The YA Book Prize 2019
I’ve finally worked my way through all ten books on the YA Book Prize shortlist for 2019! Here are all my thoughts on the nominated titles…
I’ve put these in the order I read them, so without further ado…
Big Bones by Laura Dockrill
This was a book I was recommended by my friend, who’d received and arc and really enjoyed it. And she wasn’t wrong! Big Bones follows Bluebell as she completes a food diary (of sorts). But this isn’t a book about dieting; quite the opposite. It’s Bluebell’s journey to getting to know herself better, and features descriptions of food that will leave you absolutely starving by the time you are finished! An excellent example of body-positivity.
I Am Thunder by Muhammed Khan
I toyed with picking this up for a few weeks before finally borrowing it from the library. I Am Thunder was written in the aftermath of the three schoolgirls from London disappearing off to Syria to join I.S., and explores how teenagers can get radicalised without anyone noticing what is happening. This is an important book (I don’t like the phrase ‘issue book’, but feel it does apply here) and there are plenty of moments where you really fear for the characters. I think it’s a book that needed to be written and should be read, especially in the age of ignorance and Islamophobia, but there are moments where it feels like it’s working a little too hard to make the point it’s trying to.
Clean by Juno Dawson
It’s no secret that Clean was one of my favourite books of last year. Juno is one of my must-read authors and it’s Clean that made it that way. Clean follows Lexi - a rich socialite - as she’s forced in to an exclusive, remote rehab clinic after she nearly overdoses and dies. Compelling, realistic, and pulling no punches, this is a book that will not let you go until you are finished. And then you’ll want to read it all over again. I certainly did!
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Katherine Webber
After reading Katie Webber’s debut, Wing Jones, I was very excited for her follow-up book. Only Love Can Break Your Heart follows Reiko over the course of a summer, but with the death of her sister as an ever-present shadow in the background that won’t go away. It affects how Reiko approaches school, her friends, and when she comes across Seth, she sees the perfect escape from everything she’s expected to doing. But friendships and relationships are tricky things, and Reiko soon ends up causing more harm than good. An excellent portrayal of love, loss, and grief.
I Was Born For This by Alice Oseman
Alice Oseman is possibly one of my favourite YA authors and her second novel, Radio Silence, I would not (and still don’t, really) shut up about. I rarely like contemporary but Oseman’s voices, characters, and representation, are second to none. I followed her Book 3 videos avidly, and could not wait to read this book about Angel, who is a massive fan of boyband The Ark (also a hijabi-wearing main character!) and goes to London to see them live and fulfil all her fangirl dreams. It’s so relatable and so authentic, which is what Oseman does so well. And then we have Jimmy, lead singer of The Ark, (and a trans main character! See what I mean about rep in Alice’s books?) trying to figure himself out as the pressures of tour become worse and worse. Another excellent and authentic YA contemporary. I will buy literally anything Oseman writes.
Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard
Sara Barnard writes beautiful books about female friendships, and Goodbye, Perfect is no different. And I’ll be honest, this story took a direction I really wasn’t expecting when I first turned the pages. But it really does explore the power of friendship and how, even when your friend is in trouble, you’ll do anything you can for them. I really enjoyed (if that’s the right word?) the difficult situations Eden found herself in, and seeing how she tackled them. Because when you come up against something so shocking, your head is in a spin - and Eden’s whole world feels like it’s caving in on her.
The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill
I’ll be honest, I deliberately put off reading this book. I’ve read both Only Ever Yours and Asking For It, both of which I had to repeatedly put down for a breather and then needed a LOT of time to recover from. I’m very glad I read them, but I certainly don’t walk in to a Louise O’Neill novel unprepared. And it was a similar story with The Surface Breaks - a retelling of The Little Mermaid. Gaia is trapped under the thumb of her father, powerless to do anything other than what he commands. And when she finally makes it to the surface, desperate to follow the human boy she has caught sight of, it’s not the happy-ever-after that Disney has prepared you for. it’s brutal, unflinching, graphic, and a damning portrayal of how women are valued in society. Not one for the faint-hearted.
A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood
This has been one of the most joyous novels I have read all year (and the sampler of her next book, Under A Dancing Star, had me laughing so much I had a full-on laugh-cry fit in the cafe!). Set in Cornwall in 1929, this novel follows Lou as she gets to know the mysterious Cardew family. Full of secrets, intrigue, and parties that are described with Gatsby-level decadence, this was a story that really stayed with me. It wasn’t the most surprising in that you always felt you knew the direction the story was going in, but it did not in any way lessen the delight of the ride. Also, I was so glad to see a YA novel with a protagonist who was 18. It’s about time YA started pushing to 18 and above! I absolutely loved this book and it will definitely be one I return to when I need a bit of escapism. It’s like if Poldark, Gatsby, and Downton Abbey had a book baby, and I love it.
Outwalkers by Fiona Shaw
I hadn’t even heard of this book when the shortlist was first announced which, with hindsight, is an absolute crying shame. Outwalkers is a dystopia set in a post-Brexit world (yes, I know, I had to say it) where the government are trying to control every aspect of everyone’s lives. Jake, the main character, escapes his orphanage and finds his dog Jet, knowing that anywhere would be better than the government orphanage. It would be just a matter of time before he got sent to the fracking fields to die, and without his parents, he’s got to get over the wall to Scotland to his grandparents and safety - which is nearly impossible when the Coalition have eyes and ears everywhere. This was a novel that was both heart-warming and heart-racing, as Jake and the gang he finds himself with do all they can to escape a government determined to hunt them down. A book deserving of far more attention, praise, and readership. In recent years I’ve got a bit tired of dystopian fiction, but Outwalkers has made me love it again. I hope it does for you, too.
White Rabbit, Red Wolf by Tom Pollock
This book made my brain MELT. I knew before starting it that it was a thriller, with a main character who has fairly crippling mental health difficulties. But that was in no way enough to prepare me for the twists and turns that this book took me on. If you aren’t sure, read the first chapter! Peter, the main character, gets thrown in to a world of espionage and secrets when his mother gets stabbed and his sister disappears. But his brain is paranoid he doesn’t know who or what he can trust - except his own logic, and love of maths. This was such an immersive novel that I honestly don’t even know what to think now (I finished it just before writing this blog post!) because Peter gets so paranoid and confused about what is happening that you feel as a reader you never really know what is going on and what isn’t - making the mystery of what happened to his mum and sister near impossible to solve. A real, proper, un-put-down-able thriller. I can’t believe it took so long for me to read it.
So there you have it - my run down of the ten books on the YA Book Prize shortlist. Honestly, I think I’d be happy if any of the books I scored 8+ won it - but I really couldn’t decide! I don’t envy the judges this year…