Celebrating Young Adult fiction by UK authors

Writer Susie Day’s UKYA Books of the Year

Kiss Date Love HateKiss Date Love Hate by Luisa Plaja

A Sims-style game allows a teenage girl to redesign her life – and her friends’ – at the flick of a switch. It was never going to work out quite as perfectly as she’d hoped, right? Clever, acutely observed, and so very  funny.

AdorkableAdorkable by Sarra Manning

Jeane is the UK’s answer to Tavi Gevinson, a teen blogger with real-world clout – but behind the online quips and Twitter friends she’s also a real, vulnerable girl. This book kicks bottom. Sexy, witty, and filled with positive feminist stuff for young women readers.

Code Name VerityCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Two young women, unlikely friends, both working for the British war effort in World War Two: one captured by the Gestapo and tortured for information; the other a pilot. This book broke me into little pieces and made my heart swell up with joy all at once. Read it.

The LookThe Look by Sophia Bennett

Two sisters: Ted, the lanky outsider, and Ava the beautiful. But it’s funny-looking Ted who the model scout approaches, and funny-looking Ted who has the chance of fame and fortune – while Ava must face a devastating cancer diagnosis. Contemporary UKYA at its best: smart, emotionally resonant, and with real recognisable characters.

The Weight of WaterThe Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan

Outstanding, uncompromising verse novel about a Kasienka, a Polish girl newly arrived in England with her mother, desperately trying to track down her father. Friendships are hard to come by, but the swimming team might just float her through. The spareness of the verse captures the bleakness of their situation, and Kasienka’s devastating acceptance of it.

And finally…

The Greengage SummerThe Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden

I meant to keep this to only 5 books, and ones published in 2012 – but I read this 1958 novel this year solely because it was listed in the UKYA Top 100 Books, and it sounded like my cup of tea. Narrated by 13-year-old Cecil, it’s the story of a close-knit family trapped by their mother’s illness in a claustrophobic hotel in rural France. The plot is increasingly daft (down to the lustful object of their affection being revealed to be a jewel thief) but despite the period trappings, it’s rammed with familiar adolescent anxiety about rules, romance, and sexuality. If you’ve ever been told that UKYA didn’t exist until the 21st century, look this way (along with plenty of others on that Top 100 List!).

Screwed by Joanna Kenrick

ScrewedMarsha and her friend Faith regularly go out looking for a good time, which more often than not involves sex. Both from broken homes, they don’t see anything wrong with the way they behave.

Until Marsha meets Rich. Rich is different. Unsure, and from a loving family, he finds Marsha a bit too full on. But being with Rich is like being with a friend – one who listens to her and asks her opinion. Rich makes her feel that she’s worth more than a quick shag in the park. But is it possible to change?

SCREWED examines the question of peer pressure, family and their influence on identity. It also takes a frank look at the all-too-common social problem of underage sex and its consequences. Contains explicit content.

Visit Jo’s website here.


Author Susie Day, on YA with a Welsh Setting

I grew up with the sea at the end of my road. Writing a summer story set on a beach was kind of inevitable.

Penarth Pier

Mmm, beachy. Penarth Pier and, um, some mud. (It looks lovely when the tide’s in!)

I’m from Penarth, a few miles from Cardiff: a Victorian seaside resort, where sickly people would come to ‘take the air’ on the promenade. It’s also a few miles from Barry Island, the more traditional bucket-and-spade hangout – and where the sitcom Gavin & Stacey was set. For my currently-living-in-England self, that show was like some sort of magical gift. After years of trying to explain the mere concept of ‘Wales’, I could just point at the telly and go ‘I’m from there, sort of.’ (Penarth and Barry are not remotely the sam as any local will tell you – while laughing – but I did learn how to do hill starts outside Uncle Bryn’s house. Cracking for your clutch control, Barry is.)

log flume

Nessa and co on the soon-to-be demolished Barry Island Pleasure Park Log Flume. *sniffs*

My book The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones is set in Penkerry, a fictional Welsh seaside town that borrows from Penarth, Barry, Porthkerry and bits of Pembrokeshire at random. There’s a fairground, and a pier; an island (loosely based on Caldey Island off Tenby); a pebbly beach, and dangerous tides, horror stories about which were drummed into me as a kid.

