With the summer holiday fast approaching, we asked our resident book critic, Ella Finch, to give us the lowdown on the best YA reads for different age groups…
Over the course of this year, I’ve sadly noticed a lack of fiction on pupils’ desks. Reading for pleasure is good for the brain in a variety of ways, not least in how it increases our creativity and creates a positive outlook towards reading as a whole, and thus, as a result, education (not that I’m trying to fool any of you into being productive over the summer, don’t worry). When I asked the people around me why they didn’t read, a significant number of them said that they couldn’t find books that interested them. So, here I’ve put together a short list of books that I recommend, and I’ve sorted them into three age categories to make it (a little bit) easier to choose.
Reading at this age is extremely important; no, I’m not going to rant about iPads and how they’re “ruining today’s youth”, because you can download books onto these devices (which can be cheaper than buying a paper copy). Here are the books I recommend to anyone within this age group (the books are listed in no particular order):
- ‘Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief’, Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson is a half-blood. Having Poseidon as a dad has it’s perks in the form of cool powers but it also has significant disadvantages, like having to constantly save the world from monsters straight out of Greek mythology – because when Zeus thinks you’ve stolen from him, what happens next is never good.
- ‘Artemis Fowl’, Eoin Colfer
Who has the right to be the arch-nemesis of child-genius Artemis Fowl? His father? Also no, he went missing years ago. A psychiatrist, trying desperately to get through Artemis’ cold, detached exterior? Nope, not even significant. The LEPRecon squad, a member of which he kidnaps and holds for ransom (a tenacious elf, Captain Holly Short)? Wrong again. The only person worthy of being Artemis Fowl’s worst enemy is… himself. More specifically, his past self.
- ‘The Name of This Book is Secret’, Psudonymous Bosch
Everything about this book tells you not to read it, especially the narrator – so why wouldn’t you want to?
- ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’, Lemony Snicket
A bookworm, an inventor, and a baby with very sharp teeth; meet the Baudelaires. Much like the previous book on this list, the narrator of this book strongly suggests you read something else, something a bit more lighthearted, ‘The Happy Little Elf’ for example, because the series of events that occur to the Baudelaire children in this story are extremely… unfortunate. As the Amazon advertisement says, the box set of all the unlucky thirteen books in the series is just the right size to fill that gap on your bookshelf, or – perhaps – a very deep hole.
- ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, J K Rowling
Do I even need to write a description for this? It’s simply a rite of passage. Read it.
- ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime’, Mark Haddon
Christopher, aged 15, is the detective and narrator in this wonderfully unique murder mystery. Christopher also has Asperger’s Syndrome; he likes maths, a lot – human beings, not so much. At the start of this story, he’s never gone further than the end of the road on his own. However, a terrifying journey started by the discovery of a murdered dog will flip Christopher’s life upside down.
- ‘The 5th Wave’, Rick Yancey
Aliens have finally made contact with Earth, and – as several horror films have warned us – they’re not here to ask to borrow the sugar. Their attacks come in waves, killing huge portions of humanity each time. The fifth wave is coming, or has it already happened? Alone, her parents dead and her brother taken from her, what lengths will Cassie Sullivan go to get her brother back when she can’t tell friend from foe?
- ‘Knife’, R J Anderson
Fairies are nice, right? Think again, because Knife is more likely to live up to her name than to hold a star-tipped wand.
- ‘Earthfall’, Mark Walden
London is under attack from strange vessels in the sky. They emit a loud, constant noise which acts as a homing beacon to the majority of the human race, Sam thinks he is the only one unaffected by it. Several months later and Sam is alone in his underground bunker. He only has enough food left for a few more days – he has to go outside. However, Earth is drastically different from when he last saw it.
- ‘Alex Rider: Stormbreaker’, Anthony Horowitz
When 14-year-old Alex is forcibly recruited into MI6, he’s sent to investigate a man offering high-tech computers to every school in the country. Despite being armed with an array of secret gadgets, Alex quickly ends up in danger.
Choosing books for this section was extremely difficult for me, as I had so many to choose from. However, I think I’ve managed to whittle it down to the best of the best (in my opinion) of the books aimed at this age group. These include:
- ‘The Raven Boys’, Maggie Stiefvater
Blue, a teenage girl living in the small town of Henrietta in the USA, is the only one in her family who isn’t a psychic. However, she’s also the only one with a curse; when she kisses her true love, he will die. BUT – don’t be fooled into thinking this book (or the rest of the quartet) is about romance. When Blue meets four private school boys (dubbed ‘the raven boys’ by everyone else in town), one a delinquent, one a genius obsessed with legends about Welsh kings, one with issues in his family, and one who’s dead, she’s involved in a journey that will take her all over the world.
