Young Adult Fiction I’ve read and you may like to too?

2021
The Hate You Give – Angie Thomas (USA)
“This is Angie Thomas’ debut novel and was published in 2017. The book was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Cuz – Liz Van Der Laarse (NZ)
“Cuz is like a New Zealand Hatchet” – David Riley
“Cousins thrown together into this Fiordland survival situation, relying on each other’s skills and knowledge to get out alive.” – Wendy Bamber

Pōrangi Boy – Shilo Kino (NZ)
“Twelve-year-old Niko lives in Pohe Bay, a small, rural town with a sacred hot spring and a taniwha named Taukere. The government wants to build a prison over the home of the taniwha, and Niko’s grandfather is busy protesting. People call him pōrangi, crazy, but when he dies, it’s up to Niko to convince his community that the taniwha is real and stop the prison from being built. With help from his friend Wai, Niko must unite his whanau, honour his grandfather and stand up to his childhood bully.” – booksforkids

Shooting Stars – Brian Falkner (NZ)
I couldn’t put this down.
“Egan Tucker is fifteen and has been in hiding his entire life.
He has never known television, the Internet or even electricity.
He has never seen hot and cold running water or a flush toilet.
His food comes from the forest or the stream, not from a supermarket.
The boundaries of his world are the hills that surround the tiny valley he calls home.
But Egan’s life is about to change.
Forced to leave his home, he must venture out into a world that is unlike anything he has ever known.
He is not ready for this world.
And the world is not ready for Egan.” – goodreads

Flight of the Fantail – Steph Matuku (NZ)
“A busload of high school students crashes in bush in a remote part of Aotearoa New Zealand. Only a few of the teenagers survive; they find their phones don’t work, there’s no food, and they’ve only got their wits to keep them alive. There’s also something strange happening here. Why are the teenagers having nosebleeds and behaving erratically, and why is the rescue effort slow to arrive? To make it out, they have to discover what’s really going on and who or what is behind it all.” – huiabookshop

2022
The Nature of Ash – Mandy Hagar (NZ)
Winner of LIANZA Young Adult Fiction Award 2013. Shortlisted for NZ Post Children’s Book Awards 2013, this story is a real page turner. Set mostly in Wellington | Whanganui-a-Tara, New Zealand | Aotearoa, in a dystopian future, where unemployment is at a peak due to the selling of state owned assets which finds lower socio economic Chinese enslaved in NZ and working now Chinese owned dairy farms (located in Aotearoa), the products being exported directly to this superpower China. In one goodreads review Adele comments: This is a cracker read. Disturbingly real, set in Wellington (home for me) and Whanganui New Zealand, Mandy has painted a scenario that’s blisteringly plausible and uncomfortably real. Excellent writing.
Catalogued as Dystopian Fiction, alongside Adventure & Mystery. Explores complex families, mental health, disability, homophobia among other ideas.

The Outsiders – SE Hinton (USA)
Shamefully? hadn’t read this text till now. A 1960s American classic written as a debut novel by SE Hinton, when young adult fiction wasn’t a thing (yet). Coined as a coming of age text, what I thought could work well about studying this classic is the novel is slim, helping get any of those ‘reluctant readers’ over the line. A tale of desperation, sacrifice, loyalty, courage and compassion – I found it difficult to put down, over the summer holidays. Male teen characters. Gang culture. Camraderie, loyalty and brotherly love. Explores neglect and abuse also.

The Boy and the Back of the Class – Onjali Q. Rauf (UK)
Try not to let the cartoon drawing of the boy with a backpack deter you, perhaps focus on the ‘Blue Peter Book Awards shortlist’ sticker on the front cover instead. Starring a nearly 10 year old as the protagonist, this story is set mainly in a school, with a caring Teacher Mrs Kahn and a group of what starts as 4 friends, and soon becomes 5 when another joins the back of the class, We finally learn the boy with the ‘lion’ eyes is a refugee, and that his new friends want to help him reunite with his mum and dad, left behind somewhere in Europe. A story about bullying, racism, ethics and bravery – I can imagine using this text in the classroom. The only thing I’m not sure about, is with what age…Maybe year 6/7, possibly even year 5. Dyslexic friendly publishing.

Uncomfortable conversations with a black boy – Emmanuel Acho (USA)
An adaptation of ‘Uncomfortable conversations with a black man’ I can imagine this text being read by an accomplished year 10 reader OR year 11+. Emmanuel Acho based both books on this viral video series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8jUA7JBkF4

Red Dog by Louis de Bernieres
A book about a phenomenal red kelpie who ‘roamed’ around Western Australia winning the hearts of many. This story is based on a true story. It sort of reads like a collection of short stories. It explores death. It’s funny, sad and accessible to many.

