Our 2019 Christmas Gift Guide: The teen edition
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be compiling a host of gift guides to help you with your Christmas shopping.
CONTEMPORARY STORIES & ROMANCE
If your teen is allergic to dragons but loves relatable stories, here are some of the great realist books that are currently impressing us.
On The Come Up is Angie Thomas’s much-anticipated follow-up to her mega-hit The Hate U Give. Brianna is sixteen-years-old and an aspiring rapper, hoping to follow in the footsteps of her famous rapper dad, who died as a victim of gang warfare. Bri is full of talent and passion, but faces challenges at every turn, contending with financial pressures, parental friction, school issues and potential romance, all the while documenting her frustrations in lyric. This book is perfect for music lovers, and teens who like moral complexity.
Music also forms a strong backbone in Australian author Sean Williams’s Impossible Music. Eighteen-year-old Simon – guitarist, songwriter and passionate metalhead – unexpectedly loses his hearing after a mild stroke. Struggling with the loss of the thing he loves most, Simon meets George, a young woman coping with her own recent deafness through tinnitus. Together the two teens find new paths, new modes of being, and a way out of isolation.
Similar themes come out in Promise Me Happy by Robert Newton, which details the new life of Nate, recently out of juvenile prison, and the connections and solace he finds in a small Australian coastal community.
If your teen like romance up front and centre, there’s the excellent Permanent Record, which explores that age-old fantasy: what would it be like to date a major celebrity? The answer in the case of down-and-out bodega clerk and NYU dropout Pablo, is exhilarating, confusing and very complicated. This is such a smart and sweet romance, that also contains much to say about the difficulties of finding the right path as a new adult and crushing student loan debt.
Things are equally thoughtful in Nina Kenwood’s It Sounded Better In My Head, which skilfully explores the bewildering space between teen and adult. