “conservative shithole of a town” in Kentucky to London, hoping to make it as a musician. He arrives giddily excited, on the verge of a new life, but also seized by anxiety when he’s met at the airport by his cousin’s handsome musician mate, Pierce. Marty’s first months in London are a whirlwind of first-time experiences - busking in public, drinking in pubs, going on road-trips, falling head-over-heels in love. But navigating a new life in a new city with debilitating anxiety and overwhelming romantic awakenings sure ain’t easy. Then there’s the crushing disapproval from his religious parents, and toxic trouble courtesy of his best friend back home. Alongside the principle refrains of finding yourself, finding your tribe, and the life-enriching power of music, this theme-focussed novel also tackles toxic friendships, and explores anxiety, homophobia, body image and eating disorders with bold honesty. It’s nothing but direct and driven by empathy and compassion, much like the author’s debut, The Gravity of Us.
From the author of Just Another Lie, Eve Ainsworth’s Magpie is an honest, poignant story of a family who flee a mother’s abusive partner, all told through the eyes of Alice, a heroine whose experiences and outlook touch the heart and soul. Her wish “to be able to fly… to be truly free” and “never feel trapped again” will have readers truly rooting for her from tense opening to hopeful conclusion. New home, new school, new start - all good. But old fears resurface when Alice spots a hooded figure skulking near her new house and she’s terrified her mum’s abusive partner, Ross, has tracked them down. This was supposed to be them embarking on a new life, away from his violent, manipulative behaviour, away from her mum looking “defeated, like a mouse that had just been caught by a cat.” Despite Alice’s efforts to shrug off her apprehension, the fear lingers and she’s worried Mum has done what she always ends up doing - giving in to Ross. At least she has a couple of great friends for support, though - football ace Alfie and arty Ben. They make an unlikely bunch (as the best friendship groups often do), but they’re close as anything, and will do anything for each other. Written with clarity and heart, I was moved and gripped as Alice discovers the truth of the skulking stranger, all the while navigating the nasty girls at school who mock her unfashionable clothes, worrying about Mum, and feeling the thrill of first love and new connections.
February 2021 Book of the Month | Renée Watson is one of my favourite contemporary YA writers and her latest novel, Love is a Revolution, embodies everything that makes her stories shine - it’s honest, relatable, driven by an inspiring Black girl, and sparkles with a self-empowerment vibe. Nala’s summer plans are sent reeling when she goes to an open mic night for her “cousin-sister-friend” Imani’s birthday, an event organised by the Harlem Inspire community project Imani is heavily involved with. Here Nala fall head-over-heels for committed activist Tye and finds herself telling little white lies to impress him - that she’s vegan, that she’s running a big project at her Jamaican Grandma’s Senior Living residence. Talking of Grandma, I especially loved the book’s beautiful portrayal of inter-generational relationships - the shared wisdom, the compassion and kindness, the sense of family and community, and Nala’s body positive exuberance is uplifting too. Her disorientation and self-doubt derive from elsewhere, like not knowing what she wants to do with her life, and feeling she’s not good enough, not quite worthy of Tye’s love. Though fireworks explode when Nala’s fibs are found out, after taking Grandma’s advice on-board to the empowering soundtrack of her favourite musician, she discovers that self-love and self-care are forms of revolution - they’re her route to transformative self-acceptance through embracing who she really is.
January 2021 Book of the Month | Interest Age Teen Reading Age 8 What a book! Alex Wheatle’s writing buzzes with energy and captures twelve-and-a-half-year-old Welton’s experience of being in love in all its heart-pounding, stomach-flipping, confusing giddiness alongside a run of seriously bad luck. With Wheatle’s outstanding Jamaica-set historic novel Cane Warriors one of my favourite books of recent years, this confirms the author’s status as a writer of huge talent, with the ability to infuse all genres with a special kind of magic. Things begin to go downhill for Welton the moment he finally plucks up courage to ask out Carmella, “one of the most delicious-looking females in school.” But, somehow, he manages to retain an infectiously upbeat stance throughout, punctuating his problems with Star Wars related exclamations (“Oh, for the life of Yoda!”) as he navigates everything life throws at him - from Hulk-like moustachioed bully Brian and the strife between his divorced parents, to his intense fear of being “lamed and shamed” by Carmella. Welton’s wit and entrepreneurial spirit is especially hilarious and sees him selling damning insults to classmates for 50p a cuss. Fresh, funny and authentic, readers will truly root for Welton - while he’s one of a kind, his voice and experiences will resonant far and wide. What’s more, being published by Barrington Stoke, this zesty page-turner is highly readable and produced with reluctant and dyslexic readers in mind, with manageable chapter lengths, a specially selected font and cream paper.
