The YA Shot Blog Tour – Interview with JENNY DOWNHAM

When I was asked to take part in this year’s YA Shot Blog Tour, naturally I jumped at the chance – it’s always good fun to take part in community events like this. Then, when I was told the author I had been given I nearly exploded – JENNY DOWNHAM. JENNY FREAKING DOWNHAM. Author of the outstanding Unbecoming, You Against Me, and Before I Die, she’s one of the best YA novelists working in the UK today – if not the world. I was lucky enough to interview her, and you can read her answers below…

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1. Hello Jenny! Thank you so much for agreeing to do this little interview – I’m a massive fan of your books so it’s a huge honour to be talking with you. Maybe we could start with you telling us a little about your latest book, Unbecoming?

Katie is seventeen and in love with someone whose identity she can’t reveal. Her mother Caroline, is uptight, worn out and about to find her past catching up with her. Katie’s grandmother, Mary, is back with the family after years of mysterious absence and ‘capable of anything,’ despite suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Every morning Mary runs away. She’s desperate to find something, says it’s imperative, but when questioned, can’t be more specific. Katie wants to know what Mary’s looking for. She also wants to know why her mother seems to detest Mary. What was the nature of their original estrangement? It makes Katie question everything she thought was true about her family.

So – three women at different stages of life bound together by a web of lies that only the youngest can untangle.

Oh, and it’s a love story too…

2. Unbecoming covers so many themes – from mental health to sexuality. Did you set out to cover so many topics, or did they evolve natural as the story progressed?

I don’t really think in terms of themes or topics when I begin a project, I’m more interested in characters and the stories they have to tell. I start with them and see where they lead me.

Pinter said a writer’s job is to ‘arrange and listen.’ He believed that characters arrive at their destination through their own impulses, rather than being manipulated to suit a pre-ordained plot. I love writing this way, although it can be time-consuming!

It’s usually about a year or so into a project that I begin to see what I might be writing about.

3. You’ve mentioned in interviews that a lot of Unbecoming drew from your own mother’s Alzheimer’s. Was it taxing to write about a subject so close to your heart, or did you find it cathartic to put it on the page?

Unbecoming is undoubtedly the most personal of my books. I have been a teenager, a mother and a carer and a lot of my own experiences are in there. But perhaps most importantly, yes – my own mother had Alzheimer’s and became very unwell and died while I was writing.

I found it very cathartic writing the book. I used to care for my mum during the day and then I’d go home and try to imagine what it might be like to ‘be’ her. I like to think that writing about the erosion of memory from a sufferer’s perspective made me a better daughter and carer in my mum’s last months.

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4. You talk about some very intense subjects in all your books (Terminal illness in Before I Die, Sexual Assault in You Against Me) – Do you feel it’s important for YA literature to look at these ideas?

When I’m sitting inside the story writing it, I don’t think about themes or ideas, I just get drawn to interesting characters and dramatic situations. My job is to ensure the characters are emotionally truthful and then I find that they lift off the page and begin to tell their stories themselves.

As for what’s ‘important.’ I want to take readers on a journey, rather than give them a message to take away. Books can address difficult situations and confront social issues and help readers deal with real-life challenges. They can transport you, make you think, move you… the list is endless. I hope my readers shift allegiance over and over again with the characters in Unbecoming. I hope they empathise with teenage Mary in her claustrophobic 1950s town and teenage Katie with all her problems at school and home. I hope readers wonder, “What would I do if that were me?” And I hope, by the book’s end, the reader feels they’ve been somewhere and seen some things and that perhaps the world looks slightly different now.

5. YA has been accused of being “too dark” in recent years – do you think that’s true? Are there any subjects you don’t think teenagers and young adults should be reading about?

The LIVES of children and teens are full of tough things. It’s illusory to think we can keep them safe by only allowing them access to certain books. We need to find the joy among the difficult stuff, rather than ignoring the difficult stuff. I don’t think there’s a single subject that can’t be tackled in YA, so long as the author handles the material truthfully and with respect and takes account of all the complexities.

6. Do you have a favourite out of your characters?

I love them all after spending so much time with them – even the difficult ones! But perhaps Tessa in Before I Die has a particularly special place in my heart because her story doesn’t continue beyond the page. I’m very aware of her death date each year and I think how old she would be had she lived.

Dakota Fanning in the movie adaptation Now Is Good

Dakota Fanning as Tessa in the movie adaptation Now Is Good

7. How does a new story start to unfold for you? Do you plan meticulously or start writing and see where it leads?

I never plan. When I’m in the middle of a project and every day I’m throwing thousands of words in the bin, I wish with all my heart that I could be the kind of writer who could follow a path. However, when the book is complete, I’m rather proud that I didn’t need one. At that point, I think it’s exactly the best kind of writing habit and fully resolve to do exactly the same for my next book!

