Children's summer reading: Writing for teenagers

Tense in future, past and presents

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The Independent Culture

What horrors lie just a few years into the future? Natasha Carthew's elegantly lyrical Winter Damage (Bloomsbury, £10.99, 1 August) is a heart-rending quest story about children in a bitterly cold, climate-changed Cornwall, searching for the everyday comforts and love of the world so recently lost.

In Gillian Cross's After Tomorrow (Oxford, £6.99) five crashed banks mean that there is no food. So it's sauve qui peut, loathing of food hoarders, a journey into France, where things are marginally better, and refugee life for Matt and part of his family. Rat Runners by Oisin McGann (Corgi, £6.99) is about two teenage boys and two feisty girls. These professional thieves are surviving in a gang-dominated London governed by Watchworld, which rules by surveillance. I hope someone's snapped up the film rights.

Noble Conflict (Doubleday, £12.99), by Malorie Blackman, the new Children's Laureate, is sinister stuff. An apparently benign regime turns out to be anything but as Kaspar, a young "Guardian" – a sort of elite military police operative – eventually discovers. Intriguing on technology and weaponry, the novel also sounds a warning about the insidiousness of propaganda. Melvyn Burgess's The Hit (Chicken House, £7.99) is uncompromisingly terrifying as teenagers choose to take "Death", a former euthanasia drug, which gives an extraordinary "high" a week before the taker drops dead. Burgess may have overdone the violence in his tight Stieg Larsson-like plot.

And so to stories set in the present. Aidan Chambers's highly original Dying to Know You (Definitions, £7.99) describes a friendship between a troubled teenage boy, Karl, and an ageing novelist (from whose viewpoint the story is told) and deftly ponders questions about writing, creativity, family and grief. The Summer of Telling Tales by Laura Summers (Piccadilly, £6.99) has a mother and two girls leaving an abusive husband/father to find new joy and life on a caravan site. Characters and the tension are beautifully realised.

The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr (Orion, £6.99) deals with a different sort of abuse. Lucy's San Francisco family want her to be an international piano star – until she refuses to continue, at which point their attention switches to her younger brother. High spots include the relationship between the family and the new piano teacher, and Lucy's mother eventually finding the strength to support her. Or what about the trauma of enforced identity change which costs you all your friends and almost everything you've ever known? In Laura Jarratt's By Any Other Name (Electric Monkey, £6.99), Holly has witnessed a crime which puts her at risk so she and her family give up everything to start a new life, courtesy of "witness support". There's a nail-biting climax because, inevitably, Holly breaks the rules.

Rachel Campbell-Johnston's The Child's Elephant (David Fickling, £9.99) has Bat, an African village boy, adopting an orphaned elephant calf. Later Bat is kidnapped and forced into child soldiery in a rebel army. Campbell-Johnston pulls no punches, but there's a moving, almost spiritual ending. In Steve Backshall's Ghosts of the Forest (Orion, £9.99), we're in Borneo and Vietnam where the orang-utans are endangered and forest destroyers on the make have to be fought. Gill Lewis's Moon Bear (Oxford, £6.99) is about Tam, whose Laos village is "reclaimed" and the family rehoused (sort of) which forces him to work in a city bear farm. A good read.

Finally no review feature would be complete without a meaty historical novel. Mary Hooper's The Disgrace of Kitty Grey (Bloomsbury, £6.99) presents an early 19th-century dairy maid in love with a local ferryman until he disappears, leaving her with his five-year-old sister. It's a fast paced adventure which eventually finds Kitty and her charge on a convict ship. The period detail is masterly.