Life is Funny (E.R. Frank, 2000). If I had to recommend a single YA book it would be this one – the intersecting stories of eleven New York City high schools students of different genders, race and class. Writer E. R. Frank is also a social worker and her experience shows in spades. Each of the eleven characters has a completely distinct voice and Life is Funny is the most nakedly honest, perceptive book I’ve ever read about teenagers.
Stolen: A Letter to My Captor (Lucy Christopher, 2009). When sixteen-year-old Gemma is snatched from an airport and smuggled to a remote part of Australia where she’s held captive by attractive, familiar looking Ty, the story doesn’t play out like you’d expect. It’s mesmerizing, often beautiful and extremely unsettling, a real journey of the mind. Like Gemma, I felt off-balance, fascinated and fearful throughout the whole ordeal. I also felt as though I’d never, ever read anything like this.
48 Shades of Brown (Nick Earls, 2004). There’s a scene involving an irate goose that made me laugh out loud while reading 48 Shades of Brown, a slice-of-life, funny but realistic novel about Aussie teenager Dan going to stay with his young aunt and her cute roommate while his parents spend the year in Geneva. Pure charming! I enjoyed this book so much that I’ve actually bought it twice now.
Tomorrow When the War Began (John Marsden, 1993). Last year I finished off the entire seven-book Tomorrow series and although this first book was released almost twenty years ago, it feels both completely fresh and like an instant classic. The Tomorrow novels centre on a group of teenagers who are camping away from home in the bush when Australia is invaded by a foreign army. Main character Ellie and her friends are left to survive and battle the invaders on their own. The story’s not told in a way that glorifies war, nor does it portray the young characters as action heroes, but they are fighters – courageous, intelligent and yet far from invincible. The emotional veracity of each of the books makes it clear that even if there’s a victory at the end of book seven and the invaders are forced to abandon Australia, this band of young people will never be the same – and some of them won’t survive at all.