Leah On The Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Earlier in the year I absolutely loved ‘Simon Vs the Home Sapiens Agenda‘, so was excited to read more about these fabulous characters in ‘Leah on the Offbeat’.

We first met Leah as one of Simon’s best friends in the first novel, but this time she takes centre stage in her own story of self-discovery. Just like her best friend Simon, Leah is handling the complex and emotional world of her own identity and sexuality. Especially when she realises that she may love one of her friends more than she ever realised.

One of the best things about this novel is that Leah is a character that we can all identify with on some level or another. We all remember what it was like to navigate those teenage years and always being self-conscious about something as we grow into who we are.

However, what makes this book a great YA novel is that it is tackling LGBTQ+ issues from the point of view of a strong female lead, who does not simply fit into a clearly defined bracket. Yet, the struggles of being a senior are not really that different whoever you are.

This novel has so much humour and warmth that it was a joy to read. You don’t want it to come to an end, as you really want to know what else happens with each and every one of the characters.

I do hope that Becky Albertalli takes us on more of the adventures of the lovely Creekwood gang. I would love to know what their university adventures are like.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

When I was growing up, I do not really remember YA fiction being much of a thing. In fact, I remember my mum actively encouraging me to avoid what was around for YA and move onto classic works by the likes of Agatha Christie.

However, now YA is a wonderful genre in its own right and, in fact, is read by so many people of all ages. I have probably read more YA now than I ever read at the ‘correct’ age.

Angie Thomas is one of the authors who has taken the YA world by storm. Her bestselling novel, ‘THUG‘, was a brilliant book which won her a huge following. Tackling some tough issues, it was educational and emotional. ‘On the Come Up’ is no different, it is an equally wonderful read.

Bri has ambitions of being a world-class rapper, just like the path her father started on. Using her music to raise awareness of the issues that matter. However, she ends up on a journey of self-discovery, realising that the past does not need to define you, and nor do the views other people may have formed of you. In fact, maybe it is time to break the mould and Bri should take the chance to shine on her own and move out of the shadow of others.

This novel is a great read. You find yourself really engaging with the characters. You feel all the emotions the characters feel, you will laugh with them, feel the frustration with them and cry with them, always wishing them the best. A novel like this also makes you reflect on the life you are leading and the world we live in – You get to the end wanting to make the world a better place for all those living in it.

I hope Angie Thomas brings us more fabulous characters because these are the novels that the YA world needs.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

This was a novel that I had seen all over the bookstagram. It was something that piqued my interest, I am not going lie – mainly because I loved the cover. And the cover did not let me down – it is, in fact, possibly a perfect cover.

I was drawn into the excitement of the novel from page 1. It reminded me a little of ‘The Hunger Games’. How dark is ‘Caraval’ as a real-life game, and who exactly will turn out to be ‘Legend’? He certainly appears to b the a darker ‘Greatest Showman’.

At points, the story doesn’t seem to have the pace that is created from the start. Yet, if you stick to the story, it certainly picks up, especially when you find yourself trying to figure out exactly who each character is. Nothing and nobody ever seems to be quite as it should.

However, it is again a novel with a strong female lead in Scarlett. Throughout the adventure, she discovers just how strong she is, eventually standing up to those who have made decisions for her all her life.

This book has certainly paved the way for more adventure, and I would be intrigued to see what happens next. After all, who wants to be left on a cliffhanger…?

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M McManus

I was excited when I realised that this novel was hitting the bookshops this year. I had really enjoyed ‘One of Us is Lying’, so could not wait to see what thrilling intrigue there was going to be amongst the pages of this tale.

Stories like this can be difficult to write blog posts about as I do not want to spoil this book for anybody, so I will do my best to share my thoughts.

The small town of Echo Ridge has been the scene of two crimes involving the disappearance of teenage girls, although the crimes have been several years apart. When Ellery and Ezra end up with their grandmother, another disappearance occurs and Ellery’s true crime-loving side leads her to carry out her own investigation – although some mysteries she solves are not the ones she expects.

