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Powerfully applying the horror genre to explore racism and homophobia in a high school setting, Ryan Douglass’ The Taking of Jake Livingston is an un-put-down-able, chilling tale for our times. Sixteen-year-old Jake isn’t exactly your average teenager. He’s a medium, he can see the dead. Ghouls and zombie-like beings appear to him, ectomist seeps into his vision, “snakelike and sinister”. Jake is also one of the few black students at his private high school: “I hate it here. Every time we run warm-ups it’s like there’s a BLACK KID sign blinking above my head like a firetruck light”. As a result, the arrival of a gorgeous new black student is especially welcome, and brings the promise of romance. But Jake’s visions are worsening, to say the least. While most of the ghouls he sees are harmless, Sawyer Doon’s spirit is vengeful. After killing six students in a high school shoot-out, Sawyer killed himself, and is now set on using Jake to exact revenge. As an intense and chilling story of survival unfolds at breakneck speed, The Taking of Jake Livingston balances edge-of-your-seat scares and action with emotionally engaging themes.
February 2022 Book of the Month | Golden Boys is another heartfelt dream of a YA novel from Phil Stamper (we loved his previous novels, The Gravity of Us and As Far as You’ll Take Me), an author who’s fast made a name for himself as a compassionate creator of young gay characters navigating the often tricky transition from teenager to young adult. Golden Boys delivers beams of hope and exhilaration as four gay friends from small-town Ohio embark on the potential summer-of-a-lifetime ahead of starting their senior year at high school. It’s the first summer they’ll be spending apart, and the first time what they do during the break might count towards their future lives. To show how important this is, the author provides an earnest, extended exposition of their hopes and fears ahead of their journeys, with all four boys keenly conscious of the significance of their plans. Anxious Gabe is volunteering with Save the Trees Foundation in Boston, while Sal has landed his dream internship with a senator in Washington DC. Artistic Reese jets to Paris to study graphic design, and less-privileged Heath heads to Florida to work in his aunt’s amusement arcade to make much longed-for family connections. New experiences throw up new possibilities and questions relating to all areas of the boys’ lives. Sal, for example, winds up being overworked and having doubts about college, while Reese realises his passion might lie in fashion design. Add to that the rollercoaster of new friendships, possible romance, and long-held connections that might turn out to be more. and you have a compelling story of identity that leaves readers longing to know how the Golden Boys’ senior year plays out, and what paths they take further down the line.
February 2022 Book of the Month | The Carnegie medal winning author’s debut novel, published in the UK for the first time with the bonus of stylish illustrations, is a masterful portrayal of family and friendships in an urban poor neighbourhood of Brooklyn. Far from the cliché of drugs and violence in the ‘hood’ and yet unmistakably authentic and gritty, this is a rewarding and character driven novel that deals with the complexities of teenage friendships when poor decisions can have fatal consequences. The title hints at the origins of the main character’s nickname, Ali, and it is the boxing skills he has been taught by Malloy, a legless Vietnam vet and just one of the memorable minor characters, which enables him to come to the rescue when needed. A misunderstanding at the big party the three boys have been snuck into, leads to Needles, who suffers from Tourettes, getting badly beaten up while his own brother Noodles does nothing and allows Ali to fight alone. We have seen the beautifully nuanced development of their friendship since the brothers moved in next door to Ali. Nicknamed by his sassy younger sister Jazz and taken under the wing of his strict, hard working but loving mother, Doris, the boys became inseparable, but can Ali and Needles forgive this betrayal, and can they all escape the retribution which is coming their way? What this beautifully written novel does above all is showcase the strength that a loving and supportive family can give and when that is missing how friendships and community can fill the gap. Needles and his condition and the way in which he is accepted by the community is sensitively portrayed. The wisecracking dialogue is full of warmth, humour and genuine affection for the setting. A very real reading experience that is accessible and profound. Highly recommended.