8. Do you treat writing like a full time job? Is your writing day structured or do you only write when the mood takes you?

When I know where a project is going (so about 18 months in), I can write every day and be quite disciplined. Before that, while I’m still exploring, I idle my way in. Most of my writing in the early stage gets chucked, but I find I return again and again to the things that preoccupy and eventually I begin to see what the book might be about. It’s a slow process. And involves lots of coffee and day-dreaming.

9. Why do you write YA?

Because young people are on the cusp of adulthood and that interests me. A teen protagonist can do almost everything an adult can, but because they are boundaried by adult rules and expectations, they have to be far more creative to get what they want. It’s much more exciting to tell a story when there are lots of obstacles in the way.

Also, YA is a happening gig! There are so many books being published in the UK and Ireland that wouldn’t have seen the light of day in past years and would still not be published in many other places in the world. More readers are seeing their own lives represented within stories and this enables them to think not only, ‘What would I do if that happened to me?’ But also to think, ‘That is happening to me.’ Books can sometimes give you the very thing you need – the clue to solve a problem, the strength to keep going, the laughter that makes things more manageable and, perhaps most importantly – the feeling you’re not alone.

10. Who are some of your favourite authors, YA or otherwise?

As a young reader I devoured poetry, folk and fairy tales (Grimm, Andersen), and stories from the Arabian Nights and Ancient Greece. Now I love Raymond Carver, Donna Tartt, Denis Johnson, Ali Smith, Toni Morrison, Maggie O’Farrell, Tove Jansson, John Irving and Kate Atkinson amongst many others. I try to read as a writer might – with one eye and half my brain looking for just how this author make this character so believable, or that sentence so beautiful, or this story such a pageturner…

11. If they made a Jenny Downham action figure, what three accessories would it come with?

Assorted disguises, working wings and a mini espresso maker.

12. Can you tell us what you’re working on next?

I’ve started something new, but it’s very early days. All I have are voices at the moment and I have no idea where they’ll take me. If I had to sum it up so far I’d say it’s about a girl who is furious! She wants her life to be very different and is determined to make it happen.


And that’s your lot! I’d like to thank the YA Shot Team, Carolyn at David Fickling Books, and of course – Jenny herself, for helping put all this together.

You can pick up a copy of Unbecoming just here.

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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.

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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.

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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.

One by Sarah Crossan

One is one of those books that it seemed everyone was raving about last year. It’s been on my tbr pile for ages as one of those “Oh I really need to get around to reading that!” Books. Well I devoured it in two sittings – It’s an outstanding novel. Believe the hype.

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Grace and Tippi are twins. Conjoined twins, in fact – they both merge into one single body below the waist. Life as conjoined twins is hard though, especially in America, where health care eats up most of their parent’s income. Eventually, home schooling stops being an option for the twins, and they have to attend a regular school. It’s a huge transition for them, but as their father’s alcoholism increases, and their sister spends more time at the local dance studio, the twins are desperate to get out of their stifling home atmosphere. School presents a huge amount of challenges, but Grace and Tippi soon make two great friends and start to settle into a new life full of possibilities. As money becomes more of an issue, they need to decide whether or not to let a documentary crew into their sheltered lives – to let millions of people become a part of their daily struggle to be a part of the world. Will it be worth it, to help give something back to their family who have sacrificed so much for them?

One is something else. In the scale of YA novels, it’s something very special and totally different. The contrasting personalities of Grace and Tippi work brilliant together – Grace is soft, a reader and a deep thinker, where Tippi is brash and outspoken, and the two of them balance each other as the story examines what it means to truly never be alone. Their extended family is vibrant and damaged, difficult to read about but utterly engaging and real; and their school friends Yasmeen and Jon are fantastic – flawed but so honest and blazingly fierce, and the way they take the twins under their wing is inspiring and heart warming.

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One of the things that makes this book stand out so much is the writing style, though. Told using poetic stanzas in short, dramatic and lyrical chapters, the whole book flows from Grace’s mind in haunting broken verse. At points it’s aching, and at others it bounces like a song, all the while creating a huge emotional charge like an electrical storm within the narrative. The use of metaphor, of Grace’s quiet observations on the world around her, makes the book an absolute joy to read, and really makes it stand out in the YA sphere by introducing such a captivating combination of poetry and prose.

One is uplifting, outstanding, and made me cry buckets. I strongly urge people to give it a try, it’s something totally unique and special.

Thanks for Reading,

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

So for those of you who maybe don’t remember – Alice’s debut, Solitaire, was one of my absolute favourite books in 2014. It was a smart, witty, apathetic coming of age story, a Perks of Being a Wallflower for the Tumblr generation or whatever. It was a great book. So when I was lucky enough to be emailed a final manuscript of her highly anticipated second novel, Radio Silence, I pretty much screamed. Out loud. On the shop floor. Which in a bookshop is frowned upon.