The is edge-of-your-seat stuff right up until the final line. McManus weaves the tale with mystery and intrigue. You are drawn into it all and you really do want to know what will happen next. Especially as the cast of characters are almost a collection of red herrings in themselves. One minute, like Ellery, you may have one suspect in mind only to be completely thrown off. As with ‘One of Us is Lying’, it is a gripping read; a great one for thriller fans.

Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

I can not thank HayleyFromHome enough for sharing this book with me. This novel has to be one of the loveliest stories I have ever read and every moment has been pure joy.

I did break the golden rule as a bookworm and watch the film first (well I was on a long-haul flight). However, this has not taken away from the enjoyment of the book because the film is just as enjoyable.

This is the kind of YA fiction that world needs. Simon is a typical teenager, struggling a little with his place in the world as he deals with his identity. We follow Simon on his journey as he comes out to his friends and family – and gets to know the mysterious ‘Blue’.

The whole story is beautifully written – alternating between the standard narrative and the email exchanges between Simon and ‘Blue’. It is such an ordinary yet important tale for the modern world and, in fact, it is a shame that this is not the kind of novel that hit popular YA audiences sooner.

What struck me about this book, and comes from the title, is what really is the normal agenda? Who decides what is ‘normal’? (A question Simon and Blue discuss).

This novel, for me is a modern classic – one I want to share with everybody (just like the film). So, thank you again, HayleyFromHome, for sharing it with me this festive season.

Flight of a Starling by Lisa Heathfield

This is the third Lisa Heathfield novel that I have read this year. Again, I was surprised by the book, different again from the previous two, but still a compelling read.

This novel focuses on the lives of a group of travellers who tour with the Circus, and especially on the sisters Lo and Rita. Great to read another novel with strong female characters. I would consider this a coming of age novel, as it really tackles the complex fabric of relationships for both girls: their relationship, family relationships and romantic relationships. For Lo, everything seems difficult as she has fallen for a boy outside the trusted Circus circle and she is having to carry an additional secret that is almost suffocating her and her existence. Rita, despite her odd moments, feels that tradition of their family carries more weight than it seems to for Lo.

However, one moment for Lo will change life forever – for everyone. Despite it all, it may even bring everyone closer than ever before.

This was not as tense to read as ‘Seed’ and ‘Paper Butterflies’; although it is still full of emotions and difficult ideas, it is a little more gentle on the reader. I still finished it while continuing to think about it as the last word is fading.

I am grateful to the Twitterverse and Bookstagram for introducing me to these fascinating YA novels and, in turn, I have been able to share them with other readers.

Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield

A bold statement, but this could be one of my books of the year. Although, not a new book, Lisa Heathfield is a new author to me, this year, and – my word – she has struck a chord with me.

Just like ‘Seed’, ‘Paper Butterflies’ was a real surprise! This book does not tackle an easy subject, and I actually found the first few pages difficult to read, but once the context is in place, you can not leave June’s journey. You become a real part of June’s story as she grows up on each page. You root for her relationship with the unusually named ‘Blister’. We all learn that difference is good and happiness can be there for everyone to find and enjoy. However, the absolutely traumatic twist to the tale will break your heart. I struggled to put the book down before we reached the twist but, once we were at ‘After’, for every chapter I just had to know the outcome.

I can not spoil this book for anyone who wants to read it because it really is an experience not just a story. However, my biggest life lesson (and what really hit a nerve as a teacher) is you know the battles people are fighting or what really happens behind closed doors. My heart broke continuously for the beautiful June but I hope her story will educate all those who read this novel to become so much more aware of the world around them. After all, not everyone is brave enough to ask for help. And, that sometimes we are truly surprised by those around us!

Seed by Lisa Heathfield

I was lucky enough to win a fabulous little book giveaway from Chelley of Tales of Yesterday.  ‘Seed’ was the first of the novels I decided to read. I went into this book blind; I had no idea what to expect, I did not even read the blurb as I decided I just wanted to jump straight in and give this novel a go.