February 2022 Book of the Month | Apparently taking inspiration from the ghostly sightings of wet figures following the 2011 Japanese tsunami, this astonishing and thought-provoking novel examines the impact of loss and grief on individuals and families and upon whole communities. The former Children’s Laureate never writes the same book twice and this is a startlingly original concept: part a dystopian story of a climate affected future, part very creepy ghost story, part coming of age, part an agonisingly accurate portrait of a family under stress and ultimately a philosophical examination of how individuals and society handle death and grief. If this sounds a lot for a relatively slim novel, be reassured that you are in the hands of an expert who writes without a wasted word. For such a thought-provoking book, the action never lets up and holds the reader in a vice like grip. The strange and desolate landscape of the remote and neglected region, to which Louie and his father travel on his routine inspection job, is so vividly evoked that the reader feels every moment of the earthquake, the terrible tsunami and the desolation which follows. The otherness of the Uplander community and how they are treated by the rest of the Federation has a distinct resonance with our own time, but their culture and beliefs evoke echoes of a much more distant past and of a deep-seated universal need for ceremonies, beliefs and customs that help humanity to cope with death. As a reader we share Louie’s cathartic experience and can feel hopeful for his future. This author always takes great care to leave a reader with hope and generally, most definitely so in this case, with a deeper understanding of the human condition. A brilliantly rewarding read. Anne joined The LoveReading LitFest to discuss her powerful book Aftershocks with LoveReading4Schools Editorial Expert, Joy Court. The LoveReading LitFest is a digitally native, all year round, online literature and books festival, with new content released every week is a free-for-all-users festival. You can find a preview of this event and sign up to become a member.
A spellbinding supernatural teen drama - and sequel to All Our Hidden Gifts. Maeve and her friends have revealed their powers and banded together as a coven: Roe can pick locks, Lily sends sparks flying, Maeve can read minds and Fiona can heal any injury. And even better than their newfound talents? Roe and Maeve are officially an item. But with strange things happening at school, and old enemies appearing in new places, it soon becomes clear their powers are attracting all the wrong attention. It's not long before Maeve's gift start to wane, drained by someone - or something - that's hiding even from her second sight... The brilliant second installment in the Hidden Gifts series, with further titles to come.
March 2022 Debut of the Month | Ablaze with atmosphere and adventure, Akala’s The Dark Lady is a radiant, resonant tale of magic, a missing mother, and treachery in Elizabethan London. Fifteen-year-old Henry lives in poverty in the care of a pair of apothecary sisters. A skilled thief and writer of sonnets, he has an additional extraordinary gift — he “can close his eyes and read languages”. Letters become “colours, shapes, sounds and musical notes. Always a different pattern emerged and it was endlessly beautiful”. And, with brown skin inherited from his absent Beninese mother, Henry is subject to racism, with England’s insularity and prejudice pertinently portrayed — the rhetoric of foreigners “stealing jobs” is all too familiar. At the same time, there’s a seamless interweaving of Black history. For example, Henry is amazed to learn about Juan Latino, “a son of slaves who rose to become a professor of Latin at the University of Granada”. Then there’s reference to John Blanke, the famed black trumpeter from Henry VII’s court. Caught in the act of burgling a wealthy duke, Henry’s language magic earns him a seat at the duke’s opulent table, and grants him an audience with historic figures like Dr John Dee and his idol, Shakespeare. With a wicked sense of humour and pride, Henry is an enormously endearing young man, not least when he rubs his fine clothes and fancy talk in the face of a bigoted baker who previously refused to serve him. With the action never letting up, a succession of betrayal, intensifying dreams and discoveries about his mother steer Henry towards a land across the sea. Simply fabulous.
Keep the Secret. Live the Lie. Earn your Truth. Eighteen-year-old Daunis has always felt like an outsider with her mixed heritage, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. When she witnesses a murder, Daunis reluctantly agrees to go undercover. But secretly she pursues her own investigation, tracking down the culprits with her knowledge of traditional medicine. As the bodies pile up, Daunis finds herself caught in a web of deceit that threatens the people she loves the most.