The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones

The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones: certified harp/goblin-free.

It’s the first time I’ve written a YA novel with a strong sense of place. Big Woo and My Invisible Boyfriend took place in a sort of ‘everyland’, an unobtrusive Could Be Your Town. Intentionally, I should add. As a teen, if I found a YA book set in the UK, it took place in England, probably London (the geography of which the author seemed to assume I’d recognise): hugely annoying. Meanwhile, anything set in Wales was invariably fantasy, with runes and harps and mystical retellings of the Mabinogion by a goblin up a hill. (Which is fine, of course, but not really my cup of tea.)

So I wanted to write a contemporary story that was firmly set in Wales, even if Penkerry itself isn’t real: the story I would’ve loved to read back then.

My relationship with my own Welshness isn’t simple, though. On the train back to Cardiff to see my family I’m always reassured by the old familiar voices and phrases, that sense of coming home – but I also feel a bit of an imposter. I’ve got an English accent these days (unless I’m shouting at the rugby). I’m one of those Welsh traitors that left and never went back.

So I decided to use that unease. In the book, Bluebell is on the brink of ‘true’ teenagerness, the sudden blossoming of self-confidence she imagines will arrive automatically with her 13th birthday – wrongly, of course. I made her English (with a Welsh Dad), a visitor for the summer holidays. Her lurking sense of foreignness in a Welsh-accented landscape is yet another worry, one more for the list of ways she fears she’ll never fit in.

Luckily for Blue, she meets a bunch of lovely, accepting – and very Welsh – teens at Penkerry funfair, ready and waiting to help her figure herself out.

This post is part of the Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones blog tour. Click here for more info, and for a chance to win a Bluebell Jones-style retro camera enter the Summer Snap! competition.

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Best of British: Emily Gale

Emily GaleEmily Gale is the author of Girl, Aloud (soon to be published in the US as Girl Out Loud).
Here’s her pick of the Best of British

Place – My parents’ house in North London (this UKYA girl, based at the moment in Melbourne, is woefully homesick)

Girl, 15Book (adult)old: The L-Shaped Room by Lyne Reid Banks
new: A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth

Book (teen)old: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend

new: Girl, 15, Charming But Insane by Sue Limb

Book (kids)old: Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer
new: Mr Gum series by Andy Stanton

Personalitycontemporary: Jennifer Saunders

Royal – Prince Phillip, classic comedy villain

Museum – Keats House, Hampstead

Food – Curry, top takeaway in the UK for good reason

Singer/band – The Cure

TescoShop – Tesco (I said I was homesick, didn’t I? I love the self-service check-outs because it’s like playing shops)

TV programme – The Office

Film – Sense and Sensibility (Ang Lee), A Room With A View, and more recently The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Historical figure – Emmeline Pankhurst

Find out more at Emily Gale’s website.


Best of British: Non Pratt

Non Pratt is Commissioning Editor for Catnip Books, an independent publisher for children of all ages, from picture books to YA. Here are her Best of British.

Osmotherley, North Yorkshire is very pretty and has good pubs.

Book (adult)
Reflex by Dick Francis.

The Knife of Never Letting GoBook (teen)
The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness (although who doesn’t know that?!). I tend to put this book in people’s hands and sob unintelligibly until they go away and read it.

Book (kids)
Footprints in the Snow by Mei Matsuoka is a great picture book to read using lots of silly voices and the artwork is perfect.

Personality – contemporary
*shrugs* I like Agyness Deyn’s hair…

Richard IIIRoyal
Richard III. Feel free to judge me on this – it’s indicative of my love of antiheroes.

John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Fields, London.


Recently disbanded The King Blues were the most exciting and lyrically persuasive band I’ve listened to in a long while.

ECone on Exmouth Market for interesting jewellery. Or a bookshop (not so much for the jewellery).

Fresh MeatTV programme
No one does comedy like the British. Favourite recent pick would be Fresh Meat.

Dog Soldiers – Best. Film. Ever. Forget namby pamby American werewolves – these ones are the dogs’.

Historical figure
David Hume – a philosopher with a good writing style and exciting ideas.

I do like a bit of Ted Baker. But not too much.

Brigitte Williams – fantastic, graphic giclee work. And Stubbs. Gotta love Stubbs.