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Frances Janvier is Head Girl. Frances Janvier is a straight A student. Frances Janvier is on the fast track to an Oxbridge English Literature degree. She studies as often as she can, sleeping little and not really forming any friends – everything sacrificed for the hope of a place at one of the best universities in the country. The only creative outlet Frances allows herself is fan art for a podcast series called Universe City, where the androgynous Radio Silence battles a collection of horrific monstrosities in an inescapable science fiction landscape. As Frances steadily becomes more and more stressed out by her approaching exams and her entry interview for university, she starts to become more engaged in the fictional Universe City world. When she discovers that the mysterious Aled Last, who she’s lived across the road from for most of her life is also a massive fan of the podcast, she finally discovers what it means to have a true friend and starts to understand that life is more than academic achievement. But Aled’s life is a lot tougher than Frances realises, and while he helps her to grow, she starts to see the cracks in him. He needs her help, but he could never say it out loud – but his time is running out.

It’s better. Radio Silence is better than Solitaire. I KNOW. Big words, but I mean them 100%. Frances and Aled’s friendship is absolutely everything I want in a fictional friendship ever, and Alice deliberately allows their friendship to never bubble into a romance, which was SO REFRESHING. Frances is fraught, confused and passionate – all angles and manic energy, where Aled is softer, creative and submissive. I have a lot of feelings for Aled, and a lot of empathy to how he seems to drift along with life doing things that are decided for him but never truly grasping what he really wants. Their co-dependent friendship is flanked by some excellent supporting characters too, Raine being a big favourite, especially as she represents the opposite of Frances’ academic obsession. Daniel too is stony-faced, but his unravelling as a character is really sweet.

Still love you though, bae.

Still love you though, bae.

One of the biggest themes in Radio Silence is the idea that going to university is not the only route available to young people – and it’s such an important subject that is never tackled enough. There’s so much pressure on teenagers to start attending higher education, when no-one is willing to admit that there are plenty of other roads in life to take. Alice lets her own scepticism towards the education system flow through the story, making it clear that happiness can be achieved through all sorts of less “traditional” routes. One of the other amazing things about the book is that it is SO DIVERSE. Not a single character is 100% straight, but no character is defined by their sexuality either, and she even touches on ideas of asexuality too. And it’s racially diverse too, proving that there really is no excuse to not write with inclusivity. AND it touches on mental illness with honesty and care. Seriously, it manages to wrap up so many themes with a fun plot driven by beautiful dialogue that made Solitaire feel for real and down to Earth. Alice has the perfect YA voice.

Plus, as a massive fan of Welcome to Night Vale, the podcast theme was absolutely amazing! Universe City feels dark, vibrant and perfectly crafted, the excerpts really breaking up the story beautifully with pieces of hugely lyrical writing. I want it to be a real podcast. Alice if you’re reading this let’s make Universe City. Please.

It isn’t out until later this month, but I cannot recommend it highly enough. She knows what she’s doing, and she makes it look effortless. This is Young Adult Fiction done flawlessly.

Hey, Thanks.

D

P.S. – You can pre-order the book RIGHT HERE so you should do that thing.

Gig Night – Original Writing

So I have these two characters that I can’t stop writing about. They have such fun chemistry to work with but NO plot that I can work out yet. I can’t ever do straight up contemporary, so it’ll need to take on a weird fiction/horror vibe for me to really get stuck into it, but… They’ll get something one day. It’s a dual narrative too, which I have never tried before, but both characters are fun to write, so… Enjoy!


The deep, pulsing thrum of music that echoed into the cold night told me that obviously the first band had already started, I weaved my way through the smokers out the front of the club and got my hand stamped ‘No Alcohol’ by a mountain of a bouncer whose skin seemed more faded ink than actual flesh.

Inside, the venue was hardly packed; odd clumps of people hung like driftwood here and there, nursing drinks in plastic cups and nodding in time to the frantic beat half-heartedly. The place was cast in darkness and carried an odour of sweat, beer, and weed that mingled into my nose, an intruder.

‘No wonder people drink so much at these things…’ I muttered, my words totally absorbed by the overwhelming crash of cymbals and the rumble of bass.

The band, though loud to the point of distortion , were half decent at least – complex riffs were punched out tightly along with some seriously intricate drum work. When the vocals finally kicked in, they were cracked and strained with years of use and passion. For a second, I was confused; neither of the guitarists or the bassist had microphones. I’d never seen a band with a drummer on lead vocals before, and I crept up on to my tiptoes, eager to get a peak.

It was her. The girl from the café.

