Recently, I’ve been redecorating my room, and in the process I’ve found a lot of old books. Books I read and re-read numerous times in my early teens, when ‘YA’ wasn’t quite yet the booming market that it is today.
The books I loved in my early teens, from about 12-15, seem to have been forgotten about as YA became such a ‘big thing’ and new books flooded the market. The only few books from the 90s and early 00s that seem to have hung on have been Harry Potter and The Confessions of Georgia Nicolson. So, I’m here to showcase some of my favourite YA books from my early teens, and why they shouldn’t just be swept under the carpet.
It’s ten years since the terrible war in the cities that took Kat and Tanka’s parents. A new life in the New Frontier beckons them, far from bullet holes and bomb craters. New Frontier people are building a fresh, liberal society, without the genetic classification and discrimination that led to the war. Kat and Tanka have a beautiful new home, Cherry Heaven, and everything promises them peace and happiness. But Cherry Heaven carries haunting marks of the past, bubbling to the surface in mysterious and frightening ways.
Cherry Heaven came out whilst I was halfway through Year 8, so when I was almost 13. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was actually the second in a series. However, it read like a standalone and I never really felt confused.
I think I probably picked this one up because I liked the cover, but I’m fairly certain it might just have kick-started my love for all things dystopian. It was a really gripping and exciting read, with complex yet mysterious world-building. I’m not sure why I’ve never picked up the first book or the sequels – maybe because I was young and not too bothered about reading things in order or finishing series – but perhaps that’s something I’ll do now I’m older and at least a little more organised.
For fans of: dystopian thrillers.
Jessica Allendon is bored and Googles her name. Weirdly, she finds another girl, same age, same name, also living in London. They arrange to meet. At the designated time and place, Jess sees the girl, shock registering on both their faces as they realise they look identical. They shake hands and in that instant are catapulted into each other’s worlds. Jessica finds herself somewhere which looks like the London of 50 years ago, but the year is still 2008. In this parallel London, the history is different, key war memorials are missing, and the Jessica whose life she now inhabits was involved in a dark and sinister conspiracy. Jess must convince everyone she is the same girl, at all costs, if she wants to get back to her London – alive.
This is another published in February 2008, and I kept re-reading this all the way until I was 16, I enjoyed it that much. I suppose this is another dystopian-ish YA novel but, just like Cherry Heaven, it’s also a great thriller with some interesting and funny characters.
I can actually still remember much of this book and can still envisage particular scenes, which goes to show how much I enjoyed this one because I can’t even remember what I read two years ago.
For fans of: alternate history thrillers and a witty protagonist.
Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother’s death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true.
Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls’ academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions.
Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions “for a bit of fun” and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the “others” and rebuild the Order.
To say I worshipped this series would be an understatement.
My dad actually chose the first book in this series for me. For someone who doesn’t read fiction, he’s strangely good at choosing books.
I can still partly remember the last page of the final book, The Sweet Far Thing, because it was so bittersweet and profound. Not only does this series have great writing, but it has intriguing characters, magical realism and a great romance. Also, this is probably the only book/series on my list that I still see mentioned today in the bookish community.
For fans of: historical fantasy and romance.
The days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve are dead days, when spirits roam and magic shifts restlessly just beneath the surface of our lives.
A magician called Valerian must save his own life within those few days or pay the price for the pact he made with evil so many years ago. But alchemy and sorcery are no match against the demonic power pursuing him. Helping him is his servant, Boy, a child with no name and no past. The quick-witted orphan girl, Willow, is with them as they dig in death fields at midnight, and as they are swept into the sprawling blackness of a subterranean city on a journey from which there is no escape.
I was a big fan of Marcus Sedgwick when I was younger. In fact, practically my whole family was. Me, my mum and my sister all read the Book of Dead Days series. I liked to try and read the same things as my mum and sister when I was younger, which is how I found out about my favourite YA series, Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, when I overheard my mum and sister chatting about it and wanted to be involved. The same happened for The Book of Dead Days and Sedgwick quickly became one of my go-to authors in my early teens.
This duology is quite sinister and dark for a YA series, but it’s one reason why I loved it. Not to mention the covers were made of this mottled kind of card and so they even felt creepy. Also, an honorary mention to one of Sedgwick’s other novels, My Swordhand is Singing, for being extremely creepy and helping to kickstart by zombie obsession.
For fans of: creepy historical horror and dark magic.
Ever since she was child, Jem has kept a secret: Whenever she meets someone new, no matter who, as soon as she looks into their eyes, a number pops into her head. That number is a date: the date they will die. Burdened with such awful awareness, Jem avoids relationships.
Until she meets Spider, another outsider, and takes a chance. The two plan a trip to the city. But while waiting to ride the Eye ferris wheel, Jem is terrified to see that all the other tourists in line flash the same number. Today’s number. Today’s date. Terrorists are going to attack London. Jem’s world is about to explode!
Even just thinking about this series gets me pumped up. This trilogy was action-packed and didn’t pull punches. Plus it had POC and biracial main characters, discussed issues like teen pregnancy and drugs, and looked at how the British government can fail young people from poorer areas. Not to mention it featured superpowers, of course.
For fans of: dystopian thrillers (again. Maybe my dystopian obsession did start earlier than I thought) and gritty, raw characters.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? What books did you enjoy when you were younger? Let me know in the comments below!