And we complete our Christmas Gift Guide here, hopefully just in time for your final present-buying!
For history lovers
The Curious Tale of Lady Caraboo by Catherine Johnson – Based on the true story of a young woman of colour who convinced a respected family she was a princess from the South Seas, this is a fascinating tale of a historic hoax. I love Caraboo herself – she’s a brilliant lead who’s clever and likeable. Catherine Johnson also brings the time period to life wonderfully well. It still seems worryingly rare to see historical YA fiction set in the UK with POC as main characters – it’s easy for teens to fall into the trap of thinking that Britain in earlier centuries was completely white – so it’s great that this book is such an engaging read!
The Next Together by Lauren James – Lauren James’s stunning debut does a great job of covering four time periods – two near-future ones and two in the past – one during the Crimean War and one during the Siege of Carlisle. She tells the story of a couple fated to meet, fall in love, change the world for the better and die tragically young, then be reborn and start the cycle over again. It’s impressive that this ambitious first book works so well – all four versions of the main couple stand out and I was never in danger of getting them confused with each other. The four timelines ALL build to an incredibly exciting conclusion and I can’t wait to read Lauren’s upcoming sequel The Last Beginning!
For fans of contemporary books
The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson – Transgender girl David’s world collides with that of Leo, who has his own secret, when Leo moves to David’s school. Heartbreaking in places but ultimately uplifting, this is wondrous. David and Leo are an utterly outstanding pair of narrators, Lisa Williamson tackles coming out, bullying and problems with families, giving all these topics the attention they deserve but never letting them overwhelm the story. The ending is still perhaps my favourite of anything published this year.
Remix by Non Pratt – I think Non gets British teens better than anyone else writing today. There are so many authors who do a fantastic job creating wonderful characters – but Non is the ABSOLUTE BEST; her four narrators in her first two books have each been superbly well-rounded characters with stunning voices. This one is about fun, friendship, festivals, families, and whimsical badger vests. It is EVERYTHING I want in a YA contemporary – including a rare but absolutely perfect scene of two teens actually talking about a girl’s first time not living up to her expectations. (Some YA-appropriate sex scenes so best suited for slightly older/more mature teens.)
For people wanting to read about other cultures
The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell – Debut author Sarah Benwell gives us a stunning story which is both heartbreaking but also life-affirming. Another one that’s best suited to older teens because of some tough topics, we see Japanese teenager Sora, confined to a wheelchair as he’s suffering from ALS (perhaps more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and thinking about when he’ll die, turn to the wisdom of the samurai and the new friends he makes over the internet to help him come to terms with his impending death. Adding e-mails encouraging suicide being received by teens throughout Japan to that main plot makes it seem like this should be incredibly depressing, but the core of hope in Sora’s relationships with his family and his new friends mean that this is never relentlessly bleak, while Benwell’s writing style is up there with Frances Hardinge and Moira Fowley-Doyle as some of the most beautiful YA writing of the year.
This Is Not A Love Story by Keren David – One of the first UKYA books I can remember reading to focus on Jewish characters, Keren David’s latest is a great read about Kitty, who moves to Amsterdam with her mother following her father’s death, and Theo, who’s sent there after a scandal in his love life. As the pair meet and connect, Theo also grows close to Ethan, son of the guy dating Kitty’s mother. Keren David brings Amsterdam to life so beautifully here that I almost felt I was in the city reading it, despite having never been! Her characters are, as ever, brilliant and I love the way that both of the main characters start to connect with bisexual Ethan. It’s great to see different aspects of Judaism here – Kitty and her mother aren’t as observant as Theo’s family are, while Theo is used to being part of a very tight-knit community and being away from this community makes things more difficult for him. Another really good book from a consistently excellent writer.