Under the stark stage lights her dark skin shimmered with perspiration, her face a mixture of intense concentration and ecstatic freedom as she barked into the microphone with energetic aggression. Her long toned arms worked in complex patterns with what seemed to me like effortless precision. I stood absolutely transfixed during their set, occasionally moving further forward but always with my eyes fixed on her. Right at the edge of the stage were the die-hard fans – a handful of impossibly attractive indie kids in skinny jeans and vintage dresses. I hung back as they bobbed and weaved in time, shouting along with choruses and throwing their hands up.

They only played a few songs, and when they were done, she climbed onto her stool and blew an extravagant kiss into the audience. I found myself letting out an enthusiastic cheer that was much louder than I intended, and I was sure she met my briefly across the gloom. She sauntered confidently off the stage to the right, and after a quick chat with her bandmates she slipped outside through a side door. Not quite sure what I was planning, I manoeuvred my way through the steadily growing throng of people and headed outside. Wandering around the building, I found her leaning against the brickwork, wrapped in a long fitted coat, a bottle of beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. As she spotted me, her purple lips twitched with what I hoped was a smile.

‘I thought that was you yowling like a sick cat at the end there’ she said coolly.

‘Well, it was yowl worthy playing’ I replied. It had sounded a lot more like a compliment in my head.

We stood in silence for a few seconds, me shifting awkwardly with my hands stuffed in my pockets against the cold. She seemed distracted, blowing smoke out into the misty night leisurely.

‘I didn’t know you smoked’ I said, inwardly berating myself for struggling to find words.

She fixed me with a hard look, ‘I smoke, I drink, hell – I even get to choose my own boyfriends. Isn’t that just terrifying?’ She answered dryly.

‘I didn’t mean-‘ I faltered, ‘I wasn’t disapproving, I was just saying…’

She sighed, and took one last drag before stamping the cigarette out under her heavy, heeled boot.

‘It’s a social thing’ she said.

‘You’re out here alone’

‘Well not anymore I’m not, am I?’ She smiled.

I managed to hold her eye contact for at least two heartbeats before the heat flushing my face became too much to bare and I had to shift my gaze to the wall to the right of her head.

‘Tell you what, let’s go inside and drink to excess’ she concluded, grabbing my hand and leading me back into the pounding darkness.


 

His palm was warm and a little clammy in mine, but a little part of me was sort of enjoying just how nervous holding his hand could make him. Maybe it was mean of me, but boys are far too fun to mess with.

The Ruin were on stage as we tried to squeeze our way the try-hard scene kids, delivering their special blend of bland four chord emo-pop. Like a constant sledgehammer to my soul, the drummer smashed his kit just off time, managing to be unimaginative and yet somehow incompetent all at once. Their vocalist, a self-absorbed cockwomble called Eric was screaming abject misery, which lost its charm when you’d seen him stacking the shelves in Tesco on a Sunday afternoon.

Eventually, we managed to angle ourselves in front of the bar. Old Mike, a leering greasy Guns ‘N’ Roses fan who’d been serving drinks to underage teens for at least half his life, stood disinterestedly behind the sticky counter.

‘Mikey Mike!’ I called above yet another by-the-numbers song ripping off Good Charlotte, ‘a drink for me and this young fish out of water?’

Mike grunted, ‘young’s about right. You even old enough to drink?’

The boy shifted uncomfortably under the older man’s cynical eyes boring into him.

‘Oh come off it Mike,’ I yelled, ‘You served me for at least two years before it was legal.’

‘Yeah but you were a hot girl,’ he sleezed, ‘count don’t it?’

‘I were a hot girl?’ I feigned outrage ‘Have the years truly withered my once glowing good looks?’

Mike rolled his eyes at me, but I could tell he’d given in, ‘What’ll it be, chief?’

‘Um…’ The boy struggled, his eyes nervous and constantly moving.

‘Tequila, Mike!’ I squeezed the boy’s hand to try and reassure him, ‘One bottle, two glasses and somewhere to fall down please.’

We didn’t finish the bottle, but we’d probably drank enough to kill a small elephant. I didn’t remember the main act being on at all, but eventually the house lights kicked Iin, revealing the dank, dismal interior in all its glory. The tables were littered with glasses and bottles with varying levels of alcohol remaining.Yet more sticky liquids pooled on table tops themselves, as well as across the floor. The whole atmosphere was infused with a sense of desperation and escapism.

‘Take care of him, love’ Mike called to me, as I shouldered the boy to the door ‘If he ends up in the sea, they’ll have my bollocks.’

‘Don’t you worry,’ I winked at him, ‘I’ve got him in hand.’

‘Lucky boy. Need any more?’

I gave Mike the finger as I left.


 

I hope you enjoyed that! I do always like feedback.

Thanks for reading!

D

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