And that title is most likely the last time I will write “FTW” this year. Well, apart from that second time. And in the tags.

In the Juniper household, a Young Adult novel is never far away and I thought I’d share a few favourites with you lovely Persephoneers. This idea was helped, in part, by a couple of pre-orders that came through recently. One which I had completely and utterly forgotten about until the Amazon package came through the letterbox. Fortunately, Mr. Juniper is very good about my book habit, though he does get a little alarmed when I say, “Darling, maybe we need to think about getting another bookcase.”

The first book is not a recent one, but given Pileofmonkeys’, uh, “enthusiasm” over nominating the heroine for Middlemarch Madness, I thought I’d play it safe by including the aforementioned heroine and avoiding her wrath. So, the heroine in question? Lyra Belacqua of Philip Pullman’s award winning His Dark Materials trilogy. His Dark Materials consists of Northern Lights (Ed. note – The Golden Compass in the U.S.), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. This trilogy has a special place in my heart because I’m part of the Harry Potter Generation, which meant, not only did I grow up with Harry and his friends, I grew up with Lyra, too. His Dark Materials and the Harry Potter books also, in my view, bring beautiful balance to each other. In telling epic stories, Pullman and Rowling gave a generation an incredible heroine and hero, and also gave a generation two spectacular series, which have sparked much debate, from two different religious backgrounds (Pullman identifies as an agnostic atheist, Rowling identifies as Christian). The only sadness I hold over these books is never being able to have the experience of reading them again for the first time. Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series is also well worth checking out for another amazing heroine and cast of characters.

Team Lyra Or GTFO
Exhibit A of Pileofmonkey’s enthusiasm, from her own hand, no less.

The second book is somewhat more recent than His Dark Materials. Going Bovine was published in 2009 and is the work of Libba Bray. The delightfully amazing Libba Bray. There’s no spoiler in saying this: it’s a kid-develops-horrible-illness book. It is however, not of the Lifetime movie variety. It is of the physics, punk angel, hospital escape, video game, drink and drugs variety. Going Bovine follows Cameron, who has Creutzfeldt-Jakob variant BSE (Mad Cow Disease). Going Bovine has won several awards, including the Michael L. Printz award. It also features cover art of a bull carrying a gnome. It is just awesome. If you still need convincing, I give you the udderly wonderful Libba Bray in a cow suit:

Coming in third is a collaboration that I’ve re-read more times than I can remember. Will Grayson, Will Grayson is by David Levithan and John Green. On their own, these two authors are incredible, together they are stupendously incredible. Will Grayson, Will Grayson is about two teenagers called Will Grayson (shocking, I know) who live in different suburbs of Chicago and cross paths one night. By means of further introduction to the book, these two videos are of David Levithan and John Green performing slightly modified versions of chapters by each of them (there are no spoilers):

In the number four spot is a lady who is only number four because this isn’t an order-of-greatness list. Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses series (Noughts & Crosses, An Eye For An Eye, Knife Edge, Checkmate, and Double Cross) is…complicated. To quote Wikipedia:

Blackman’s award-winning Noughts & Crosses series, exploring love, racism, and violence, is set in a fictional dystopia. Explaining her choice of title, in a 2007 interview for the BBC’s Blast website, Blackman said noughts and crosses is “…one of those games that nobody ever plays after childhood, because nobody ever wins…” In an interview for The Times, Blackman said that before writing Noughts & Crosses her protagonists’ ethnicites were never central to the plots of her books. She has also said, “I wanted to show black children just getting on with their lives, having adventures, and solving their dilemmas, like the characters in all the books I read as a child.” Blackman eventually decided to address racism directly. She reused some details from her own experience, including an occasion when she needed a plaster and found they were designed to be inconspicuous only on white people’s skin. The Times interviewer Amanda Craig speculated about why the Noughts & Crosses series was not, for a long time, published in the United States: “though there was considerable interest, 9/11 killed off the possibility of publishing any book describing what might drive someone to become a terrorist.” Noughts and Crosses is now available in the US published under the title Black & White (Simon & Schuster Publishers, 2005). (Source.)

