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2020 Top 5 YA Reads

2020 top 5 YA reads

If you’ve been following my reading round-up for 2020, you would have read my top 5 fiction and non-fiction reads for the year. In the final instalment, I have my top 5 YA reads for 2020.

How it feels to float by Helena Fox

Biz knows how to float. Since her dad died when she was 7, Biz has drifted through life with her mother & the twins, a small group of friends, & her best friend, Grace. She is there, but not always there. Biz keeps a lot to herself – her dark thoughts, her kiss with Grace, noticing the new kid at school, Jasper, & her conversations with her dad who really shouldn’t be there. But then, one night, everything comes unhinged at the beach & Biz’s dad disappears, & along with him, her comfort & stability too. An outcast from her group, Biz’s world begins to unravel. She drops out of school & loses all sense of meaning and purpose. But will a search for her father bring back meaning? Or will she end up floating away?

This debut YA novel by Helena Fox is a beautiful exploration of grief, trauma & intergenerational mental illness. Fox depicts Biz’s spiral, her emotional upheaval, her state of mind in the most fantastic way. You are taken on the ride with Biz, you feel what she feels, you ache when she aches. I found the writing exceptional – there are several sections where it is lyrical but more so, I think the writing mirrors Biz’s state of mind. As someone who loves the South Coast & considers it a spirit home, I love the descriptions of the ocean, of the train from Wollongong, of the drive further south. It felt like reading about home.

Similarly, with Fox’s writing about mental health, about the mask we can put in front of others, about how we try to please our loved ones, I could identify with a lot of it but have also seen several young people in therapy who do the same. I felt guilty during of the scenes between Biz & her psychologist & found myself wondering how many of my young clients have inadvertently felt the pressure to tell me they are okay. To make me feel like a good therapist. I cannot find more words. But you have to read this book for the lyrical prose & the beautifully-woven tale that will hit you deeply.

My Father’s Shadow by Jannali Jones

17-year-old Kaya is woken up one night by her mum, asked to pack necessities & go to their holiday home in the Blue Mountains. Her father is not coming back & it appears he might have been killed due to his role as a whistleblower. No one is to know their whereabouts because Kaya too might know some secrets. She struggles with PTSD & memory loss related to a chilling encounter. She is seeing a psychologist to help recover those memories for evidence she might have to give in court. But driving home one evening & crashing her car into a guy Eric, might have more repercussions than she initially realised.

Holy crap! This was a fantastic thriller & crafted in an incredible way. There is a sense of urgency right from the beginning. Kaya is an unreliable narrator due to the gaps in her memory & as a reader, you’re trying to piece things & make sense of things with her. Who are these people who may have made her dad disappear? Can they find her in the mountains? How does a 17-year-old survive without internet? How can Kaya’s mum seemingly move on from her dad so quickly? And can Kaya trust Eric?

The pace of this book & the gradual uncovering of secrets & memories were amazing. The ending was definitely not one I saw coming! And for me, that is the mark of a good thriller. I had so many theories along the way but didn’t come close. My only problem was trying to figure out the timeline of events at the start as I was unable to figure out what was in the past & what was current. I get the sense after reading that it was a deliberate ploy by the author but it was a little frustrating initially. However, given the suspense & the constant hooks, it was something very minor! Go read this awesome YA novel! 

Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller

Stacey and Laney are twins & mirror images of each other. Their personalities, however, couldn’t be more different. Stacey loves school & is determined to get out of their town after Year 12. Laney skips school & prefers to hang out with her boyfriend. Laney disappears one night leaving Stacey & her mum distraught. Can they deal with more loss after the deaths of her dad & grandmother? When Laney doesn’t return, Stacey begins dreaming about her twin. But the dreams are dark & terrifying & while Stacey is unsure about what’s real & what isn’t, she knows that Laney is in trouble. But will she find her in time?

I read Ghost Bird in July as part of reading First Nations authors. Oh my goodness, this was a rollercoaster of a ride & spooky in some parts. Fuller has delved into her heritage and weaved Indigenous beliefs into her story, thereby helping this book really stand out in the YA market. Stacey grapples between wanting to listen to her clairvoyant instincts and dismissing it in favour of science. And as she makes choices to save her sister, she risks her own community’s wrath while also fighting against the racism that prevails against them.

I loved this book & was hooked by the storytelling. It weaves contemporary issues with indigenous beliefs and an ancient evil force that spooked me no end. Staying true to indigenous culture, Stacey receives wisdom & strength from the older generations while still doing the YA-thing of being a stubborn teenager. Her character grows & develops through the book while she searches for her sister. For a different & thrilling YA novel, go and read Ghost Bird now! 

Sensitive by Allayne Webster

13-year-old Samantha moves to a new town with her family & decides to reinvent herself. She is now SJ, cool & mysterious & more importantly, healthy. SJ suffers from chronic eczema & allergies & she is sick of doctors’ appointments, multiple tests, being itchy & in pain, new treatments, & looking different. But sometimes, it’s not so easy to reinvent yourself.

This YA novel by Allayne Webster is a lovely story about a teenager’s struggle trying to fit in with perceptions of beauty perpetuated by society. I loved SJ’s voice – it was so authentic! I have seen a few teens with chronic illnesses in therapy & the manner in which medical professionals treat them is exactly how SJ describes. In fact, I ended up recommending this book to one of my clients who has had years of doctors telling them they don’t know what exactly is wrong & suggesting psychosomatic illnesses among various other ones. It’s invalidating & frustrating & Webster has captured this perfectly!

This is a lovely book with a lovely voice & a deeply personal story for the author which definitely comes across. It’s one that would validate the experience of many young people I’m sure. And it’s one I hope to recommend to my clients who feel lost & alone in their journey.

Deep Water by Sarah Epstein

13-year-old Henry Weaver disappeared one night during a violent storm leaving behind his bike at the train station. His older brother Mason, is struggling to figure out who he is & why he is capable of. He doesn’t want to live in The Shallows anymore but the only thing keeping him is Henry. Chloe Baxter knows something isn’t right – Henry wouldn’t run away without telling her. But Chloe has something to hide too. As she searches for Henry to assuage her own guilt, she finds that there are several people in town with secrets of their own.

Deep Water by Sarah Epstein is a YA thriller that goes back and forth in time trying to uncover what happened to Henry Weaver that stormy night. Through this search, we find out about the other characters including Chloe, Mason, Tom, Sabeen, Raf & Rina & it appears that everyone has something to hide.

This book is an entertaining & pacy read. It keeps you wondering what has happened to Henry & whether anyone was involved in his disappearance. I guessed correctly halfway through but couldn’t figure out the reason why & it managed to keep me hooked. A quick read & perfect for these times. 

There you have it! My reading wrapped up for 2020. I aim to be better with my reviews on this space next year.

Until next time,

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