Unboxed by Non Pratt

Unboxed is a short novel by the brilliantly talented UKYA author Non Pratt (author of Trouble and Remix), published by the wonderful people at Barrington Stoke who specialise in shorter books with intelligent and articulate plots designed to encourage reluctant readers without talking down to their audience. They also use fonts and paper colourations designed to help dyslexic readers. They really are superb – check out their website.

25648276

Even the jacket makes me emotional

Unboxed is the story of four friends, who when they were younger created a time capsule of their perfect Summer. Time has passed since that Summer, and the friends have now drifted apart, in contact mostly through social media and memories. When they made the box, there was five of them, but stomach cancer claimed Millie a few weeks ago. So despite the wedge driven between them, they meet up once again to open the box and peer into the past, to a simpler, happier time. It isn’t easy – everyone’s changed in ways both huge and small. Alix has told none of them about her girlfriend, afraid they wouldn’t understand. The whole night promises to be a mess of dredged up emotions and awkward silences, but it was what Millie made them promise to do. You can’t break a promise to a dead friend.

I’ve said it before, and I am certain I’ll say it again – Non Pratt is hands down the most authentic voice in YA fiction. You can keep your poetically lyrical teenagers, Non’s characters swear and screw up, they’re awkward in ways that are frustrating as opposed to endearingly charming – she just writes real characters in a way I’ve never come across in YA elsewhere. Unboxed is no exception – from the very plot outline I knew it was going to break my heart (and I finished it on a train, naturally), but Non captures the teen atmosphere perfectly. It’s all there – the sense of hope, the frustration, the nihilism, the fear of alienation from your friends. The fear of not fitting in. Unboxed dredges all these ideas up and mixes them into a short, punchy story that aims directly for the heart and nestles in there for life. I’m never ever getting this story out of my head. Alix is the perfect narrator for the story, hesitant and filled with regrets, but each of the four friends are perfectly portrayed and effortlessly nuanced. In just 140 pages we get a brief snapshot of these people, of who they used to be, who they are now, and where they might going. It’s a masterpiece that absolutely encapsulates the fears and dreams that come with being on the cusp of adulthood. It’s achingly real, smart, and honest. It’ll take you an hour to read and it’ll change you. Give a short book a chance.

Thanks for Reading, as always.

D

P.S. You can pick up Unboxed, and all of Non’s books right here.

Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

The “What’s it About?” bit

Caddy longs for something to happen in her monotonous, boring life. Going to a private all-girls school, she’s the high achiever who never gets in trouble and always does as she’s told, and she envies her best friend Rosie, who goes to a regular school, hugely. She longs to the spontaneous girl, the one that people talk about, but she doesn’t even know how. There’s a new girl at Rosie’s school though, and she’s about to shake things up – the enigmatic Suzanne, beautiful and confident, is all of the things that Caddy isn’t, and Caddy soon starts to worry that this enigmatic new friend is going to steal away her Rosie. So she sets about uncovering the mysteries that brought Suzanne to them, but what she discovers is more complex than she expected, and as she and Suze become closer, the lines between right and wrong start to blur.

25437747

The “What I thunk about it” bit

ARRRGH THIS BOOK IS PERFECT. So perfect. I almost don’t know where to start. The characterisations are perfect – I related especially well to Caddy, the one always so eager to be good and to do the right thing, who messes things up when all they want is to do what’s best for someone else. Her earnest good nature, as well as her unravelling frustration at the pressures of the world around her, make her character arc wonderfully complex and easy to empathise with, too. Suzanne is so accurately written, though. It’s hard to write a character like her without portraying too much romance in her tragedy, but Sara has managed to make her sadness and her mania mix to create an intoxicating girl with many layers. Suze’s self-awareness lends her character a darkness, too, because she always knows just what she’s doing, and is always the first to acknowledge that she’s messed up, and while she might do some reckless, dangerous things, it’s impossible to hate her. Rosie straddles the line between the two of them, sharp and sarcastic, but with fiery love that burns through everything she does. She’s strident, certainly, but level headed, and her ability to call out some of the more reckless behaviour makes her an unlikely voice of reason. I also really enjoyed that she stood up for herself when she thought something was wrong, and she was perfectly willing to let others make their own mistakes. The book has an excellent group of supporting characters as well, with realistically portrayed parents (a rarity) and two excellent older siblings.

Beautiful Broken Things tackles some massive issues, and manages to do so with stark honesty and gentleness, which is what makes it such a triumph. But it also looks at the subtler ideas that come with growing up – conformity, friendships and fear of abandonment, and works those quietly into the story while the bigger arc is going on. Ultimately the book just kept me utterly glued to it, and every spare second I had was spent trying to fit another few pages in, because the pacing is so superb that the whole thing has that out of control feeling of certainty about it. You can feel the building anticipation of tragedy straight off the bat, and the way it’s hinted at throughout keeps you gripped by the story, like it’s woven hooks into your heart and brain, and each chapter ends leaving you absolutely aching to know what’s going to happen next, even though the horrifying twists feel like they’re going to emotionally break you into pieces.

A stunningly powerful début novel that I cannot recommend enough – Sara Barnard’s Beautiful Broken Things is a superb addition to the UKYA pantheon, sitting perfectly alongside other emotional driven contemporaries like Trouble or All of The Above.

Thanks, as always for reading.

D

P.S. Beautiful Broken Things contains some triggers based around abuse, self-harm and suicide.

Happy UKYA Day!

What is UKYA? I mean, what does that even mean – UKYA? Okay, I admit, the answer is kinda self evident. It’s Young Adult Books written by UK based authors. The end. BLOG OVER.

