Top 10 teen books for summer

As school begins to wind up, we’ve got the whole heady summer ahead of us. Here are Liz Flanagan’s recommended YA summery reads, from Meg Rosoff’s How I live Now to Kevin Brooks’ Black Rabbit Summer

As a teen, I remember summers stretching ahead, weeks and weeks of glittering possibility. All that wonderful time of not being in school. It felt as though everything could change over the course of a summer, and sometimes it did. I recall parties. Swimming at the river. Travelling. Festivals. Meeting new people who changed how I thought…

In my novel Eden Summer, Jess turns up at school to learn that her best friend Eden has gone missing. Although the action happens on that first Friday of the new term, there are flashbacks across the long hot summer, slowly revealing what went on. Jess and Eden’s boyfriend Liam join forces to search for her, revisiting the events of the summer to work out what has happened to Eden.

Summer stories are often coming-of-age stories, where the main character ends the story - and the summer - a different person. So here are some of my favourite summers in YA literature: some sunny, others stormy, all highly recommended:

1. The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy

This is one of my favourite books of all time. The story is set in New Zealand at Christmas – a summer Christmas was a new and exotic idea to me when I first read this. The main character Harry is the overlooked middle daughter in the large, eccentric Hamilton family. The usual Christmas celebrations at their beach house are given a darker twist by the arrival of three sinister brothers, possible descendants of the original inhabitants of the house.

I love Harry because she’s the introverted writer who refuses to be shamed when her secret scribblings are exposed, along with shocking family secrets. I love the descriptions of family dynamics here, and how Harry grows in power and confidence, transformed by falling in love. I also love that the house and summer landscape act almost as characters themselves. Mahy’s writing has a clarity and lyricism that looks effortless, and is so hard to pull off!

Liz Flanagan
Liz Flanagan: I remember summers stretching ahead, weeks and weeks of glittering possibility. Photograph: Sarah Mason

2. The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden

This is another classic coming-of-age summer story that I first read as a teen and have never forgotten. Thirteen-year-old Cecil – Cecilia – and her siblings Joss, Hester, Willmouse and Vicky, find themselves living in a French hotel one August, while their mother is ill in a nearby hospital. While the daily rhythms of the busy hotel ebb and flow around them, Cecil listens and watches: one foot in childhood, the other in adulthood. She observes the relationship between the hotel’s owner Mademoiselle Zizi and her English lover Eliot. With her naïve outsider’s perspective, Cecil sees how this little closed world is shattered by Eliot’s reaction to her own sister Joss – leading to a terrible event as the story speeds to its conclusion.

Although first published in 1958, there’s something very modern in the quirky characterisation, and the way the hot, sultry, languid summer by the river turns shocking and dark at its close.

3. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

This is definitely one of my desert-island books. Everything changes the summer that Daisy is sent from New York City to stay with her English cousins. Daisy’s distinctive, damaged voice is the best thing about this novel. Her descriptions of the lush English countryside – “like Walt Disney on E” - and her cousins’ free-range existence are superb and memorable, made all the more powerful because that peaceful idyll is soon destroyed by the outbreak of war.

4. Black Rabbit Summer by Kevin Brooks

Pete Boland is facing a long hot lazy summer, when everything changes and he is drawn back into a complicated friendship group one last time before everyone drifts in different directions. Pete is instantly likeable because of his loyalty to his odd mate Raymond, though all the characters here feel real, flawed and familiar. In an edgy atmosphere of shifting loyalties, Pete and his mates get drunk and high, then head to the funfair where the worst night of their lives starts to unfold.

Brooks is excellent on the undercurrents of genuine danger that lie just below surface dynamics. I also applaud his light handling of magical thinking. The supernatural element is convincing here – spiked drinks only go so far as an explanation - because it’s done so deftly and confidently, in keeping with the characters and style.