She really has won an incredible number of awards for the Noughts & Crosses series, as well as for the many, many other books she has written. In short, she’s amazing and since I suspect there are no videos on the Internet of Malorie Blackman in a cow suit, I give you a picture of the lovely lady herself:

Malorie Blackman
Awesome is as awesome does. (From Wikipedia)

Coming in fifth is John Green. Again. But on his own this time. I’ve mentioned this book a few times in other articles and now I get the chance to talk about it with good reason. The Fault in Our Stars was published in January this year and has already had an impact on the world. Namely, an impact called Hazel and Augustus. I am already getting teary. TFIOS is another kid-develops-horrible-illness book, but like Going Bovine, is not of the Lifetime movie variety. It is of the heartbreakingly honest and Venn diagram variety. Some of you (Persephoneer Nerdfighters?) may already be familiar with this video from John and his brother’s Vlogbrothers project, for those who aren’t, this question and answer session on TFIOS is worth watching:

Good grief, you need more convincing? Here’s John reading the first two chapters:

Onwards to number six. This was the pre-order that I forgot about until thud, there it was on the doormat. Shine by Lauren Myracle is not only a wonderful book, it is written by a lady of incredible grace. To address the latter, Shine was nominated by accident for a National Book Foundation award, she was asked to withdraw her book and remained composed throughout. Libba Bray, however, did not. Her blog on the incident is well worth reading. In addition to the grace Myracle showed over the award incident, a portion of the proceeds from Shine go to the Matthew Shepard Foundation and she also had the National Book Foundation make a donation. Even without knowing much about Shine, Myracle’s actions along with, I’ll admit it, beautiful cover art, meant I pre-ordered this without a second thought. The beautiful paperback came through the door and, oh my, I will be forever glad I bought it. The story is not an easy one, but Myracle handles it amazingly. She also has one of the coolest author sites I’ve ever come across.

Cover of Shine by Lauren Myracle
Shine by Lauren Myracle (from

Right, where are we. Number seven, I think? Strictly speaking, I don’t know whether or not this comes under YA, but it features a young protagonist and well, here it is, a graphic novel, no less. An award winner, too. I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and J. M. Ken Niimura. To quote Wikipedia again, I Kill Giants is about: “a girl struggling with an impending family disaster by escaping into a fantasy life of magic and monsters.” It is a strange little story, there’s even a social worker in there, too but it is just so beautiful in both the writing and the artwork. Take a chance on Barbara, it’s worth it. On the graphic novel side, I’d also suggest Blankets by Craig Thompson. A beautiful autobiographical story of childhood and adolescence. It’s another award winner, and it’ll be with me forever.

I Kill Giants
I Kill Giants.

Well number seven was two-for-one, and number eight is a gazillion-for-one. Jacqueline Wilson, like Malorie Blackman has a list of works that in itself is exhausting to read. Wilson’s work is not usually considered YA but instead for younger readers. However, there is the odd book which counts as YA (Girls Under Pressure, comes to mind) and as much as anything, I just love this lady. I read her books while I was growing up, and even now, go back to them. They’re finished in a fraction of the time it took me as a kid but there’s something wonderful about them nonetheless. Wilson is known for not shying away from topics of a “difficult” nature and you name it, she’s probably covered it. So it’s hardly surprising that she’s not only a Dame but she was also Children’s Laureate for a time. Her work is often instantly recognisable because of the artwork Nick Sharratt has done for her, time and again.

