This month's selection of YA titles includes some very powerful reads based on history or drawn from contemporary life, as well as stories that explore more everyday life.

The Earth is Singing
Vanessa Curtis

Usborne Publishing Ltd

ISBN 9781409577447

Published to tie in with Holocaust Memorial Day, this well-researched and imagined novel by Vanessa Curtis is a powerful reminder of what we are capable of inflicting on our fellow men, women and children. Teenaged Hannah lives in Riga in Latvia and wants to become a dancer but this future life is ripped away from her, along with so much else, when the Nazis arrive. Hannah is a Jew; her father has already been 'disappeared' by the Russians, now Hannah, her mother and her grandmother have to survive on their own. As Jews, Hannah and her family face new daily humiliation and deprivation until they are, finally, forced into the ghetto that has been created for the Riga Jews. What happened to the Jewish community in Riga is one of the many tragedies of WWII but it is less well known so the ending of the story may be all the more shocking to some readers. However, the author leaves us with some hope that Hannah will survive. The author visited Riga as part of her research for her story; you can read a full interview with Vanessa Curtis here: 336 pages / Ages 14+ / Reviewed by ReadingZone

The Earth is Singing
There Will Be Lies
Nick Lake

Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

ISBN 9781408853818

This intriguing and many-layered novel from Nick Lake explores ideas around identity, family and our place in the world. There are a couple of unexpected twists in it, which limits what can be said in this review since they really deliver the impact of the story. Teenaged Shelby has always been kept safe by her mom, Shaylene, a court stenographer, so much so that Shelby is home-schooled and rarely communicates with anyone else, let alone anyone her own age. So when she is run down by a car and finds herself communicating with a Coyote, you know that her life is about to turn. Shelby suddenly finds herself on the run with her mom, who grows increasingly violent in her quest to keep her and Shelby 'safe' - but safe from what? Coyote has told Shelby that 'There will be two lies. Then there will be the truth. That will be the hardest of all.' Shelby believes that they are running from her dad, who she has never met, but bit by bit, she begins to question this. In parallel with her 'real life' quest for the truth, Coyote takes her into the 'Dreamtime' where she is set a task, to rescue the crying baby she has always dreamed about. Bit by bit, Shelby's discoveries in the Dreamtime start to converge with her discoveries in her real world until the final, shocking truth is revealed to her. This would make a great novel to discuss as a group read as it raises many issues around family and identity, and the mythical element of the novel also offers much food for thought. You can read a full interview with author Nick Lake here: 464 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by ReadingZone.

There Will Be Lies
Secrets, Schemes and Sewing Machines
Katy Cannon

Stripes Publishing

ISBN 9781847155146

A typical school romance story; new boy to the school meets girl, they don't like each other to start with but all that changes as the story develops. The story takes place around the preparations for a school production where Grace, the main female character, is the wardrobe mistress and each chapter starts with instructions for a sewing project for an item that then appears in the chapter. There are some typical young teenage issues related to young love and family and friend relationships touched on in the book but not in a heavy manner. 160 pages / Ages 11+ / Reviewed by: Mrs Armstrong-Harris

Secrets, Schemes and Sewing Machines
The Door That Led to Where
Sally Gardner

Hot Key Books

ISBN 9781471401084

Life is not good to A.J. His mother hates him, his father is gone and all he has are his two best friends and one GCSE. The first mystery is why he should get a job in barristers' chambers; the second is much more perplexing. In the chambers' museum is an iron key labelled with his name and his date of birth. What can it mean? What it means is a fascinating adventure and mystery that spans two time zones. It is gritty and raw in both time zones. Many might feel that the depiction of life in contemporary north London is too gritty. Some might feel that the depiction of 1830 with roaring log fires and hot pies is a little romantic. I don't think either is true. The author has drawn such believable characters that we don't think twice about how they are travelling between time zones. My sympathy is always with A.J. who tries to do the right thing and protect his friends. I love Elsie, the slightly dodgy grandma that lives down the stair. And the decisions his friends make in the end are completely logical. Sally Gardner gives us a portrait of London in two different ages that emphasises the similarities as well as the differences. There are broken and dysfunctional families in both. There is violence and death, exploitation and kindness, as there always has been and always will be. 288 pages / Ages 14+ / Reviewed by Caroline Downie

