I was saving this post until the new year because I wasn’t sure when the bookish awards were announced but since the CILIP Carnegie Medal nominations were announced last week, it would seem that it’s an appropriate time for this post right now!
I’m very lucky that I can spend all day raving about books without people thinking that I’m crazy because I’m pretty certain that I’d be shouting about the following books whether I was a bookseller or not. The books included in this list have all been published in 2015 by authors that are from the UK or Ireland – I hope there’s something that takes your fancy!
Click on the pink titles to read my full reviews. (Sorry there’s not yet a review for A Boy Called Christmas!)
Am I Normal Yet? is a feminist novel telling the story of Evie, a 16 year old who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Generalised Anxiety. Told from a first-person narrative, the reader experiences Evie’s highs and lows, and watches her fall back into the hands of her illness. Holly is such a talented writer, managing to make a story about a girl relapsing so much more than than an ‘issues book’. Evie’s voice is honest and utterly loveable, and you really feel for her journey. Through Am I Normal Yet? Holly has done so much good with regards to changing the way that teenage mental health is percieved by portraying it as something that mustn’t be feared.
In amongst Evie’s story of her mental health illnesses, Holly also covers friendships, feminism, abusive relationships, and self-perception in just as much detail, providing the reader an education on what’s an okay problem to have (anxiety) and what isn’t (unpleasant boyfriend). So much of Am I Normal Yet? is about empowerment and I wish this book was around when I was 15. I really do think that Am I Normal Yet? is an incredible story and as someone who has suffered with severe anxiety, I think Holly has done a great justice to us all by portraying this topic so accurately.
One tells the story of conjoined twins Grace and Tippi as their family struggles financially and emotionally when they start school aged 16. Told from Grace’s point of view, Sarah brilliantly explores the bond between the sisters in a way that is powerful yet touching. I was expecting to feel emotional when reading One but honestly, I wasn’t expecting to feel as attached to the characters as I did. When writing One Sarah drew upon feelings that she has experienced as a mother, notably the physical pain that she feels when separated from her child. This raw emotion is clear and is conveyed in a way that allowed me as a reader to feel her pain too.
What makes One so impressive is that it’s written entirely in verse, a style that opens up a closer bond between reader and narrator – in many parts it felt as if I was directly accessing Grace’s thoughts. One is ultimately a story of love that has been approached in a beautiful and gentle manner. Although heart-breaking in parts, I wouldn’t put off reading One for fear of being upset, rather I would encourage everyone to read it and experience this wonderful story for themselves. One is beautiful, brilliant, and most importantly, different.
A Boy Called Christmas is a tale of adventure, snow, kidnapping, elves, more snow, and a boy called Nikolas, who isn’t afraid to believe in magic. After his father leaves on an expedition, Nicholas is left alone with his wicked aunty who locks him outside in the cold and makes his life miserable. But with a little bit of hope and his friend mouse Miika in tow Nikolas heads toward the Far North in search of his father and the magic he always believed in. The recommended readership of A Boy Called Christmas is about 8 to 12 although at 20 years old I loved it an awful lot!
Telling the story of how Father Christmas came to be, Matt’s magical writing alongside Chris Mould’s enchanting illustrations make this book so special and so timeless. As this will be published in hardback it will make the perfect Christmas gift, but also will remain a treasured story that can be brought out year after year. The innocent central character living a desperately unfortunate life combined with Matt’s witty writing style reminded me a lot of Roald Dahl, although I felt that this book was a little bit softer than some of Roald Dahl’s books! A wonderful Christmas story with lots of heart, plenty of puns and brilliant lessons about love, giving, and happiness to take away. [Published 12th November]
The Next Together is Lauren James’ debut novel and tells the stories of Katherine and Matthew as they live life after life together. There are three main settings used to tell their stories, England 2039; Carlisle 1745; and Crimea 1854. Katherine and Matthew appear in each time period, each time as different incarnations of themselves. I really love it when a book can’t be described in a single paragraph because it makes me feel that I’ve read something extra-special. With such an ambitious plot this potentially could have felt clumsy and confusing, but Lauren’s flawless attention to detail ensured that her book felt clever and exciting.
So much of the charm of The Next Together comes from Lauren’s ability to make you feel that you know Katherine and Matthew because even after just a couple of pages you’re rooting for them and are invested in their stories. Lauren managed to strike the perfect balance between not making me feel like I was third-wheeling Katherine and Matthew’s relationship but also still letting me get that lovely squishy feeling when they were being all cute and nice. I’ve read some really brilliant books this year but The Next Together is without a doubt the most adventurous and imaginative!
