Young adult books roundup – reviews

<span>‘Tender and toe-curling’: Cross My Heart and Never Lie by Nora Dåsnes.</span><span>Illustration: HarperCollins</span>
‘Tender and toe-curling’: Cross My Heart and Never Lie by Nora Dåsnes.Illustration: HarperCollins

The Heartstopper phenomenon has inspired an explosion of graphic novels. In Cross My Heart and Never Lie by Nora Dåsnes (Farshore; translated from the Norwegian by Matt Bagguley) everything changes when Tuva starts seventh grade. Her friends have split into rival factions – those who fall in love and those who still play – and when new girl Mariam shows up, Tuva doesn’t know what she feels. For younger teenagers, this is a fresh, heartwarming look at friendship and first crushes, realised in a full-colour diary format, poignantly reflecting the challenges of adolescence.

First love is also under the spotlight in Northern Soul by Phil Earle (Barrington Stoke), a novella with a nod to Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole books. The life of 14-year-old Marv revolves around football and his mates, until cool new girl Carly crashes into his life. Guided by the ghost of Otis Redding, Marv’s pursuit of his crush is by turns tender and toe-curling, perfectly capturing all the agony and awkwardness of unrequited love.

It is the intense dynamic between the two girls that will most captivate readers

Carnegie medal winner Sarah Crossan returns with Where the Heart Should Be (Bloomsbury), an outstanding verse novel set during the Irish famine of 1846. Nell is working as a scullery maid at the “Big House”, where her English employers, and even their dogs, are well fed while starvation and disease are prevalent elsewhere. Against the backdrop of tragedy, a spark develops between Nell and the English heir, Johnny, a seemingly impossible love affair. Crossan’s economy of words is no barrier to intense emotional impact in this powerhouse of a novel.

The Bad Ones by Melissa Albert (Penguin) sees four residents of a small town vanish into thin air on a single night, among them Nora’s best friend, Becca. A series of cryptic messages left by Becca lead Nora to believe that the disappearances are connected to the “goddess game”, a childhood pastime based on a local urban legend. Supernatural intrigue builds at exquisite pace as the mystery unfolds, but it is the intense dynamic between the two girls that will most captivate readers.

In Faridah Àbíké-Íyímidé’s Where Sleeping Girls Lie (Usborne), new girl Sade discovers dark secrets behind the glossy facade of an exclusive boarding school when her roommate goes missing. An implausible explanation leads Sade to pursue the truth herself while grappling with the school’s complicated social dynamics and her own grief and trauma. At almost 600 pages and with a large cast, it can feel a little sprawling, but the slow-burn mystery, imbued with a terrible sense of menace, is worth every page.

Finally, to “romantasy”, the hot ticket in young adult fiction, thanks to authors such as Sarah J Maas and the genre’s popularity on TikTok. Rachel Greenlaw’s Compass and Blade (Harper Fire) is the first in a trilogy set on a fantastical version of the Isles of Scilly. When her father is sentenced to death, Mira leaves her island home to follow her destiny and find a way to save him. In a beautifully atmospheric world of sea storms, pirates and sirens there’s high adventure, blood magic, betrayal and, of course, smouldering romance.

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