Teen/crossover fiction round-up: Teenage kicks in five lively, compelling narratives

From Jenny Downham's Unbecoming to Julie Mayhew's The Big Lie...

Nicholas Tucker
Thursday 20 August 2015 16:38 BST
Nerve-shredding: camping holiday from hell
Nerve-shredding: camping holiday from hell

Fed up with novels where you never quite know what's going on? Then try a crossover title, where clear narrative still rules and there is normally a resolved ending.

Jenny Downham's Unbecoming (David Fickling, £14.99) jumps expertly between three generations of the same family – grandmother, mother, daughter – bringing out their similarities and differences as each faces demons from their past. Her novel, which is 437 pages long and not one too many, also has 17-year-old Katie confronting problems arising after she decides that she is most attracted to females.

The prize-winning American writer Rebecca Stead's Goodbye Stranger (Andersen, £10.99) is another good read. It follows a group of bright high-school girls through their journey from only enjoying each other's company to first romantic encounters with boys. Told mainly in dialogue and excelling in good-humoured chaff, it should remind older readers of what they have forgotten while preparing younger ones for what they still have to look forward to. Each child has the odd hang-up, but never enough to bog down a lively story affectionately told.

For nerve-shredding drama, go to Miriam Moss's Girl on a Plane (Andersen, £7.99). Based on the author's experience of travelling on a flight hijacked by Palestinian guerillas in 1970 when she was aged 15, this fine novel stretches over four days spent in blisteringly hot conditions with minimum food and water. Sitting next to Tim, a sprightly nine-year old, and David, a more lordly 17, Anna – Moss's fictional alter ego – still manages to find humour and understanding between feelings of rising panic. Her worst moment occurs when, after returning to the aircraft from a rare break outside, she squeezes past a heavily armed guard and her buckle catches on his belt "crammed with bullets and hung with grenades".

This incident actually happened; some of the rest has been re-imagined but the whole package hangs seamlessly together. Check where the tissues are before getting to the final reunion between loving mother and daughter after all the tension that has gone before.

Effectively creepy, Claire McFall's Black Cairn Point (Hot Key, £7.99) describes the worst Scottish camping holiday ever as teenage Heather watches three of her four companions disappear one by one after their group has unwisely pitched camp on a pagan burial site. The first warning sign occurs when all their mobile phones no longer work, pretty much an essential in any contemporary thriller. A twist at the end has the perverse effect of making everything seem even worse.

Unlikely to be recommended by the Scottish Tourist Board, this is storytelling at its seductive best and could well turn into a neat little horror film.

Julie Mayhew's magnificent The Big Lie (Hot Key, £7.99) takes place in the Princely State of England, part of the Greater German Reich. The date is August 2014; 74 years after Britain was invaded by the Germans and Churchill and his wife were hanged in public. Fourteen-year old Jessika, daughter of a high-ranking Nazi, is a shining member of the BDM (Bund Deutscher Mädel). But when new best friend and outspoken dissident Clementine moves next door, her world starts to fall apart.

There are also complications with another girl following an unexpectedly passionate exchange of kisses – a popular plot development in young adult novels these days.

Jessika's brain-numbing daily routines are based on what was actually expected of German children under Nazi rule. A reading list is appended for those who want to find out more and also relish their escape from what it might have been like today living under such unspeakable tyranny had history gone the other way.

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