My Top Ten Reads of 2015!

I’m pretty sure when I did my top ten round up last year, I said something along the lines of “Wow, what an outstanding year it’s been for YA & Books in general” but THIS YEAR BEAT THE PANTS OF IT. Seriously, 2015 has seen the publication of some of the most challenging, powerful and evocative novels for Young Adults that have ever been available. The level of diversity, LBQT+ inclusivity and Mental Health awareness is beyond anything it’s ever been in previous years – and while we still have a long way to go, it makes my heart sing to see the dedication of authors, publishers, readers, bloggers and the whole community to actively shout about diversity and to demand better representation in the books they read. The UKYA community is going from strength to strength too, becoming a glowing warm beacon of passion and friendship across the internet that I always feel privileged to be a part of. OKAY, enough of me doing all this gushing – in no particular order, here’s a list of ten of my FAVOURITEST READS from this year! 

The Lost and The Found by Cat Clarke 

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Cat Clarke has a reputation for harsh, bleak thrillers that have a talent for breaking reader’s hearts in two. The Lost and The Found is no exception to her gritty formula, focusing on a family absolutely torn apart by the loss of their daughter thirteen years ago. It has an emotional level to it that’s uncompromising and refuses to look at the world in terms of black and white, letting Faith, its main character, be angry, bitter and selfishly flawed in ways that are deep and understandable. It’s a powerful book that asks a lot of questions, and isn’t afraid to leave those questions unanswered.

Birdy by Jess Vallance

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FRANCES BIRD IS MY BEST FRIEND. Birdy is a sinisterly dark, acid clever little thriller with so much of a skewed sense of unease. Hinging on an obsessive, out of control friendship and coming from a wonderfully unreliable narrator, it’s a slow burning novel that gradually unravels into a sprawling spider’s web of deception, paranoia and constantly escalating madness. It’s definitely not one for the faint of heart, but if you like a book that pulses with psychological trauma and emotional turmoil, then this is a fast paced gem for you. You awful person.

The Next Together by Lauren James 

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Lauren’s debut managed to do something that never normally happens for me – it managed to be a love story that I felt totally invested in! Her characters are witty and sweet, warm and utterly real, and she lets them be quirky and original, without falling into the usual gender stereotypes, and the use of time travel is clever, original and quite often fascinating – well researched and fully formed, and the way it skips between them creates a fresh, paced feel that keeps the plot hanging and pounding. Not to mention a fantastically mysterious open ended conclusion. I’m really looking forward to her next book in 2016!

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell 

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Rundell is the only non-YA title on my list, but it’s one I would urge people of all age to read. She’s got such a phenomenal talent with crafting words, like a true artist, she weaves them flawlessly and with passion and love. She refuses to talk down to her audience, and The Wolf Wilder is a captivating tale of wolves, snow and freedom, spearheaded by a wilful heroine who has more than a dash of Philip Pullman’s Lyra Belacqua about her. The wonderful words are beautifully accompanied by gorgeous inky illustrations that make this book the whole package – a children’s classic that we’ll have on bookshop shelves in fifty, maybe even a hundred years time.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

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My first ever Hardinge book, and a darkly twisting novel that swirled with mystery and deception, all pulled along by a brilliantly bright, determined heroine trapped in a male-dominated society that really cuts into the reader. She has such a lyrical, haunting way with words that felt hypnotic and made me so intensely jealous, if I’m honest. She pulls in elements of weird fantasy into a windswept period world, creating a sense of unease and paranoia so tangible it practically drips from every page.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness 

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Yup. A Patrick Ness book came out, so OBVIOUSLY it’s on my list. It has to be. He’s managed to yet again create a perfect YA novel – tongue firmly in cheek and fully mocking standard tropes and stereotypes from a lot of mainstream Young Adult lit. It’s all done with love though, and it also manages to tell a heart-wrenching coming-of-age story that beautifully looks at the loss of innocence, mental health and the power of friendships and family. Ness manages to blend contemporary drama with weird science fiction vibes seamlessly, shot through with wry humour and a bizarre, charming sense of warmth and sadness. It’s also so wonderfully Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

All Of The Above by James Dawson

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James Dawson has had two books out this year, and All of The Above was the author’s first foray into contemporary, and it’s totally astounding. Filled with chaotic, messy and brilliantly real characters with flaws and so much love, it managed to utterly break my heart and completely sucked me in, by allowing its teen characters to be rude and sexually diverse, shunning labels and focussing on emotions. The dialogue is hilarious and cuttingly witty, and the friendships are achingly beautiful, filled with fury and passion. It’s a triumph of a YA novel that doesn’t talk down to or patronise its audience in the slightest.

Remix by Non Pratt 

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Non’s second book is yet another testament to the fact that she might well have one of the best narrative voices in YA. She manages to make her characters speak exactly how me and my friends always used to (and still do, for that fact), and she tackles some important issues that affect teenagers on a regular basis with stark honesty and superbly hilarious heart. Not to mention, Remix is all about Festivals and Music, something that is very very close to my heart, and the book includes some brilliant nostalgia, band nods and musical feelings that made me squeal with delight.

