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The Weight of a Thousand Feathers – Brian Conaghan

This book is important. Bobby Seed is a 17 year old who’s not keen on school. He is a carer for his mum who has MS. He has a brother called Danny who is 14 going on 10, who has developmental and social needs they’ve never felt the need to diagnose or categorise. His best friend Bel is sarky, tough and has just a complex a home life.

Bobbys mother declines over the course of his book, and his world expands as he is cajoled into joining a young Carers Group, including a mysterious handsome boy called Lou.

That’s the plot. This book is about the voice. It has a clear, authentic voice, with spectacular characterisation. Booby becomes a loving breathing young adult. It perfectly captures the feelings of a young carer, despair and joy. There is a brilliant sibling relationship, beautifully realised. Bel is the teenage friend we all had or wanted. The burgeoning relationship with Danny and Lou is tentative and rings true, until something truly shocking arises.

The central moral question is tough, and the unrelenting nature of their Mum’s condition is brutal. Despite finding the humour in life this will bring you to tears. This is the more emotional end of the YA market, with concepts of parental loss, euthanasia and trauma.

This book is a rare in teen fiction in that it speaks to boys, and for this reviewer the experience of being gay as well. Not in a dramatic coming out sense, but in just taking those first steps.

Amazing. Tough. Sweary. Essential.

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Moonrise – Sarah Crossan

Stylistically challenging at first, this verse novel is emotionally raw, powerful and affecting. The story follows Joe, who is the only member of his family travelling down to witness the execution of his brother. Rather than a straightforward narrative, the series of poems piecing together his journey to acceptance, growing up, and forgiveness is harrowing.

The poems jump from the event that caused Ed’s imprisonment and it’s effect on the family through to visits to the prison and the relationships Joe forms in the community which exists in the nearby town.

The format makes Ed’s plight even more dramatic. The book leaves you wondering what Ed’s fate will be throughout, but without making it the focus – it tightly keeps that on Joe and how he is handling the whole process. No matter what the ending was, this reviewer had tears in his eyes for essentially the last 75 pages. I’m not a poetry fan, but after the first 20 or so pages, I was completely lost in the story and didn’t pick up the style as being different, just an emotional way to convey events and feelings.

The authentic setting, actions and language of the character make it hard to believe the author isn’t from the places described. 

One that stays with you, and I can’t wait to read more from her.

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Enchantee – Gita Trelease

This brand new release (21 Feb) is a magical YA release.

School Library Journal describe it :

Distinctive characters, vivid 18th-century images of Paris and Versailles, lively French-infused dialogue, an appealing heroine, and an upbeat ending propel this lengthy romantic fantasy. Romance and fantasy readers will enjoy the magic realism, ruse and tension of Camille’s double identity, authentic historical references, and Camille’s daring, passionate spirit. A must-have.

Our own Rogan’s Reviewer, Holly says:

Enchantée is an amazing twist of historical setting and magic.  The book follows the life of Camille, a young girl, as she struggles to keep herself and her sister alive by using magic to cheat her way into court. 

The book was exciting and sad. It had a hold over me; I couldn’t stop turning the pages. I could feel the character’s pain and fear, and at several points felt myself tense hearing my heart beat a little faster. Because the book is set in the past with a detailed description of Paris in 1789, you can imagine the characters to be real, and that this was what their lives were like. 

I would recommend this book for young adults who are interested in magic, drama and a sense of mystery. Overall, I think Rogan’s Books should stock this book and that it will be really popular.

Come and order a copy!

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One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Well this isn’t quite The Breakfast Club.

Today’s review is a YA novel, set in an American high school (big shock I know, but bear with). It opens in detention where five students have all been given detention for having a mobile on them – but none of them brought their mobiles to class…..

They are:

Bronwyn, who is a college focussed overachiever, with a fear of rule-breaking

Nate who has never met a rule he wouldn’t break, and who is a not entirely legal delivery person and on parole.

Cooper, a well behaved uncharacteristically sensitive (aren’t they all in these books) Football Player.

Addy, a prom queen with a less than ideal home life whose mum is the life and soul of any party, who does everything her boyfriend tells her.

And Simon, the creator of the school gossip app, who has built a reputation on destroying those of others.