I will admit, I was surprised by the setting – it does not spoil it to mention that it is set among a cult – and therefore it does go on to tackle all the issues that come with such a life. It also skillfully weaves in an ongoing mystery for our heroine Pearl – who is she really? It is a fascinating study of human nature and could encourage us to contemplate that ever-present question – nature versus nurture. The characters with different backgrounds certainly have very different perspectives of the lives that are led inside ‘Seed’ and on the ‘Outside’. The strength that comes with knowledge could be the only thing that could cause Papa S’ kingdom to fall.

I have to admit that, at odd moments, the novel could be a little uncomfortable to read. There is a simple suggestion made about the experiences of those young people of ‘Seed’, but this does not take away from the desire to find out hoe the book will conclude. You certainly do become invested in some of the characters and develop a thorough dislike for others, which also encourages you keep reading.

I am glad to have discovered the work of Lisa Heathfield and I look forward to seeing where the other novels take me.

Have you ever been surprised by the setting of a novel?

The Hate U Give (THUG) by Angie Thomas

So, I am a little late at picking up a copy of this novel but this is certainly a case of better late than never. Recently the winner of ‘Waterstones Children’s Book Prize’, and it really is a deserving winner.

I am not sure I can do this title justice in a blog post. There is so much in this novel that deserves praise and recognition that I honestly do not think I have the skill to comment on it all. However, I am going to do my best to share my thoughts on ‘THUG’.

However, first it is another novel with a fantastic female lead in Starr. She may not have an easy ride for a whole load of different reasons but she is someone that you can imagine wanting to be friends with. You root for her from the word go; even if you don’t always agree with some of her actions, you can certainly understand them.

In fact, this whole novel is probably an important lesson for us all. Angie Thomas was inspired to write this because of the #Blacklivesmatter campaign and really shows us why we should use the voice we have been given to speak out for what we believe in. After all, our voice is our most powerful weapon. This is an incredibly thought-provoking book and is essential reading for all of us.

I really do not want to spoil this novel for anyone who has not read it, because it is such a powerful book. However, I will say that it is an emotional page-turner which will probably make you take a long, hard look at the world we live in and some of the actions we witness on a day-to-day basis.

So, whenever I am asked for a book recommendation this will be top of the list. If you haven’t read it, go out and find a copy and dedicate some time to Starr and her friends and family. They might all teach you thing or two.

One by Sarah Crossan

One had caught my eye many times when I was book shopping. It has a stunning and intriguing cover with two faces so close together and similar that they could almost be the same person – and never has a novel had a cover that demonstrates the story so perfectly but without spoiling any of the beauty of the novel. I have finally read this beautiful tale thanks to my book buddy Hayley, from Hayley from Home (anyone would think we are both avid readers), as she popped some lovely book post to me recently.

I am not sure that I can do this book the justice it deserves as I, of course, can not reveal any spoilers, but I really do want to share my thoughts on this novel. I will share that this book has the beautiful Grace and Tippi at the centre; two such different characters, but they share so much being conjoined twins. This story is beautifully written and presented, to convey to the reader all of the emotion of the story, not only for the two girls, but for those that they encounter on their path through life. Despite their unusual situation, they have one desire, to be able to have the same experiences as others of their age, they find happiness and friendship with Yasmeen (another girl who has always faced life a little differently to others) and Jon. However, despite this opportunity, they are constantly reminded that they are not like everyone else, and how will they ever tackle falling in love and accepting that they can be loved for who they are?

Despite the obvious focus this novel has on the girls, there is also an examination of the impact that their situation has on the family. Another struggle that the girls must face, as they feel an element of guilt as elements of home life appear to unravel, in some aspects obviously and in other ways slightly hidden from sight.

As we begin to reach the conclusion of the novel, there is a twist. You know it is coming to some extent, but maybe you do not expect it to happen in the way it does. You are so invested in this novel by the end, thanks to the beautiful writing of Sarah Crossan, that to be honest you are left wanting more. Although, I think this novel will stay with you long after you read the last word and you will be imaging your own next step for the characters.

This post may not have done this book justice – the only thing that will is you picking it up and reading it yourself. Have you read any Sarah Crossan novels? What should I read next?