Unbecoming by Jenny Downham 

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Jenny Downham novels don’t come along very often, but when they do, they’re really something special. Unbecoming is a huge mix of diversity, emotion and themes that should feel clunky and forced, but it simply flows and sings flawlessly. It’s a powerfully important book that touches on family and mental illness, as well as examining sexuality and race, all with respect and intelligence. It’s got so much heart and so much warmth to it.

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle 

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Easily one of the most original, haunting, captivating and twistingly brilliant YA novels this year, The Accident Season is an absolute powerhouse of a debut novel, one that uses language like wind and magic, to create an unsettling dreamlike atmosphere that sucks you in totally and completely. It’s filled with diverse, whirring characters (Bea will always hold a special place in my heart), and a dark, creeping mystery that has one foot in Fantasy and one in Contemporary Drama. It’s simply outstanding writing.


RIGHT! That’s your lot! This was one of the hardest Top 10 lists I’ve ever pulled together, because honestly YA publishing has been so unbelievably on fire this year! From debuts like The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury and Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, to the latest instalments in some of my favourite series, like Lockwood & Co’s The Hollow Boy, or the final in Will Hill’s outstanding Department 19 horror series –  I can only hope that 2016 builds on this year and delivers even more. Although I have NO IDEA when I’ll get them all read!

Thanks for Reading, and be wonderful to each other.

D for Darran/Dinosaur/Decepticon

 

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The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

I’ve never read any Frances Hardinge before, which is odd – her books are huge critical successes and always seem to wrapped in a subtle darkness and a quiet, wry sense of humour that would be just my sort of thing. But I’ve just never got round to them, so I thought I’d start with The Lie Tree… and let’s just say that I’ll be picking up her backlist pretty soon.

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The Lie Tree tells the story of Faith Sunderly and her family, headed by the eminent natural scientist and eternally stoic Reverend Sunderly, who are heading to the remote island of Vane, chased from mainland England by a scandal that has accused her father of faking fossil discoveries. Faith idolises her father, in a society where woman are never able to study sciences or be taken seriously in academia. She longs to win his approval, but she will only ever be the disappointment of not being a son, despite her natural curiosity and fierce intelligence. The rumours from the mainland have reached the island town of Vane though, and the family are treated with distrust and outright hatred by the islanders. Faith is sure that the accusations are false, but how can she prove it if she can never be taken as anything more than a silly, emotional woman? Then she learns of The Lie Tree – a strange botanical curiosity that feeds on whispered lies, and bears fruit that gives hidden truths when eaten. The wider a lie is believed, the bigger the tree will grow, and the more potent the fruit it can bare. Faith may not be able to fight the rumbles of her Father’s fakery in the open, but she certainly can use her hidden position afforded by her gender to create a web of lies to feed the tree and uncover the truth.

Hardinge's début won awards and huge acclaim.

Hardinge’s début won awards and huge acclaim.

Layers and layers of The Lie Tree are beautifully woven, hinging off the complex plot and wonderfully diverse characters. Faith is beautiful in her flawed nature, so hopeful and positive, but as the plot develops, she becomes ruthlessly cunning, letting her natural intelligence burn through. I loved her absolutely, because of how often she made bad choices, or actively chose to do bad things because of her convictions. It was also absolutely heart breaking to see how quickly and easily she’s dismissed throughout the story because she’s a woman – reflecting the awful beliefs inherent in the society around her. The way her obsession builds and whirls chaotically is a reflection of her powerful nature, expertly hidden beneath a mask of demure ladylike composure. The characters around her are startlingly well rounded as well, The Reverend Sunderly being a stoic and composed man on the surface, but churning underneath with bitterness and obsession that rivals his daughter, and Faith’s mother being a phenomenally pragmatic, driven and cunning woman who has learned over years and years of being the invisible woman behind a well-respected man, how to use what society lets her have to her best advantage.

The plot of The Lie Tree is slow, but has an inevitable force that drives it forward. It spins and twists like a lazy autumn storm, dropping sudden plot falls and pulling the story around in all sorts of leaps and unexpected directions. It grows, much like the eponymous tree, with startlingly dark power creeping underneath every single sentence, and touches upon some dark and uncomfortable subjects based around the entrenched sexism and downright dismissal of woman as anything but inferior to men that were (and continue to be) so entrenched in Academia and Sciences (the idea that women have smaller skulls, and are therefore not as intelligent as men is sickening).

This was my first experience with Hardinge’s writing style, and it’s painfully brilliant and evocative and descriptive and ace. The way she describes the sea in particular is so wonderfully haunting and wild that I fell in love with her whole style of writing at once – I do have such a fondness for the sea. She uses metaphors in such a twistingly unique way that it makes the words crackle with potential and menace as the story unfolds.

I loved this line so very much.

I loved this line so very much.

The Lie Tree is a wonderfully dark tale of pain, anguish and revenge with a stunning tinge of magical realism that brings it into a historical-dream-like reality. I loved every second of it, as it whipped me into its tragic, powerful and desperate narrative.

Thanks for Reading, if you did.

D