Teenage runaways: Escape into the summer's best new novels for young adults

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The Independent Culture

Escaping from danger – real, imagined, physical, mental, social or scientific – seems to be the main theme running through the current crop of books for teenagers. Angela McAllister's The Runaway (Orion, £6.99) is a spooky, atmospheric tale set in the earliest years of the 19th century, against a distant backdrop of fear of Napoleonic invasion. Megan, riddled with guilt about the death of her adored younger brother, has run away from home and eventually finds herself housekeeping for a strange, otherworldly blind woman, Marguerite, who has a sinister secret in her past and a pair of malevolent, omniscient white owls as guards.

Also about an early 19th-century girl on the run is The Bride's Farewell (Puffin, £10.99) by Meg Rosoff. An engaging, impeccably-written novel, it tells a feminist story of feisty independence, set against a rural, patriarchal background. Pell Ridley leaves home – which includes a drunken, bigoted, womanising, preacher father, a downtrodden mother and a large family of siblings – to avoid the marriage which would condemn her to more of the same. What follows is a Hardy-esque journey of self-discovery across the Salisbury Plain and its environs.

The boys in Alexander Gordon Smith's relentlessly horrific and violent Furnace: Solitary (Faber, £6.99) are running, too, this time from a futuristic, nightmarish underground prison first described in Furnace: Lockdown. It's hideously claustrophobic as they try to escape from the "wheezers" and the very real threat of being surgically rebuilt into freaks. It ends on a cliff-hanger. Teenage readers will have to wait until October for Furnace: Death Sentence, the third part of the trilogy.

Surgical engineering seems to be on more than one author's mind just now. Philip Reeve's thoughtful Fever Crumb (Scholastic, £10.99) is set in the 30th century and is a prequel to his popular Mortal Engines books. Fever, an engaging character raised as a "rationalist" and apparently an orphan, cannot understand why she can remember things that happened before she was born. Eventually she discovers what was done to her brain in babyhood – and how stalkers are created from corpses.

Another rollicking sci-fi read is Timewalker (Usborne, £5.99) by Justin Stanchfield, which gives us benign UFOs landing in the gritty cowboy country of Montana, where a very nasty group of (earthly) people is on the make and somehow needs to be outwitted by Sean and his brother.

Still with science, but this time much closer to reality, is Malcolm Rose's Forbidden Island (Usborne, £5.99), which starts like a modern take on the Famous Five when a group of youngsters sail happily and unsupervised around the Scottish islands. Then they find an island with warning signs that they ignore. This, like the real-life Gruinard until 1986, is a place contaminated with anthrax. But, unknowing, they land – with foreseeable results and some sinister attempts to stop them.

Mike Walker's Bad Company (Andersen, £5.99) is another alarmingly plausible story. Danny's mother sends him to Indonesia to spend the summer with his father, who keeps "bad company". Danny ends up on a ship in the Indian Ocean which is carrying in its squalid hold nearly 100 Chinese people attempting to get to America. There is also contraband on board and some very unscrupulous people in charge. Then pirates turn up.

Michael Morpurgo's forthcoming novel, Running Wild (HarperCollins, £12.99), takes us to Indonesia too. On a "dream" holiday, Will escapes the tsunami and then spends months in the jungle, knowing, but pretending not to, that his mother must have perished on the beach. Here, the villains are not pirates but orang-utan poachers. As he often does, Morpurgo is trying to educate as well as entertain, but the somewhat far-fetched story is still a good read.

In a completely different mood comes Bernard Beckett's extraordinarily original Genesis (Quercus, £10.99), perhaps the first novel for young adults written in the form of a Socratic dialogue. It is the late 21st century and 14-year-old Anaximander faces a five-hour interview for admission to the elite governing academy in a ruthlessly sealed-off republic. Her specialism is the life and importance of Adam Forde – a famous border guard who, years earlier, made an unconventional and illegal decision when a female refugee arrived at his fence. His action triggered the Great War and changed things forever. But Anaximander presents the examiners with a different version of these events which, in the end, does her no good. Along the way, Beckett raises enough philosophical issues (such as the difference between sentient creatures and computers and when, or if, one segues into the other) to keep an intelligent reader thinking for weeks.

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