YA (Young Adult) fiction has been, and continues to be, arguably the most vibrant and interesting book category around. What makes it so special? YA tends to be plot-driven (and thus is a popular source of film adaptations); YA is socially aware, often exploring socio-political issues including racism, bigotry and authoritarianism; and YA is working hard at inclusion, in both authorship as well as the stories they tell. Newer YA often includes casts with diverse ethnicity, gender, sexuality and physical- and neuro-abilities. Here are some great examples of such fresh, diverse stories:
Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas
Five years ago, Wendy and her younger brothers disappeared in the woods near her home in rural Oregon; six months later, she was the only one to return, without any memory of what happened. When children start disappearing again, Peter Pan (is he real, or just a figment of Wendy’s imagination?) appears, and recruits Wendy to help save the children. Lost in the Never Woods is a dark retelling of Peter Pan; not only is it an atmospheric mystery-adventure, it is also a heartbreaking depiction of grief, loss, and guilt.
Tiger Daughter by Rebecca Lim
It’s all in the little details: #ownvoices stories about Asian Australians always jolt me with a strong sense of recognition – an authenticity and depth of understanding borne of lived experience. So, too, does Tiger Daughter, the story of 14-year-old Wen and her friend Henry, both children of Chinese migrants trying to find a way out of difficult familial, cultural and societal expectations. Rebecca Lim has also used Wen and Henry’s stories to explore complex issues including racism, misogyny, financial and domestic abuse, and cultural diversity. A deeply moving and ultimately hopeful story.
The Gaps by Leanne Hall
Leanne Hall has drawn upon the “Mr Cruel” cases – a series of famously unsolved child abductions from her hometown – to create the moody setting of The Gaps. The abduction of 16 year-old Yin shocks the whole of her all-girls’ school. Two students caught in the swirl of unease are Chloe, a scholarship student who feels like an outsider, and Natalia, the queen-bee; they form an uneasy alliance as they witness the fear, rumours and grief that grows with each passing day. The Gaps interweaves a haunting thriller with sharp observations about the relationships, vulnerabilities and strengths of teen girlhood.
The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant
It’s 1828, and in an alternative-Paris, there is famine and suffering after the French Revolution has failed. While the royals rule by day, it’s the criminals who rule by night – formed into guilds collectively called the Court of Miracles. Young Eponine (Nina) is a cat burglar who joins the Thieves’ Guild with the secret goal of rescuing her sister from slavery; as she rises up through the ranks, she desperately tries to keep her protégé, Cosette, safe while seeking to destroy the Miracle Court from within. With strong female characters, a vivid juxtaposition of the glittering and the seedy, and plenty of familiar names, The Court of Miracles is a dazzlingly inventive riff on Les Misérables.
Bruised by Tanya Boteju
The high-energy world of roller derby provides a colourful backdrop to the sometimes confronting story of Daya, an 18-year-old whose parents died in a car crash. Daya enjoys the rough-and-tumble of roller derby – getting bruises helps her keep the hurt on the surface, so she doesn’t have to deal with the ache in her heart. As she is further drawn into the sport, its diverse and inclusive community helps her understand herself, moving towards acceptance and emotional healing. Bruised contains mature themes related to emotional trauma and self-harm and is recommended for ages 14+.
The Theft of Sunlight (The Dauntless Path: Book 2), by Intisar Khanani
The Theft of Sunlight introduces a smart and loyal heroine – Rae, who is disabled – in a tale full of political and magical intrigue. When her best friend’s sister is snatched by child traffickers, Rae decides to fight back against this age-old practice. She seizes an opportunity to visit the royal court, and there finds an ally in Princess Alyrra – thus continuing the story started in Thorn. As Rae fights against corruption and danger, she learns to accept herself and overcome internalised shame. The fast pace and immersive worldbuilding will leave you desperately awaiting the next (and final) book in the series!