When it comes to YA, I love a contemporary, real world coming-of-age story, but occasionally I stumble across something a little more fanciful that completely knocks my socks off. I’m also completely and unashamedly bias towards Australian authors—IMHO, they rule the genre. One or two of the books that made my list were published in 2014 or 2013, but I didn’t get to them until this year. SHAME ON ME. There were also a bunch of titles I am ever so eager to read but haven’t got to yet.
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
(Allen & Unwin)
Breaking up with your boyfriend sucks. It sucks even more when you also have to deal with your planet being invaded. And your whole settlement is blown up, and everyone you love is killed while you and the other survivors are evacuated to a space fleet controlled by a psychotic AI. And a bio-weapon sends a pandemic sweeping through the fleet turning people in crazed zombies. And the fleet is being chased by a dreadnaught intent on nuking you out of existence and said ex-boyfriend is the only person you have left.
Illuminae is packed with action, romance, comedy, tragedy, moments of startling beauty, zombies and big philosophical questions to keep you wondering. Books like this are the reason I’m almost thirty and still reading YA.
Clancy of the Undertow by Christopher Currie
Life in small town Queensland has always been tough for sixteen-year-old Clancy Underhill. She’s a loner. Doesn’t fit. That she’s forced to get around on a bike several sizes too small and can’t afford to replace her one pair of ratty boots doesn’t help. Neither does having an older brother who’s dropped out of uni to track down the mythical Beast of Barwen. Or the fact that Clancy likes girls.
However, Clancy’s problems are overshadowed when her dad is involved in a car crash that leaves two teenagers dead. With the new school term fast approaching, the town turning against her family and two girls suddenly vying for her attention, Clancy has to answer some hard questions about who she is and where she belongs.
The Light That Gets Lost by Natasha Carthew
Hiding in a cupboard among his family’s winter coats, seven-year-old Trey witnesses the murder of his parents and near-murder of his brother: ‘A house fallen silent with three shots, four just about.’
Eight years later, the demon inside Trey is driving him towards revenge. He knows that the man who sent his parents to an early grave and his brother to a nursing home is a man of the cloth and works at Camp Kernow—a work farm for delinquent youths. Trey has committed a crime to earn a place in the camp, determined that ‘This was the place where things were about to rewind to the point of wrong and settle back right.’
The Light That Gets Lost is a thinking reader’s dystopia: a story of innocence lost too soon; of revenge, corruption and power; of systems that prioritise money over people, but also a story of friendship and loyalty.
Pieces of Sky by Trinity Doyle
(Allen & Unwin)
Lucy’s brother, Cam, has been dead eight weeks and it’s time Lucy started piecing her life back together. Time to get back in the pool. ‘Today should feel right,’ she tells herself. ‘Today school goes back and the routine of train, study, train can start again.’ Only Lucy—state champion backstroker—can’t make herself get in the water. She can’t find her way back into her old routine or enjoy hanging out with her old friends whose lives revolve around swimming.
Her mum has completely shut down and hardly ever gets out of bed, and her dad doesn’t even notice when she stays out all night. Her Auntie Deb, up from Newcastle, just doesn’t get it. Even Cam’s best mate, Ryan, has left town. The only people Lucy feels she can turn to are her estranged best friend from primary school, Steffi, and Steffi’s cousin Evan, who’s just blown in from Sydney and has problems of his own. And then one night Lucy finds pictures of a faceless girl hidden among Cam’s other drawings and strange, poetic texts start appearing on his phone from an unknown number.
In her search to discover the mystery girl and what really happened to Cam the night he died, Lucy finds a love of her own as well as some hard truths and a family secret.
A Small Madness by Dianne Touchell
(Allen & Unwin)
Rose and Michael’s first time is awkward and illicit and wonderful. But Rose and Michael come from strict families where sex is not discussed and nor is the importance of taking precautions. When Rose learns she’s pregnant, her confusion and panic quickly shift to denial. Her mother taught her that ‘A happy face reflects a happy home,’ and so Rose, a talented actress, decides to pretend the pregnancy isn’t real. She convinces herself that if she can play her part convincingly, it will become the truth. Michael is initially (unfairly) angry with Rose and grows increasingly frustrated with her denial. But ultimately, he buys into her fantasy. Though he watches Rose make herself sicker and sicker in order to maintain the pretence, he can’t bring himself to tell anyone about the pregnancy for fear of disappointing his father.
The months pass with mounting dread as the story swells to its inevitable crisis. More than a mere cautionary tale for horny teenagers, A Small Madness is an unsettling, claustrophobic novel of anxiety and denial—a sinister reworking of the Gothic ‘descent into madness’ tale.
Girl Defective by Simmone Howell
Summer is coming and the winds of change are blowing hard through St. Kilda. Fifteen-year-old Skylark Martin can ‘feel it in her waters’. A poster appears across the road from her dad’s record shop: ‘a stencil of a girl’s face, three feet high below a concrete sky … Three black tears trailed down her cheek.’ A week later a brick comes through the shop window, thrown by unknown assailants in a white jeep—a bumper sticker reading ‘Love Live Local’ the only clue to the assailants’ identity. Meanwhile, The Paradise music hall is coming down, making way for new developments. Skylark’s only friend, party-girl Nancy, has plans to trip the light fantastic out of town and a sad boy with a sketch book has taken up residence at the marina, looking for clues about his dead sister.
Skylark is sure all these things are connected, she just can’t figure out how. Fortunately, her kid brother, Agent Seagull ‘Gully’ Martin, is on the case and she’s designated babysitter. His investigation takes the Martins deep into the St. Kilda underbelly: shady stakeouts, red light street corners, underground gigs.
Girl Defective is a hard boiled coming-of-age story with all the sass and swagger of Raymond Chandler, a killer soundtrack and a distinct Aussie accent.
Laurinda by Alice Pung
Fifteen-year-old Lucy Lam can’t believe her luck when she wins a scholarship to Laurinda, one of the city’s most exclusive private schools. And her family couldn’t be prouder: having arrived as refugees from Vietnam a decade earlier, her father is a factory shift worker and her mother fills illegal sewing orders for designer brands in their back shed. They see Lucy’s scholarship as her ticket out of the western suburbs. But before Lucy can start thinking about university and her future career, she has to survive Laurinda.
Laurinda is a story of identity and conflicting desires. Lucy struggles to balance the pressure to fit in with the need to maintain her unique identity. It’s a conflict all teenagers experience to some extent, our adolescent years being a time when we often feel torn between our families and our peers. However, for Lucy the conflict is particularly challenging as she must negotiate both class and cultural boundaries.
The November Criminals by Sam Munson
The summer before Addison Schacht’s senior year his classmate Kevin Broadus—one of the few African American students in their high school’s Gifted and Talented Program is shot at point blank range during his shift at Stubb’s coffee house. The police have no leads. But while Kevin begins to fade in the student body’s collective memory, Addison can’t let go of his death—and he barely even knew the guy.
He joins forces with his associate-not-girlfriend, Digger Zeleny, to follow the clues and catch Kevin’s killer. But as Addison becomes increasingly consumed by the case, the investigation starts turning up more questions than answers.
*Not sure if this one is *technically* YA, but it’s a coming-of-age story, so I’m listing it here.
What have been your favourite YA reads of 2015 and why? Based on this list, can you suggest any titles should I add to my TBR pile?
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