The Door That Led to Where
The Art of Being Normal
Lisa Williamson

David Fickling Books

ISBN 9781910200322

Transgender is becoming a far more talked about topic that it has ever been in the past, and in the case of books written for young people that was not at all. The Art of Being Normal is a welcome entry on to the scene. It is touchingly told in two voices. The first is Richard. We know from the start that he feels that he is in the wrong body and is dreading puberty and becoming irreconcilably masculine. He cannot tell anyone his secret, apart from his two best friends, fellow outcasts in the jungle that is high school Leo is the new boy at school and we hear his story as he tries to keep his head down, avoid falling for the prettiest girl in school and steer clear of the bullies. The two become surprising allies. Williamson has created a fascinating and compelling story of two young people trying to make sense of their identities. It appears that the author worked for a while in a service that helped young people struggling with their gender identity and I think that knowing young trans people has helped her draw a very real picture of their lives. Some may argue that the ending is a little romantic but I think that in many ways it rings true. All teenagers have something they feel makes them different and are far more accepting of other people's difference when allowed. On the other hand, I think the bullying and adult indifference that forms the most part of the book also ring true and that makes me feel very sad. An excellent and thought-provoking book, a must read. Ages 14+ / Reviewed by Caroline Downie

The Art of Being Normal

ISBN 9780141357270

Girl Online is a debut novel from Vlogger Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella. Blogging is integral to the story and parts of the book are in Blog form. Penny, the main character, finds she can only be herself through her Blog, Girl Online. The support she receives from her followers help her to deal with her real life catastrophes, which are often cringe worthily funny, but is there a darker side to the Internet? Are all her followers friends and should she believe everything she reads? The themes of bullying, friendship and self-esteem are dealt with in an identifiable and often subtle way. Outgrowing friendship and being able to overcome fears are key to the story and show how brave someone can be if they challenge themselves. The use of the Blog form, as well as using lists to overcome problems would be ideal class activities. One list especially stood out, of naming 3 happy things when you are feeling at your lowest. Other themes covered are: homophobia, romance, self-worth, Internet safety; these are often dealt with in a humorous way (with an underlying serious message) and would appeal to both sexes. This would be for the more confident reader, but the Blogging format would appeal to the reluctant reader. Some of the funnier moments would be ideal as a class read. Other books that would appeal to those who like this title are: Geek Girl by Holly Smale, My Best Friend and Other Enemies by Catherine Wilkins, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and We Were Liars by E.Lockhart. Reviewed by: Sophie Castle

Hansel and Gretel
Neil Gaiman

Bloomsbury Childrens Books

ISBN 9781408861981

This is a very dark book, both physically and in the story it retells. Most readers will be familiar with the sad tale of Hansel and Gretel originally told by the Brothers Grimm. Oddly it is sometimes the subject of a pantomime, although there is little to rejoice at in this story of children abandoned, evil and retribution. For those who do not know the story it tells of the woodcutters' family, his wife and two children Hansel and Gretel who live in the forest and manage to eke out a reasonably good living. But then hard times come and there is very little food and the wife suggests to the woodcutter that it would be better to 'lose' the children rather than have all of them die of hunger. Hansel overhears this conversation so the first time they are taken into the deep woods by their father, he uses small white pebbles dropping them at each turn so that they can find their way back home. But the second time comes unexpectedly and so all he has is some breadcrumbs and the children are lost in the deep woods. They smell something good and come upon a gingerbread house belonging to an old woman where they feast royally, but then she turns on them, puts Hansel in a cage to fatten him up to eat, and Gretel to work. The old woman's sight is not good so Hansel deceives her by holding out a bone when she comes to measure the fatness of his finger, and Gretel seizes the moment to shove the old woman into the fire where she roasts. The children garner the old woman's bounty, stolen from previous travellers whom she had killed, and return home to find their mother has died but their father is delighted to see them and they live well off the old woman's treasure. A dark tale indeed! Neil Gaiman has caught the right style exactly - it does sound as though the Brothers Grimm themselves had written this version and it would read aloud very well. The illustrations picture silhouettes in the midst of darkness as befits such a dark story. There are some interesting notes at the end of the story telling the history of the folk tale. It is difficult today to think of a mother suggesting that her husband lose their children in order to save their own lives, evil in its own way, but with tales of modern slavery abounding in the press, the rest of the tale is easy to grasp. The fate of the old woman, burnt in her own oven, much like the witch she seems to be, is just retribution some might say. There is much to discuss in such a tale, but the audience would need to be old enough to be able to discuss the morals of such a story. It could lead a teenage audience on to read 'Sophie's choice', for example. As a librarian my difficulty would be where to place such a book where it would be found by the right audience. It looks as though it is for a much younger readership from the outside and size but inside it requires some maturity to read. Definitely for 12+ / 56 pages / Reviewed by Janet Fisher, librarian.