Cover of The Story of Tracy Beaker
Nick Sharratt cover art for Wilson’s The Story of Tracy Beaker (From Wikipedia)

And finally, at number nine is another of my heroes: Terry Pratchett. Like Malorie Blackman and Jacqueline Wilson, Terry Pratchett has written umpteen million books. He’s probably best known for his Discworld series. The Discworld being, well, the world. Which sits atop four elephants (Berilia, Tubul, Great T’Phon, and Jerakeen) which stand upon a turtle A.K.A. the Great A’Tuin. As well as elephants and turtles, Pratchett has also given the world the likes of Tiffany Aching (most recently in I Shall Wear Midnight), Susan Sto Helit (most recently in Thief of Time) and Lady Sybil (most recently in Snuff). All of these ladies are incredible characters and Pratchett does them justice on every page. Pratchett has also written books outside of the Discworld, such as Good Omens with Neil Gaiman and Nation, which was adapted for the stage. Along with being an awesome author, Terry Pratchett is also a personal hero of mine not just because he’s a Humanist but because he continues to write, despite suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. He is also a frequent contributor on the debates around euthanasia. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he is actually Sir Terry Pratchett and that the motto on his coat of arms is “Don’t fear the reaper.” There are also few authors who can rock a hat, in quite the way he can.

Three of Terry Pratchett's books.
Not sure Susan Sto Helit would approve of being the only one in paperback.

So much for number nine! You’re getting a number ten, too, though rather by accident. I checked my email to have Amazon tell me, ever so kindly, that a pre-order I’d placed in June would be delivered a little earlier than expected and it arrived today. The book in question? Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver. Pandemonium is the second book of the Delirium trilogy (the first book in the trilogy is, strangely, Delirium) and I have just torn through it. (Lena, you’re amazing!) I’m glad, to say the very least, that despite my doubts after Delirium, I took the plunge and made the pre-order. I’m slightly less glad that I have to wait until this time next year to read the final book, Requiem. Oliver is possibly best known for Before I Fall. Before I Fall takes on the Groundhog Day idea, and yes, the protagonist may become ever so slightly involved in a fatal car crash rather soon into the story, but Oliver creates a beautiful tale. By giving her protagonist a chance to relive the same day several times, she’s giving her a chance to see things differently and follow through different choices. For myself, anyway, I found Before I Fall to be one of those books that’s stuck in my mind long after I finished reading it – thought provoking, to say the least.

Lauren Oliver Cover Art
Lauren Oliver’s books are also ones for great cover art.

So there you are Persephoneers, a snapshot of the YA out there today. And if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to check Amazon in case there are any other pre-orders I’ve forgotten.

39 replies on “YA FTW!”

It’s basically one long secular fairy tale. The whole three-book series is the triumph of secularism over religion, to put it bluntly (and Pullman has said as much). It’s magnificent. I never felt like a book had validated my ideas of what goodness and morality were at all before I read His Dark Materials. It’s a Humanist mythology, it triumphs everything that’s good in people. I have unabridged, unabashed joy at how wonderful rereading it makes me feel.

Do I need to lay it on any thicker?
Ok, one more. GAY ANGELS. I had such a crush on them…

You know, I had started on Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and got about 1/3 in, but somehow lost steam. I’ll give it another shot!

I have to absolutely second @dellbot regarding Tender Morsels. It is, however, very triggering on topics of abuse (physical and sexual), rape and its emotional aftermath. But it really is a tremendous YA novel. Neil Gaiman ranted and raved about its brilliance a few years back, so I picked it up and inhaled it.

Also, nice to see Craig Thompson mentioned. If you liked Blankets, I highly recommend his illustrated travel journal, Carnet de Voyage, which is sad and beautiful and has fantastic depictions of his travels in France and Morocco. He wrote/illustrated it while he was researching for Habibi (which I’ve not yet gone through yet but will so & will probably be writing up a post about it).

Do! Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a wonderful book.

Thank you for pointing out the triggering elements of Tender Morsels, I’ve been aware that it may be a difficult book, but know also that the awesome Neil Gaiman wouldn’t recommend it if it wasn’t a great read.

Craig Thompson was someone I stumbled across a while back and he really does the most beautiful artwork. Thank you for the reminders of his other work!

Excellent list and when the semester is over I’ll have to tackle some of the ones of I haven’t read. If you’re looking for other amazing YA reads I would suggest anything by M.T. Anderson (Feed, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing Vol.1 & 2), The Book Thief (cried through the last half!), Exodus by Julie Bertagna and Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. The last three feature powerful female protagonists and are all beautifully written. Feed and Exodus are both futuristic dystopias, Octavian Nothing and The Book Thief are fictional history (The American Revolution and Nazi Germany respectively) and Tender Morsels is a very dark bizarre fantasy folktale story.