Well, I suppose the really important question is – why do I choose to read so much UKYA? I’m a 27 year old “man” who did a Crime Scene Sciences degree, and my other hobbies include video games and abrasive, angry and deliberately esoteric music.

With a stupid face.

With a stupid face.

There’s a few different answers to that question – a few different threads of happenstance that lead to the person I am today (not a great person, but I suppose I’m okay – if a bit wordy). I took on a Christmas Job as a bookseller for Waterstones, rediscovered my love of Children’s Fiction from my own childhood, & hit upon one of the only things I’ve ever felt like I’ve been good at – sharing a love of stories. It was from this little platform that I discovered Twitter, and fell headfirst into the UKYA community that was so brilliantly welcoming. But we’ll talk more about that in a moment. The real reason I grew such a infectious passion for UKYA novels comes down to a simple, straightforward & obvious answer – The books. Duh.

ISTqrXU

I guess I couldn’t tell you what the very first UKYA novel was I read… I mean, technically it was probably something like Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, but when I finally started picking up the current wave of authors writing, I couldn’t help but devour as many books as my staff discount card could take. The first proof I requested was Will Hill‘s Department 19, and I think that’s a great example of where UKYA triumphs over the American equivalents. It was just after the real peak of Twilight fever, where vampire fiction was all Anne Rice love and soft, gentle sighs of longing into the lonely night, and here was a story of action, despair and teen angst, driven by a mix of high-octane, high-violence and classical horror overtones (it weaves the works of Stoker & Shelly into the narratives perfectly). It took the try-hard nature of the whole vampire phenomenon and went “Nah, vampires kill people. Let’s take this back to its horror roots.” and I loved it for that. After that, I tried anything I could get my hands on, contemporary, science fiction, horror, I’ll give anything a try. Still, though, the home-grown authors really stood head and shoulders above the rest. Is it because I find the settings, the characters and the voices much more familiar than their overseas counterparts? I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a great start when it comes to engaging with a story, but I think it comes down to more than that.

Such a GREAT series!

Such a GREAT series!

In the UK, we have a great sense of self-deprication. Something about the eternal, overcast, rainsoaked environment creates a sense of hopeful, but pessimistic reality. We knows things can get better, but they’ll get a lot worse and they’ll require a lot of work, pain and rain to make it happen. This is brilliantly reflected in the dark, gritty, but oddly wry and quirky stories by authors like Tanya Byrne (Follow Me Down is a superb crime-noir with twists of humour throughout) and Alice Oseman (her debut Solitaire is brilliantly despondent and hilarious all in the same page). UKYA can get seriously dark though, and I feel like it pulls less punches when it decides to get bleak and challenging than other YA out there – Carnegie Medal winning The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks is a stellar example of an unrelentingly bleak and powerful novel that never romanticises the horrific predicament of its characters.

One of the nest debuts of the last year.

One of the nest debuts of the last year.

I just feel like UKYA novels get realism and the down-to-Earth nature of teenagers down on paper much better than any other books. The honest, ugly and often uncomfortable When Mr. Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan, or the heartfelt and emotionally articulate Being Billy by Phil Earle (an absolute shining star of the community, by the way) are testaments to how authors in the UK are willing to look at complex issues without a rose-tinted lens, and they’re so much more valuable for it. And it isn’t just mental health, either – with the global rise of the We Need Diverse Books mission, UKYA authors are moving forward leaps and bounds when it comes to minority representation in their novels. Malorie Blackman‘s Noughts & Crosses series was just the beginning (using Dystopia to examine racial segregation); Louise O’Neill‘s Only Ever Yours, winner of the UK’s first ever YA Book Award, examines the importance of gender equality by using a twisted dystopian universe, and the stunningly beautiful The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson makes the bold but vital move of tackling the difficult and underrepresented topic of Transgender in Teenagers. Even wonderful works by Patrick Ness drop gay characters into stories where their sexuality is simply a part of their character as opposed to the point of the story (More Than This), and Non Pratt who’s upcoming novel Remix has two racially diverse main characters without it being a big deal in the slightest. James Dawson‘s subtle use of characters, as well as his outspoken support of diversity in fiction is just one of the hundreds of UK based writers who are working hard to include minorities in their work. I don’t for a second think that there isn’t still work to do, but I feel a great sense of pride that our shores are producing such fantastic stories with such a concentrated effort towards letting all young people see characters like them int he books they’re reafing.

Such an IMPORTANT BOOK.

Such an IMPORTANT BOOK.

The final thing I want to talk about when it comes to UKYA books though, is their dialogue, their narrative voice and the way their characters interact. One of the biggest reasons I’ve struggled with falling totally in love with John Green novels is because to me, lines like – “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations…” – sounds nothing at all like me and my friends did as teenagers. That smooth, poetic writing works in points, but I think it alienates me from the characters in a story. I’m pretty much an idiot, and I prefer the characters I read about to stumble over their words and say the wrong things. Non Pratt‘s debut novel, Trouble, uses such realistic, honest back and forth between characters that I laughed and cried constantly, and connected with the main characters on a very fundamental level. Matthew Crow‘s In Bloom managed to be full of sudden bursts of humour and stupidity whilst also containing one of the most powerfully moving sentences I’ve ever read in a book. Dawn O’Porter with Paper Aeroplanes (and its sequel Goose), James Dawson‘s Under My Skin, Tape by Steve Camden, Geekhood by Andy Robb and Geek Girl by Holly Smale – all these books have characters who willfully make bad choices, or make stupid decisions. They make mistakes and they say the wrong things. Unlike any other country, I feel like the UK’s YA is full of less than perfect characters, and for teenagers growing up and discovering their own faults, flaws and quirks, making their own mistakes and becoming their own diverse people, that’s such an important thing to see. UKYA lets its readers know that it’s okay to be less than perfect. It’s okay to try something stupid. It’s okay to mess it up.

