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Shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2018 | One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | In a Nutshell: Soaring soundtrack to resilience and love Real-life grit, gripping mystery, magnificent love story - this second novel from the highly-acclaimed author of Orange Boy is a mighty fine feast of contemporary YA. Sixth-former Indigo hasn’t had the easiest start in life, to say the least. She was only four when her dad murdered her mother, and she now lives with foster mum Keeley. But, while Indigo has a harrowing family history, nothing can suppress her wit and style. She has zebra-striped hair, loves Blondie, and Bailey is besotted with her. With his striking gingery-brown afro and musical talents, he’s no wallflower either, though their backgrounds couldn't be more different (Bailey has a teacher mum and social worker dad and lives in a “posh house” in Hackney). As they strike up a friendship - and more - Indigo is handed another rough deal when her sister announces that she’s going to cut all ties with Indigo, and then there’s the homeless man from her past, who asks Bailey to help him “make things right” for her. Before he knows it, Bailey’s up to his neck in the most difficult of decisions. From the first-rate dialogue that allows the characters’ hearts and souls to shine with authenticity, to the deftly-woven mystery, this is a life-affirming wonder. Londoners will love the in-the-know references to the likes of bus routes, and the music references are top-notch. Real-life grit, gripping mystery, magnificent love story - this second novel from the highly-acclaimed author of Orange Boy is a mighty fine feast of contemporary YA. Sixth-former Indigo hasn’t had the easiest start in life, to say the least. She was only four when her dad murdered her mother, and she now lives with foster mum Keeley. But, while Indigo has a harrowing family history, nothing can suppress her wit and style. She has zebra-striped hair, loves Blondie, and Bailey is besotted with her. With his striking gingery-brown afro and musical talents, he’s no wallflower either, though their backgrounds couldn't be more different (Bailey has a teacher mum and social worker dad and lives in a “posh house” in Hackney). As they strike up a friendship - and more - Indigo is handed another rough deal when her sister announces that she’s going to cut all ties with Indigo, and then there’s the homeless man from her past, who asks Bailey to help him “make things right” for her. Before he knows it, Bailey’s up to his neck in the most difficult of decisions. From the first-rate dialogue that allows the characters’ hearts and souls to shine with authenticity, to the deftly-woven mystery, this is a life-affirming wonder. Londoners will love the in-the-know references to the likes of bus routes, and the music references are top-notch. Joanne Owen
We’re all different: some of us like running, some of us like sleeping, some of us like being cheeky; some of us don’t like being on our own, or making lots of noise, but that’s just how people are, and it’s fine, just as it’s fine for Jackson to like bees, but not honey. This bright, attractive picture book uses children’s own words alongside lively illustrations to make important points about confidence, self-awareness and the value of personal opinion. Royalties will go to the NSPCC who have given this important little book their backing. ~ Andrea Reece
June 2017 Book of the Month | In a nutshell: families lost and remade through love, friendship and music Lexie is a rescuer: it starts when she finds a lost tortoise and leads to her setting up the Lost and Found group at school. That’s meant to be a talking session for the lonely, but turns instead, thanks to the input of school bad boy Marley, into a vibrant musical band. Forming the Lost and Found helps Lexie understand her own feelings - she’s been looking for her mum who disappeared when Lexie was just nine. It also helps her finally accept the love of her foster family. It’s a typically heart-warming story, filled with characters young readers will understand, and shows how we can all find communities to love and support us. Cathy Cassidy writes with the insight and lightness of touch that marks out Jacqueline Wilson, and this new series will be another favourite with readers. ~ Andrea Reece
Longlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2018 | In a nutshell: politics and the personal combine in a thoughtful, well-told and moving story Catherine Barter’s excellent novel is primarily the story of a girl’s search to find out more about her mother, but that’s just part of a complex set of themes and plotlines which include terrorism, politics and activism, as well as family relationships. She holds everything together with real skill and in central character Alena has created a completely believable and sympathetic heroine, with a memorable voice. Alena’s mother died when she was a toddler and she’s been brought up by her brother and his boyfriend. Their happy home-life is disrupted when Alena finds photos of her mother at Greenham Common, for some reason this really upsets Danny. Nick is hurt when Danny accepts a job with a politician he regards as dangerous populist; meanwhile, someone is planting bombs in supermarkets. The personal and the political merge making for compelling reading. ~ Andrea Reece A Letter from the Author: Dear reader, For much of the time I was writing Troublemakers, I was working at a radical bookshop, Housmans, in King’s Cross. (I still am.) Housmans is thriving right now. Our shelves are floor-to-ceiling crammed with books celebrating the history of protest and activism, and books that map out alternative futures, offering ideas and strategies for a better, fairer, more peaceful world. In turbulent times like these, maybe it’s not surprising that we’re busier than we’ve ever been. This is a time when we’re perpetually reminded of the threat of terrorism, and our fears are used to justify all kinds of political manoeuvring, from immigration crackdowns to enhanced surveillance