22/08/13 - Book recommendations: 'Paperback of the Year' Edition

I don't have any real idea of the age demographic for readers of this blog, but I suppose I've always assumed most are around my own age - this probably stems from an inability to believe that anyone other than my actual real-life friends would have interest in reading my ramblings.  With this in mind, the books I am about to recommend might seem to be what is typically considered a little 'younger' than the books I tend to write about on here.  However, bear with it - all of them I really enjoyed, despite being an adult reader.

For those of you who don't know, I've worked in libraries since I was 17.  My first job was as a Saturday assistant in a local children's library - not exactly rock and roll, but I really enjoyed it.  Since going to uni, I've done varying degrees of casual work through a few different libraries and finally came to rest in a department away from the public sphere.  For the past couple of years, all my university holidays have been spent packing up boxes of books on a variety of subjects to be sent into schools to assist with that term's topics.  Again, it may not seem overly thrilling but I get along well with my colleagues and I can think of much worse jobs I could have been landed with.

The highlight of this job is being involved with the local Paperback of the Year event; we draw up a shortlist of fifteen titles which have been released in paperback within the last twelve months and local schoolchildren of the young teen persuasion vote for a winner.  As the actual voting takes place in term-time, I tend to be long gone by that point but the shortlist is a big task and requires a few extra pairs of hands (and eyes) to get through all the books which seem to be viable candidates.  Cue me doing a Hermione Granger, hand waving eagerly in the air - "Pick me to help, pick me!"  For this reason, all the books I've read in the past two weeks have been for work, and that's what this post will be about.  Without further ado, I'll crack on with the recommendations.

Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

Despite the fact that Elise, the protagonist, is eleven and therefore much younger not only than me but also younger than the people who will be voting, this book's themes are so universal that it hardly seems to matter.  Everyone can relate to the apprehension you feel moving from primary to secondary school, most people have had experience of bullying, and who doesn't like a good mystery?  The ideas of friendship, family, coming to terms with loss and seeking a sense of belonging are all central to this beautiful little book.  While I know that I would have loved this book as a child, I can appreciate it just as much as an adult and I believe anyone who reads it can learn a little something from it.  A heartwarming tale about the difficulties of growing up and the little lessons we could all do with remembering from time to time.

The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan

The style of this book might turn some people off - I'll admit that I was skeptical when I first opened it.  It's the first novel I've read which is written in verse form and, while I'm not what you'd call a traditionalist, I was curious to see how the experimental nature of the format would work.  I have to say that as soon as I got into the story, I loved it.  Kasienka is a twelve-year-old Polish immigrant who moves to England with her mother in search of the father who left them two years earlier, but my favourite thing about this book was that it's not an 'immigrant story' as such.  Yes, there are struggles, but these are the struggles of any young teenager rather than those specifically of a Polish one; coping with school bullies and ignorant teachers, parents who don't understand, having your first kiss.  The style is just the half of it - Kasienka is a vivid and exciting character, the narrative so personal it can't help but move you.  Despite being a fairly quick read, I loved this powerful, emotionally-charged and stunningly written book.

Finding Cherokee Brown by Siobhan Curham

This was probably my favourite of the books that I read for the shortlist.  While saying I would have loved it when I was younger is totally true, that seems to say that I don't love it now and that is entirely false.  On her fifteenth birthday, Claire Weeks finds out she isn't quite who she's always thought she was and this realisation gives her the power to become the person she wants to be, not dictated by her mum and stepdad or the bullies in her class.  There's an authenticity to Curham's writing which can be difficult to find.  She captures the experience of being a teenage girl perfectly and my favourite element is the flawed nature of the adult characters.  Something it's easy to forget as a teenager is that grown-ups are people too, and that your parents - shock horror - had lives before you came along.  The bullying aspect of the story was painfully realistic at time, but this didn't stop the novel being really uplifting as Claire comes into her own against all the odds.  A really inspirational read for all ages, and particularly for those of us who has ever struggled to believe in themselves.

There will be other titles on the shortlist which I didn't get a chance to read, and I'll really excited to see which of them wins!  I think it's a great idea to get young people reading a variety of authors they might not have encountered otherwise and to encourage them to go on and read more widely outside the books we recommend to them.

If you have any book recommendations, leave them in the comments!


  1. I want to read all of these now! There's nothing better than a good teen novel, makes me pine for GCSE days ;) xx

    1. I seriously recommend it - there's so much fantastic teen/YA fiction and they don't stop being great just because we get older :P xx