Thank you for the recommendations! The Book Thief is one I enjoyed a while ago and it’s such a beautiful story. Tender Morsels is another one that’s been in my Amazon basket for some time now, thank you for the M.T. Anderson recommendation, too!

Yes, my namesake is rather a badass, isn’t she?

What I’d really like Sir Pratchett to write next is something on a  female assassin, a la Monstrous Regiment‘s Polly.

I loved Lyra back in the day (still do, really). I always wanted to be her. The daemons were an awesome device. I cried when they had to leave them behind. Cried.

DFTBA, fellow Nerdfighters!

DFTBA! Aw, that has made my night, seriously, seeing DFTBA! Lady Sybil is incredible, she truly is. I just finished Snuff, the other day and despite the fact she’s not the main character, she is there throughout. Have to say, I also loved the relationship between Sam and Sybil, I thought Pratchett did an incredible job with it, and it’s vying with Hazel and Augustus for one of the best relationships I’ve read for a long time.

As a kid, reading about the daemons was just amazing. I still happen to think they’re amazing, as it happens. They were just so … I don’t know … it’s a long time since I’ve read the books, but damn, I still think about them so often.

Wait wait wait.  Mentioning Terry Pratchett’s female characters without even mentioning the best character in the entire series, who probably deserved her own paragraph?  I find Angua such a fascinating (and kick-ass) character, not least of which because she is one of the few female werewolves in literature, much less a very well-developed one.

Monstrous Regiment was pretty good, too, and I really enjoy reading about the dwarf’s take on gender and identity.  And the witches!  It’s a good thing Granny Weatherwax didn’t see her name omitted.

Why yes, I am in the middle of re-reading (and way too attached to) all my Pratchett books at the moment, why do you ask?

Oh, I am way more terrified of Granny Weatherwax (among the other Grannies!) in terms of who didn’t make the list! But yes, Angua sounds as though she should have had her own paragraph – thank you for making sure she was remembered! I have to sayy it was only on your mentioning her that I remembered her from I Shall Wear Midnight! Eep! She’s been in books that I’ve yet to read of the Discworld series – though, to be fair, there are well over thirty, if not more, in the series! Will be rectifying the situation ASAP though! Thanks again!

My favorites are the City Watch books, and as she is a member of the Watch, she plays a large role in all of them.  Great ones are Men at Arms, The Fifth Elephant, Feet of Clay, and Thud!

(I do appreciate the diversity of books on this post; I will definitely have to pick some of them up!)

Malorie Blackman is fantastic. She was part of what first educated me about racism; she literally puts white people in the shoes of racial minorities. There’s this amazing moment in the first book where Sephy (one of the book’s two protagonists, a Cross (Black) girl) realises that plasters are only made for her skin colour, and 10 year-old me immediately realised that was true of white people in the real world.

From then, I was completely hooked. She makes themes of racism and indeed feminism in places (especially in women of colour – Meggie, for instance, fulfills many traditional stereotypes of older women of colour in the real world), but the books are really just novels with dystopia as a backdrop, and a convincing one at that.

At one point, the narrative refers to a Christmas tree as a “Crossmas Tree”, subtly intoning Cross linguistic privilege. Are you feeling the awesome yet?

I’ve just started Noughts & Crosses, and I’m seriously ashamed it’s taken me this long! It came out in 2001 and she’s one of the best British authors out there! But Pig Heart Boy has stuck with me since I read it as a kid (doesn’t every kid read Pig Heart Boy?). The awesome is steadily growing, for sure.

ETA: That’s really interesting what you said about racism and education. I’m trying to think what the first literary introduction was for me.

