Trying to keep your teen from spending the entire holiday on TikTok and Netflix? Not to worry, Sarah Pollok has you covered with her picks of the year's best novels for young readers.
by Phil Stamper (Bloomsbury Publishing, $18)
As a successful social media journalist with a job at Buzzfeed on the horizon, 17-year-old Cal has his future all figured out. Until his father is selected for Nasa's next space mission and they're relocated almost overnight from bustling New York to boring Houston. Although things look up when Cal meets and falls for a fellow astronaut's kid, Leon, with typical teenage recklessness. What ensues is a light-hearted story about first loves and long-distance friendships, navigating social media performances and learning when things should go unshared; issues intimately known and experienced by young readers from New York to New Zealand.
A Trio of Sophies
by Eileen Merriman (Penguin NZ, $20)
Some novels gently deposit you into a tangle of questions and secrets before commending the slow unwinding of mysteries. However, as a full-time haematologist and five-time novelist, New Zealand author Eileen Merriman isn't one to waste time. So, from page one we are thrown into a mystery of ever-increasing proportions, where every answer simply brings more questions. Like many missing kids, Sophie Abercrombie was last seen at school. Unlike many missing persons, she was last seen kissing her English teacher. Full of unpredictable twists and delightful mentions of Tāmaki Makaurau, A Trio of Sophies will keep readers on their toes until the very last page.
by Damien Wilkins (Massey University Press, $22)
Damien Wilkins has written many award-winning novels in his time, so it comes as no surprise his first foray into YA was met with similar acclaim, described as a "hymn to the internal lives of boys today". Readers follow the story of 15-year-old Ricky, who, despite feeling terribly uncertain of himself, can't help but take up space. Seven feet of it to be exact. In general, Ricky has little to complain about; his grades are average, basketball skills adequate and family is bearable. Yet, behind the stoic front is an overly active mind tormented by anxiety. A coming-of-age story written in Aotearoa for Aotearoa, Aspiring is a must-read for any boy trying to learn what it is to be a man.
Yes No Maybe So
by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed (HarperCollins NZ, $20)
If 2020 hasn't given your teen quite enough political entertainment, Yes No Maybe So is the perfect summer read to end the year. Few kids would consider political volunteering an effortless summer pastime. Yet for Maya and Jamie, door-knocking is cake compared to navigating their different religions and races in a world not quite as tolerant as it makes itself out to be. Heartfelt and timely, Maya and Jamie's story may sit on YA bookshelves but make no mistake, it's central message is one we all need to hear; no matter our differences, mistakes or miscommunications, always lead with kindness.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Australia, $24)
Infamous YA author Suzanne Collins has written a prequel to The Hunger Games, need we say more? Whether your young reader chewed through the trilogy or is going through a dystopian adventure phase, The Ballad of Songbirds is well worth a read. By design, a prequel will rarely be as adored as the original, and in the case of Katniss versus Coriolanus Snow (whose childhood the prequel covers), the former was undeniably a more complex and satisfying character to explore. Nonetheless, those who loved Collins' cracking pace and evocative worlds will be sure to enjoy this latest instalment.
Clap When You Land
by Elizabeth Acevedo (Hot Key Books, $23)
From National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo comes a story of how we grieve in a world that moves so fast. Based on the true story of a 2001 American Airline crash, which claimed 260 lives, Acevedo uses free-
verse to tell a gripping story of two girls who lose someone in the tragedy but gain more than they could have imagined. Because, while Camino lives in the Dominican Republic and Yaharia lives in New York, these girls are sisters; a truth that shakes through their families, identities and increasingly complicated futures.
by Jenni Downham (David Fickling Books, $26)
It's 2020 and girls can be anything they want to be, apart from angry. The latest work by critically acclaimed novelist Jenni Downham, Furious Thing presents a fiery exploration into what it means to be young, female and angry for reasons you can't quite understand. Aged 15, Lexi knows she has a habit of losing her temper but can never seem to figure out why. Her mum is increasingly distant but loving, her soon-to-be stepfather can be manipulative but never abusive. Is she crazy, or is there a dark side to her family's dysfunction? A rare YA take on emotional abuse and gaslighting, this gripping drama is a must-read for any girl who's acted out in anger and been told to stay quiet.
by Sarah Crossan (Bloomsbury Publishing, $27)
Elizabeth Acevedo isn't the only author tackling YA storylines with free-verse, with Carnegie-winning author Sarah Crossan using the same free-verse structure in her latest story of grief, belonging and what it means to find your place in the world. Divided into page-long pieces heavy with emotion, Toffee tells the story of Allison, a young girl who finds herself homeless, broke and on the run from her abusive father. When she's invited into the home of elderly Marla, who mistakes her for a friend from the past, Allison is more than happy to play along. However, as the women draw closer, her desire to end the deception - and the consequences when she does - soon reach breaking point.