Okay, I have no restraint. This was always meant to be a top 10, but I read SO MUCH contemporary last year that I'm going for a top 15. On counting up, I actually read 59 YA contemporary books released last year so the top 25% or so doesn't seem that bad.
Best YA Contemporary
Imogen is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. She's her grandmaster's top student. Agile, strong, and confident, she has dedicated years of her life to becoming this good. Then she gets the chance to use her skills when she's involved in an attempted hold-up at a diner - and freezes completely. The gunman gets shot, and she blames herself, losing all of her confidence. What good is Tae Kwon Do in the real world if she can't bring herself to do anything with it?
Stunning debut novel tackles a host of difficult themes brilliantly.
McGarry's usual sizzling chemistry and a wonderful set of characters make this an absolute must-read.
Twelve months after Janey Bradshaw's suicide, her friends get together in a secluded Spanish villa. After a year apart, there's a lot to talk about - but the elephant in the room is Janey's death. Ryan Hayward isn't convinced she killed herself - and when someone else from their old school turns up, they seem to confirm his suspicions. Except very quickly, there's another dead body, and Ryan and his friends need to get rid of the corpse. Of course, where there's a murder victim, there's also a murderer - who can it be? Will anyone stay alive to find out?
After Jess's dad gets suspended from work, her mum takes her and her older sister out of school. Fleeing from publicity, they go to a remote Scottish island to join a community of people who shun modern technology. The longer they stay on the island, though, the stranger things seem to be. What's going on, and when will Jess see her dad again?
Simon Packham gives us yet another excellent teen contemporary novel, complete with one of the best narrators for ages. Definitely recommended!
Harriet Manners has the opportunity of a lifetime. She's been asked to go and model in Japan, a country she's always wanted to visit. After problems in her personal life, this is exactly what she needs. Of course, for Harriet, life is never quite that simple...
Excellent follow-up to one of the funniest teen novels of the year. Massively recommended.
Despite his efforts with Sarah at the start of term, fourteen-year-old Archie is still as geeky and as clueless about girls as ever. Then he meets Clare, a sixteen-year-old who has relationship problems of her own, and they create a fake relationship to try and get their crushes to notice them. What could possibly go wrong?
Warm and funny, this is an entertaining story which stands out both due to Robb's great narrative style and the subject matter of roleplaying.
Faith has been moved into a different form to separate her from her friend Megs, as the teachers seem to think they're a bad combination. On the plus side, the school are bussing in cute boys for their choir - and Faith is ready to get to know the dreamy Finn a lot better. Until she realises he's singing a duet with her sworn enemy, at least. Can Faith get the boy? And will she be able to move back into the same form as Megs by impressing Miss Ramsbottom with her new found maturity?
Strong contender for the funniest book of the year so far, this is fabulous. Not just for girls, despite the pink cover - boys will warm to the great characters and the focus is more on humour than romance.
In Bloom by Matthew Crow
The story of Francis, who gets diagnosed with leukeaemia and faces the horrors of illness and treatment alongside Amber, a girl he meets at the hospital, is one of the best of the year for me.
I've seen a fair bit of buzz suggesting this was really, really good. Nothing had prepared me for how completely wonderful it actually is, though. It's warm, tender, and surprisingly funny at times, given the subject matter. It's also a beautiful depiction of both romantic love and family relationships, with a brilliant narrator and a superb supporting cast. I particularly liked Francis's brother Chris and both lead character's mothers, who are very different people but who are both brilliantly drawn.
Severed Heads, Broken Hearts (Published as The Beginning of Everything in the US) by Robyn Schneider
Ezra Faulkner thinks that everyone has a tragedy in their life, something which will forever define you. His happens when he loses his girlfriend, his tennis ambitions, and his social life in one night after a car accident shatters his knee. Drawn back towards his old friend Toby - whose own tragedy, years ago, was to catch a decapitated head on a theme park ride, forever dooming him to misfit status - he meets new girl Cassidy. With new friends around him and a potential new love, can Ezra rebuild his life?
This lyrical and unpredictable book is an outstanding read.
Soulmates by Holly Bourne
Poppy and Noah are soulmates - literally. But two people who are the perfect match for each other could cause the perfect storm for the rest of the world - meaning a secret government agency wants to stop them seeing each other.
Stunning chemistry between the leads, a brilliant plot and a jaw-dropping ending make this a debut to savour.
Grace and Ellie are at the seaside with their mum. They're not on a holiday, though - they've escaped from their domineering and abusive father. As the two settle into a new school and make new friends, Grace - who only ever speaks to Ellie - meets someone she can be herself around, while Ellie reinvents herself as Elle, a confident and popular girl instead of the shy and scared youngster she used to be. But can they ever be free of the shadow of her father?
In turns tense, fun, scary and life-affirming, this is a staggeringly good read. (Although I'm not keen on the cover, which makes it look far lighter than it is.)
Elise is a fragile girl who's never felt like she fitted in anywhere. Shuttled between her divorced parents, she's desperate to be popular at school but can't work out how. Then a chance event leads to her DJ'ing in Start, a hot underground nightclub and her life suddenly improves dramatically - but can she really leave behind her old self, or are the bullies who make her feel like there's nothing worthwhile about her life right all along?
An emotional, sometimes brutal, but ultimately hopeful read with an amazing voice. An absolute must read.
Stunning conclusion to the Gallagher Girls series. (I'll avoid a plot summary due to risk of spoilers for earlier books - however, this is one of the very best contemporary series of recent years!)
Weirdos vs Quimboids by Natasha Desborough
Apart from having some of the most unfortunate initials ever, Blossom Uxley-Michaels is saddled with liberal-minded hippy parents, a huge crush on a boy, and a feud with a pair of girls who look down on her and her best friend. Can a job at the school radio station convince people she's not a weirdo?
Frank, frequently fairly filthy, and flipping funny! I laughed out loud a lot, but am not prepared to admit which parts I was laughing at. (Although it's pretty close to 'all of it'!) When The Daily Mail get their hands on this one, they'll be running an outraged article about the disgusting state of YA today. However along with the rude humour, we get a great trio of friends, a bit of romance, and a story about a 'weirdo' finding herself, with some brilliant character development. I've heard a rumour that the upcoming sequel is even funnier. I'm finding this rather hard to believe, but am looking forward to finding out!
I have a similar problem here as I did when reviewing two of my other all-time favourites, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein and Pantomime by Laura Lam. Part of me wants to write lots about how brilliant a book this is, but part of me is glad I went into it without much of an idea what was going to happen as I think the unpredictability really added to the book. So, the bare bones. There are four girls in a band. There's a TV talent show, and the chance to progress, just not as a quartet. There's a difficult decision to be made.
One of the best YA contemporary stories I've read in years, exploring media manipulation, cyber-bullying, body image, romance, friendship, making choices, and doing it all with incredible heart and a wonderful cast of characters. Narrator Sasha is outstandingly portrayed, with Sophia Bennett bringing her vividly to life, flaws and all, but the other girls in the group are all very realistic as well, as are their schoolmates and the various people involved in the talent show. I also really liked the way that Bennett dealt with the fall-out from the decision made and both the positive and negative effects of social networking.