powers. Today’s teenagers have grown up in this climate: it’s probably hard to imagine anything else. And there’s a few politicians who are expert at exploiting fear to bolster their own strength. There’s a character a lot like this in Troublemakers. This book was partly inspired by the fearful times we live in. Watching the news can make it can seem like it’s safer to stay at home rather than go out into the world and try to make a change – but still, a lot of people right now are doing exactly that. The main character in Troublemakers, Alena, is coming to realise that her mother was that kind of person: an activist who wasn’t afraid of trouble. The more Alena learns, the more she wonders if she might be that kind of person, too. But her older brother, her guardian, is more concerned with keeping her safe even when that means telling lies. Troublemakers is about families, loss, and dealing with the things we can’t change. But it’s also about the things we can change, and sometimes the necessity of trying, regardless. While I was writing it, I thought a lot about some of the big anti-war protests that took place while I was growing up. Terrible things were unfolding in the world, but it was inspiring to see thousands of people collectively standing up to power. Following a certain U.S. election, we’ve just witnessed another huge, international mass protest. Hopefully it’s given some inspiration to today’s teenagers, the next generation of activists. I’m sure I’m not the only bookseller to dream about seeing their own book on the shelves, and after a long of time of writing away at evenings and weekends, I’m so excited that Troublemakers is soon to be published. If you read it, I really hope you enjoy it. With best wishes, Catherine Barter
June 2017 Debut of the Month | In a Nutshell: Love, loss, friendship and secrets A tear-jerking, soul-stirring, heart-warming debut about losing a sister, and the ensuing aftermath of grief and mystery. Sixty-five days have passed since Juniper’s effervescent big sister, Camilla, was killed in a car crash on their way home from a party. Since that devastating event, she’s been holding herself together by rating each day on cards in her Happiness Index. No wonder then, that losing one of the cards throws Juniper into further turmoil, especially when this particular card reveals a secret she’d rather no one knew. While frantically searching for the missing card - befriending bad-boy Brad as she does so - Juniper is also determined to discover the identity of her sister’s secret love. The mystery surrounding Juniper’s missing card untangles compellingly, as do the personal revelations (sometimes hard-coated bad boys have the softest of centres). While the novel doesn’t shirk from showing the shattering effects of loss, Juniper’s desire to help others, her zesty, sardonic outlook, and the friendships she forms, are hugely uplifting. The characters feel poignantly true-to-life, making this a richly rewarding must-read for fans of Jandy Nelson and aficionados of authentically-voiced contemporary YA. ~ Joanne Owen
In a nutshell: absurd comedy genius | Timmy Failure is the best worst detective in children’s fiction, and a wonderful comic creation. In this adventure he’s having to ply his trade very surreptitiously indeed – Mum has banned all detective work until the school holidays. To make things worse, forced to share his room with his cousins, he must set up his office in a garden shed at the local hardware superstore, a place referred to always as Home Despot. Additional trials in Timmy’s life include piano lessons, and trips to orthodontist Mr A Goni. The plot brings even the most surreal strands together and it’s very satisfying. Timmy narrates with the exasperated air of the misunderstood genius and his version of events is just one of the things that makes these books so enjoyable. ~ Andrea Reece Timmy Failure will appeal to fans of those other thwarted heroes Tom Gates, Barry Loser and Greg Heffley.
One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | May 2017 Book of the Month | In a Nutshell: Coping with bipolar disorder | Finding the courage to shed secrets | Intense, insightful exploration of how it feels to live with bipolar disorder, and finding the strength to reveal who we really are. Sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan’s life is a precarious balancing act. She’s on a strictly managed cocktail of meds to control her dysphoric mania, a form of bipolar disorder which makes sufferers feel simultaneously manic and depressed. Mel is also mourning the death of her brother, who suffered from the same condition and believed that “everyone has a super power.” Mel identifies hers as “the ability to not think about anything I don't want to think about", which she lives out by keeping her condition secret from everyone but her family. But, while this secrecy is how Mel seeks to maintain equilibrium, along with working in an old people’s home, it’s also what causes a huge falling out with her friends. She’s locked into this cycle of secrecy until her new doctor remarks that in order to enjoy the intimacy she craves, she needs to give people the “chance to know and love the real you”. Along her turbulent journey, Mel’s vital relationships with the people she meets in the home are stirringly portrayed, especially David, the grandson of a resident, to whom she opens up. Heart-rending, empathy-inducing and uplifting, reading this novel is an immersive, all-consuming experience that really does resonate long after the final page. ~ Joanne Owen
