Frontlist | Young adult books roundup – Book review
Hate U Give author Angie Thomas follows up her acclaimed debut, and there are tales of racism, mystery and magic in the latest crop of young adult fiction
Angie Thomas returns to the world of her award-winning debut The Hate U Give in one of the most awaited books of 2021. Set 17 years earlier, Concrete Rose (Walker) is the story of Maverick Carter, father of protagonist Starr and pillar of the community in the first book, here the son of a drug lord battling pressure to join a gang and the shock of teen parenthood. Thomas smashes stereotypes at every turn in the lives of her raw, complex and unforgettable characters, her writing underpinned by immense humanity. A powerful and important novel.
Another author whose characters always feel achingly real is Lisa Williamson. First Day of My Life (David Fickling) is set at a pivotal time for teenagers: GCSE results day. The local news reports that a baby has been stolen and Frankie discovers that her best friend, Jojo, is missing. With ex-boyfriend Rab, Frankie sets out in search of Jojo and the truth. Various perspectives lend depth and nuance to a gripping mystery that frames friendship, love and new beginnings.
More contemporary fiction, for slightly younger readers, in What We’re Scared Of by Keren David (Scholastic), a thought-provoking look at the realities of antisemitism in London. Real Holocaust testimonies are woven into the fictional story of 14-year-old twins whose mother gets a high-profile media job and is targeted by internet trolls.
Female-led YA fantasy is an overcrowded genre, but Namina Forna brings a fresh perspective in her stormingly good debut The Gilded Ones (Usborne, 4 February). The west African-inspired kingdom of Otera requires all 16-year-old girls to subject themselves to a blood-letting ritual to prove their purity. When Deka bleeds the gold of demons, she is given the choice of fighting for the emperor or death. Action combines with an intense feminist story of sisterhood, where strength is found in female friendships and alliances.
Already the author of fiction for adults, Caroline O’Donoghue makes her young adult debut in the deliciously witchy All Our Hidden Gifts (Walker, 4 February). An old pack of tarot cards and a knack for uncannily accurate readings boost Maeve Chambers’s popularity – until her former best friend goes missing. A supernatural mystery plays out against the backdrop of contemporary Ireland, exploring the theme of acceptance without ever being heavy-handed. O’Donoghue has a keen eye for the complexities of friendships; I predict this one will be catnip to teenage readers.
Finally, those in need of a good belly laugh (which is, surely, all of us by this point) should look no further than Flynn Meaney’s Bad Habits (Penguin, 11 February). Alex’s pink fauxhawk hair and biker boots are desperately out of place at her strict US Catholic boarding school. Could a production of The Vagina Monologues be the perfect route to expulsion? Cue outraged nuns, prudish classmates, pervasive misogyny and spectacularly funny set pieces.
Source: The Guardian