Hansel and Gretel
The Calling (Endgame, Book 1)
James Frey


ISBN 9780007585168

Fast-paced end-of-the-world adventure competition. Descendants of twelve lines originally put on Earth by an alien race, these teenagers have been trained since birth and meant to fight to the death in order to save their bloodline from the destruction of the world while the rest of humanity is doomed. This feels like a mashup of many other stories - think Stargate crossed with Hunger Games. Divided into short, sharp sections switching introducing various Players and their families, it is hard to get to know characters and therefore connect with them. Clearly setup as the start of a series, this is less a standalone book and more just 'part'. The Players have their own clues to work out on their quest, some choosing to follow these, some choosing to eliminate the competiton, some choosing to be more mysterious. As a reader you have more knowledge than each of these characters on their own, which is both empowering and sometimes making the plot predictable. The clues often relate to real-life iconic buildings or places around the globe (such as Stonehenge), using the mystery of these in our own history to give weight to the story's premise that humans did not evolve but were placed by aliens and their own technology. Inspired by the iconic book 'Masquerade' where readers were invited to become participants in the story by solving clues leading to a real-life prize to be dug up, 'The Calling' is similarly interlaced wtih clues leading to a large cash prize, should you take the time to work them out. However for this reader, I soon realised that frustration overtook skill in the puzzling, having to detach myself from the clues in order to be able to keep on with the plot. Hopefully older teenagers (rather than younger due to its brief instances of mature language and experiences) will be intrigued by this way of getting deeper into the story and experience it on another level. 465 Pages / Ages 14+ / Reviewed by Helen Swinyard, librarian.

The Calling (Endgame, Book 1)
The Walled City
Ryan Graudin

Orion Children's Books (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )

ISBN 9781780621999

Never before have I a read a book that encapsulated the feelings of hope and longing, and brought them to life against the harsh back drop of poverty, cruelty and sadness. The Walled City is a phenomenally written story, which accurately portrays the lives of those who live on the edge, confined by their predicaments. The focus is on three characters, each one desperately clinging to the hope that one day they will escape their situations. Jin Ling, having disguised herself as a boy searches for her missing sister, Mei Yee, who was plucked from her life when she was sold into the sex trade of the Walled City. Dai is a mysterious boy with a hidden past who is on a dangerous and somewhat impossible mission. When Dai asks Jin Ling for help with his mission, she is untrusting and has a good mind to refuse him, but helping Dai may be the only way that she will ever find her imprisoned sister. In a world where no one can be trusted, a loyal friendship is formed. This is a beautiful and well told story, touching on the real life issues of drug dealing, deprivation and human trafficking, while depicting that even in the darkest of worlds, love and friendship can still be found. It is a story that keeps you on edge, emotions and situations are described with such imaginative and intelligent writing that the reader feels as though they have been plunged into the story alongside the characters. With each page turned I found myself asking three questions; will Jin Ling and Dai survive their mission? Will Mei Yee ever be found? And more importantly, will they ever escape the Walled City? A wonderful story, written phenomenally well. A book that you will struggle to put down until the very end. 448 pages / Ages 14+ / Reviewed by Sheena Davies.

The Walled City
I Was Here
Gayle Forman

Simon & Schuster Childrens Books

ISBN 9781471124396

From the author of 'If I Stay' is a new book, 'I Was Here', a raw and deeply moving story which centres on the very real issue of teen suicide. It explores the loss and grief felt by those left behind, and the emotional journey taken in order to move forward. When Cody's best friend Meg commits suicide, she is left feeling alone and devastated by the sudden loss. During a trip to Meg's college she slowly begins to pick up the pieces and come to terms with her friend's passing. She is led to question the friendship they once shared; not only does she uncover a hidden side to her friend, roommates she knew nothing about and a mysterious musician, Ben McAllister, but she also uncovers the truth about herself. The truths that she had put aside so often, but are now left bare and in the open. Although 'I Was Here' is a tragic story focusing on a subject that it not talked about often, it is written with such honesty that it fully addresses the pain felt by its characters in the most sensitive way. It may bring the reader to tears, but its ending is positive. I was completely enthralled by this book; it is written in such a way that you feel as though you are accompanying Cody on her journey through her grief and self discovery. It shows not only the importance of family but also that of friendship. A story that is not easily forgotten. 288 pages / Ages 15+ / Reviewed by Sheena Davies.

I Was Here
Faye Bird

ISBN 9781409578604

A captivating mystery in which Ana, a 15-year-old girl believes that she has lived before. She is constantly troubled by recollections of a previous life, a life that belonged to a girl called Emma. When she meets an elderly woman, whom she recognises but has never met, she is immediately overcome with guilt, guilt that she cannot explain. Suddenly all the memories of her previous life begin to return to her, memories of a dead child and she confronted with the possibility that she could be the reason for the child's death. As the memories slowly become clearer Ana is faced with the sad and chilling truth of her previous life, Emma's Life. Ana becomes engrossed in discovering more about her previous life, wanting to make connections with the past, but in doing so she risks losing touch and completely destroying her future. In this immensely gripping and tragic novel, the idea that one could be born again is carefully probed, allowing the reader to question the possibility that a person can live more than once. It encourages the reader to delve deeper into the mystery of life and to question the obscurity of life and death, where do we go once we die? An intriguing and thought-provoking read. 288 pages / Ages 13+ / Reviewed by Sheena Davies.