- ‘Throne of Glass’, Sarah J Maas
Ripped out of a prisoner labour camp she was sent into at age 16, Celaena Sardothein is forced to enter a deadly competition against the best assassins and thrives in the land. The prize? Not being sent back to the mines, and instead becoming the champion of the King who originally called for her execution. However, Celaena is Adarlan’s Assassin – the best of the best; the other competitors don’t know what they’re up against, but, as the plot thickens, it turns out neither does she.
- ‘Magnus Chase’, Rick Riordan
A story by Rick Riordan about a half-blood teenage boy – no, this is not Percy Jackson (that was on the first list). In this book, Magnus finds out that his father was a Greek – no, I’m getting confused again – a Norse god. And just to make that revelation all the sweeter, the gods of Asgard are preparing for war. Fire giants – check, immortal warriors – check, wolves that can’t be killed – check; what’s not to like?
- ‘The Power of Five’, Anthony Horowitz
During the early years of his life in foster care, Matt noticed he had abnormal powers. After an incident occurs, he is sent to Yorkshire as part of a rehabilitation programme, only to find that Yorkshire isn’t as tranquil as he’d imagined – strange things are going on. Matt decides to investigate, and discovers a satanic plot to bring back the Old Ones, who were banished years ago by five children. Of course, he decides to meddle.
- ‘Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment’, James Patterson
What do you do when you’re a genetically engineered avian-human hybrid, trapped in a scientific facility, and having constant tests being performed on you during the short lengths of time you’re not kept in a dog crate? Well, if you’re Max and her flock, you escape and fly as quickly as possible in the opposite direction to the wolf-human hybrids called Erasers hunting you down. This book is full of existential crises, drama, and action, and the narration style of being told the story by Max makes everything come together to create a sense of constant suspense. The lives of Max and her flock are, at the beginning of this series, centred around trying to evade being captured, but just what is the bigger picture?
- ‘Skullduggery Pleasant’, Derek Landy
Imagine if Sherlock could solve crimes from beyond the grave… Now imagine if he could also do magic… now imagine if he did both with the help of a 12-year-old girl instead of a middle-aged doctor. In this book, when everything about a case goes to hell, it’s a good thing that this detective is already dead.
- ‘The Recruit: Book 1 (CHERUB)’, Robert Muchamore
In a world where terrorists are terrified of the police and secret service, a new type of agent is needed; a type of person no-one would suspect of being undercover, children. CHERUB is an organisation with agents between the ages of ten and seventeen, in which the children are tasked with living in the real world and collecting the information necessary to send criminals to prison. In the eyes of the government, for official purposes, these children do not exist.
- ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’, Laini Taylor
Karou is a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague, and also the errand girl of a monster called Brimstone, who is the closest thing to family she knows. Despite having worked for him for as long as she can remember, Karou doesn’t understand what it is Brimstone does with the teeth he makes her buy from hunters and murderers, making Karou move between Earth and Elsewhere to do so, but most of all she wonders how she came into his keeping in the first place. When the doors to Elsewhere begin closing, Karou is forced to decide whether she considers herself more human or monster.
- ‘The Diabolic’, S J Kincaid
In this book, we enter a world where space travel has been achieved and humanity has prospered on a variety of planets and the space stations in between. With scientific advancements so far along, it is now possible to genetically engineer weaponised humanoid creatures called Diabolics. When they are bought, these creatures imprint on a person, and then will protect them at the expense of their own life. When Nemesis is bought to protect a senator’s daughter, Sidonia, she instantly knows what the meaning of her existence is. However, as a result of Sidonia’s father being under scrutiny for treason, events will begin to unfurl which force Nemesis to rethink her purpose.
- ‘The Darkest Part of the Forest’, Holly Black
In this book, humans and the Folk coexist. Fairfold, the place where Hazel and her brother Ben live, is famous for the faerie, attracting tourists from all around the world. They also come to see the horned boy in the glass coffin. When they are children, Hazel and Ben make up stories about how one day the horned boy will wake up, but Hazel, as she grows older, begrudgingly realises he won’t. That is, until he does.
