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Longlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2018 | July 2017 Debut of the Month | In a Nutshell: Classic coming-of-age love story This radiant story of summer love, family secrets and following your dreams begins with an almighty bang. On the penultimate day of her school year, Emerald’s alcoholic mother goes into rehab and, with her dad frantic at work, she’s sent to Dublin to stay with her grandmother. There she meets aspiring songwriter, Liam. He’s immediately smitten by Emerald’s “beautiful crooked smile”, and could listen to her for hours, and the feeling is mutual. As they fall head-over-heels, Emerald faces uncomfortable truths about her selfie obsessed friends, and even worse about her family, while Liam struggles to bear the weighty load of his father’s expectations. While no one can question how smitten they are, one question remains: will their love withstand an unfiltered exposure of truth? This moving, funny, life-affirming tonic is as satisfying as a long glass of iced lemonade on a sultry afternoon. That special sensation of spending a summer falling in love – of dusk picnics on the beach, of stealing away to uninhabited spaces – is captured in all its giddy, weak-at-the-knees gloriousness. ~ Joanne Owen
In a Nutshell: Empowering, entertaining trading places tale Endlessly entertaining and inspirational, this radiantly witty novel imparts important messages about gender stereotypes with heartfelt humour. Zizi and Loretta are polar opposites, “like two sides of the same planet - dark and light”. Zizi loves “clothes, make-up and boys”. She’s eager to please, and even winds up apologising when a boy grabs her boob. “He was just being a boy. He can’t help it”, she reasons. Cue outrage from feminist Loretta. Self-taught in the arts of mechanics, plumbing and carpentry, she can’t believe how previously “smart and spirited” Zizi is now “drowning in the frothy, pink sea of girliness.” But, despite their differences, the girls strike up a friendship, and decide to make a bet for the summer vacation. Zizi will relinquish her make-up and short skirts, while Loretta will adopt Zizi’s girly style. On trading places, they both learn a whole lot about themselves, and experience firsthand how differently the world treats different “kinds” of girls. This is fabulous on female friendship, and head-over-heels brilliant on exposing the multiple ways in which girls moderate their behaviour to fall in line with gender expectations, from not running to prevent attention-drawing boob-bouncing, to victim-blaming, self-blaming and doing domestic chores when boys are let off the hook. 100% recommended for all girls upwards of 13 (and boys, for that matter), and perfect for fans of Holly Bourne. ~ Joanne Owen
In a Nutshell: Summer search for lost loved-ones brings unexpected love Captivating and compassionate debut in which two endearingly quirky teenagers find love - and themselves - through their search for missing family members. Since the disappearance of her sister, aspiring filmmaker Linny has been “living in black and white”, and become obsessed with disappearances more generally, including that of cult Cuban novelist and filmmaker, Alvaro Herrera. After going missing three years ago, Alvero has resurfaced in a Miami nursing home, and so Linny volunteers there, hoping that figuring out the reason for his disappearance will help her work out if her sister will ever return. Aspiring astrophysicist Sebastian is searching for someone too, for the father who abandoned him, and he wants answers. But, as he and Linny get to know Alvero, time might be running out. Linny and Sebastian’s relationship is evoked with heart and humour, in all its wonder and adorable awkwardness, and the motif of feeling trapped, like a tethered bird that’s unable to fly, is nicely interwoven. There are plenty of pulse-quickening twists and turns to keep readers turning the pages, along with a whole lot of uplifting warmth. ~ Joanne Owen
July 2017 Debut of the Month | In a Nutshell: Loss, love, and the struggle to survive the most savage of storms A compelling coming-of-age story, an exploration of loss, and a gripping, multi-layered mystery, this had me hooked from the opening lines, and will surely be loved by fans of Wonder, and Louis Sachar. Ethan Truitt (twelve years and four months old) has moved from his beloved Boston to Palm Knot, a “drooping and faded” backwater. His parents say it's because Grandpa Ike needs their help, but Ethan knows they’re lying. He knows they moved “because of what I did to Kacey”, his best friend. Being the new kid in class is hard for anyone, but especially so for Ethan, who doesn’t think he deserves friends, not after the accident he blames himself for. Then Coralee blasts into his life. She’s a whirlwind of a girl, a teller of big tales, a keeper of big secrets. Several mysteries are smoothly interwoven with the path of their relationship, and their personal struggles. What’s with the jewels they find in abandoned Blackwood House? Why does Kacey’s dad keep calling Ethan’s parents? And why won’t Grandpa Ike let anyone in his room? Poignant, tender, and budding with shoots of hope, this is a mighty fine debut about guilt, grief, friendship and healing. ~ Joanne Owen
Shortlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2019 | Suffused in the exuberance of a yellow-jersey-wearing cyclist freewheeling down the Champs-Élysées with a bottle of Champagne, this wildly witty novel tells of three fine young women who rise above body-shaming bullies to become Queens of the Mountain. Likened to Jean-Paul Sartre - “squinty old man, atrociously ugly” – Mireille has been voted one of the ugliest girls in her school in the cruel “Pig Pageant” Facebook poll, but she’s not going to take this lying down. Rather, she seeks out the two other “Little Piglettes”, Astrid and Hakima, and they strike up sisterly bond. Sometimes fate conspires in fortuitous ways and here the girls realise that key aspects of their lives will conflate at the president’s Élysée Palace party. Quite simply, the Three Little Piglettes must go to the ball and so they embark on a voyage à vélo to Paris, funding their trip by selling homemade saucisson. First covered by local news, their journey goes viral, which sees them enveloped in a peloton of national interest. What an inspired, amusing, enchanting ride this is.