Living in the UK, where racism is simultaneously subtler in modern times and also rarely taught about (something our education system needs to gtf with the programme on), I identified far more with Malorie’s depiction of silent, institutional, somewhat dormant societal racism than I ever did (or do now) with traditional stories about racism. I loved the Colour Purple and To Kill a Mockingbird (though the latter I only read as a teen), but I didn’t identify with them or understand how they related to my life now, I found them to be this nightmare horror world (and felt that way about a lot of books about racism). Malorie talked about little things I could see in the world around me, she talked through snobbery and class consciousness – in other words, she talked about what British racism is and how it manifests.

Andrea Levy’s Small Island, though I read it much later, is predicated on many of the same themes. There’s one point where one of the four protagonists who is a black British GI  temporarily stationed in the US during the Second World War (the colonies at this point were still considered to have British citizens in them) realises that the reason he’s not allowed to go off-camp is because in the US he would be lynched. When he’s later in the UK, he describes it more like “being constantly watched”, and he talks about a dog eyeing up a gecko to pounce.

As a child I was brought up both by my mother but also by her best friend’s family (who are Ghanaian.) They had a similar way of explaining British racism to me; they did it through simple visuals. I used to love being around them while they made themselves up for a night out, and once they showed me their hair properly, then gave me a magazine and told me to look through it and see if I could see their hair in it. Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t see their big curly hair anywhere, and said this. They said that was the point. Malorie does the same thing; she illustrates simply and realistically what living with modern racism is like, and she does it for people who aren’t lucky enough to have black aunties.

Also, comments are really fucking with me tonight so if this posts three times I won’t be surprised.

All the more of your awesomeness to appreciate.

Those are really great points on racism. The Color Purple is one I’ve come to love and I found it really helpful – in very simple terms – for simply increasing my knowledge of race. But yes, it’s where Malorie Blackman is so important, because what she’s writing about is more … relevant (for want of a better word).

Your point on education is very interesting, too. I’m pretty sure Pig Heart Boy was one I read in primary school, if not, it would have been the first year of secondary school. Otherwise, the big focus of our reading was Scottish literature.

Out of interest, I was speaking to my mother the other day and asked her outright, “How did you teach us about race?” (To put that into a little more context, Scotland is 98% white and at both my schools – secondary had approx 1200 pupils – there were no people of colour, that I can recollect.) This has been on my mind for a while, and even more so as Juniper Junior brought home a book from nursery (they have their own little library) which is about a little black girl. I was thrilled that he had picked out the book but then left thinking: I need to keep this up. Hence a very interesting conversation with my mother.

It would not surprise me at all if my liberal city sixth form of 2,000 didn’t have similar statistics on minorities. I think the most glaring omission in what seems like both the English & Welsh and Scottish curricula is the lack of any kind of syllabus coverage of British race issues. I only even learned about American racial history at A-level history, and History is optional at GCSE, so there are a huge swathe of children in this country who will never be taught about race at all, in any capacity (beyond perfunctory PSHE lessons nobody pays attention to because, well, it’s PSHE (for Ameripersephoneers, vaguely equivalent to Citizenship classes except with less of a purpose). )

I obviously knew about Martin Luther King and race issues in a general sense beforehand, but I was specifically taught by my family about race (mostly my older sister and my aunties). I had friends who had never heard of Malcolm X, who were surprised when I told them about British race riots in the EIGHTIES (i.e. riots some of their parents would have seen on the news or even participated in). My twenty-something history teacher born in the late eighties was interested-but-nonplussed at my mention of British race history. It’s fucking ridiculous.

The problem, I think, with British race history, is that it’s fairly liminal. If you talk about racism in the UK, you’re forced to go back to White Man’s Burden, Kipling-era noblesse oblige and the Empire complex, minimum. Because you have to understand the Mother Country complex in colonial (often more like mixed-race) black people, either in the Caribbean or in Africa itself. Before long you basically have to explain the entire British Empire, then talk about the social history that arises from the complex of, sickeningly enough, REJECTION that large swathes of Afro-Carribbean immigrants felt coming to a late 20th century Britain which rejected the very peoples it had once called its’ children while clinging to the edifices of Imperial power.

