Celebrating Young Adult fiction by UK authors

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Author Sally Nicholls’ Top 10 UKYA books

images-25Skellig by David Almond

A boy finds a tramp with angel wings in an abandoned garage. Is he an angel, or a new kind of human? A simply-told, but surprisingly complex and utterly beautiful story about how to be human. True fact: I once left a friend waiting for over an hour outside Tesco, because I couldn’t bear to put this book down.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

Sex, death, war, incest, first love, country houses, freedom, adolescence, magical children, dangerous journeys, foraging for food, and some more sex. This is a coming-of-age story that sits perfectly between the adventure stories I loved as a child, with the darker edge I love as an adult. Meg Rosoff is American, but this is a very English book.


Dear Nobody by Berlie Doherty

If you loved Rainbow Rowell’s ‘Eleanor and Park’, you need to read ‘Dear Nobody’. Chris and Helen take turns to narrate the story of their relationship, and everything that happens when seventeen-year-old Helen discovers she is pregnant. Another very well written novel with a simple story, this felt very true to my adolescent experience and was a worthy winner of the 1991 Carnegie Medal.

Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay

I love Saffy’s Angel. I love it. I love all the Cassons. I love their mother Eve, who is flawed but totally human, and utterly sympathetic. I love Sarah-down-the-road and her evil schemes. I love long-suffering Michael. I love the jokes, and I love the characters and I love the dialogue and … I wish I’d written this book. Go and read it. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200. Read it now.

images-4The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend

Clever, funny, well-observed and occasionally sad. What can I say? There are just not enough books about working-class 13-year-old intellectuals living in Ashby-de-la-Zouch. Do you weep, Mrs Thatcher, do you weep?

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

If you don’t love I Capture the Castle, I’m not sure we can be friends. Think Pride and Prejudice, but set in a half-ruined castle in 1920s Britain, narrated by a book-loving seventeen-year-old waiting for love, with a stepmother who roams the countryside wearing only Wellington books. This book is everything you dreamed a book with that plot summary could be. Only better.

The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman

I wavered between this book and Northern Lights, but I’m not sure Northern Lights is technically YA, while this definitely is. There are four novels about Victorian detective Sally Lockhart, and while you should start with The Ruby in the Smoke, The Tiger in the Well is my favourite, if only because the premise is so chilling. What if someone altered the records that define your whole life? What if your paperwork now said that your house, your money and even your daughter no longer belonged to you? And what if that person then arrived to claim them?

The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland

Set in a castle on the Welsh marshes at the end of the twelfth century, this is the story of Arthur. Arthur wants to be a knight, but he’s worried that his father will send him to a monastery. The castle is full of secrets, and none of the secrets is more important than the stone in which he sees stories about another boy called Arthur, who grew up to be king of England. Kevin Crossley-Holland is a poet, and it shows. The medieval history is a bonus.

382229Flour Babies by Anne Fine

I have a soft spot for novels about a whole school class, and Anne Fine excels at them. When the boys of 4C (bottom set Year Ten) are each given a flour baby to care for, it kick-starts a meditation on fatherhood and responsibility for class dunce Simon Martin. Brilliantly observed, occasionally sad, and very funny. (If you liked this, also try her other Carnegie winner, Goggle Eyes.)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

This is obviously the best Harry Potter book. Do not argue with me. Professor Lupin! Snape in a dress! Quiddich matches you actually care about! And the best plot twist in the history of Harry Potter plot twists. Also, the only book with no Lord Voldemort. And did I mention Professor Lupin?


The Top 10 Best-Ever UKYA novels – as voted by YOU

I know, I know, it’s taken a while, but we had over 1000 votes – how brilliant is that? So here, without further ado, are (in reverse order)…


10) A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd

9) Lila series – Sarah Alderson

8) C.H.E.R.U.B. series – Robert Muchamore

7) Chaos Walking trilogy – Patrick Ness

6) The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 and 3/4 – Sue Townsend

5) I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith

4) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon

3) Noughts & Crosses – Malorie Blackman

2) His Dark Materials series – Philip Pullman

1) Harry Potter series – JK Rowling


Luisa Plaja’s favourite 20th Century UKYA books

I’m often told that YA/teen fiction is a very new thing, and this sometimes causes me to have a small rant (“It is NOT!”) or a big daydream about all the books I loved when I was a teenager myself. There was certainly a lot of fiction for young adults available in my library. It was marked on the spine with a yellow star-shaped sticker, and many of the books were by British authors. (For more details, see this post about my love of teen fiction through the ages at  Strictly Writing: In Search of a Yellow Star, and why not have a go at the ‘spot the decade’ extract quiz there?)

Here, plucked from my bookcase, is a small selection of my beloved UKYA books from the twentieth century.