Who has got them all into detention, as they ponder this, Simon has a drink of water and collapses with an allergic reaction. After his death, suspicion naturally falls to the four remaining students in the room. What would be their motive? Was he about to reveal their secrets? Where what Simon’s epipen, and who removed the rest of them from the School Nurses Office?

As blog posts start to publish with details of the crime scene only the four could know they start to suspect each other, but in the face of police investigation and media scrutiny can they work together to solve the crime?

This is a surprisingly fast moving YA thriller, which aims to subvert stereotypes of teens in teen movies, but unfortunately subverts them in a predictable way. The perfect student may have cheated, the bad boy might have more emotions than he lets on, the prom queens home life isn’t bad and all she wants is to be more edgy and independent.

Where this book is strong is that despite being familiar the characters are well drawn, the pop culture references are neither cringey or forced and the central mystery is compelling. The students secrets and stories are drip fed enough that your ideas for what actually happened will shift throughout the story as plenty of viable suspects are introduced and discounted.

All in all, this is a great introduction for teens into more adult thrillers and the ending is satisfying and ties up the story nicely.

And, for a YA book, it doesn’t set up or need a sequel, so it can be enjoyed for what it is!

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Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

It’s YA Day today, and it’s a new year, so the first review of the year is an old favourite.

Eleanor is growing up in the 1980’s in Nebraska. Eschewing the quaint charming lives of most YA where teens ‘problems’ are a lack of parental supervision, too much freedom and which good looking fellow teen they should go out with, this book presents a truly different perspective. Eleanor’s life sucks. She has recently returned to her home after her alcoholic abusive step father Richie had kicked her out. She shares a room with her four siblings and does her best to hide her home life at school where she is bullied over her weight and appearance.

Park also stands out in the community as he is Asian American, and while doesn’t get bullied in the same way as Eleanor, but is treated as an outsider. He loves comic books and they both love music, which acts as a thread throughout the novel. Just look at the track listing of one of the mixtapes exchanged between the pair – talk about nostalgia for the older readers and a new Spotify playlist for the teenage intended audience!

The writing is real and raw and the issues involved aren’t shied away from at all, but are framed in the way an older teen can handle and process, and recognise.

Eleanor is a likeable heroine, who is flawed but you will root for her. Park is perhaps not as well drawn, but is an interesting lead too. They’re relatable teens, and play with gender constructs too, in the way Eleanor dresses and the way Park experiments with eyeliner and an out of mainstream look.

Finally the relationship. It’s sweetly done, not rushed, and you become totally invested very quickly and get angry at the barriers they face, but the ending is not the one you would expect, which is also a welcome shift from the YA norm.

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

So…. YA Day, and this is not a new release, but always popular in the shop…

The summary from the internet says..

Cath is a freshman in college with a lot of social anxiety and only two things that make her feel completely at home: her outgoing identical twin sister Wren (who chose to live in another dorm) and her love of the fantasy book series Simon Snow (an obvious tribute to Harry Potter). The ultimate FANGIRL, Cath writes popular fanfiction for the Simon Snow fandom.

Stuck with Reagan, a surly, opinonated upperclassman roommate with no sense of boundaries, Cath barely leaves her dorm room. Despite her desire to stay away from people, Cath must deal with the near constant presence of Reagan’s smiley, friendly, chatty boyfriend, Levi — who begins to draw her out of her shell, and even more frightening, charm his way into her heart.

 

What this book does do is provide a straightforward story with the usual twists and turns of a YA novel, but with a protagonist who is not ‘cool-in-waiting’ and genuinely has no desire to take off those glasses and shake out her hair like something out of an early 2000’s teen drama…

Cath is unapologetic in what she likes, but still manages to grow the parts of her life that she has ignored or suppressed.

Levi, the male lead is not the dreamy popular hunk on campus, but is warm, empathetic and interested in not changing anyone. He also has some very real literacy issues that are handled well.

Some YA tries to be edgy and racy, this, while aimed at uni age and younger, isn’t graphic.

It just keeps coming back to the one word relatable.

And when this is read, try her other work Eleanor and Park. That’s nostalgic AND relatable.

Plus check out

@pandanemar on instagram. These gorgeous images come from there and they make any review look sparkly and gorgeous.

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Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) by L. C. Rosen

 

Todays book is definitely on the A section of YA – and is all the better for it. Definitely aimed at the over sixteens, Jack of Hearts is definitely the book I would have devoured at that age, and found useful beyond measure.

This novel brings us a cool and original central character, Jack, who is a sex positive, completely out, somewhat feminine young man. He is unapologetic in his enjoyment of sex and categorically refuses to respond to over inflated, scandalised rumours of his conquests (and there are more than a few of both). He understands that not everyone will like him or be comfortable with him and the way he chooses to express his identity and sexuality, and is himself anyway.

One of his best friends, Jenna, has a blog about the teens in their community – and wants to capitalise on that reputation to firstly help dispel some of the wilder rumours, but also to educate local teens both about sex and LGBTQ+ issues.

He reluctantly agrees and the book periodically gives us Jacks column, in the form of answers to the questions posed by readers.

This is all well and good until he gets a mystery admirer, who leaves notes in his locker, that start as unsettling and quickly become terrifying. Who is doing this? Why? And how far will their delusions take them into Jack’s personal life?

This book is a delight. The frank look at gay teenage sexuality is refreshing and the column excerpts raise and advise on issues such as consent, empathy, sexual etiquette, the bizarre stereotyping and fetishisation of gay men by some teenage girls and much more.

There’s a sweet burgeoning romance for Jack’s other best friend Ben, with a meaningful and true friendship depicted between the three very different teens. The depiction of Jack’s emotionally withdrawn mother is all too realistic for today’s teen, and the reveal of the stalker, while not the point of the book at all, is deftly handled if a little rushed and clunky.

You don’t see a full and frank discussion of sex in most YA books, reflecting real life for many, where sexual acts can be recreational – rather than part of a great love story, or a supernaturally predestined Great Love.

In lieu of actual sex education in secondary/sixth form institutions, teens could do a lot worse than check out this charming YA debut.

 

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They Both Die At The End – Adam Silvera

Wow. This one will just destroy you. Imagine an experience so intense, a book where you know the outcome is fatal to both characters, but you have to read the whole thing, get attached to them and fall in love with them a little, knowing that at any plot point one or both will be dead.

Cheers, Mr Silvera.

Set in a world like ours, except through an unknown development, it becomes known, at midnight, who in the world is going to die that day.

As you would expect industries develop around the knowledge. It’s a call centre, Death-Cast, that calls you – as soon as they can – so you want to be at the front of that queue. Experience centres and theme parks with global cultures pop up, allowing you to do bucket list things and ‘travel’ before you die.

And people create and hold their own funerals with their loved ones. But what if your loved ones aren’t around or can’t get to you? There’s an app for that. Last Friend.

A little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: they’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different super sad reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure – to live a lifetime in a single day.

Neither character is wholly likeable and their flaws are what make them people that you’re rooting for – Rufus a guy that can’t catch a break and to whom rubbish things happen, and Mateo, someone who life is just waiting for, but he just can’t get out and live his life.

To see what these two characters do for their last day is heart breaking, heart warming, and heart to bear (scuse the terrible pun). The constant threat and jolts of ‘this  is how Mateo dies, or Rufus, WATCH OUT’ make this a tense experience.

The world is thought out well, and the details of how Death-Casts would change our society are dead on.

I devoured this in as few sittings as possible as it was uplifting, yet depressing, long but frustratingly short and simple yet deceptively emotional.

Read it. But don’t blame us for making you sad.

 

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Boy Meets Hamster by Birdie Milano

Instead of starting this review with a summary of the plot and characters, this reviewer has to start with a thank you to the author and publishers. This is TOTALLY the book that 12 year old me needed to have in his life. It super duper isn’t their fault that it came out 26 years too late now I’m properly old.

So, now that’s out of the way, let’s begin. This summery, lovely book is about Dylan who is fourteen and is being dragged along to a £9.50 short break holiday in a caravan park in Cornwall. The bonus is he’s been allowed to bring his best friend Kayla along, which is important to him as his family doesn’t know that he likes boys. His parents are busy dancing and being soooo embarrassing and often leave him to baby sit his four year old brother Jude.

