Tag Archives: YA fiction

Winning middle fiction

By popular demand, here’s a list of fiction suitable for keen upper primary and lower secondary school readers.

My caveat is that no list caters to all tastes or abilities. I’m also a firm believer that the right book finds its perfect reader; please explore libraries and bookstores (slowly) and see what catches the eye.

This list is skewed so that it starts with titles suitable for younger readers and progresses to more mature books – YA fiction suitable for younger readers.

I know of numerous other middle fiction novels that come highly recommended – John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series is a good example. That said, I’m confining this catalogue to books/series I’ve read all or part of. Feedback is welcome. I hope the young reader in your life finds hours of escapism here.

Film tie-in Coraline cover
Film tie-in Coraline cover

Novels:

Star Wars Academy (series) – Jeffrey Brown
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series) – Jeff Kinney
Staying Alive in Year 5 – John Marsden
The Samurai Kids (series) – Sandy Fussell
The Greatest Blogger in the World – Andrew McDonald
Nicholas (series) – Rene Goscinny
Chess Nuts – Julia Lawrinson
The Detachable Boy – Scot Gardner
The OK Team (series) – Nick Place
Odd & the Frost Giants – Neil Gaiman
Wildwood – Colin Meloy
Sadako & the Thousand Paper Cranes – Eleanor Coerr
Matilda – Roald Dahl (and James & the Giant Peach, etc.)
The Invention of Hugo Cabret – Brian Selznick
The Billionaire’s Curse (series) – Richard Newsome
Percy Jackson (series) – Rick Riordan
The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman
A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness
The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
The Lab – Jack Heath
A Series of Unfortunate Events (series) – Lemony Snicket
The Spiderwick Chronicles (series) – Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
Wonder – RJ Palacio
Tomorrow When the War Began (series) – John Marsden
Coraline – Neil Gaiman
Harry Potter (series) – JK Rowling
The Lord of the Rings trilogy – JRR Tolkien
Skulduggery Pleasant (series) – Derek Landy
Two Wolves – Tristan Bancks
Counting by 7s – Holly Goldberg Sloan
Taronga – Victor Kelleher
Blaze of Glory (series) – Michael Pryor
Zeroes (new series) – Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan & Deborah Biancotti
Skellig – David Almond
I am Number Four (series) – Pittacus Lore
Vulture’s Gate – Kirsty Murray
The Princess Bride – William Goldman
The Spook’s Apprentice (series) – Joseph Delaney
Contest – Matthew Reilly
The Rider – Tim Krabbe
Alex Rider (series) – Anthony Horowitz
The Hunger Games (series) – Suzanne Collins
So Much to Tell You – John Marsden
Blood Ninja – Nick Lake
The Underdog (series) – Markus Zusak
Cherub (series) – Robert Muchamore
Every Breathe (series) – Ellie Marney
Illuminae (new series) – Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Graphic novels and comics:

Tintin (series) – Herge
Rapunzel’s Revenge – Shannon Hale
Calamity Jack – Shannon Hale
Asterix (series) – Goscinny & Uderzo
Calvin & Hobbes (series) – Bill Watterson
Drama – Raina Telgemeier
Sisters – Raina Telgemeier
Artemis Fowl (series) – Eoin Colfer (also available as novels)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (manga) – Hayao Miyazaki
Joe the Barbarian – Grant Morrison
Yowamushi Pedal (manga series) – Watanabe Wataru
Guardians of the Galaxy (series) – Brian Michael Bendis
Marvel Civil War (series) – Mark Millar

Chaos Walking

I’ve just finished reading Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking series. Wow.

Cover image: The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking trilogy book 1)
Cover image: The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking trilogy book 1)

I kept putting off reading The Knife of Letting Never Go, despite the rave reviews or perhaps in spite of them. I read the sample chapter several times but kept finding other books that were clamouring more loudly to climb up my To Read list.

When I did get to the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy, I loved it. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Mr Ness has created a universe where men can hear each other’s thoughts, or ‘noise’, along with those of animals. This produces insights that can be comic, moving, tragic or horrific. It’s truly compelling, particularly when we learn women can hear male thoughts but men cannot read female minds. Unsurprisingly, the voices are unique – whether you like the characters or not.

