Patrice Lawrence's Top 5 Young Adult Reads of 2017
My joys are London, music and sci fi. I also love stories that stay with me beyond the last page, that confound stereotypes, that jolt me into a different reality and keep me there. This is just a small selection of the fabulous books that have come my way this year.
Irfan Master’s Out of Heart captures the London I recognise in a lyrical, heart-breaking story. Adam is a withdrawn 15-year-old from an east London Muslim family. An accomplished graffiti artist, he and his selectively mute younger sister, Farah, live with his lone mother and grandmother. The family are traumatised by previous events including the death of Adam’s grandfather who it transpires has donated his heart. Then loner, William, the recipient of the heart turns up on the family’s doorstep. For most of 2017, I read while travelling to work. Out of Heart made me laugh and cry on public transport. It was a trifle embarrassing.
Another disconcerting commuting read was William Sutcliffe’s We See Everything. Like his previous book, Concentr8, it is set in an alternative London. The London I was travelling through while engrossed in it, was familiar, but destroyed. London is The Strip, a city under siege, populated by the traumatised victims of sustained bomb attacks from outside. The book stacks deep beneath The British Library are home to families bombed into homelessness. The Shard lies shattered. Lex has grown up on The Strip and suspects his father belongs to an outlawed direct action group. Alan, an isolated, angry young man is a talented gamer who is selected to operate unmanned drones that spy on and ultimately bomb The Strip and the people in it. It is a clever, compulsive read that shifted my world.
Olivia Levez writes protagonists that you aren’t sure if you should like, but they draw you in and make you root for them. In The Circus, Willow is rich, indulged and borderline obnoxious. She is also lonely and feels abandoned by both parents. On the eve of her father’s wedding to his younger girlfriend, Willow runs away and ends up penniless in Hastings. I was born in Brighton and spent summers working in Littlehampton. Scratch just a little below the surface of any sea side town and the murky goo beneath will soon bubble up. Levez describes the seediness beneath the tourist façade in beautiful rich detail and ultimately you admire, and then grudgingly like, Willow.
Now to the sci fi. (I couldn’t resist the little nod to Isaac Asimov in Orangeboy!) Lauren James’ heroine Romy Silver believes she is the The Loneliest Girl In The Universe. Left without friends or family, she is the commander of a space ship heading towards a new habitable planet. Suddenly, she receives a message from J, the lone commander of a ship powered by modern technology, speeding from earth towards her. As they start to exchange emails, he is everything she has ever imagined a boyfriend should be. And he only wants to help, doesn’t he? This was one of those in the bath, in bed, on the bus books. I had to keep reading.
Finally, something slightly different. Joseph Coelho’s Overheard In A Towerblock illustrated by Kate Milner. I think publishers and bookshops are missing a trick with poetry. They seem to stock poetry collections for younger children and adult poetry from the historical to the contemporary. Where is the poetry for young adults? Beyond the bookshops, there is a dynamic and diverse spoken word scene, young people articulating their lives and experiences through rhythm, rhyme, lyricism. These are poems about childhood belonging, separated families and the stories we build when there are gaps we can’t know. My teenage daughter and I have read them together.
I am so excited thinking about what 2018 may bring.