Hilarious & Heartbreaking.

Hilarious & Heartbreaking.

The UKYA online community (search #UKYA, #ukyachat and @ProjectUKYA on Twitter) is the passion and the brainchild of the hugely talented and driven Lucy Powrie, herself a teenage blogger, and she’s managed to create a fun, inviting atmosphere through which I’ve met some wonderful people and made some amazing friends with whom I can share my excitement and joy about these wonderfully accessible books. The wonder of social media also means that I can have conversations with the authors I’m enjoying right now – If 14 year old Darran could’ve chatted with Philip Pullman about His Dark Materials, I’d’ve exploded with excitement, and yet now I often chat back and forth with people I have huge amounts of awe and respect for. For someone so far in the North of the country, away from the world of publishing (which is all frustratingly London based), the UKYA community has become a way for me to be involved in the spreading the love of great books and keeping up to date with new authors and debuts that I might otherwise have missed, and the sense of welcome belonging is really important to me.

With initiatives like YALC returning for a second year at London Film & Comic-con, The YA Book Prize and so much more, I honestly feel like we’re just stepping into a golden age for UKYA literature, and I’m glad to be able to say I’ve been involved in a little way.

large

God, sorry for rambling on for so so long. I did say I was wordy though, up there at the beginning. If you bothered reading all of this… Then erm… THANK YOU AND I AM SORRY.

REMIX by Non Pratt

Last year, Non Pratt’s debut novel Trouble completely took me by surprise. I honestly never expected a contemporary YA novel about teen pregnancy to so complete absorb me and make me care so powerfully about the characters in it, but it completely blew me away with its heartfelt plot, witty dialogue and perfect pacing, and went on to be my Favourite Book of 2014. Through the magic of Twitter, and so far too few and brief meetings at London based events, I discovered that Non and I shared a massive love in our lives: Music. For me music is the most profound and exciting thing in my life – more than even books, and my whole life I’ve been swept up obsessively with notes and lyrics. I feel my heartbeat quicken when my favourite part of song comes up, and I smile when my favourite drum beat kicks in, or bass fill blasts out in the background. Basically, I’m a tune-freak and a proper little music nerd, and I discovered Non was super into Pop-Punk bands from the 90s, which is one of my favourite areas of music – from Green Day to New Found Glory, Rancid to Alkaline Trio. When Remix was announced, a contemporary YA book about two best friends attending their first music festival together, I was so excited. Trouble had managed to make me care about characters that I never expected to, and this second book featured characters I have so much in common with, so I was bound to be swept up by the plot and lost in the nostalgia. I wasn’t wrong… I finished Remix in a single sitting.

Bold and Beautiful, just like the story.

Bold and Beautiful, just like the story.

It’s a fairly simple story. Kaz is struggling with the sudden break up of her last relationship. She’d always thought Tom was the love of her life, that they’d always be together, but he’d abruptly dumped her at the beginning of the summer holidays and she hasn’t seen or spoken to him since. Ruby, Kaz’s best friend is quite frankly sick of hearing about him. When her boyfriend Stu did the dirty with some tart at a party, she didn’t spend the holidays moping about it – she got on with life and made the most of her last few months before her older brother leaves home. In fact, as part of her plans to put her ex (and some pretty ropey GCSE results) behind her, and help Kaz move on and maybe score a brand new boy, Ruby has managed to convince her brother and his friends to let the two girls tag along to Remix Festival, their very first music festival. To top it all off, Goldentone – their favourite band – are headlining. It’s going to be the perfect weekend of music, dancing, drinks and boys, to see off their last year at secondary school. Except life is never quite that simple, and there’s no such thing as a perfect weekend. You can’t hide from your past… You’ve got to accept the mistakes everybody makes.

If there’s a YA author in the UK who creates better teenaged characters in their books than Non, I’ve not come across them yet. Everyone in Remix is messy and beautiful and so balanced between intelligent and caring, and emotional and short-sighted. They make mistakes – some of them massive, some of them consciously spiteful, or they do things that they know are stupid or wrong, which is great because real people do those things! Especially teenagers. None of Kaz or Ruby’s decisions or interactions feel forced to drive the plot. They might be stupid ideas, sure, but they feel organic and natural. Ruby is funny, sarcastic and crackles with a constant state of energy and aggression that makes her chapters race and bounce along furiously, but she’s also filled with a repressed sadness too, a melancholy that just lurks under the surface and lends her reckless nature a desperation to it. Kaz is sweet and naïve, and her chapters flow with an almost ethereal quality, perfectly balancing out against Ruby. There’s a passage where her attitudes and love towards music is described that struck such a wonderful chord with me, because it’s exactly how I feel when I get lost in notes and melodies.

This. So much this.

This. So much this.

As with Trouble, there’s a fantastic crew of supporting characters throughout Remix that lend the book such fantastic dialogue. Ruby’s relationship with her older brother Lee is fantastic, I love their little jabs and insults – it’s all very down-to-Earth and lets their love shine through. Stu is a classic example of Non’s ability to create complex characters who can be brilliantly caring but infuriatingly harsh all at once, and I’m totally in love with Sebastian, a boy who’s not beautiful enough to make girls melt, but whose talents shine through making him charming and attractive. We need more characters in books who aren’t textbook beautiful.