He wouldn’t normally mind this, but his attention is focussed on Jayden-Lee, the caravan park’s resident bad boy. Dylan is smitten at first sight and is determined to be noticed. How much will Kayla help him in his quest for love before she feels neglected? Will Jayden-Lee feel the same if Dylan can work up the courage to be seen? Surely he can’t be that naughty underneath it all? More importantly, just why does the Park Mascot, Nibbles the hamster, seem to be in his way being so annoying and meddling in his attempts at every turn?

This book is sweet and funny, with Dylan’s ability to get into ever increasingly catastrophic situations providing a lot of laughs and thrills. Not only that, it’s heartfelt as it has real issues faced by kids between its covers.

With an exciting, romantic ending, this will stay with you much longer than any £9.50 mini break in a dingy rubbish caravan park!

A PARENTS PERSPECTIVE

We don’t like to put an age range on reading, but despite its gently romantic theme, it is not explicit at all, and is suitable for all older children. Most reviewers say 12+, but depending on the maturity of the child I would argue there’s nothing here that slightly younger ages than this couldn’t read.

As well as dealing with themes of unrequited crushes, and understanding the beginnings of romantic feelings, this book touches on themes of complex family dynamics, coming out to family members, and bullying.

This book has both a positive, not overwrought attitude towards LGBT issues, and a lovely representation of disability. Dylan’s little brother Jude has cerebral palsy and the book provides an honest look at what it must be like for a family with a member in a wheelchair without ever being preachy. His best friend Kayla is plus sized and has a very body positive attitude and one of the romances touched upon is racially diverse.

We would totally recommend this book to any reader, gay or straight, but if you think that your child might be LGBT+ but not ready to talk to you about it, mixing this book into their reading is a great idea. It will give them the message that who they are is ok, teach them they are worth something lovely and ‘normal’ happening to them and show them they’re not alone. It may also give them the tools and the courage to talk to you about how they feel and who they are – without ruining a whole fairground event (don’t ask, Dylan already feels bad enough about it!).

This is a funny, heartwarming tale, with madcap set pieces which verge on slapstick thanks to Dylan’s complete inability to de-escalate any situation.

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Books for tweens and teenagers who don’t fit in

As a mother who is a bibliophile, there is often a temptation to try and find the answer to all of life’s trials in the pages of a book.

Kids won’t sleep?  Kids won’t eat?  Kids won’t do anything they are supposed to do, including getting their uniforms on, eating their breakfast and JUST GETTING OUT OF THE DOOR PLEASE OH FOR THE LOVE OF… You get the picture. And there are some great books out there for parents that, even if they don’t actually fix the problem, give you the comfort of knowing you’re not alone, and this too shall pass.

But what about when they hit that age – and if you’re there, you know exactly what I’m talking about – that stage between childhood and ‘adulthood’ where the parenting manuals just can’t fix it? The stage of “you don’t know what it’s like…” 

You want to tell them “it will get better” or “those people who seem so confident probably feel just as frightened as you” or “you are an incredible human being, and it may be hard to understand that now, because you have only been on the planet for [insert age] years, but believe me… Believe me when I tell you that out there, in the big world, you are going to soar”.

You’ve perhaps read this far waiting for a link to a magical new book that holds the answers to this new challenge in the journey that is parenthood. Sorry.

I believe that books do hold the answers to life’s trials. And they do give the comfort of knowing you’re not alone, and this too shall pass. But the books that matter here are not for you.

They are for our children who want to fit in and be like everyone else. To learn that they are not alone in feeling like an outsider. The excruciatingly difficult lesson of learning that what makes them different from everyone else may well be the thing that makes them so incredibly awesome.

Below are a few books that can help them along that path. Books that let them share the stories of young people figuring out what it means to be who they are. And sometimes, that can be enough. To feel that that journey is a shared one.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – a coming-of-age story about an introvert who learns the value of being herself.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – championing and celebrating inclusivity and tolerance by showing both how people can blossom when they are accepted for who they are, and how painful life can be for people who are ignored or mistreated.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli – an insight into every teenager’s mind, figuring out whether different is good, and being true to yourself.

Share your recommendations on our Facebook page – what books helped you get through those difficult teenage years..?