Playing to win by Fleur Beale
Written by a New Zealander, an English Teacher from the Waikato. The lead character Denny Logan moves cities and starts at a new school, has to face the ordeal of being the new kid. He’s raised by a solo Mum and has plenty of responsibility helping to care for his sisters who are twins. Denny loves rugby, and also loves Alice who hates rugby. He is forced to choose between them. Great male role model. Explores death, anti-alcohol, anti-violence and being authentic or ourselves.

Tomorrow when the war began by John Marsden
Set in the bush/rural Victoria Australia, this is an adventure story. A total page turner. A bunch of teens go bush for a bit of an end of the year adventure and when they come out, life has turned upside down. They have to become heroes. How do they do it? Terrific characterisation, and relationships. Plenty of action.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Kwame Alexander is African-American with parents born in Nigeria. This is a terrific book with excellent positive male role models who love basketball. Comes as a graphic novel and a short novel written as a sort of rap, and totally (strangely?) readable. A story about loss, about perseverance, about ethics, about love – there’s something for everyone in this book. Your sporty types, especially bball players may LOVE this.

Refugee – by Alan Gratz
An unforgettable book which weaves the stories of 3 refugee families over 3 different eras and 3 different counties fleeing 3 different wars. One of my students studied it in class as a year 8. I would have thought year 9 or 10 would be more suitable as has sometimes violent, and most times sad and gruelling action. This is not entirely a happy ending story.

The Graveyard Book – by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Chris Riddell (Cilip Carnegie Medal Winner 2010)
I read this because Neil Gaiman features as a recommended author on the Christchurch City Libraries pamphlet I have in my English classroom. The book has a sort of magic in it, which reminds me of the Harry Potter series, and in addition is set in a graveyard where the protagonist Bod straddles the world of both the living and the dead. I’ve been thinking of collating a list of books that explore death for both the reason that the more we can talk about it, the more it is helpful and also as a way of incorporating Pohutakawa and an aspect of Matariki (Māori New Year celebration). ‘Twas a page turner, a who dunnit or a would they do it again, magical/fantastical, and philosophical (as most books are). The character Silas was a positive male role model, and was our protagonist’s Guardian. I think it’s too ‘edgy’ to be a class text, but I’d entirely recommend it to some students. Stunning use of language and character and inventive use of setting.

Me and white supremacy (how can fight racism and change the world today) – by Layla F.Saad (Young adult edition)
Thinking of ways I can incorporate this into my teaching…A ‘must’ for every young person to read, as someone who is white, passes as white, Black, and /or a Black, Indigenous or Person of colour (BIPOC).
Ways to learn how we can all be antiracist. It’s chapters include white supremacy, tone policing, white silence among others. Non-fiction. Saad grew up in both Wales (a short time in Tanzania, the birthplace of her Mother), England before settling in Qatar where she lives now.

Aarti and the Blue Gods – by Jasbinder Bilan
Set on an isolated (forgotten) island off the coast of Scotland, an adolescent (eventually we learn Indian/British) young woman lives with her Scottish Aunt. They are the only two people on the island. The Aunt has mood swings, that mean life on the island (already hard enough due to living remotely) is at times unbearable. But Aarti has one friend, a wild fox. After one particularly turbulent day the Aunt falls to her death leaving Aarti entirely alone. Before her Aunt dies Aarti starts to question who her parents were, was her Aunt truly her Aunt, why were they on this island. Aarti has strange memories which can’t be answered…I loved this story for it weaved Hindu and Celtic myths together, and had a mix of magic and reality alongside adventure. There is a sinister element to the story which I would feel uncomfortable recommending to just any old young reader, even though Aarti is 12, I’d recommend the story for someone older. It does have a ‘good ending’ so this may balance the fact the content could be ‘activating’. Good triumphs over evil sort of adventure with a twist of the mythical.

Pandemic – by Sally Stone
One of a series of Historial Aotearoa Fiction. Is all about the 1918 Spanish Flu in New Zealand AND World War I. At times I felt the historical stuff was a little unsubtle, but I also appreciated the fact history was being shared. Led character is a 12 year old courageous girl. Set in rural Christchurch in 1918. Explores classism, volunteering (caring for others who are sick), family dynamics (men ruling the roost), and life in general over that time.

Photo credit: Ngā mihi, Zani Izzuddin – Unsplash

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