Teenage Fiction: Tales of mystery and imagination

From sci-fi to historical drama, these stories will set young minds racing

Susan Elkin
Sunday 24 July 2011 00:00 BST

Do you need to keep your teens tamed with sparky new reads this summer?

Well there's a good range to choose from, whatever their individual tastes.

Books with fantastical elements – although none of the following four is hardcore fantasy of the sort loathed by most children's librarians – include Hunting Lila by Sarah Alderson (Simon and Schuster, £6.99), a fast paced thriller with a dash of sci-fi set in contemporary America. In common with 200 others and, it transpires, her murdered mother, Lila has an unusual ability. Partly a love story (the dishy Alex alone will sell this to young female readers) and partly a quest, Hunting Lila also has a tense shoot out at the end. My only disappointment after 307 pages was to find that when you think you've reached the end, you haven't. We're in cliff-hanger territory, and a sequel is on the way.

A Year Without Autumn by Liz Kessler (Orion, £9.99) is an intriguing story of friendship, with timeslips, which reminded me of Antonia Barber's The Ghosts (1969) and Philippa Pearce's evergreen Tom's Midnight Garden (1958). To what extent can Jenni change the past and present by experiencing the future first?

In the riveting The Truth About Celia Frost by Paula Rawsthorne (Usborne, £6.99), Celia has a medical condition but all is definitely not as it seems, and the story races off into a world of unscrupulous doctors, a ruthless private detective who finally finds his inner decency, and Celia's beautifully evoked, troubled but determined mother.

The delightful Sol, who becomes Celia's friend, is well drawn, as are his iffy older brothers and kind, long-suffering mother.

Last in this fantasy-ish quartet comes Wreckers by Julie Hearn (Oxford, £6.99): not a bedtime read for the faint-hearted. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, this story of five teenagers is predicated on a mysterious box thrown up by 18th-century wreckers. There's something inside it, and the novel owes a lot to the story of Pandora's Box. It's neat and thoughtful, if a bit reminiscent of a Hammer Horror film in places.

Moving on from fantasy, we have two appealing books set a long way from Britain. In the Trees by Pauline Fisk (Faber, £6.99) takes us to Belize because Kid, whose late British mother had very little to do with his Belizean father, wants to find his surviving parent. In Belize, he's befriended by a group of gap year eco students, and learns that friendship is more sustaining than tenuous blood ties. Belize, where the author spent a research sabbatical, is almost a character in this colourful novel.

Outlaw by Stephen Davies (Andersen, £5.99) is a faintly old-fashioned tale of kidnap in Saharan Africa, complete with a Robin Hood figure, double-dealing policemen and British spies running amok. It's highly implausible but highly entertaining, and the hero, Jake, is engaging. Think The Riddle of the Sands with smartphones and clever apps.

And so to feet-on-the ground family stories. Bruised by Siobáhn Parkinson (Hodder, £5.99) is a hideously believable and heart-rending story set in Ireland, about a 14-year-old – the narrator Jonathan – who tries to save his eight-year-old sister from their dysfunctional, single mother by running away. It all ends in tears, inevitably, because fantasy this isn't.

From north of the border comes My Dad Is Ten Years Old by Mark O'Sullivan (Penguin, £6.99). Narrated by a child, it is the tragic story of a man left brain-damaged and amnesiac by a traffic accident. He lives with his family in the belief that he is a sibling but, of course, this cannot go on. Should he sleep with his wife whom he now regards as his mother? It's both tragic and funny.

There's a welcome grittiness in Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery by Keren David (Frances Lincoln, £6.99), about a 16-year-old who wins £8m. Inevitably, the win marks the beginning of her problems rather than the end. It affects family relationships and friendships, and it takes Lia a long time to sort herself out. Despite the cover, and the flippant prose style given to Lia as the narrator, this is quite a thoughtful, salutary, well-researched tale. I enjoyed the common sense characters that are Lia's friends, Harry and Shaz, both delightful in their different ways.

The chilling Brother/Sister by Sean Olin (Razor Bill Penguin, £9.99) is narrated alternately by Asheley and Will, each of whom, we eventually realise, are being interrogated by Californian police about a series of murders, and there is no dissembling. Will is guilty – although there are complications and extenuating circumstances – and Asheley is an accessory after the fact. Will is coldly reasonable and wants to protect Asheley above all else, but his logic is deeply disturbed and his real feelings for Asheley make for unsettling reading. It is a rather brave and original psychological thriller.

Historical fiction, especially about Tudor times, is currently very popular with adults and, of course, some teenagers. Traitor's Kiss by Pauline Francis (Usborne, £6.99), with its shades of Philippa Gregory or Jean Plaidy, tells the story of the teenaged Elizabeth I struggling with friendships, burgeoning sexuality, the ghost of her executed mother and the horror of having so few people to trust.

Catherine Parr, now married to Thomas Seymour, after Henry VIII's death, is her guardian, but when Catherine dies in childbirth, the young Elizabeth is at risk. The Tower is never far away.

And finally to a novel for the younger, perhaps more innocent, teenager. I would have loved Olivia's First Term by Lyn Gardner (Nosy Crow, £5.99) at about age 12, when I was addicted to Pamela Brown's The Swish of the Curtain novels.

Olivia is at a theatre school owned and run by her seemingly fierce grand-mother, but she doesn't want to be there because her heart and talent lie in the circus with her widowed father. It's nicely told by Gardner, a well-known theatre critic and champion of theatre for young audiences, with plenty to engross those who love acting, singing and dancing, or just like reading about it. There's also a strong family story underpinning Olivia's First Term and, of course, it is the start of a planned series.

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