So today I've compiled a list of YA books which I think deserve a lot more attention than they get! I read all five of these books during my adolescence, and all of them have a very special place in my heart.
by Malorie Blackman
Sephy is a Cross -- a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought -- a “colourless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood, but that’s as far as it can go. In their world, Noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum -- a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger. Can they possibly find a way to be together?
Noughts and Crosses was not only the first Dystopian novel I ever read, but also one of the first books to really make me cry. This book destroyed me.
Blackman's exploration of racism and terrorism through the reversal of history, in which white people were once enslaved by black people, is both stunning and heartbreaking. There aren't enough good things I could possibly say about this novel; I read it when I was around thirteen, and to this day it's still one of my favourite novels of all time.
Noughts and Crosses is the first in a series - followed by Knife Edge, Checkmate and Double Cross - and while the other books are amazing Noughts and Crosses is the best one by far.
It might be classed as a YA novel, but people of any age can enjoy this book - please check it out if you haven't already!
by Celia Rees
Nancy Kington, a wealthy merchant's daughter living in Bristol, England in the early 1700's, is sometimes lonely but enjoys the privileges her father's business brings. Minerva Sharpe is a penniless slave's daughter living and working on the Kington's Jamaican plantation. These two young women, united through a set of extraordinary circumstances including a brutal murder, an arranged marriage, and set of ruby earrings, find themselves sailing the high seas in search of love, adventure and freedom as pirates!
I mentioned Witch Child, another of Rees's Historical YA novels, in a previous post, and while I don't think Witch Child gets half the attention it deserves either, I thought it would be a great idea to include another of her stories in this list!
I first read Pirates! about eleven years ago after I came across it in my local library. It's one of those books that sits on the border between YA and Children's fiction, but given that it includes themes like piracy, slavery, death and arranged marriage it's easy to see why an older reader can enjoy it just as much as a younger one.
What I love most about this book is that it makes sure pirate stories aren't just for boys - Nancy and Minerva are pretty badass heroines! They make sure they get their fair share of the action, and that's just what I like to see.
So if you're a fan of pirates, give Pirates! a go!
by Lian Hearn
Set in a long-ago world resembling medieval Japan, where warring clans brutally battle it out while the nobility plots political marriages, the action starts almost immediately. Bodies are piling up by the third page, as teenage Takeo witnesses a massacre in his previously peaceful village. He seems to be writing his own ticket to the grave when he knocks an evil warlord from his horse. The boy is saved, though, by Lord Otori, who introduces Takeo to his clan.
On the other end of the scale, Across the Nightingale Floor is possibly one of the darkest YA novels I've read, and it's fantastic.
Lian Hearn has a gorgeous writing style and this book, the first in the Tales of the Otori series, really benefits from it. We follow our protagonists Takeo and Kaede as they try to survive in a war-torn land which resembles feudal Japan.
This series isn't for the weak hearted. Characters are betrayed, killed and tortured all over the place, but if you love epic Historical/Fantasy pieces of fiction you'll love this!
by Eva Ibbotson
For nineteen-year-old Harriet Morton, life in 1912 Cambridge is as dry and dull as a biscuit. Her stuffy father and her opressive aunt Louisa allow her only one outlet: ballet. When a Russian ballet master comes to class searching for dancers to fill the corps of his ballet company before their South American tour, Harriet's world changes. Defying her father's wishes and narrowly escaping the clutches of the man who wishes to marry her, Harriet sneaks off to join the ballet on their journey to the Amazon. There, in the wild, lush jungle, they perform Swan Lake in grand opera houses for the wealthy and culture-deprived rubber barons, and Harriet meets Rom Verney, the handsome and mysterious British exile who owns the most ornate opera house. Utterly enchanted by both the exotic surroundings and by Rom's affections, Harriet is swept away by her new life, completely unaware that her father and would-be fiancé have begun to track her down...
Eva Ibbotson's A Company of Swans is probably the nicest book on this list. Like Rees, Ibbotson, who sadly passed away in 2010, wrote several Historical YA novels; The Morning Gift being her most well known.
What's good about Ibbotson's Historical fiction is that you don't need to be a lover of history to enjoy her novels. She writes stories which are set in the past but aren't necessarily solely about the time in which they are set; A Company of Swans, for example, is set in 1912, but it's not about the sinking of the Titanic!
This is the perfect read if you're in the mood to read something that's lovely and sweet and easy. I still love it!
by Garth Nix
Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him. She soon finds companions in Mogget, a cat whose aloof manner barely conceals its malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories. As the three travel deep into the Old Kingdom, threats mount on all sides. And every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death—and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own destiny.
Other than Noughts and Crosses, I'm pretty sure Sabriel is the most well known book on this list. If you're a lover of Fantasy and you still haven't read this book - and other books in the Abhorsen trilogy - then you're missing out!
Like Hearn, Nix incorporates some darker themes into his stories. Our heroine, Sabriel, is the daughter of the Abhorsen, a magic user whose job is to send the dead back to the afterlife after they have been woken by necromancy. I'm sure you can imagine just how creepy sections of this book are when the undead are wandering around.
I first read Sabriel when I was around thirteen/fourteen and I still love it now. It's the start of a trilogy that just gets better, and there's a bit of everything in it: magic; romance; adventure... It's got it all!
Whether you're a fan of YA or not, I hope this post has encouraged you to check out some new novels if you haven't read them already!