New Guard is the seventeenth book in the exhilarating CHERUB series by Robert Muchamore. Aimed at young teenagers, these books are ideal for parents who struggle to keep their boys reading. While it seems regressive to talk about ‘boys’ books and ‘girls’ books, in my experience, teenagers tend to split into these camps. And frankly, whatever it takes to kickstart the reading habit has got to be worth a shot!
For parents looking to inspire young daughters, this book is a joy. It celebrates the lives and achievements of various women over the ages, not only those with trailblazing careers but also those women whose principled actions changed society. Rosa Parks’ dignified stand against racial segregation is one example, also Emmeline Pankhurst, the formidable suffragette, who happens to be a distant relation of this book’s author, Kate Pankhurst.
A short but interesting autobiography of a privileged girl in Beijing who’s life is thrown into turmoil by the Cultural Revolution and the ‘Great Leap Forward’. A simple read with good insight into China in the early 70s. A must for young history lovers, to be enjoyed more for content than style.
To touch once again on perhaps the most popular romantic Young Adult novels of our day, Twilight; this is Bella Swan’s favourite book. From the brooding, mysterious and ghostly beginning, to the cruel and dreadful end, it is a book that wraps you with the howling wind and the desolation of the wild Yorkshire moors. The more beautiful, poetic, and romantic of the classic novels, I remember Wuthering Heights as the indisputably favourite – particularly when I wanted to absorb myself in the drama of being a teen! With its dramatic setting, including a perennially louring sky (“a perfect misanthropist’s heaven”), a pervasive sense of the impending and inevitable tragedy, and the desperate (both unrequited and requited) love stories, it is not surprising that it resonates with teenage angst.
A wonderful experience also in the audio version, with some excellent recordings by Juliet Stevenson, Patricia Routledge, Michael Kitchen respectively and one with both by Janet McTeer and David Timson, to name but a few. Sample Versions Here
A contemporary of Thackeray, Trollope, Dickens and George Eliot, Wilkie Collins was not only at the forefront of the detective novel (The Moonstone) but, as the hugely successful author of mystery and the sensational novel, he was also the celebrity of the time.
Lesser known, but much like its more famous sibling The Woman in White, the story revolves around the tangled threads of identity and destiny (though less saccharine than Collins’ The Two Destinies). Throw in a handful of revenge, and a femme fatal, and this thrilling nineteenth century ‘bestseller’ is hard to put down.
On an aside: The Woman in White is fantastic too and one of my favourites – read to perfection by Ian Holm. Sample Audible Here
Also known as Youth without God – the literal translation of the original Jugend Ohne Gott – The Age of the Fish is a brilliantly succinct and multi-layered novel about identity, integrity and the freedom of speech and thought. Written by von Horváth after he had himself faced censure from the Nazis’ Third Reich, emigrating first to Vienna and then later, after the Anschluss with Austria, onto Paris. The story is told from the point of view of a disaffected teacher who, despite all his muted criticisms about his emotionally-numbed pupils and the totalitarian state he lives in, is ensnared in a web of deceit and impotence.
The Age of the Fish is published by William Heinemann, 206 pages.
Ostensibly a children’s fable about farm animals’ revolt against their (human) farmer, it is not only a parable of the Russian Revolution and the messy battle for power as Orwell intended, but also a cautionary satire that can be translated to other examples of dictatorships and government propaganda. No reading list should be without this singularly spectacular piece of work.
On the surface, this is just yet another YA dystopian thriller and, as such, an easier read. It soon becomes apparent to an adult reader, however, that it is a rich source of discussion topics – I couldn’t actually help jotting down almost 20 questions I wanted to discuss with the young ‘uns – about society and responsibility (Dr Sigmundus says ‘society is answerable to authority; authority is not answerable to society’), types of leadership, dictatorship and the concept of free will.
A book that was utterly worthy of all the accolades, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time defies categorisation. Not only a very minuscule insight into Asperges, but a mystery, domestic story, and a coming of age rolled into one. The marvellously direct voice of Christopher is deceptively simple, but a device that is skilfully used, and yet somehow remaining very accessible even to younger readers. (For those are in London, go see the near perfect stage production as well).
(Also for 11+ years)
There’s something wonderfully innocent and warm about this 1950s classic, despite its dead serious subject matter of racism. Life is simple; the goodies are good, the baddies are bad. Fundamentally, the book is about tolerance, for the lonely, weirdo neighbour, for the sick, angry, old lady down the road and, of course, for blacks, otherwise ostracised by 1930s Alabamian white society. I read this book 20 years ago and found it a joy to re-read, although my older more cynical self did think it a bit sentimental at times.