I’m a big UKYA reader, but then I’ve had a lot of practise – nearly 20 years worth of eagerly devouring fantastic books written for young people. I was lucky to be that age which coincided with the first big wave of books for teens, laying the foundation for the amazing range being published now. So, I thought I’d use those now-classics to recommend some newer UKYA writers you might like to try, if you haven’t already…
If you loved Point Horror, read James Dawson
I read so much Point Horror when I was younger, a lot of it over one summer holiday, ably assisted by the secondhand book stall in Norwich market. They were generally tightly plotted, hinting at sexuality without being explicit, and with plenty of shocks and surprises of a horrific nature. James Dawson is, in my opinion, the current queen of the UK teen horror market. Hollow Pike, Cruel Summer and Say Her Name all tap into the teen mentality perfectly – the rivalry, the friendship, the barely-controlled sexual undertones, but adds a much more modern and diverse cast – which perhaps the 1990s weren’t ready for, back in the day – and a self-aware, pop-culture-rich sensibility. I’m kicking myself that I’ve not yet had the chance to read Under My Skin, his latest novel about a tattoo with a mind of its own, and I’m eagerly anticipating All Of The Above, which is more of a real-world ‘contempt’, as they say. Whereas Point Horror books may not be all that, if we were to reread them now, I have no doubt that their spirit lives on with James, in a much better-written, snappy, weird, interesting form.
If you loved Philip Pullman, read Laure Eve
Philip Pullman’s award-winning His Dark Materials and the fantastic Sally Lockhart quartet, set in Victorian London, swept me away into worlds of fantastic and adventure, and I especially loved main characters Lyra Belacqua and Sally Lockhart – both fully rounded young women with feelings, desires, ideas and plenty of agency, despite the patriarchal hierarchies of their worlds. When I read Fearsome Dreamer, by Laure Eve, I found a beautifully realised world, blending science fiction and fantasy, and a hugely engaging female MC, Vela Rue, who begins the novel as an apprentice hedgewitch in the country of Angle Tar but yearns for more. I loved Vela’s ambition, her flaws and her talents, and her determination to get somewhere – anywhere – without bowing down to those she doesn’t respect. I’m so glad that I have another instalment of her story – The Illusionists – still to read, and I see from Laure’s website that she has a WIP called The Graces, about witchcraft at school. Colour me excited.
If you loved Judy Blume, read Non Pratt
Judy Blume has long been seen as the ultimate in contemporary found adult writing, writing hugely influential novels tackling controversial topics of teen relationships, sexuality and religion in a frank, funny and honest way, at a time when many more conservative people were still questioning whether those things should be written about at all. I’m not suggesting it’s time for Judy to pass on the mantle, but if she was in the market for a successor, my vote would go to Non Pratt. If anyone is questioning whether covers sell books, I can tell you they do – I picked up Trouble because of its fantastic and provocative cover art – well done Jack Noel! As someone who has firsthand experience teaching young teens about safe sex and consent, I was hugely impressed by the portrayal of teenage sexuality and sexual exploration in Trouble – the confusion, the hormones, the expectations, the awkwardness – as well as enjoying it immensely as a reader. Trouble is, by turns, sweet, kind, sad, embarrassing, horrifying, downright cringeworthy and laugh-out-loud funny, as we’re taken on a epic roller coaster ride with Hannah, newly and accidentally pregnant, and Aaron, who chooses to support Hannah by saying the baby is his. It’s a brilliantly accomplished debut, and her next book, Remix, is just as effective in its dissection of the many and varied pressures on teen friendship. I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on that with you, later this year. Judy – your legacy is in safe hands.
If you loved Susan Cooper or Alan Garner, read Tom Pollock
I love books where the boundary between our ‘real’ world and a hidden world of magic is blurred, books where you feel that there’s an underlying current of myth just beneath the surface of the everyday, if only we knew where to look. As a child, I felt this spark when reading The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, and books like The Owl Service and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. I got exactly that same tingle as I read the BRILLIANT Skyscraper Throne trilogy by Tom Pollock. In The City’s Son, we meet Fil, or Filius Viae, and Beth, a streetwise graffiti artist teen who wants to escape her ordinary life and the grief of her mother’s death. Tom creates a new vision of London that’s like suddenly seeing the world in colour – to me, the city has always felt special but here are the people, the beings, the creatures that complete it. Tom’s resistance to compromise in his treatment of characters – no one’s safe in this world – his masterful plotting and visionary world building ensured I couldn’t resist following this extraordinary cast’s adventures through The Glass Republic and Our Lady of the Streets, to they story’s brutal and heartrending conclusion. I chatted to Tom on the podcast, before the publication of Our Lady of the Streets, all about the first two Skyscraper Throne books, his views on YA and writing in general, and his own reading recommendations – he’s incredibly passionate and engaging, so I’d highly recommend listening to that too!
Those are just a few UKYA recommendations from me, but I’d love yours too. What classic YA do you love, and what current UKYA would be a great compliment to it? Let me know!
P.S. Credit to Lucy Powrie @lucythereader for the fantastic featured image, which I have borrowed.