Voiced by three unforgettable characters – Frankie, Jojo, and Ram, Frankie’s ex boyfriend - whose lives are inextricably bound by unexpected, life-changing circumstances, this impactful novel sparkles with heart, hope and a riveting storyline. Jojo and Frankie have been best friends since forever. Both promising actresses, their lives are on the brink of new horizons, so when Jojo doesn’t turn up to collect her GCSE results, Frankie is frantic with worry. Then, when she eventually hears from Jojo, and also hears a baby crying in the background, Frankie puts two and two together to get six. Could Jojo be responsible for the stolen baby that’s being reported on the local news? Fearing the worst, Frankie does what she must for her dear friend. She tracks her down and discovers an unimaginable truth that truly tests their relationship. Radiant with uplifting portrayals of friendship, and demonstrating that it’s possible to find a way through even the most seemingly impossible situations, this poignant page-turner packs a whole lot of punch in the author’s inimitably empathetic style. Of particular note is the way the novel shows that adults don’t always have the right answer, that life can be confusing no matter what your age, which demonstrates Williamson’s singular respect for her YA readers - she never talks down, and always writes in a spirit of openness.
November 2020 Book of the Month | The Silent Stars Go By is a riveting read-in-one-sitting experience driven by compelling characters who leap off the page, not least the young woman at its heart, an unmarried secretarial student who’s forced to give up her baby during WWI. The novel is also underpinned by a superb sense of social history, with evocative details of post-war village life nestling within the bigger story, and - as might be expected of the author of Things a Bright Girl Can Do - it’s threaded with feminist themes. It’s 1919, Christmas is on the horizon and two years have passed since nineteen-year-old Margot was forced to give up her baby for her parents to raise as their own. She was only fifteen when she and Harry fell madly in love ahead of him being called up. The magic of their time together is evoked in all its tingling passion, contrasting with Margot’s present-day torments. It hurts when little James calls her mother “Mummy”, and she doesn’t know how she can continue to keep James a secret from Harry, who’s returned to the village after recuperating on the Isle of Wight. The flashbacks to Margot’s time on the maternity ward are particularly poignant and, of course, the reason she has to endure this unbearable situation is due to the fact that she lives in a world in which “the girl is the one whose honour is defiled or whatever rot they spout” whereas “the boy is just being a boy”. Coupled with that wider context, Margot’s vicar father is a man who “forgave drunks and tramps and fallen women and the men who tried to steal the lead from the church roof. But he couldn’t forgive her.” Realising that “things couldn’t go on like this,” Margot decides to confront her fears amidst the rare glamour of a ball on New Year’s Eve. You can find more wintry & festive stories in our Best Books for Kids this Christmas collection.
December 2020 Book of the Month | Jacqueline Wilson writes about young teenage girls with real understanding, sensitivity and affection, and she’s at her best in the story of Frankie, who finds herself head over heels in love with, of all people, the girl she thought was her worst enemy. As with most thirteen-going-on-fourteen year olds, Frankie is a mess of emotions, resenting her dad for leaving her mum, but needing him too; happy with her childhood friend Sam, but alarmed when he seems to want to change their relationship into something else; and above all confused by her new feelings for Sally. Sally is even more mixed up and her desperate need for love and attention puts Frankie at risk of real hurt. Wilson creates a loving family the support her heroine though and, like so many of her characters, Frankie develops the strength to be honest about who she is and therefore emerges unscathed. Her story is everything you expect from this writer – real, moving and enormously satisfying. Go to Jacqueline's Instagram for Love Frankie videos and links!
Often regarded as Jane Austen’s greatest work, the eponymous Emma is an attractive, altruistic, self-absorbed young woman of means who’s sworn off marriage, addicted to match-making her circle of friends (with usually dreadful results), and - horror of horrors! - falls in love. This prettily packaged Wordsworth Collector’s Edition will make a delightful gift for a friend, or a great addition to school libraries, with a hardback format that’s both attractive and resilient. The Wordsworth Collector's Editions make wonderful presents for children; you can find more in the series here.