Five teens in detention are hit by a storm when one of them of dies. Outsider Simon, creator of the notorious Bayview High gossip app, wryly remarks that they’re all “walking teen-movie stereotypes” and casts himself as the “omniscient narrator” shortly before collapsing to his death. The question is, why was there allergy-inducing peanut oil in Simon’s water? And why were the EpiPens missing from the nurse’s office? His death seems anything but accidental and, since Simon had dirt on pretty much the entire school population, a whole lot of people might have wanted him dead. But when it emerges that he was about to reveal highly damaging secrets about his four co-detainees (we’re talking the kind of secrets that mess-up lives and destroy futures), they’re first in the frame for his murder. A snappy story of cover-ups, lies and unraveling lives unfolds amidst a hotbed of suspicion and the personal plights of the accused teenagers, including two storylines of a romantic nature that truly tug at the heart. Entertainingly addictive, sharply written, with a genuinely jaw-dropping twist, this first-rate thriller exposes the murky morality of social media salaciousness, and questions what lengths a person might go to in order to protect their darkest secrets.
A story of best friends, bad luck and the consequences of breaking the rules in a town built on secrets and superstitions. Growing up in Ember Grove, Bitsy Clark knows better than to break the rules around the Revelry, the mysterious end-of-year party in the woods. So when her best friend, Amy, persuades her to sneak in, Bitsy is full of misgivings. Misgivings that she should have listened to, because it's after the Revelry that Bitsy's luck turns and her life starts to unravel. For Amy it's the opposite, as if she's been blessed with good fortune. Soon Bitsy is convinced that the Revelry has tied the two friends together in a curse that only she can break...
At first glance this looks like a short, light novel but how wrong anyone would be to think that. Translated from the original Welsh, this is a deep thought-provoking novel – filled with actions and philosophical questions that create a lasting impression. Dylan was only 6 when the world as he knew it stopped. The electricity went off, everyone left - and just him and his Mum were left to survive on a remote Welsh mountainside above the village of Nebo - with no services. Now 14, Dylan has learned new survival skills and is as wise as any adult. On a scavenging raid into Nebo, they find a blank notebook with a blue cover and decide to use it to record their thoughts and actions – neither reading the others writings. The two voices in the notebook show the scale, horror, and commitment to survive for each other – and the secrets they both keep. The background to the story is so strange, quite unsettling in places, that the reader is entirely caught up in their day-to-day struggles, their fears, and their triumphs. Set in such a bleak scenario the book could be very dark – but although it does have moments of darkness, the love and sense of hope pervading the story wins out creating an immersive, emotive experience. A difficult read in terms of its subject matter but one that will live with the reader in a very positive way.
January 2022 YA Debut of the Month | Riveting and richly realised, Akshaya Raman’s The Ivory Key (the first in a duology) presents readers with a thrilling opportunity for utter immersion. Set in a sumptuously conjured world in which magic is the ultimate resource, and driven by relatable characters that leap from the page with exhilarating verve, this is YA fantasy as its most inventive. What’s more, The Ivory Key is underpinned by the pertinent belief that resources should be equally, universally accessible. “Magic was woven into the very fabric of Ashokan society... It was even Ashoka’s biggest export… Or it had been”. So begins this story of four estranged royal siblings whose lives have taken very different paths. Four siblings who must find a way to repair their fractured relationships as they embark on a quest to find the Ivory Key that’s said to possess the power to provide the magic their land so desperately needs. Reeling with family drama, the thrill of a treacherous treasure hunt, and a smouldering romance, this is an undeniable dazzler of a debut.
Edited by best-selling author Marissa Meyer, these are ten stories which each take on a familiar trope of romantic fiction: The secret admirer, the fake relationship, the matchmaker etc and turns them on their head in such a way as to keep the reader guessing. What is also both refreshing and valuable is the diversity of the collection, which includes black, LGBT, white, Asian and Indian characters and a range of text formats including a graphic novel. Any reader should be able to find themselves within the pages of this collection and find a story that resonates with them and their experiences. The overall quality of the writing, from authors who are relatively unknown in the UK, is a strength. As well as being a thoroughly enjoyable read this collection could find uses in the classroom for analysis of genres, styles and tropes.