Like its four predecessors in her series, Hilary McKay's Forever Rose (Hodder, £10.99) shines out as a beacon in the otherwise troubled waters of teenage fiction. Concentrating on the youngest member of an eccentric but affectionate family, it is witty as well as wise and moving, without any sentimentality. Written as if by young Rose herself, the novel tells of normal hopes and disappointments, all illuminated by its heroine's unique blend of innocence and experience. The final volume in this sequence, it can also be read as a one-off from an author who continues to write like an angel.
I have high praise too for Benjamin Zephaniah's Teacher's Dead (Bloomsbury, £5.99). A novel whose first sentence describes the senseless murder of a popular teacher could sound like hard work, but Zephaniah writes with such authority that this book remains oddly entertaining as well as totally engaging. Anxious to discover not who the two teenage murderers were, since he knows this already, but why they did it, 15-year-old Jackson Jones sets out on his own inquiry. Interviewing witnesses and the teacher's wife, he finally fits everything in its place. Unusually in any teenage novel, he works closely with his headteacher, with the school's anti-bullying policy triumphantly coming into its own. Easily the author's best novel so far, this cries out to be discussed as well as read by teenage readers.
Sally Gardner pulls out all the romantic stops in The Red Necklace (Orion, £9.99), a splendid story set at the time of the French Revolution. Melodramatic props like secret passages and a beautiful heiress engaged to a double-died villain could become tedious in the hands of a lesser writer, but Gardner makes them come alive by the sheer quality of her writing. Historical events are lightly brought into the narrative, with just a hint at the end of a succeeding novel should this one have the success it richly deserves.
Julie Hearn is another writer turning towards historical fiction. Hazel (Oxford, £5.99) is a hugely ambitious novel set in 1913. After getting mixed up with suffragette protests, its eponymous 13-year-old heroine is banished to the family estate in the West Indies. There she encounters surviving habits of slavery, while flitting between the real and another world, made up of ghosts complaining of past injustices. Hazel survives a hurricane to return to Britain and her dysfunctional family. Unsure what is going to happen next, readers should simply give way to a good story expertly told from a writer who is herself happily unclassifiable.
Meg Rosoff is another unpredictable author, with What I Was (Penguin, £10.99) having little in common with her first two distinguished teenage novels. Set in 1962, it describes the life of Hilary, a 16-year-old boy unwillingly at a truly terrible boarding school. On an enforced run, he comes across Finn, a beachcomber around the same age. Envying his rule-free life, Hilary gradually becomes obsessed with Finn, longing for further encounters and putting up with extended silences when they do meet. Disaster and one death follow, with Hilary in for a final huge surprise before this strange and rather glum story comes to an end. Teenagers unhappy at school may relish the chance to read about an establishment that must surely be worse than any they know themselves.
Malorie Blackman is already a bestseller and The Stuff of Nightmares (Doubleday, £12.99) can only add to her fame. Starting with a train crash, this novel presents a feast of ghoulishness as Kyle, one of the conscious survivors, finds himself entering into each of his fellow-pupils' nightmares as they linger between life and death. Story after horror story follow, told with the gleeful relish that younger teenagers reserve for their own efforts during sleepovers. This book seems bound to be extremely popular.
High hopes, too, for Mike Wilks's Mirrorscape (Egmont, £6.99). This describes a series of dangerous journeys as Mel, a medieval apprentice artist, discovers how to enter into pictures painted by others. This ability proves a mixed blessing when his adversaries follow him into an artistic stewing-pot inhabited by monsters straight from Hieronymus Bosch. With this book in mind, viewing old masters at a gallery need never be the same experience again.Reuse content