The second book, The Ask and the Answer, didn’t wow me quite as much, although it did its job – setting the foundations for an epic finale. And man, does the third book deliver.

Monsters of Men takes the male-female human-animal-monster themes of the first two books and turns them up to 11. It adds an acute awareness of indigenous dispossession, environmental degradation and the consequences of war. It is a remarkable climax to the trilogy, even managing to introduce a new narrative perspective.

As an author working on creating my own new universe, I doff my cap to Mr Ness. He has set the bar very high indeed.

Snapshots from a novel #5

Wow. When I finished Scot Gardner’s Happy as Larry it was late at night. Bad move. I closed the cover and lay awake, tense and restless, for several hours. Outside my room, traffic growled and hissed. In my mind, a postman buzzed along the footpaths of Villea. Scot’s characters still inhabited my imagination.

I’m not going to serve up any hints or spoilers here – other than to say this book is like storm clouds on the horizon. When you see a mess of dark, bruising clouds you might think ‘there’s a storm over there’ but, based on blue sky above, make the assumption that distant turbulence won’t darken your day. That’s how I read Happy as Larry. And, with my attention elsewhere, I didn’t hear the wind change, didn’t sense the temperature dropping, didn’t feel the raindrops until the hailstones had me ducking for cover.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve read so many of Scot’s novels that I was caught unawares. Each of them is a yarn that could be happening wherever you are. Right now. Step outside and you could be one of the characters. (I grew up in rural Victoria so the stories feel particularly real to me. In Gravity, the shift from the country to a dingy urban block of flats felt like a chapter from my life.)

Happy as Larry‘s Villea feels like any number of rural towns I’ve lived in or visited as a journo. Despite the familiarity, I didn’t see this particular story emerging. From where I’m sitting, that’s good writing.

Here are some extracts:

(p34) They ate breakfast and dressed as quietly as they could, loaded up their gear and set off for the long jetty at four-year-old kilometres per hour.

(p168) While Larry knew and trusted his father, his mother had been battered and marked like a lunch-box peach.

(p189) Mal lay beside his wife in bed and felt the ocean of indifference rise between them. It had been winter in their bedroom since the baby died, and his sex-drive had gone into hibernation.

(p194) Sadness he didn’t know he had crept out of his belly and grabbed at his throat.

I’ve dog-eared lots more pages but I’ll resist further extracts. When you read it, please send me some of the lines that resonated with you.

Happy as Larry was published by Allen & Unwin in 2010 and is a CBCA notable book for 2011.

On John Greens, Will Graysons and Dorothy Dixers

Speaking of publishing phenomenons, YA uber author John Green (@realjohngreen to his one million+ Twitter followers) has done a turn as Dorothy Dix in his latest vlog.

I’m embedding it here not just because the advice on campus culture and romance should be tattooed on all arms, but because John also speaks the truth on novel (re-)writing. I trust General John’s army of nerdfighters take heed of their fearless leader.

I’m a fan of John’s work and looking forward to reading his collaboration with another YA luminary, David Levithan. Will Grayson, Will Grayson is out now and both authors are on the publicity trail, judging by this report in the LA Times.

The new novel tells of two characters with the name Will Grayson – and reminds me of the time when I worked for another John Green, a sheep farmer with a property about an hour’s drive north of Melbourne.

I have many memories of working with Farmer John, who was a generous if eccentric and tough employer. One story involves his aversion to rocks. I assume every farmer aspires to improve their paddocks by digging out and disposing of the surface stone but Farmer John took it to extremes. On some of the days I worked for him our main task was to lift rocks onto the back of a flat bed truck, drive them to a cliff and throw them into the creek below. Then start again. The thing about digging up rocks is you tend to find … more rocks.

As we dumped each truckload, Farmer John’s catch-phrase used to be, “Don’t straighten your back, boy, there should be two rocks in the air at all times”.

During winter, when the paddocks got too wet for stone-hunting, Farmer John’s wife asked me to construct a rock garden around her beloved rose bushes. I spent a couple of days doing so before returning to university. When I ventured back to the farm the following week, the garden border had gone. The man with the rock allergy had dug up all the carefully placed stones and thrown them in the creek.

I offered to start again. His wife just rolled her eyes.