Some of the books listed in this section, or the books that follow them in their respective series’, contain mature themes, so remember to read the description before starting the book if you are concerned; I would have put some of the books here onto the previous list, if not for – for example – the levels of violence displayed. Aside from that, these are all books I would gladly recommend to someone of this age group. The books are:
- ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’, Sarah J Maas
In this re-telling of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, Feyre is our protagonist – a Katniss-Everdeen-like-girl who hunts in the forest to provide food for her two sisters and their father, who lost all of his wealth when his merchant ships sank in the middle of the ocean. One winter, food is so scare that Feyre is forced to hunt deeper in the forest than she ever has before. However, she’s not the only one looking for food; she comes face to face with a giant wolf, one that she thinks might just be as big as the wolf form of the shape-shifting fae who live on the other side of the forest, through a barrier meant to direct humans away from it. Of course, as they are competing for food, she kills it. When an angry, distraught fae High Lord arrives at her door claiming that a life debt is owed for his fallen sentry, Feyre realises her mistake.
- ‘Six of Crows’, Leigh Bardugo
Magic, heists, and murder – gambling on their lives is all in a day’s work for Kaz Brekker and his five companions.
- ‘Carve the Mark’, Veronica Roth
In this universe governed by violence, everyone develops a currentgift but only a few are lucky enough to be given fates. While the currentgifts are beneficial for most, this is definitely not the case for Akos and Cyra, as theirs make them vulnerable to exploitation from each other. Akos is also blessed enough to have a fate but, when he learns of what it is, he considers himself anything but lucky.
- ‘End Game’, James Frey
When giant meteors fall to Earth, what else is there to do than start a time-limited game over the expanse of the globe between 12 ancient familial lines – a game refereed by aliens no less, and a game in which there are no rules except take, win, survive. To lose is to die. To play is to risk death, but the prize for winning is survival into the new world. With so much on the line, will someone win the game before all of humanity is destroyed?
- ‘A Darker Shade of Magic’, V E Schwab
What would you do if you were one of the only people in existence who could move between alternate realities? Kell has the ability to move between different Londons: Grey London, over-populated and with no magic; Red London, a place in which life and magic are precious; White London, ruled by whoever can cut their way to the throne; finally, a long time ago there was a Black London, but not any more.
- ‘This Savage Song’, V E Schwab
What defines a monster? In a city at war, there are monsters on both sides. However, in this dystopian re-telling of Romeo and Juliet perhaps this is more true for one side than the other… Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs of two divided parts of the city, and, with the future at stake, they have a lot of choices to make.
- ‘Three Dark Crowns’, Kendare Blake
In this book, three sisters are born; one has the ability to control elements of the weather, one is immune to all kinds of poison, and one can control the fiercest of lions. Separated at birth into their respective ability clans (elemental, poisoner, naturalist), each is taught how to control their power until they turn 16, at which point they will be forced to fight to the death for the right to be queen.
- ‘Red Queen’, Victoria Aveyard
Mare Barrow’s blood runs red, so she is nobody. A peasant, forced to steal to have enough money to provide food for herself and her family – her older brothers were drafted to fight in the war, it’ll be her turn next. Because her blood is not silver and she has no special ability, she has no rights in society. However, when she is serving food to Silvers at the competition for one of the Princes’ hand in marriage, something goes terribly wrong which makes her life even worse.
- ‘Eeny Meeny’, M J Aldridge
A serial killer is at large. Their preferred method of killing – not. People are kidnapped in pairs and held together in a single room with a gun with one bullet. The way to escape alive is clear – take the gun and shoot the other person; the victims are forced to choose between loosing their lives or their minds. Officer Helen Grace is tasked with solving the case, but as she gets closer to the truth the uglier it becomes.
- ‘Fahrenheit 451’, Ray Bradbury
Have you ever felt like burning your note books and folders after an especially gruelling year at school? Maybe Guy Montag could help. He is a fireman in a world in which that means starting fires rather than putting them out. Television has taken over, and literature is all but wiped out. Guy’s job is to burn any books he finds, along with the house they are found in. One day, his unconventional neighbour Clarisse teaches him how to see the world through books instead of a screen, then she abruptly goes missing and Guy’s wife, Mildred, attempts suicide. Guy begins to question everything he’s ever known. He starts to collect books, then is forced to be constantly on the run.