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
June 2017 Debut of the Month A thoroughly enthralling fantasy that brims with swashbuckling adventure and enchantment. Seventeen-year-old Caro Oresteia is inextricably bound to the river. Her Pa is a wherryman, like her grandmother before him. “A wherryman, Pa says, follows no man but the river. A wherryman is free”, but Caroline is still waiting for the river god to call her to this destiny. “The day your fate comes for you, you’ll know” her Pa tells her but, already two years older than he was when the river whispered his name, Caro is desperate for her time to come. When the Black Dog pirates set a flotilla of ships alight, and Pa is arrested for refusing to transport a mysterious cargo, Caro agrees to carry it in exchange for his release, also hoping that by captaining the wherry, the river god will finally whisper her name. But with ruthless pirates set on capturing the cargo’s unexpected contents, Caro faces impossibly difficult decisions in unimaginably dangerous circumstances. The language is rich, the mythological world evoked with sparkling eloquence, and Caro is an inspirational heroine, a fully-rounded young woman who knows what she wants, what she loves, and what she needs. Fans of folkloric fantasy will surely be swept up in the lyrical currents of this exhilarating debut. ~ Joanne Owen
June 2017 Debut of the Month | In a nutshell: sensitive depiction of loss and survival Three young people, each marked by terrible loss are at the heart of this powerful YA novel. Otis lost his three year old brother in a tragic accident three years ago. He also lost the girl he loved; Meg was there when Mason died and holds herself to blame. She and her family left town after the accident and Otis has had no contact until suddenly he learns Meg is coming back. A talented swimmer, Otis is coached by a girl just a bit older, who has her own pain to deal with: Dara lost her arm in an accident which ended her hopes of a career as an athlete. Dara is tormented by phantom pains in her missing arm, the agony a vivid reminder for readers of Otis’s loss. Dara’s sharp tongue adds moments of relief to what could otherwise be almost too harrowing a story, and Garner allows all three young people a hopeful ending. ~ Andrea Reece
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: Summer love | Short stories | Poolside pick-me-up Perfect for dipping into between dips in the pool, this varied seasonal anthology features twelve scorching stories by twelve top YA authors. Following last Christmas’s My True Love Gave to Me collection, this is a stunning summer-themed showcase of the dazzling breadth of current YA authors, including Cassandra Clare, Leigh Bardugo and Veronica Roth. Personal favourites include the beautifully bittersweet trapped-in-time tearjerker, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (Lev Grossman), and the satisfyingly sardonic Love is the Last Resort (Jon Skovron), but the joy of this collection is its variety. It’s a fabulous feast of mix-and-pick treats, from soft-centered romance, to hardboiled thrillers. And the pretty package - a chunky sky-blue hardback resplendent with sunburst yellow edges and pink silk bookmark – makes it an ideal end-of-exam gift to chill-out with. ~ Joanne Owen
In a Nutshell: Race against time unites two brave, beautiful hearts How far will a person dare to go? What does it take to face the hardest truths? This gripping, heartfelt novel explores emotional depths and oh-so many vital themes with a dazzling lightness of touch that gets to the beating heart of the characters’ journeys. It has all the feels, as they say, and then some. Kam Malik was set for a bright future until an accident left him with severe neurological disabilities. Claire goes to Kam’s school, but it’s not until she starts volunteering at his clinic that she gets to know him and, later, his brother, Sef. Sef is on a mission to raise the £60k needed to keep Kam in the specialist clinic, which is where tech-and-media-savvy Claire comes in. She has the idea of starting a YouTube campaign in which they adopt superhero personas (‘Truth Girl’ and ‘Dare Boy’), and invite subscribers to donate cash to watch their Truth or Dare? challenges. It’s an ace idea but, while they pick up fans, they’re not generating nearly enough cash, so they ramp-up their online dares, while their offline relationship develops into something very real, and very special. But higher-stakes dares bring higher risks, with repercussions that threaten to tear them apart. It takes a special kind of writer to tackle as many big emotions and themes as this (love, trust, guilt, bravery, friendship, sexual assault, trolling, and prejudices around disability, race and sexual orientation) without ever slipping into Issues Book Mode. The writing brims and bristles with authenticity, the dual narrative is cleverly executed, and this is YA at its smartest. A true tonic for the heart and soul. ~ Joanne Owen
In a Nutshell : Harriet hits Paris A treat for the summer holidays this special Geek Girl novella sees Harriet Manners in Paris for the Haute Couture shows no less. Being Harriet, she’s extensively researched Haute Couture, but it wasn’t her background knowledge that got her the job, rather stalking the auditions ‘unimpressed and severe, much like our headmistress just before an assembly on truancy’. That can’t last, and Harriet is soon doing Paris in the only way she can – totally herself. Smale’s writing is as sharp and funny as ever and fans will be excited to learn that a certain ex-boyfriend might also be in Paris. Fiction featuring awkward, smart, funny, real young women is booming and Geek Girl fans should also look out for books by Holly Bourne, Jenny McLachlan and Sophia Bennett. ~ Andrea Reece