There are so many reasons I love Remix. It taps into the hope, the passion and the bittersweet anxiety of growing up. The promises that music can offer to us, weighed up against the harsh nature of reality make for a heartfelt and ambiguous story that feels nostalgic, but sad all at once. Friendship is at its core, and the friendship here is beautiful (it often reminded me strongly of Renée & Flo from Dawn O’Porter’s Paper Aeroplanes/Goose), but they’re far from perfect. There’s a sense of change, of unease about the two main characters that I felt keenly. No boyfriend or girlfriend will ever be able to break your heart like a best friend. The dark twists and mistakes made by the two girls creates a mounting tension between all the characters in the book and by the last chapters, the events feel derailed by their recklessness. Ruby, particularly whirls in a drunken, self-hating fury in the climax of the book. It’s powerful, but difficult to read. The whole tone of the book balances hope and uncertainty in a way that I think any reader can relate to, and by using music – such a fundamental aspect of life – it makes characters and settings we can immediately feel for. Non has also filled the book with nods and references to music, songs and bands that made my nerdy little heart well up and explode (“Ruby, as in Soho?”), as well as giving each chapter the name of a song, most of which made me squee with joy (Dark Blue, Dirty Little Secret, Toxic, Dammit – to name a few).

Basically, I found Remix to be the perfect coming of age story. Blisteringly intelligent, emotionally articulate and musically inspired, it uses short chapters told from two contrasting viewpoints to create a dynamic, heartfelt book that once again encapsulates the drama, the feelings and the terrifying promises that life as a young adult can promise. Non’s characters are diverse and she never shys away from the harder truths and consequences actions can have. It was an absolute joy to read.

Thnks fr th mmrs,

D

P.S. Remix is out in June 2015, but you can pre-order a copy here.

P.P.S. You can follow the effortlessly lovely Non Pratt on Twitter here, or check her website at nonpratt.com

I can never not post this, Non. You know I can't forget.

I can never not post this, Non. You know I can’t forget.

My Top Ten Reads of 2014!

Another year is gone, and so many books have been read and celebrated… And what a year for books it’s been! We saw the very first Literature Convention for Young Adult books, and I was lucky enough to get myself along to YALC, and for all the warmth, and the swamping crowds, it was an absolute success. And now the Bookseller has launched a YA Book Prize to celebrate fantastic Young Adult books, with a phenomenal shortlist announced a little while ago, so it looks like 2015 is going to be big too. Twitter has been a fantastic place to celebrate all things YA too, especially the UKYA chats and events organised by Lucy from Queen of Contemporary and Jim over at YAYeahYeah, and I strongly recommend you join us using the hashtag #UKYAChat if you get the chance!

SO, I suppose it’s about time that I do a run through of my top ten books of the year! This will be one of many; I’m sure, so if you’re reading it then THANK YOU. Obviously, not every great book I’ve read this year can make it to the list, but I review the ones I’ve enjoyed on the blog so you can check them out! Some of the books on the list have been published in 2013, or are set to come out next year, but if I’ve read them this year, they’re going on the list AND THERE AIN’T NOTHIN’ YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. In no particular order:

10. THE MESSENGER OF FEAR by Michael Grant

9781405265157
Michael Grant’s GONE series holds a special place in my heart as one of the first teen fiction series that I got into as a (supposed) adult, and while I couldn’t get into BZRK in the same way, the concept of The Messenger of Fear grabbed me from the go – Filled with dark mystery and an oppressive sense of dread, this is Grant on top form with a narrative force that drives the story through twists and turns at breakneck speed. It also deals with mental health in a heartbreakingly bleak, but honest method that I was glad to see making its way into YA literature. It’s got the makings of a great, gripping and blood-chilling series.

9. IN BLOOM by Matthew Crow

9781472105523
A fantastically witty, touching and heartbreaking novel, In Bloom is from an incredibly talented author from my neck of the woods (well, Newcastle – close enough) which faces tragedy and terminal illness head on with a sense of humour and genuine honesty that can make you cry with laughter and from emotion in the same page. Unlike some other YA Novels about, I found that Matthew’s use of dialogue was unpretentious, down to Earth and real, and all of his characters felt familiar and fully formed on the page. I loved each and every one of them, and that made it so much harder to read in a way. It also contains a set of sentences with broke my heart and will never leave me.

8. PAPER AEROPLANES by Dawn O’Porter

17315134
A triumph of hilarity and a resounding celebration of friendship, the first book in the saga of Renée and Flo is an absolute joy to read. So painfully touching, Dawn manages to capture the ups & downs and ins & outs of a teenage friendship perfectly, leaving me laughing out loud on more than one 7:30am train to work. She perfectly moulds her characters throughout the book, creating two flawed, funny girls who I became friends with too, and she never pulls her punches with the difficulties of life as a teenage girl. I was lucky enough to get to meet Dawn in Newcastle as part of her tour for Goose, the sequel to Paper Aeroplanes, and she was a warm and delightfully happy and welcoming person who was brilliant to work with.

7. WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart

16143347
One of the biggest successes of YA in 2014, We Were Liars is a swirling mysterious story of decadence, love, betrayal and tragedy. Told in a beautiful mix of metaphors and hyperbole, We Were Liars constantly teases the reader with potential endings and red herrings and keeps you on edge throughout, as well as wrapping you up in a dream-like sense that mirrors the main character’s memory loss perfectly. It’s a fantastic read that completely absorbed me and had an ending that totally blew me away – Well worth the hype that surrounded it.