May 2017 Book of the Month | In a Nutshell: Taking a stand for the people you love A touching tale of a teen girl’s endearing love for her grandmother, and the awe-inspiring, life-enhancing trip they take together. Zoe Bird is a wonderful whirlwind of a character. Her voice fizzes with energy - and anger. Alongside having to deal with a whole lot of nastiness at the hands of her bullying cousin Madi (AKA Saint Suckhole), she’s trying to cope with the fact that her beloved grandmother has Alzheimer’s. Granny is Zoe's closest friend, an ally who knows that Zoe has “the biggest heart in the world”. But Granny forgets things, and it’s getting worse. She sometimes goes to the store in her dressing gown, she’s failing to take care of herself, and she keeps mentioning her son Teddy, an uncle Zoe has never met. So Zoe’s parents decide that it’s time for her to move into an old people’s home, but not for long… A family revelation leads Zoe to break Granny out of the home and they take a trip that leads to unexpected discoveries, and unforeseen joy. Zoe’s relationship with Granny is nothing short of beautiful. I cried, I laughed, then cried some more at her bravery and absolute, unflinching emotional and physical support of her grandmother. By turns heartbreaking and hilarious, and always life-affirming, this will be adored by readers who enjoyed Jacqueline Wilson at a younger age. ~ Joanne Owen
In a Nutshell: School life, suspense, and stepping from the shadows of grief and guilt An emotionally-charged, edge-of-your-seat thriller in which a young woman experiences a rollercoaster ride of guilt, grief and complex friendships. Twin sisters Harper and Jenna had always wanted to go to boarding school like the St Clare’s twins, and Harper gets to do just that when her dad wins big on a work lottery syndicate. But, far from fulfilling a lifelong dream, Harper wants to go to Duncraggan Academy to escape the guilt she feels for her sister’s anorexia-related death. While secretly grappling with this, she makes great friends, and then new girl Kirsty is invited into their peer group. She and Harper bond when Kirsty confides that she’s also lost a sister, but things get way out of control when Kirsty becomes Harper-obsessed and claustrophobically clingy. Tension builds to a jaw-dropping crescendo as truths are revealed, loyalties are tested, and a whole lot of understanding is needed. Gripping and gratifyingly multi-layered, fans of thrillers with emotional depth will find much to love here. ~ Joanne Owen
In a Nutshell: Warm-hearted handbook for happy, healthy friendships With comforting clarity, this thorough guide provides vital insight into all aspects of friendship, and also offers support and solutions for navigating one’s way through worries and difficulties. While there are many excellent books aimed at guiding young people through their teenage years, this book’s focus on friendship makes it uniquely invaluable. It places much emphasis on understanding emotions, personality types and behaviours, both one’s own, and those of others. I particularly loved how friendship is framed in the context of being a fundamental human characteristic – “humans are, by nature, social animals”, “we have created lots of ways of supporting each other, through various sorts of friendships.” The book comprehensively covers how to make good friends, toxic friendships, dealing with social media and bullying, developing empathy, and managing stress and anxiety. The personality quizzes are perfect for nurturing self-awareness, inviting readers to explore, for example, if they might be too anxious, how empathetic they are, whether they’re more introvert or extrovert. Both enlightening and practical, this is a must-read for 12+ year olds, and an essential addition to school libraries. ~ Joanne Owen Foreword by Cathy Cassidy I wish I’d had this book when I was growing up...a book to tell me that it was OK to be shy, that it was fine not to be ‘in with the in crowd’, that it was normal to have problems and fall-outs. There are amillion and one things that can derail a teenage friendship, especially now when the extra challengeof social media can feel relentless, yet this is a point in our lives when friends matter more than ever before. When things unravel, it can feel like the end of the world. How do you steer your way though and learn to build healthy, happy, lasting friendships? How do you even begin to understand why people do the things they do when you can’t always work out why you’ve acted a certain way? Trust me, it can take a very long time to learn it all by trail and error, and that’s where this awesome book comes in. Honest,open, practical and positive, it offers a clear, easyto-understand guide to why friendships matter, how they can go wrong and, more importantly, how they can go right. In the twelve years I spent as agony aunt for Shout mag, friendship issues were the number one problem young people were struggling with; now, as a novelist for teens and pre-teens, I probably get more ‘problem page’ type questions from my readers than I ever did when I was an official agony aunt. Friendship is at the heart of all my books, and fiction is a great way to understand ourselves and others – but sometimes we need something more. I’ve learned a lot already from this book, and I think every teenager should have a copy... because friendship matters. Cathy Cassidy
Longlisted for the UKLA 2018 Book Award In a Nutshell: Loss, friendship and the light of re-finding your way | An exceptional novel about grief, guilt and finding solace in celebrating loved ones’ lives. I adored the author’s haunting southern gothic-spiced debut (The Serpent King), and the same exquisite storytelling shines through here from the opening pages, when seventeen-year-old Carver reveals that his three best friends, Mars, Blake and Eli, were killed in a car crash as the driver, Mars, replied to Carver’s text. Collectively, they were the “Sauce Crew”, four creative teenagers with exciting futures on their near horizons, but now three lives have been cut short, and it feels to Carver as if his life is over too. He’s shattered by grief, and then a criminal investigation into the accident exacerbates his turmoil. But there’s hope to be had from the special memorial days suggested by Blake’s adorable, wise Nana Betsy. The characterisation is masterful, blending painterly personal detail with broader strokes that lay universalities bare, and the writing expresses emotional rawness - the choke of Carver's panic attacks, the blinding thunderstorm of his nightmares - with a powerful punch. Jeff Zentner is the real deal. ~ Joanne Owen
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