There’s a great passage from Small Island on this phenomenon, relating to the Second World War;
‘Let me ask you to imagine this. Living far from you is a beloved relation whom you have never met. Yet this relation is so dear a kin she is known as Mother. Your own mummy talks of Mother all the time. “Oh, Mother is a beautiful woman – refined, mannerly and cultured.” Your daddy tells you, “Mother thinks of you like her children; like the Lord above she takes care of you from afar.” There are many valorous stories told of her, which enthral grown men as well as children. Her photographs are cherished, pinned in your own family album to be admired over and over. Your finest, your best, everything you have that is worthy is sent to Mother as gifts. And on her birthday you sing-song and party.
Then one day you hear Mother calling – she is troubled, she need your help. Your mummy, your daddy say go. Leave home, leave familiar, leave love. Travel seas with waves that swell about you as substantial as concrete buildings. Shiver, tire, hunger – for no sacrifice is too much to see you at Mother’s needy side. This surely is adventure. After all you have heard, all you believe, soon, soon you will meet Mother?
The filthy tramp that eventually greets you is she. Ragged, old and dusty as the long dead. Mother has a blackened eye, bad breath and one lone tooth that waves in her head when she speaks. Can this be that fabled relation you heard so much of? This twisted-crooked weary woman. This stinking cantankerous hag. She offers you no comfort after your journey. No smile. No welcome. Yet she looks down at you through lordly eyes and says, “Who the bloody hell are you?”‘


There are massive issues with history education here, and I have to admit, I was one of those who dropped History as soon as I could (when it became optional at Standard Grade level – which is like GCSE). It’s where, I’m feeling ever more grateful for my upbringing (I was reminded by your mention of Malcolm X and remembering my Dad telling me about him when I was a kid), and realising how much our parents taught my brother and I (most likely helped in part that our Dad’s degree was in sociology).

Your points about the history of race in Britain are so true. It’s a complex issue and when I was reading about slavery in Britain (all the way from approx 1100AD up to the 19th century), there was such a web history at every point.

Thank you so much for sharing that extract, too.

In Dublin, he’s known as Professor Sir Terry Pratchett as he’s a visiting professor for Trinity College. Entirely proper, I’m sure, but there’s something brilliantly whimsical about it that just suits him. By the way, if you ever get a chance to hear him speak, do so. I did a few months ago and it was absolutely worth it – I know his disease affects him in other ways but when he’s speaking about his work, Humanism, euthanasia etc. you would never know it.

Another YA writer that I’d throw in for is Patrick Ness: he wrote The Knife of Never Letting Go trilogy (AGH WHY DID I NOT NOMINATE VIOLA FOR MM!!!) ; wrote Siobhán Dowd’s concept in A Monster Calls; and his short story “Different for Boys” in the collection Losing It is one of the most hilarious, real, and heartbreaking things I’ve ever read on the topic.

Oh my goodness, I’d love to hear him speak. Maybe one day! Goodness, I didn’t realise he was a visiting professor, though! He really is an amazing guy.

Patrick Ness – big confession here – I haven’t read any of his work! Ack! But his books, A Monster Calls and the Chaos Walking trilogy have been in my Amazon basket for what feels like forever. And thank you for the Losing It recommendation! Think this was maybe just the reminder I needed to check out his work!

Nerdfighters! I was actually a fan of John Green’s books for several years before I found out about Vlogbrothers maybe 6-ish months ago. It was amazing to discover that this author I enjoyed went so above and beyond to interact with his readers. And then The Fault in Our Stars came out, and I was completely blown away by it. I haven’t been that affected by any book, YA or not, in a long time.

YES! Nerdfighters! There’s a recent video which has links to more info on TFIOS. And yes, TFIOS is an experience, to say the least. I’m relatively new to John Green’s work though, having been introduced to it via Will Grayson, Will Grayson (thanks to ForeverYoungAdult) in May last year, which led to other work and Vlogbrothers (and HankGames!).

Before TFIOS, my favorite of book of his was Paper Towns. It’s definitely a more typical high school/teenager-y story, but it’s well-written and contains some of the funniest road-trip scenes ever. Plus, I think I have a soft spot for it because I can also identify with the characters’ growing-up-in-Florida angst.

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