6. SAY HER NAME by James Dawson

w512713
MORE HORROR PLEASE. Okay, I admit it; I’m a horror novel nut – But James’ suspense filled modern retelling of the legend of Bloody Mary absolutely stands head and shoulders above the rest. It was one of the bestsellers in my shop, and it went down a storm with the Durham YA Book Club, because of how perfectly it weaves together a subtle spooky atmosphere with a modern, contemporary setting that everyone is familiar with. He pulls together his loves for good old fashioned Point Horror books and the twisted darkness of J-Horror masterfully (two of my own obsessions as a teenager) and creates an atmosphere that glues you to the page with tension, superb characters and a haunting sadness.

5. ONCE UPON AN ALPHABET by Oliver Jeffers

817f9UengnL
That’s right. It’s a picture book in my list. WHAT YOU GONNA DO ABOUT IT?! Once Upon an Alphabet is probably the finest picture book published this year, and may be one of the best Jeffers has ever done. The 26 short stories range from absolutely hilarious and silly, to almost tragic and dark, all combined with the iconic illustrations that made me fall in love with his picture books in the first place. It’s definitely one that works on adult’s levels as well as on children’s, which is exactly the kind of sophistication and versatility you want from a picture book.

4. GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE by Andrew Smith

GrasshopperJungle June 27 13
Oh. My. God. The most insane book you will ever read, but also in a strange way, really important. Andrew’s coming-of-age story with added giant murderous praying mantises (Mantii? Nah.) is wonderfully left field, with a phenomenally funny and confused narrator who’s rambling historical tangents build the book’s world superbly. As well as a classic, B-Movie feel to it, Grasshopper Jungle also approaches sexual confusion in its teen characters with a hilarious honesty that is so very lacking in other YA titles. It’s violent and gore-filled, rude and stupid in places, just like being a teenager, and his dialogue has a Tarantino quality to it – sometimes it’s not about the plot, sometimes it’s about nothing at all, but it always feels natural and flows perfectly.

3. SOLITAIRE by Alice Oseman

20618110
Solitaire holds such a special place in my heart for so many reasons, but primarily it’s because of Tori Spring, the passive, miserable and morose teen protagonist of the book, who I gelled with immediately, having been quite a melodramatic teenager myself. Alice’s characters are perfectly realised, right down to names that roll of the tongue, and slick dialogue that snaps and crackles on the page. The story is a brilliantly dark thriller playing on familiar school elements and using a very current hacktavist theme, with Alice’s obvious disdain for the school system radiating across every page. It’s intelligent and funny, with nods to the worlds of blogging and fandoms in just the right places without trying too hard. Alice also came to the most successful YA Book Club I’ve had at Durham to date, so I have that to thank her for too!

2. THE ART OF BEING NORMAL by Lisa Williamson

AOBN_Spine_on
Official publication date for this one is in January, but you can find it in shops already, and I seriously urge you to! Beautiful, evocative and absolutely enchanting, The Art of Being Normal is already making waves in the Twitterverse, and rightly so – A YA novel that deals with transgender issues and discovery with dignity and a serious emotional heart behind it, which is something seriously important. Outside of that, it’s a great story too, with a melancholy kitchen-sink drama aspect to it that keeps the story grounded and makes the characters familiar and relatable. And what characters! Both of the lead characters are fantastic, and they oppose each other and support each other perfectly. It’s a real feel good story too, and it made me laugh, cry and gasp out loud and I already feel very passionate about getting into the hands of fans of modern, beautiful contemporary stories to warm your heart and echo around your brain forever.

1. TROUBLE by Non Pratt

18138917
Oh Trouble. What a fantastic book. I’ve never come across fictional teenagers like the characters in Non’s book, so vulgar and genuine and emotionally complex, just perfect. The story is down to earth and charged with so many feelings and emotions that ripple through the wonderful characters that populate Trouble’s world. The heartfelt blooming friendship between Hannah and Aaron is fantastic, and Aaron has to be the character I’ve had the most empathy towards all year. I honestly never expected to be so completely swept away by this book, but Non’s writing style is sharp and intelligent, and she makes you care about characters straight off the bat, and by the end of the book I found myself absolutely unable to put it down. The way Aaron’s back story is slowly, darkly teased out is breathtaking, and Hannah’s development from the opening to the close is absolutely fantastic, and the whole book buzzes with the energy and uncertainty of youth, with a passion that radiates out from the book. Basically, Non is a superb author with such a special talent for drawing readers in. Also, she signed my book with a hilarious thing at YALC.

Sorry, Non.

Sorry, Non.

So that’s that! A special mention to continuing series in 2014 – Lockwood & Co (Jonathan Stroud) and Department 19 (Will Hill) for being outstanding and exciting and keeping me up until 2am.
I hope everyone has had a great year, and as always, thank you so much for toddling over and reading the words I squeeze out of my brain. It means a lot to me to know people care about what I try to say, even if I tend to get a bit overboard with it all. I wouldn’t be doing it if people didn’t keep showing up.

Until next time,

D

Trouble by Non Pratt

I am often very easily distracted by shiny new things. Seriously, it’s a small miracle I make it to work every day without walking off a bridge. I started Trouble by Non Pratt some time ago, & much to my shame, something else distracted me. I am so glad though, that I sat back down with it last week, because after two days of non-stop reading, I had been absolutely blown away by a book about Teenage Pregnancy in way I never thought I could be.

The brilliantly simplistic but to the point jacket for Trouble.

The brilliantly simplistic but to the point jacket for Trouble.

