Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

I can not tell you why, but this was the book I was least excited about on the Carnegie Shortlist, I think possibly because I was judging the book by its cover (a bookworm’s crime, I know) and it did not seem to appeal to me in quite the same way as the others.

However, I was again wrong and had made an error of judgement; this book was a great read. I am not (as I have mentioned before) a fan of short stories as a rule, but I am always willing to give them a chance. And this collection of short stories was excellent, as to me it read just like the regular chapters of a book, as each of these stories linked together to give us the bigger narrative.

‘Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town’ tells the story of a group of young people in the aforementioned small town in America’s west. A town that holds secrets and was once hit by the tragedy of a young girl going missing, which appears to make no sense to the community, as everybody knows everybody and nobody ever seems to visit. However, as we read about each of the characters, the mystery is slowly solved and the community is shaken to the core.

Although some of the secrets make for uncomfortable reading, this is a story that needs telling. Especially thinking about the ease of abuse of power, and the blind respect that many have for those who are supposed to be pillars of the community. Also, alternatively, how easy it can be sometimes to misunderstand a situation without all of the information.

This is such a well-crafted novel that I think will stay with readers a long time after the final page has been read.

The Outrage by William Hussey

This has been on the TBR pile for a while, for no other reason other than that there are so many books and so little time. ‘Hideous Beauty‘ is one of the best LGBTQ+ books I have read and, although ‘The Outrage’ is very different, I was sure it would not disappoint…

…and I was correct.

Set in a future England where the far-right have taken control and it is a crime to be gay, we meet Gabriel, a rule-breaker, with his biggest crime being his sexuality – something that he must keep hidden if he is to survive. However, when Eric joins the school, Gabriel falls in love. But there is an even bigger obstacle in the way, as Eric’s father is a chief inspector of Degenerate Investigations. Gabriel and his friends create their own groups of rebels, who watch banned films and understand that there is a much better world out there than the one in which they live. Until the secret is discovered.

This is a story of bravery; of relationships and the fight for what is right. I found it an incredibly emotional read as, sometimes, it was clear where fiction and, sadly, fact for some blurred. Nobody should be told that who they are is a crime and that they can only live in the way that is dictated to them. This is a book that so many young adults and adults alike should read, as there are so many important lessons within its pages that we could all take note from. After all, this tale could well be a warning of what could happen if bad decisions and bad people gain control of society…

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

My fourth title from the Carnegie Shortlist was ‘Punching the Air’. Another brilliant piece of free verse for a YA audience, tackling yet again an important subject in our society.

I am not sure I have the skill to review this book in the way that it deserves. I am not sure I have the words for how wonderful it is, despite the fact that it tackles such a difficult subject – and one that we all wish was not able to happen.

Inspired by the tragic true story of one of its authors, Yusef Salaam, who was sent to prison at the age of 15 for a crime that he did not commit, Amal Shahid is falsely imprisoned – the victim of the crime is the only one who can save him, but he is not able to share his story. So, Amal, loses the world he knows, his loving family, the chance to practice his art and his poetry, and is forced to adapt to a life behind bars. This is a story that, although incredibly sad and emotional throughout, is also a one of hope and finding joy in the small things – when the joy is there to be found.

Beautifully written, this free verse novel becomes a real page-turner as you hope that true justice will be served, and that Amal will have the strength to learn and grow from his experience, and have the future that he truly deserves.

This is the sort of book that I hope all young people will read and take some important lessons from – especially about the difference a simple choice can make – and that the consequences can be much farther-reaching than you could ever imagine.

Guard Your Heart by Sue Divin

My third title from the Carnegie shortlist is ‘Guard Your Heart’ by Sue Divin.

This was, again, a fantastic read (I am not sure how a winner is ever supposed to be picked) – this time, based in Derry, Northern Ireland. Somewhere many of us would believe now is a place of peace – the troubles not something that the younger generation have to face or think about. However, ‘Guard Your Heart’ reminds us that, sadly, it is not all history, but there are still the scars and struggles influencing people every day.

This is a love story between Aidan and Iona, 18 years old; school is over and they have their whole lives ahead of them. However, Aidan is a Catholic, with a complex family past and potentially a difficult future ahead of him. Iona is a Protestant, with a father who had been in the police during the height of the troubles, and a brother who has recently followed the same path. These differences should not be something that could keep them apart in 2016, but sometimes old ideals and beliefs are hard to shake off – if not for Aidan and Iona, then for their families.

This is a book that makes you want to learn more and understand more about a history that, for many, is still so raw, but may not have the same coverage as other events of the past. This, just like ‘Cane Warriors‘ and ‘The Crossing‘, is a book that can teach so much about acceptance, and the willingness to learn about and understand the people and cultures around us.

The Crossing by Manjeet Mann

Second from The Yoto Carnegie Shortlist is ‘The Crossing’ by Manjeet Mann. This is a wonderful free verse novel told from dual viewpoints that are cleverly linked together throughout the book.

I am not sure I can do this book the real justice that it deserves. It is a truly inspirational and heartbreaking piece of literature.