The Big Lie is a speculative fiction set in 2014 where Britain is governed by the Nazi regime and everybody must fulfil their role. Jessika Keller is a good girl who plays her part as expected; her best friend Clementine is not. As daughters of the Greater German Reich, Jessika and Clementine are told what to believe and must believe what they are told. Freedom of speech is forbidden and it’s getting Clementine into trouble. In a book that upon first glance appears terrifyingly distant from the world that we live in, Julie has done an exceptional job of covering so many present issues such as consent, relationships, family, sexuality and gender roles.
It’s this realism that makes The Big Lie such a powerful book and Julie’s impeccable research makes it feel so real that at times it can be quiet a scary read. Her ability to so carefully and so brilliantly reflect the authoritative manipulation felt by children of the Greater German Reich makes you feel shocked by your own thoughts and proves just how fantastic a writer she is. As well as making the reader think about the way that they perceive authority, The Big Lie raises questions about revolution and what it means to be truly free. I’m so pleased that YA fiction is asking more than questions, but asking us to think about ourselves and the impact that we make. The Big Lie is utterly brilliant and is a book that I think we will be talking about for a very long time.
Asking For It is Louise O’Neill’s second novel and following on from Only Ever Yours it was destined to be pretty spectacular. A realistic novel, Asking For It was much harder to read than Louise’s debut as the hideous plot had no guise for the story of sexual abuse to hide behind. 18 year old Emma is the perfect character to tell a story of sexual abuse because she ticks every box on the list of characteristics that society views as more to blame for rape than the rapist. When Emma wakes up on her doorstep in pain and with no memory of the night before the question is forced upon us: was she asking for it?
Louise has told Emma’s story with such clear conviction that everybody who reads Asking For It will take something positive from it. This is a disturbing and harrowing read but it’s a book that I was unable to look away from; I couldn’t stop reading this and devoured it in less than a day. Victims of rape and sexual abuse deserve for us to read their truths so that we can improve our own behaviour and protect people from it happening in the future. Louise O’Neill has once again written something that is bold and brilliant, and that will make a real difference.
Remix is Non Pratt’s second novel and is a book that I’d recommend to a slightly younger reader than that of her debut, Trouble. Whereas Trouble brought up discussion of teen sex and blame, Remix is much more focussed on best friends, boyfriends, new friends, sex, alcohol and the first time at a festival which at 14 would have felt like the most grown-up and exciting things ever to me! That said, I still adored Remix. Primarily, Remix is about friendship and the struggles and heartbreak that come along with it. I’m so pleased that Non has used Remix to present a realistic view of friendships because often the relationship between best friends in novels isn’t explored in a way that I’ve found relatable.
Remix is written in dual narrative with the voice changing when necessary for the storyline – often switching many times in a chapter. I thought that dual narrative was particularly effective in this book as Non was able to portray the friendship between Kaz and Ruby in a realistic and humorous way. Non also managed to capture the first-time festival feelings so perfectly that even if readers haven’t experienced a festival for themselves, they won’t feel excluded. Remix is a really fun book and I’ve already recommended it to my 15 year old sister!
The Art of Being Normal is a dual perspective novel, telling the story of 2 teenage boys, David and Leo, and the journey they take after meeting. David is 14 and time is running out for him to tell his parents that he wants to be a girl while Leo from the year above is desperately trying to slot quietly into year 11 without anyone finding out why he moved schools. Lisa uses this book to so bravely and so beautifully tackle gender identity and transgender issues in a way that feels real and raw but yet accessible to those who have no personal experience of what it’s like to be transgender.
2015 has been a huge year for transgender awareness with actress Lavern Cox using her Orange Is The New Black fame as a platform to speak about her own transition, Caitlin Jenner’s transition playing out very publicly and culminating in a Vanity Fair cover, and more recently with UKYA’s very own James Dawson who last week announced: ‘I’m becoming a transgender woman’. It’s important now more than ever that we listen to and read stories about those who are transgender, and I think that The Art of Being Normal is a brilliant book to begin with!
Only 1 of the 8 books on this list were written by men so if you have any suggestions of fantastic YA books by male authors please do let me know below!
Read the full list of CILIP Carnegie nominations here.