Hannah Sheppard is young, bright, and funny and she loves boys. Her and her best friend Katie, spend their days using their newly discovered feminine wiles to get exactly what they want from the boys in their school. Neither of them thinks much about the future, neither of them thinks much about school either. Their day to day life is a whirlwind of nudity and cheap alcohol in the local park, until Hannah realises she’s late for her period. It could just be stress… Or it could be the other thing. Aaron is new at the school, having left his entire old life behind. He’s determined to make his GCSE years as painless as possible, but his parents are insistent that he at least makes an effort to make friends and behave like a normal teenager, after all the drama that forced him to have to find a new school. When Hannah discovers she’s pregnant, her school life becomes a living hell of teenage torment and neglect, as she rapidly falls down the social food chain, unable to tell anyone who the father of her unborn child is. Then, something miraculous happens – Aaron Tyler, the weird new kid, the son of a History teacher, steps forward and offers to pretend to be Hannah’s Baby Daddy, to help her through a lonely teen pregnancy, and to help her save face in the shark infested waters of school. What unravels is an incredibly unlikely, heartfelt friendship.

The US Jacket for Trouble is much more... Understated.

The US Jacket for Trouble is much more… Understated.

Oh. Oh what a heart this book has. It has THREE hearts, actually. Hannah’s character development is absolutely astounding, as she meanders her way towards responsibility through some touching, and also some hilarious, moments. She’s snappy, funny and determined, but also beautifully emotional, and Non knows exactly when to allow her to stand up for herself, and when to let her completely breakdown, creating a character so real and tangible that I wanted her to be my friend.  She felt like she already was, and her highs and lows hit me solidly and powerfully. As for Aaron… I have SO MUCH EMPATHY FOR AARON. He’s a complex, noble character, unfazed by the general ins and outs of teenage life, something I remember pretty strongly from my own teenage years. He’s got a strong determination to do the right thing and a brilliant sense of humour, all tempered by his mysteriously dark past – As well as his crippling sense of guilt, which I immediately clicked with. I was so caught up, not just in the present setting of the book, but also in his past, itching to know more about what has made him so insular and tragic, and Non teases that to us brilliantly slowly as we see the deep rooted self hatred that seethes within Aaron. The support cast of Trouble are so much fun, too. Katie is suitably bitchy, and her fall from grace is all the more satisfying because of how vilified Non makes her. Gideon and Anj are perfect supportive friends, and their lines crackle with youth and feeling, Hannah’s Stepbrother Jay is… Complex, but he’s pulled off in a fantastic way, despite how little he’s in the book. His presence is felt through his absence. Hannah’s Mum and Gran are heart-warmingly touching, flawed and supportive in equal measure, making her plight feel all the more rounded and real. Of course, the third heart is Hannah’s unborn baby.

HAMMER IT OUT. ALTERNATIVE HOLE. You really had to be there.

HAMMER IT OUT. ALTERNATIVE HOLE. You really had to be there.

Non’s real success in Trouble is her narrative voice. It’s astounding how natural her dialogue is, how perfectly normal the characters feel and talk to each other. She’s managed to successfully pin down the energy and enthusiasm, as well as the terror and apathy that define teen life, which are such contradicting aspects that so many authors fail portray all of them anywhere near as well as this book does. The entire of this book is full of pace and energy, characters that jump from the page, and positivity and heartbreak in equal measure, and it’s a complete triumph of Young Adult fiction, dealing with themes and ideas that so desperately lacking from teen literature and that NEED to be tackled. Teenagers, like it or not, are going to start having sex, and I think the important thing about Trouble is not just that it highlights the risks of pregnancy, but more importantly, it helps fight the stigma surrounding it. Pregnancy is not the end of the world, and plenty of Hannah Sheppards are out there, being told they’ve ruined their life when they absolutely haven’t. Non’s book helps to combat a lot of the secrecy and mythology surrounding the whole world of teen sexuality, as well as being a brilliantly written story. A complete triumph, and one of the brightest, strongest voices in UKYA today. Look out for more from her, because it’s going to be phenomenal.

Thanks for reading, everyone. ‘Til next time!

D

P.S. Not sure it needs to be said, but of course, Trouble is about Teen Pregnancy, and as such contains strong language and scenes of a sexual nature.

P.P.S. You can follow the rather splendiferous Non Pratt on Twitter HERE.

If You Like John Green, Clap Your Hands!

So, today a blog post I wrote was plopped up on the Waterstones Blog, which is VERY exciting for me. But I thought I best double post it to my own blog too… Basically, the big John Green trend is only gaining momentum right now, and I’m trying to ride the wave and get some fantastic authors who write similar (dare I say, better) contemporary YA Fiction.

Okay, so the very worst thing imaginable has come to pass. You’ve always known it. It was inevitable really. As you turn that final page of An Abundance of Katherines, you come to the heavy hearted realisation that you’ve polished off the mighty John Green’s backlist.

You may as well just give up on books altogether, right?

Have no fear, Nerdfighters! Look hard enough, and other, brilliantly talented authors will reveal themselves to you, spinning stories with the same John-Green style mix of tragedy, wonder, heartache and witty, rich dialogue. Or, if you don’t fancy looking all that hard, why not try any one of these certified GREAT books, jam packed full of contemporary romance with that wry twist?

EVERY DAY by David Levithan

A Fantastic, Vibrant YA Novel.

A Fantastic, Vibrant YA Novel.

