These are some of my favourite things
Throughout my career I've read many teenage and young adult novels. Partly I like to know what else is out there. Mostly however, I read them because I want to be entertained, and I know that many of the authors writing about young people are amongst the best storytellers we have in the UK. I think that you, as a group, are the luckiest teenage generation we've ever had, in regard to fiction. There are so many amazing teen novels being published; many more than when I was your age. In fact, if I'm honest, I'm just a little bit jealous. You're a lucky bunch and no mistake.
So, in no particular order, I present ten of my favourite teenage and young adult reads. Ever.
I have to start with the novel that made me realise I could write about teenagers in the UK and actually say what I wanted to say. The book in question is Junk by Melvin Burgess. It's a fabulous story, one in which there are two love stories. The first is about the love between Tar and Gemma, the main characters. The second is about their love affair with heroin. Every character in the story is painfully, vividly real - something that really drew me into their world. I also love that it's about real young adults - warts and all. That was something I never got from the teen novels I read as a youngster. I recommend this novel all the time and was heavily influenced by it when I wrote my first book. A fantastic novel.
The second is probably not a surprise. It's Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman. There are so many fantastic things about this book that I could rave about it all day. The biggest factor, for me, is that it made me question my own attitudes towards race and prejudice. Such a simple and clever idea, encompassing a wonderfully thought out dystopian world, and peopled with great characters. It's a novel that, like 'Junk', makes a mockery of the fake divide between adult and young adult literature. A book, and series, that everyone should get to know.
Number three is Boy Kills Man by Matt Whyman. This is a book I picked up because I liked the cover. It shows a young man, back covered in a giant angel-wing tattoo, with a handgun tucked into his waistband. Simple, intriguing, shocking - exactly like the story inside. This is a novel that taught me something about life in the slums of South America. It introduced me to Shorty and Alberto, two characters that I've never forgotten, and their hard, dangerous world. I'm no stranger to the grittier side of life but this was something else. I'd love to say more but it would give too much away. A must-read in my opinion and if you haven't done so yet, go and grab it immediately.
Fourth is the fantastic Looking For JJ by Anne Cassidy. Again I can't say too much about the plot because it would ruin the novel for those who haven't read it. All I will say is that it's a brilliantly written, superbly plotted, shocking and thought-provoking story about serious crimes that are committed by young people. The characters, setting, everything in this book is truly real and it paints a vivid portrait of life in what some call the British underclass. I love this book - read it.
Fifth is Georgie by Malachy Doyle. A superbly written novel about a disturbed young man, living in care. From the opening scenes, which are heartbreakingly vivid, through to the very end, Georgie is a touching and at times shocking portrayal of a young person who has been let down by almost everyone he has ever known. It's hardly light subject matter yet the author never lets you get too depressed. There are chinks of light, and a feeling of hope amongst the gloom, and I loved this book so much that I read it three times in a year.
Sixth, is another book, which like Georgie, came as a massive surprise. It's The Cabinet of Curiosities by Paul Dowswell. It wasn't a surprise because I don't know the author's work. I'd already read 'Auslander' and enjoyed it. No, the surprise came when what I thought might be a great story turned out to be a gem. As I read, I grew envious of the author's brilliant research skills and his ability to turn historical facts into a wonderful and simple little story about greed, madness, love and so many other things. Great characters, great plot and a book I believe to be sorely underrated. And the latest cover is superb too.
Number seven is a horror story with bells on. It's the gruesome Demon Apocalypse from Darren Shan, part of his 'Demonata' series. This is not only one of my favourite blood and gore-filled books, but something I use to encourage reluctant readers to pick up books and read them. I defy anyone who enjoys horror to read the beginning of Chapter One and not be enthralled. Four human beings brutally slaughtered by two demons in the first eight lines? Check! There is no way in Hell this book would have been in my school library when I was fourteen. Don't you just love progress?
The eighth book in my list is the amazing Across the Nightingale Floor from Lian Hearn, part of her 'Otori Clan' series. Occasionally I read novels that are so well constructed, so well written, that they make me sick with envy. This is one of those novels. A multi-layered fantasy which traces the journey of young man from the destruction of his village through to his adoption by the mysterious Otori clan and beyond. A wonderful story that touches on so many different human emotions and, like the others on this list treats teenagers with the same respect that adults are shown, as readers. If you haven't read this book, you are missing out. Go and get it now.
Book number nine is the shocking, difficult and controversial Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma. It's a novel that explores the taboo of incest and, in the wrong hands, could easily have gone awry. Yet the author manages the subject mater with care and understanding and the result is a love story that although shocking, is also sensitively handled and very readable. I was glued to this novel from the very beginning - it really is wonderfully written. And like any good book it will give you plenty to think about too.
The last book on the list is The Road of the Dead by Kevin Brooks. This is another gripping story that had me enthralled from beginning to end. I've heard a few people denounce the often graphic violence in this novel but for me that makes it even richer as a piece of writing. I've long argued that the divide between what is suitable for adults and young adults is false. Kevin Brooks is yet another writer who understands this, and his novel blows that divide away. It really is a gritty and as shocking as the blurb suggests, and is a book I talk about in schools across the UK. If you love modern day thrillers with real British characters, like me, then this book is for you.
And that's it. I could have continued all day. The list of books I've left off is five times the size of the list I've compiled, which just goes to prove my point. Literature about teenagers and young adults today is as good as anything you'll find written about adults. Which makes you all very lucky indeed. Enjoy!