It was a Tuesday when Aisha found out that the world was ending. Ostensibly just another day, but one containing the announcement that an asteroid is on course to collide with Earth within the year. Despite the best efforts of world governments, it cannot be deflected. ‘Make the most of what’s left,’ say resigned authority figures, and Aisha does just that in The Cats We Meet Along the Way by Nadia Mikail, as she heads across Malaysia in a camper van, in search of her missing sister and some long-awaited answers.
The letter, when it lands on Seb’s doormat, manages to be both celebratory and commanding. Sent on behalf of the HappyHead project, it congratulates 17-year-old Seb on being selected for a pioneering programme designed to eradicate teenage unhappiness. It’s an immersive 13-day course of challenges and assessments, and by the way, attendance is mandatory. A timely exploration of our 21st century preoccupation with happiness, HappyHead by Josh Silver launches us into a government-endorsed mental health bootcamp. What in the name of dystopian thrillers could go wrong?
Miss Marple once reflected that ‘One does see so much evil in a village’. But even the famously unflappable sleuth would surely have raised an eyebrow at the goings on in the usually somnolent village of Barbourough. Here, teenage friends and Agatha Christie fans, Kerry and Annie, are called upon to investigate a diabolical murder, after their frankly unpleasant classmate, Selena, becomes possibly the only person in history to have been suffocated with a menstrual cup. A laugh-out-loud girl-powered whodunnit awaits in Murder on a School Night by Kate Weston.
Dedicated to Jewish grandmas everywhere, Alte Zachen by Ziggy Hanaor kicks off with a Yiddish proverb, which declares that ‘A person’s heart is like a sausage. No one knows exactly what’s inside.’ In this wonderful Carnegie-shortlisted graphic novel, we attempt a peek into the heart of Benji’s grandmother, Bubbe Rosa. The story charts their walk through Brooklyn and Manhattan as they buy ingredients for a Friday night dinner, an expedition that will uncover aspects of Bubbe’s chequered past and her struggle to accept the inevitability of change.
Shortlisted for the Yoto Carnegie Medal 2023 and an award winner in its original Welsh, The Blue Book of Nebo by Manon Steffan Ros tells the tale of 14-year-old Dylan, his mother, Rowenna, and baby sister Mona, seemingly the sole survivors in a post-apocalyptic landscape. In their isolated house on a Welsh hilltop, with the power grid down and no means of communication, they must learn to live on their wits. Agreeing to keep a journal for posterity, Dylan and Rowenna record their thoughts and memories in this remarkable story of survival and renewal.
A breath of fresh verse-laden air, Friend edited by Kate Clanchy is a collection of poetry by schoolchildren from a multicultural secondary school in Oxford. At once everyday and exceptional, the poems run the gamut of childhood experience, and as Clanchy notes, gives our families ‘a long cool stare’. Incredibly, the youngest poet is only 11 years old, tentatively dipping a toe into secondary school life, the eldest is of university age. Already so wise, their accumulated stories and love of language will bring a lump to your throat.
Ant Stevenson is finding life complicated. As a 15-year-old boy who likes boys, the questions are piling up and there don’t seem to be any answers. We join him in Year 11 as he navigates changing friendships and the thorny topics of masculinity, sexuality, and internalised homophobia. With warmth, relatability and personal insight, Different for Boys by Patrick Ness helps Ant (and us) unpick the issues.
We’re big fans of Enchanted Lion Books, publishers of gloriously unusual children’s literature. You Can’t Kill Snow White by Beatrice Alemagna is a stunning offering from their imprint, Unruly, on a mission to bring rich and innovative picture books to teenagers, because ‘we never age out of pictures’. In this revisiting of the Brothers Grimm fairytale classic, Alemagna shifts perspective to the jealous queen, asking the reader to focus on her dark heart, and the suffering behind it. Stripped of Disneyfication and much closer to the Brothers’ original, it’s a beautiful and brutal affair.
Practical, empathic and relatable, Failosophy for Teens by Elizabeth Day takes its lead from Albert Einstein’s assertion that failure is, in fact, success in progress. Hard enough to accept as an adult, for teenagers grappling with the challenges of life in our 21st century Insta-perfect world, learning to be at peace with failure is a big ask. Day’s toolkit includes practical exercises and advice ranging from zen philosophy to the scientific. ‘Failure just is,’ and this empowering guide aims to both defuse and soothe.
Her foster mother, Annie, favours yoga as a de-stressing activity, but for Charlene it’s knitting, the rhythmic clickety click of the needles calming her troubled mind. An angry soul, she’s been knitting an awful lot lately, in a bid to deal with the death of her mother and life in the care system. When Annie’s antagonistic son destroys a very special blanket she’s making, Charlene’s rage leads to her stabbing his hand with her knitting needle. In Needle by Patrice Lawrence, we accompany an unrepentant Charlene on her journey to a police cell, and learn why sorry really is the hardest word.