I was inspired by an interesting list of choices for the Zoella Book Club - with several I've really enjoyed, and others I'm desperate to read.
When making predictions in a group DM with some friends last week I was spectacularly wrong (in my defense it's hard to predict given there's such a mix of US and UK authors and, in the past two, new and older books.) However it did get me thinking what I'd love to see in a list such as this.
This is NOT meant to be a criticism of the ZBC list - I will confess I'm rather surprised and disappointed at the inclusion of only one POC author, but I think it's a good selection in a lot of ways and think that Zoella does an incredible job at promoting reading, while I'm also really pleased to see Juno Dawson, Jennifer Niven, Chris Russell and Amy Alward involved in selecting books. I just wanted to see what I'd come up with.
I ruled out anything by any author previously featured in the Zoella Book Club and other than that just tried to come up with a range of books which I thought would be interesting to discuss. I'm slightly more focused on UK authors than the real thing is, because I'm biased, obviously. I also limited it to books I'd actually read, although there are several others - notably When Dimple Met Rishi and A Change Is Gonna Come - which I've heard amazing things about and was tempted to include. Finally, I limited it to 2 books max from each publisher.
Six Of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Orion) - This book (along with sequel Crooked Kingdom) gives us a compelling heist thriller set in Bardugo's rich and compelling Grisha-verse, introduced in her debut trilogy. As great as those books were, these are even more exciting and add an amount of (often quite dark!) humour. I love the central six characters here - all wonderful creations in their own right, but the relationships between them really add to the story as well. Kaz, leader of the group, shows that someone using a cane to walk can still be ferocious, while his mental trauma at his past is sensitively dealt with. It's also got one of the relatively few portrayals I've seen of gambling addiction in YA, which again is really well-written.
The Next Together by Lauren James (Walker) - Super romantic story looking at four incarnations of a couple in various different times - two of them set centuries before the present day, and another two in the near future. This is a fascinating read; all of the quartets of the main characters are superb and I love the way lots of it is told in documents and e-mails. Sequel The Last Beginning is, if anything, even better, but a series starter seemed like a better fit for a book club.
The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo by Catherine Johnson (Corgi) - Based on the true story of Mary Willcox, a girl who was discovered wandering the streets and managed to convince the wealthy family who found her that she was a princess from the South Seas, this is a fascinating historical novel looking at truth, lies, relationships and how easy it is to get people to believe something they wish to be true. Brilliant characterisation and a fabulous story.
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik (Twenty7) - The first couple of the book clubs featured one adult novel each; I think that if I'd been going for another one then this gorgeous rom-com featuring a memorable Muslim lead would definitely have been on my list. I really adored this one as it's a cute read and Sofia - described by many reviewers as 'the Muslim Bridget Jones' is a hilarious narrator. Ayisha Malik was on the news yesterday calling for more representation of Muslims in literature in a normalized way; her own book is a perfect example of this.
Moxie by Jennifer Matheiu (Hodder) - Gripping novel about an anonymous zine writer fighting back against the rape culture in her school, first in a small way but then in bigger ones as she gains confidence and sees other girls - and a few guys - support her and do other things inspired by Moxie. I love the intersectionality as the protests lead to girls starting to socialise more with people of other races, and the way that in conversations with the new boy in town and with her doubtful friend Viv takes down the issues with #notallmen and with the stereotype of feminists as 'man haters'. Despite the tough topics it tackles, it's also a refreshing and fun read which will inspire readers in the same way that Holly Bourne's Spinster Club series has. Outstanding.
Radio Silence by Alice Oseman (Harper Collins) - I love the main two characters here - a brilliantly-written platonic friendship between a guy and a girl is NOT that easy to find in YA, sadly, but this absolutely delivers. There's a hugely diverse cast (yay for ace spectrum rep!) and Alice Oseman captures the pressure of sixth form and of university perfectly. She's also done an amazing job of showing the positives and negatives of internet culture, while Frances's mother is one of my favourite parents in YA - a fantastically supportive character.
Black Sheep by Na'ima B Robert (Frances Lincoln) - The oldest on my list, this 2013 release is a stunningly-told Romeo & Juliet type story about a relationship between two black teens, a 'badman' drawn into gang violence and a local councilor's daughter pressured to be perfect. It's an outstanding dual narrative with two incredible lead characters; Dwayne's words, in particular, dance and jive and shimmy, while Misha has a wonderfully strong and clear voice. They're a pair of stunning characters with incredibly strong chemistry between them, and I couldn't wait to see how their relationship would develop. There's also a really great portrayal of Islam as Dwayne sees how the faith is helping a friend of his. (It's #ownvoices, by the way.)
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Walker) This is a compelling and heartbreaking story of courage, standing up for what's right, fighting prejudice and the power of community. I fell hard for MC Starr, her brother and father, and the rest of the characters. There's an intense, justified, anger here - particularly on a devastating final page - but also moments of joy, and an optimism that things CAN get better if enough people use their voice. I hope readers are inspired to follow Starr's lead.
Becoming Betty by Eleanor Wood (Macmillan) - Central character Lizzie is persuaded by her new friend Viv to take up bass and reinvent herself to join Viv's band. What starts off as a fun read quickly develops into so much more, looking at unhealthy friendships, how much of yourself you should change for somebody else, and what paths you can follow after the age of 16. An amazing book!