If the name David Levithan rings an immediate bell, it could be because he’s one half of the writing duo behind Will Grayson, Will Grayson, along with John Green himself. It might also be because he’s been writing powerful, emotionally driven Teen and Young Adult Fiction for around twenty years or so – And Every Day is one of his biggest triumphs. Telling the story of A, an individual who spends life inhabiting the body of another human being for just one day, it’s a unique, funny and touching look at the trials and troubles of Teen life, written with a distant, but sympathetic eye. Whilst in the body of a dumb young jock-type named Justin however, A breaks the rule of non-interference by falling madly in love with Justin’s girlfriend, the sensitive but downtrodden Rhiannon. Once their perfect day together is over, A is ripped from Justin’s body, but remains resolutely determined to reunite with his twenty-four hour love. Every Day follows the struggle of A’s journey to be with Rhiannon, despite the body-switching obstacle, but it also weaves in a much darker undertone, as A starts to use the daily possession of others in a much more selfish manner. As people start to wake up miles from their homes, getting into accidents they can’t explain, the religious right start to target A as an agent of the Devil, and A has no defence against them whatsoever… Who’s to say they’re wrong?

FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell is one to watch.

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell is one to watch.

So, I’m pretty sure a lot of John Green fans will be familiar with Rainbow Rowell already, but just in case you aren’t: Rainbow is a multi-award winning writer from the States, who has written three novels to date (with a fourth, Landline, due in July), and who is lucky enough to have Mr. Green himself as a personal ambassador to her work, spreading work far and wide on the internet bloggersphere. Fangirl is Rowell’s third book, and her second aimed at the YA audience (after 2012’s spectacular Eleanor & Park), and it focuses on the online fandoms that many of us are all too familiar with. Twin sisters Cath and Wren spent most of their teens obsessed with the fictional book character Simon Snow, and reading about him, posting on forums about him and getting lost in their own fan fiction was the only way they managed to survive the ordeal of their mother leaving them. When the sisters head off for College, Wren drifts away from the Fangirl life, leaving Cath in way over her head, in a world of roommates, classes, boys and fast approaching adulthood, and her only solace is in the forums and blogs of the Simon Snow. These people understand her, the stories are ones she knows and the characters are old friends. That’s all she thinks she needs to get by in life. Fangirl approaches ideas of isolation and the terrifying onset of grown-up-dom in a funny, accessible and really familiar way, touching on issues of abandonment and mental health along the way. It’s a well rounded mix of humour and heartache that should make any John Green fan smile.

WHY WE BROKE UP by Daniel Handler

Beautiful Illustrations and Words.

Beautiful Illustrations and Words.

Ever heard of Daniel Handler? Sure you have. No, honestly, odds are you’ve read one of his series for younger readers. You see, Mr. Handler’s wickedly dark sense of humour gave birth to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. See, I told you you’d heard of him. Why We Broke Up is a beautiful, breathtaking short novel of heartbreak and love. Min Green is breaking up with Ed Slaterton, but rather than telling him why, she gives him a box of objects that show him why – objects that mark points in their relationship that lead to where they are today. Using a brilliantly Green-esque sense of wit and warmth, combined with some superbly simple and gorgeous illustrations from Maira Kalman, Why We Broke Up is a punchy collection of emotions, ranging from the giddy euphoria of first love, to the bitter devastation of when everything falls apart, remaining optimistic and touching throughout.

IN BLOOM by Matthew Crow

This jacket is wonderfully 90's.

This jacket is wonderfully 90’s.

A young UK author with a brilliant sense of humour, Matthew Crow is someone you should really already know about. In Bloom is the story of the self-certified brilliant poet and intellectual Francis, who sees himself as a wasted in the boring, culture drained world of the North East of England as he learns that he has leukaemia. It’s a story of teenage isolation that’s much closer to home than Mr. Green, with a melodramatic lead character who’s funny, thoughtful and who develops brilliantly as the book goes on, learning and growing from an arrogant young teen, into an emotionally mature young man. Equal parts wit and tragedy, In Bloom is a blossoming and engaging story that is a must read for anyone who’s loved John Green’s blend of wry humour and heartbreaking self discovery, but much more grounded. Francis is a lonely, isolated character – one who struggles to relate to the people around him, but despite this, his supporting cast are funny, touching and fully realised human beings. Amber, Francis’ fellow patient, is one of the most vibrant and exciting characters I’ve ever read in a book and Francis’ Mum is a complete force of love and anger all at once. In Bloom made me cry twice in one day, both times happened when I was sitting on the train to work – but it also made me smile and laugh out loud at a number of points throughout, which showcases the author’s dry wit and emotional talents rather excellently, I think.

FOLLOW ME DOWN by Tanya Byrne

A tense, intelligent thriller.

A tense, intelligent thriller.

What should you read next, a dark, twisting thriller, or an intelligent, wryly humoured high school drama? Follow Me Down manages to be equal parts both, and equal parts fantastic in the process. Set in a private all girls school in the South of England, Follow Me Down follows the story of Adamma, a student in her final year at Crofton Hall, as she tackles love, lessons and the disappearance of her overdramatic, determined to be the centre of the attention, best friend Scarlett. Everyone at Crofton knows Adamma and Scarlett have been vying for the same male attention, and the well off Scarlett has been known to abscond to try and get her way. But Adamma knows her friend better than anyone could, and she knows that this vanishing isn’t a cry for attention, but something much more sinister. Follow Me Down’s plot has more twists and turns than most other teen novels, but what really makes it stand above the crowd is the use of language. Tanya Byrne is an amazing writer who can write the darkest passages with a strange, dreamy poetic style, all punctuated by dry pop culture references and sarcastic witticisms. It’s one of those books that kept me guessing right up until the last page, and a book that made that last page something that I had to reach, and yet dreaded reaching at the same time, because it would mean this wonderfully well realised world of rich, exciting characters would be gone. Except it isn’t… Follow Me Down stays with you long after you finish.

WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart

Utterly Captivating.

Utterly Captivating.

This book arrived in Waterstones stores up and down the country a few months before release, and caused a massive burst of hysterical hype throughout the bookseller community. A plain white book with single sentence reviews from John Green, Maureen Johnson and Scott Westerfeld, and a helpline for people to call when they finished the book. I think that tells you a lot of what you need to know. We Were Liars follows the complex, drama filled lives of the high flying Sinclair family, who spend their summer each year vacationing on their own private island, and Cadence, the eldest grandchild of the wealthy, powerful dynasty. Cadence spends a year away from the island, and when she returns, the Sinclair way of life is tense, tight and strained, her cousins and aunts refusing to acknowledge the strange morose tone that has crept into their seemingly perfect existence. Cadence becomes determined to find out what has thrown the delicate balance of her family, and in doing so she discovers a horrific tragedy that gradually unravels her own sense of mental stability. We Were Liars is a decadent, powerful book, filled with grandiose metaphors and esoteric, winding mystery that begs to be uncovered, using fairytales and subtle double meanings to tease the reader further into the gleaming and off-perfect world of the Sinclairs, like a beautiful apple with a rotten core.

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher

Bleak, Harsh & Brilliant.

Bleak, Harsh & Brilliant.

Clay Jensen receives a shoebox full of cassette tapes. They were sent to him by fellow High School student Hannah Baker, his classmate whom he was infatuated with, who recently committed suicide. The tapes list the reasons Hannah fell into the hopelessly dark depression that led to her taking her own life, and Clay is one of them. Throughout the novel, we’re given a bleak, brutally honest analysis of mental illness and the severely dark, bullying atmosphere of high school life. Despite the book’s frank and stripped bare style, it still manages to be beautiful in its style, full of emotional pitfalls and unexpected shocks – It manages to be haunting, staying with you for weeks, months… In fact, I’ve not managed to ever get it out of my head, seven years from reading it. Thirteen Reasons Why is a vitally important glimpse into the inner workings of human beings, their social interactions, and the irreversible consequences of our actions. To say it’s a book that makes you think is the understatement of the decade.

FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK by Matthew Quick

Not for the faint of heart.

Not for the faint of heart.

Matthew Quick garnered serious critical acclaim with his novel Silver Linings Playbook, but his look at Highschool Student Leonard Peacock is by far a darker offering. Telling the story of a student as he says goodbye to the four closest people in his life, on his birthday, Leonard Peacock plans on shooting his former best friend in school, and then shooting himself. The book follows the four goodbyes the title character makes, each one delving into the troubled young man’s mind, giving the reader a strange, empathetic insight into his fractured psyche. As with Quick’s other work, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a dark, but oddly endearing book, ultimately honest and unflinching in the way it looks at how our decisions not only shape us, but also shape the lives of people around us. It’s a desperately compelling book with a sense of inevitability that drags the reader unrelentingly forward towards a horrifying, but inevitable conclusion. Leonard’s character development takes the reader through a complex array of emotions as they try to understand the dark plans in his mind, as well as the love and positivity of his outlook towards those he cares about most.

TROUBLE by Non Pratt

What a JACKET.

What a JACKET.

With a jacket that screams for attention, Trouble by UK based author Non Pratt has already started to gain a lot of praise. Hannah is a high school student who gets pregnant after an encounter with her ex-best friend. Feeling abandoned and alone, scared in a situation that she cannot see a way through, she turns to transfer student Aaron, who not only supports her throughout the pregnancy, but who also offers to help dampen the torrent of school ground gossip – By pretending to be the father of her unborn child. What follows is a cringingly embarrassing teen comedy with so much heart that it fills the reader’s chest to bursting with emotion. Non manages to juggle heartbreaking honesty and touching friendship with a depth and a lightness that you wouldn’t believe without reading it yourself. It really is an endearing book that wears its heart on its sleeve, with no shame in any of the mistakes the characters make, and by using a dual perspective (told from both Hannah and Aaron’s viewpoints), it manages to shape the situations and delve into the miscommunications in a very clever, very necessary way, giving the author and reader the chance to explore the troubles and fears of both characters who are in way over their heads.

AMY & ROGER’S EPIC DETOUR by Morgan Matson

A delightfully bright, feel good book.

A delightfully bright, feel good book.

Ending on a happier note than some of the other books on this list, Amy &Roger’s Epic Detour is a fantastically well put together romance novel that follows Amy Curry, as she tries to get her life back on track after her Dad’s death, starting with a road trip across the United States. Unfortunately, she’s forced to share her journey of self discovery with Roger, the son of one of her Mother’s friends, who she hasn’t seen in years. Throughout the constant bickering and in-fighting, the two teens begin to develop feelings for one another, despite their differences. Together, the two of them learn a lot about themselves, and manage to help each other deal with their family life and other dramas. The book itself is written in a funny, sarcastic, yet beautiful style, but it uses some fantastic narrative devices that make it really fun to read, and makes it stand out from the crowd when it comes to romance novels. Using Postcards, Receipts from roadside diners, napkins and other collected memorabilia from the pair’s road trip, Morgan manages to make the story so vibrant and exciting, as well as touching, really evoking the feelings of long summer evenings and deep, meaningful chats with best friends. It’s a feel good book that reads like nothing else, with funny, sometimes annoying, but always well written characters that you’ll fall in love with.

 

SO, there’s some to keep you going! If you want anymore tips of great YA books, feel free to give me a shout on Twitter.

The Original Waterstones Blog Post is available here. I spelled Matson’s name wrong because I’m terrible.

Thanks for reading!

D