Gifts to cement your status as the cool aunt/uncle

Last week, a Gen-X friend of mine asked me for advice on books to gift his voraciously well-read, book-loving niece for her fourteenth birthday. She’d given him an impressively eclectic list of authors she liked, ranging from Jennifer Niven to Christopher Pike; Georgia Blain to David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas!). This was one seriously adventurous reader.

So, I advised my friend (who is the kind of person who likes to induct people into bands they never knew they would always love) to put the list aside and be the Cool Uncle he clearly is, by introducing her to some writers with spine, spunk and seriously well-tuned writing talent.

Here’s the list I gave him. Feel free to select from it next time you need a similarly themed gift, or just a great read for yourself.


All I Ever Wanted by Vikki Wakefield

Hating Alison Ashley meets Underbelly, set in an underprivileged outer suburb of Adelaide. A smart, spiky teenage girl lives with her depressed single mum and (sometimes) her drug dealer older brothers, in a place that has problems, but also a lot of heart. She’s in love with a handsome boy at her high school who lives over the suburban dividing line in the ‘nicer’ area. There’s a stolen bike and an errand that’s not what it seems, nuanced female friendships, a romance, and everyone learns something.


One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

The Breakfast Club with a murder… This book has been selling its socks off. All I have to do is say those six words, and people literally say: ‘I’ll take it.’ No complaints yet. A geek, a jock, a criminal, a princess and the creator of a Gossip-Girl-type-app enter detention, but one doesn’t make it out alive. Our St Kilda children’s buyer Kim puts it: ‘This is a suspenseful, entertaining and highly addictive novel; it’s a clever thriller with some nice touches of humour and a little romance.’


The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil

Sophia is calculator-brain smart, but socially awkward. Josh, an amateur magician who hones his tricks busking, is secretly in love with Sophia’s smarts, and wins her over finally by getting her out of her hated drama class with a spectacular magic trick/prank. This is a smart, cool rom-com for non-cookie-cutter teens. It made my heart hurt even while I laughed. I’m not the only one who thinks so; our digital marketing manager Lian describes it as ‘a sweet, sparkling YA novel with hidden depths.’


Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

This one is a big Readings favourite – so many of our children’s buyers and voracious YA readers adore it. Viv’s mum was a punk rock Riot Grrrrl, inspiring Viv to create MOXIE, a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. Our children’s specialist Leanne Hall (a very cool YA author herself) reviewed it Readings. She describes it as: ‘A rousing example of smart, brave girls using creativity and activism to make their own personal revolution.’


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Starr saw her best friend shot by thugs on the street when she was a girl, and now, as a teenager, she’s seen another best friend from the neighbourhood shot by police, after being pulled over for no reason. She keeps her lives at school (where she has a white boyfriend her dad doesn’t know about) and home deliberately separate, but she’s grieving in a big way. As neighbourhood riots build in response to the shooting, and her dad’s grocery store comes under threat, it becomes increasingly clear that things will somehow blow up for her.


Girl Defective by Simmone Howell

Simmone Howell is another really original, engaging and yes, super-cool, local writer. All her books are worthy contenders, but I’ll especially recommend her latest solo effort. 15-year-old Sky lives above a record shop in St Kilda, with her single dad (who owns the record shop) and her quirky, often misunderstood, younger brother. Her older best friend Nancy is her idol of sorts – until she disappears to spend all her time with a local band member. And Sky divides her time between making friends with a new record-store employee and helping her brother solve mysteries, and figure out life. It was my stand-out YA favourite the year it was released.

Jo Case is the shop manager at Readings Doncaster.