Natalie and Sammy’s stories are cleverly entwined through the free verse narrative, as the story of one leads to the story of the other all the way through the book. Both of these young people are feeling lost – Natalie after the death of her mother and her brother becoming lost to the world of far-right gangs, and Sammy, as he has fled his home in Eritrea for a better life in Europe. But his journey is set to be incredibly dangerous. They both face ‘the crossing’ of the channel: Natalie to feel she can achieve something her mother had always wanted by swimming the channel, and Sammy desperate for a better life. A twist of fate brings them together, but will they both find a way to mend their broken world?

I read this book from cover to cover one Saturday morning, as I felt so incredibly invested in their stories. I needed to know how the story would end – rooting for them both – and hoping that everyone who reads this book will understand the need for a better world and education that helps us all understand each other.

If this and ‘Cane Warriors‘ are examples of the calibre of book on this year’s shortlist, I do not know how the judges will make any kind of decision, because both of these books have been special in their own way – and carry an important message for all readers.

Sabriel by Garth Nix

My lovely friend Mrs S has been trying to get me to read more fantasy books for a long time now. So, we agreed to buddy read ‘Sabriel’ by Garth Nix, which is a title that Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse has been trying to get me to read for a long time.

And, as usual, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I, in fact, have to admit that I really enjoyed it. I was worried as I started it that it may be a bit slow and just a lot of scene-setting (over-description is something that has often put me off fantasy as a genre) but once the action picked up, I was hooked. Sabriel is a fantastic lead character, I mean who does not love a strong female character who can use magic and fight dark magic? I do think I may have to return to the book to fully grasp everything that went on, but it was a brilliant read – and according to Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse my regular summaries were correct. Interestingly, for a book that is nearly 30 years old, it did feel like modern fantasy and does not appear to have aged (although, I am not an expert).

I will definitely be reading the next book, in a buddy read again, as I have to know what else goes on. This does mean that I seem to be gradually becoming more and more accepting of fantasy books – which is something that I never thought would have happened, as I have always been very anti-fantasy. But it seems to me that Mrs S may be getting her way and turning me into some kind of fantasy fan – well, YA fantasy; I am not sure I can go much more serious than that right now.

Has anyone managed to convince you to start to change your reading habits?

You’re the One That I Want by Simon James Green

I was lucky enough to win a copy of ‘You’re the One That I Want’ by Simon James Green and it has been on the TBR pile a little while. However, when a novel by Green was suggested as one of my ’12 in 22′, then I knew I had to pluck this one off the TBR pile and get reading. And, as always, what an absolute joy this book was. A delight to brighten cold winter days.

As a group of college kids prepare for their production of ‘Grease’, the drama is not just on the stage. Freddie is challenged to say ‘yes’, and not stop holding back and missing out on fun – because being Mr Nice Guy doesn’t seem to be bringing him all the joy he expects from his teenage years. However, when he meets the new kid on the block, Zach, he ends up on a journey of romance and self-discovery – and realises that maybe being Freddie is not so bad after all.

Simon James Green writes YA fiction with a heart and the most fabulous characters, representing diversity, which is so important for the modern world, and the young people growing up in it.

You’ll Be the Death of Me by Karen M. McManus

Whenever I see that there is a new book from Karen M. McManus, I always have to ensure I have a copy – and it was exactly the same with ‘You’ll Be the Death of Me’.

I am a huge fan of crime fiction and really enjoy when it collides with YA fiction. And Karen M. McManus does this well.

However, I was not instantly gripped with the start of this book. I think I found the characters a little difficult to engage with and was not sure how it was going to lead to a thrilling read.

Yet, once the pace picks uo and we are drawn into the mystery, I enjoyed the book, and the characters became more engaging. I even thought I had solved it – or at least caught on to one of the clues; only to be thrown into confusion when things continued not to be quite as they seem.

This was not my favourite of the novels from the pen of McManus, but it was still a satisfying piece of YA crime fiction, and I continue to be a fan.

They Both Die in the End by Adam Silvera

I feel a little late to the party with this YA masterpiece, although, as it is on the shortlist for the ‘Waterstones Book of the Year‘ I don’t feel quite as bad.

I was inspired to read this book after an online book event a few months ago. The concept of the book sounded absolutely fascinating and I was surprised, as a huge fan of YA, that I had missed out on reading it.

Mateo and Rufus become ‘Last Day Friends’ when they both receive the call that it is their last day of living. Together they embrace making the most of their last day and reflect on what has come before. It is quite a journey for both of them, but it certainly feels more dramatic for Mateo. And your heart breaks as the pair find love together, and you know that it will not be the complete happy ending you would wish for them both.

I did find this book powerful and it really is one that does not leave you for a long time. In fact, it made me think of the path my life has taken and if there are things I should seize the chance to do. A wonderful piece of YA fiction.

Blood Moon by Lucy Cuthrew

YA fiction is probably one of my favourite genres and ‘Blood Moon’ is an excellent example of this. And this is a book that is full of incredible messages and lessons for young people (and adults alike).

This book is written in blank verse and has a beautiful rythmn to it as you read it. But, this also makes the message clear and accessible.

‘Blood Moon’ is about period shame, the impact of social media on young people and sometimes not knowing how to handle a situation for the best. This is a book that should be read by all young people to support their understanding of growing up and some of its challenges. And many may think that this is a book only targeted at girls, but boys would find an education amongst these pages too.

Having been lucky enough to meet Lucy Cuthew at ‘The Tasting Notes Live’ event, I have more respect for this book an the positive motivation behind it. (And, Sara Pascoe loves it, which is pretty cool).