By Philip Pullman (David Fickling Books, $35)

Some 22 years after English author Philip Pullman published his

Northern Lights


, the first in the multi-award-winning

His Dark Materials

trilogy, he has returned with the first of three prequels. If this provocative and engrossing first title is anything to go by,

The Book of Dust

will be even better than the original trilogy. Malcolm Polstead, a self-possessed but believable 11-year-old, and his daemon, Asta, live with his parents in Oxford. Across the Thames is Godstow Priory where the nuns live. Malcolm learns they have a guest: a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua. Little does he know how interesting life is about to become. There's a harder and more urgent edge to the writing, which is as sharp and rich as Pullman ever is. Ostensibly a Young Adult title, this is a book that swings between genres and would make lovers of smart fiction very happy. DC

by Jeremy Chambers (Text, $37)
Anyone who has read Puberty Blues or seen the excellent TV series of the same name will find echoes of it here in Chambers' evocation of his teenage years in Australia. His gritty description of under-age sex, drug taking, petty crime and mindless violence is interspersed with lyrical writing in stark contrast to the backdrop of an aimless existence in a dull suburb. Roland is the central figure, a sensitive hard-working kid who goes to a snobby school but enjoys hanging out with the neighbourhood yobbos, who spend most of their time drinking and smoking dope. He has a smouldering crush on Cassie, the daughter of his parents' friends but she has eyes for one of Roland's mates. Cleverly crafted and highly recommended. GH


by Sabrina Malcolm (Gecko Press, $25)

A warm-hearted narrative about the resilience of Tuttle, who is in his early teens and has a lot on his plate. With a father lost on Mt Everest and a mother who has withdrawn, Tuttle looks after the household and his little brother, Fen, who has stopped talking. Kiwi illustrator and author Malcolm paints an engaging picture of a strong and imaginative boy who is trying to pull his family together while dealing with the loss of his father. Sometimes he copes by drifting off into Greek mythology or indulging in astronomy. The references to these subjects give the book depth and a touch of whimsy and help Tuttle to put his problems in perspective. GH

by Sarah Combs (Candlewick, $28)
American author Combs delivers a compelling read by tackling the difficult subject of school shootings from the viewpoint of seven narrators whose stories interweave. Combs' work is aimed at older teens and she develops complex characters whose stories unfold — often through stream of consciousness — over the course of two days, building up to coordinated shootings across the United States by disaffected schoolkids. Combs uses an edgy writing style that builds tension, leaving the reader wondering who is involved in the plot, which is being driven through chat rooms. The online pseudonyms used there make even murkier the identity of the person behind the scheme and those who have joined in. GH


by Eileen Merriman (Penguin, $20)

In her debut YA novel, Eileen Merriman doesn't shy away from the grimmer realities of teenage life: sexual assault, self-harm, feelings of isolation and exclusion. She also unabashedly embraces the New Zealand setting. Rebecca McQuilten, 15, moves with her parents to a new city. Lonely but trying to fit in, she goes to a party where things fall apart. Then she meets Cory Marshall, 16, who helps Rebecca piece her life back together — but that's before he shatters it all over again. It's intelligent, literate — chapter headings reference classical and contemporary books — without becoming too scholarly; pertinent, witty when it needs to be, thought-provoking and relatable. DC