5. The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

When Lennie’s beloved sister Bailey dies, she’s heartbroken. She struggles with the enormity of her feelings and the fact that she’s suddenly obsessed with sex and finding herself drawn to her sister’s fiancé Toby. Lennie’s grief actually makes her more alive than ever, and she battles it, feeling disloyal to Bailey. The arrival of beautiful new boy Joseph is a welcome distraction. Preoccupied with her loss, yet Lennie manages to let him in and they fall in love over the hot Californian summer – till Joseph sees her kissing Toby and recoils in bitterness.

Nelson’s prose is lush and poetic. Before her sudden death, Bailey was reading Like Water For Chocolate, and something of the rich magical realism of that book is transposed to this contemporary high-school heroine’s journey.

6. A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

David Almond’s reworking of the Orpheus myth is set in the beautiful Northumberland landscape. It starts at the beginning of an ordinary summer, with a group of friends facing the exam season, and restlessly searching for more. They escape the city and camp on the beach, drinking, talking, singing and falling in love. But two of them fall in love more deeply and more dangerously than the others: Ella Grey and the mysterious newcomer Orpheus.

Told from the point of view of Ella’s best friend Claire, who’s also in love with her, the story is made fresh and new again through Almond’s stunning prose. One to read and re-read all summer long.

7. We Were Liars by E Lockhart

Stylish, compelling and heartbreaking, this is one of my favourite books of recent years. I have to be careful how I describe it, as the plot twist is so breathtakingly successful that I had to start from the beginning the moment I finished reading it.

Cadence Sinclair Eastman – Cady – is the eldest grandchild in a wealthy family, the future heiress to the island on which she spends her summers with her cousins, mother, grandparents and aunts, as well as with Gat: the boy she adores.

However, something has happened to Cady. Something so horrific and traumatic that she has blocked it out and experiences violent migraines when she tries to remember. This is a fantastic novelistic technique. The whole story is a kind of whodunit that Cady has to unravel from her own suppressed memories. I’m in awe of E. Lockhart’s control and characterisation here.

8. Bone Jack by Sara Crowe

This summer, Ash Tyler has won the right to be the stag boy in the local Stag Chase, like his father twenty years earlier. Ash wants his father, Stephen, to witness his race, but he has returned from war altered by trauma. There’s also a new distance between Ash and his best friend Mark Cullen, grieving for his own father who killed himself after the foot-and-mouth outbreak destroyed their farm. While out running, Ash encounters ghostly apparitions of a previous Stag Chase, as well as the mysterious figure of Bone Jack. By the end of the novel, Ash is running for his survival, forced to make life-or-death decisions.

Brilliantly written, this is a gripping thriller that succeeds on so many levels, dramatising serious contemporary issues while never letting up the pace. I particularly admire the descriptions of landscape and the blending of personal, political and supernatural elements.

9. Blue by Lisa Glass

Blue – together with its sequels Air and Ride - is about as summery a novel as anyone could wish for. Set in a surfing town, we follow Iris as she falls in love with the gorgeous but enigmatic Zeke, a hero with a past. Iris is a refreshingly confident and capable heroine, with depths of emotional vulnerability. However, for me, the real draw is the satisfying surfing detail. Glass knows her stuff and brings alive this (for me, unfamiliar) world in extended action sequences, including a pacy double-peak finish. I defy anyone to put this down…

10. The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood

Gottie is dealing with lots of stuff: the death of her beloved grandfather, the cooling of her first love with Jason, the return of her former best-friend-next-door Thomas, oh, and some weird worm-holes when time and memory do not behave according to the rules.

There’s so much to adore in this story: the eccentric, non-nuclear but very loving family that Gottie is part of; the beautifully described English countryside in summer; and a memorable and charming cast of characters, including Gottie herself who slowly emerges from her grief and starts to find herself again.

The text is dotted with notes and doodled equations as Gottie tries to theorise the wobbles in spacetime she is experiencing – certainly the most interesting approach to physics I’ve ever encountered!

Liz Flanagan’s debut YA novel,Eden Summer, is published by David Fickling Books on 7th July.

Eden summer
Liz Flanagan

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