Love, Emma xxx by Mary Hooper

Love, Emma xxx, published by Pan Books in 1982, is the story of a student nurse. Told in letters and diary entries, it’s funny, realistic and wonderfully British.  I re-read it many times – it was one of my favourite books, jointly with Janey’s Diary by the same author. I also have five more of Mary Hooper’s novels for the eighties Heartlines series (A Love Like Yours, My Cousin Angie, Opposites Attract and Follow that Dream), and the grittier Megan series from the nineties. Mary Hooper now writes gripping historical novels.

Heartlines series, various authors

This was like a British version of the US Sweet Dreams series. I read every book I could get my hands on in the eighties and I collected as many copies of my own as I could.

Diving In by Kate Cann

Published in 1996 by the brilliant Livewire imprint at The Women’s Press, Kate Cann broke new ground with the realistic way she portrayed Coll’s first romantic relationship. The book has two sequels and the series has been republished by Scholastic. Kate Cann’s latest novel, a dystopia called Witch Crag, is out this year and I can’t wait to read it.

The Frog Prince by Nina Rootes

I’m including this one for nostalgia reasons. The story of a British girl falling in love in Paris, it’s filled with dodgy cultural misunderstandings, coming-of-age angst and actual French dialogue. It was technically a film tie-in, but I read it before I saw the film which I’m pretty sure was (ahem) one of the first ever films I watched using a new-fangled gadget known as a “video”…

A Different Life by Lois Keith

I loved every single book published under the Livewire imprint of The Women’s Press, and I still own many of them. A Different Life was published in 1997 and is about the way Libby’s life changes after a swim in the sea leaves her suffering from a mysterious illness, resulting in a permanent disability. A down-to-earth, realistic novel that has stayed with me.

A Bottled Cherry Angel by Jean Ure

Actually, the first Jean Ure book that springs to mind when I think of my favourite teen books is A Proper Little Nooryeff, but I must have borrowed that one from the library as I couldn’t find it on my shelves. A Bottled Cherry Angel is also great, of course, and I own an ex-library copy that my mum picked up for me in 1986. Jean Ure’s books are always brilliant, portraying in-depth teen relationships with a light touch.

The Girl With Brains in Her Feet by Jo Hodges

This time, I think I saw the film before I read the book, even though I think the book came first. Anyway,  I really enjoyed both. Published by Virago in 1998, this is a lively tale of a teenaged runner and her family and friends, with a suburban seventies East Midlands backdrop.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Last but not least, this classic UKYA novel, first published in 1949, needs no introduction. Funny, moving, gorgeous.

Luisa Plaja is the author of several books for teenagers, including Split by a Kiss, Swapped by a Kiss and her latest novel, Kiss Date Love Hate. She was born in Glasgow, mostly grew up in the suburbs of London and has also lived in Lancaster, Birmingham, Durham, and currently Devon.


I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle’s walls, and her own first descent into love.

I Capture the Castle is No. 5 on our Top 10 Best-Ever UKYA Novels list.

Julie Bertagna’s Top 10 UKYA books

Photo copyright Donald MacLeod

Author Julie Bertagna chooses her Top 10 favourites:

In no order whatsoever, these are just the tip of a very big iceberg…

For Twihards needing a fix of vampires, werewolves and weird, erotic adventures – Angela Carter did it first and best. Check out The Bloody Chamber and other short stories where young heroines in peril defy what’s expected of them.

Philip Reeve’s stunning streampunk adventures in a post-apocalyptic world, renamed Predator Cities, has an opening line I really wish I’d written: ‘It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.’

I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith – classic YA territory. A coming of age story set in a dysfunctional family (the father indulging his writer’s block is a brilliant warning about missed chances) yet it’s unique. Strange, dark, funny, quirky and beautifully written, it reduces me to tears every time.

Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray – the aftermath of a teen suicide becomes a crazy road trip that’s laugh-out-loud funny while exploring the emotional fall-out of a group of boys after a friend’s tragic death. Genius.

The Carbon Diaries by Saci Lloyd – diary of a pissed-off teen eco-warrior in a near-future world in crisis.

Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass – the culmination of His Dark Materials is a big, blockbusting love story of two teenagers against the forces of the universe. Bursting with imagination and humanity.

I Am Apache by Tanya Landman – the incredibly powerful voice and story of a young apache girl who becomes a warrior to avenge her brother’s death.

True fairytales are not for fainthearts – Robin McKinley’s Deerskin* is brutal and tender. Spellbinding storytelling.

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman – a groundbreaking dystopian thriller that turns the world on its head.

Once In A House on Fire by Andrea Ashworth is an unforgettable survival story of a girl in a war zone – her family. For every teen who thinks they’ll never escape.

(*American Robin McKinley has lived and written in the UK for many years so I’m claiming her as ours!)