Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Five Underrated Teen Books You Have To Read!

Even with the rise in popularity of teen books like 'The Hunger Games' and 'Twilight', the YA genre is often criminally overlooked. Some of the best books I've ever read were written primarily for teenagers but that doesn't mean that they are dumbed down by any means. Sure there are a number of generic trashy YA novels out there which were written for an easy read but that's true for books targeted at any age range. Particular favourites of mine include Michael Grant's 'Gone' series and the 'Chaos Walking Trilogy' by Patrick Ness but these books are popular already. Today's post is all about those underrated teen books that deserve to be read by a wider audience. And if you're not a fan of YA fiction yet then I think at least one of these five selections might change your mind. Read on and give them a go.

172 Hours On The Moon by Johan Harstad (2012)

Originally titled 'Darlah' in its native Norway, '172 Hours On The Moon' follows three teenagers who win a competition to join NASA's first expedition to the moon since the 1970s. Problems arise however when it becomes clear that NASA had its reasons for taking so long to return... 

Weaving historical facts into this horror/sci-fi narrative gives this novel a surprisingly realistic feel that helps immerse the reader into its young astronauts plight. I found this story gripping after an initially slow start and even in its translated version, '172 Hours On The Moon' feels tightly written once the pace picks up. Despite it being written for a teenage market, I found the book genuinely frightening due to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the moon base, particularly towards the end. I loved the premise of '172 Hours On The Moon' and I would recommend it for any horror/sci-fi fans out there, regardless of age. 

Here's a spoof advert created by the publishers, urging people to volunteer for the Darlah expedition.

Unwind by Neil Shusterman (2007)

In a dystopian future set after a conflict known as the 'Heartland War', America has eradicated the abortion debate by providing parents with the option to 'unwind' their children once they reach the age of 13. Neither alive nor dead, these 'unwinds' are harvested at camps where every part of their body is made available for medical transplant so that they continue to live on in others.  

The release of 'The Hunger Games' series predictably resulted in a number of cheap knock-offs being written after it became one of the most successful teen books of all time. However, Suzanne Collin's work was certainly not the first YA novel to deal with teenagers struggling in a dystopian future that wants them dead. 'Unwind' was released a year before and follows three teenagers who have essentially been signed up to become retroactively aborted by their carers, following them on the run. What's so impressive about the 'Unwind' series is how Shusterman makes this supposedly extreme vision of the future so scarily believable. The book never out rightly condemns the society in which its set but instead presents the issues from a variety of perspectives that enable the reader to engage in more depth. 'Unwind' is certainly not a 'kiddie' book by any means and it has more to say about the state of society today than the majority of adult books that I've read in quite some time. 

Here's a short film that someone has unofficially made about the unwinding process. It's extremely effective in conveying the horror of the procedure but I warn you now that it's deeply unsettling and should not be watched if you are squeamish or easily upset by medical footage. 

Hollow Pike by James Dawson (2012)

To escape her past, Lis has recently moved to the sleepy town of Hollow Pike but now she is being plagued by nightmares where someone is trying to kill her. Local folklore about witches seems silly and irrelevant to her troubles at first but then life begins to resemble the dreams and paranoia starts to take over.

'Hollow Pike' is perhaps more girl-orientated than any of the other books on this list but is still a good read regardless of gender. Most of 'Hollow Pike' takes place in secondary school and deals with the everyday struggles of trying to fit in with the various cliques and find love while still achieving academically. It's refreshing to read a supernatural story which takes the time and effort to really understand its central protagonist in their own setting and not just within scary situation after scary situation. James Dawson has done a fantastic job here of balancing teen drama with a gripping supernatural murder mystery into one coherent whole that you will want to devour from start to finish. 

Check out the official book trailer below and watch it until the end to see the stunning book cover which first drew me in.

Hero by Perry Moore (2007)

Thom Creed has a lot to deal with. His father is an ex-superhero who was publicly disgraced many years ago, he keeps getting into trouble at school and on top of all that, Creed is struggling with his own sexuality. Things aren't going well for Thom and then just when things couldn't get any worse, a serial killer begins to pick off the worlds heroes one by one.  

If you were inclined to just judge books by their cover, then 'Hero' could seem just like another generic entry into the superhero genre. However, the selling point for Moore's debut novel is the way it blends a touching story of a boy coming to terms with his sexuality and the thrills and excitement you would come to expect from a novel about superheroes. There's nothing gratuitous or judgemental in the way that the protagonists feelings are explored and I love how his situation is not the only key focus. I've been waiting a number of years for the proposed sequel and TV series based on this story to arrive but unfortunately, Perry Moore died last year at the age of 39 so this may be it now. Seek 'Hero' out if you want to read the most original and enjoyable superhero story that you'll find in years.

Watch an interview with author Perry Moore and Stan FRICKING Lee at a LGBT comics panel to find out more about the book.

Castle In The Air by Diana Wynne Jones (1990)

Based on stories from 'The Arabian Nights', 'Castle In The Air' tells the story of a daydreaming carpet salesman called Abdullah who meets the love of his life, only for her to be snatched away by an evil djinn. Armed only with a magic carpet and a grumpy genie, Abdullah travels through many strange lands in the hope of rescuing the Sultans daughter and becoming her husband.

If the plot of 'Castle In The Air' sounds familiar, then that is probably due to the similarities it shares with the classic tale of 'Aladdin'. However, Diana Wynne Jones's sequel to 'Howl's Moving Castle' is very much its own original story and the world that the characters inhabit is incredibly different to the Disneyfied version of 'Aladdin' that we all know and love. For this list, I could have easily picked 'Howls Moving Castle' instead but I felt that book was already well known due to the Studio Ghilbli film version and furthermore, 'Castle In The Air' is actually the better book in my opinion. Jones has a beautiful style of writing that enthralls the reader from the very first page and you will quickly grow to love every character in her charming fantasy world. For those who may worry that the story could be almost too child-friendly for an older audience, I say get lost in the magic of this very modern retelling of a classic fairy tale. You will not regret it.

I'm also a huge fan of 'Howls Moving Castle', which features some of the same characters as 'Castle In The Air' so here's the official trailer to the aforementioned animated film created by Studio Ghibli.

So those were my five choices which I hope will encourage you to try YA fiction if you're not a fan already. Every one of these books should be more popular and renowned than they are in my opinion and I hope you seek them out and enjoy them. 

Which one is your favourite in the list? And are there any underrated gems that I've missed out? Let me know what you think by commenting, liking and sharing below.


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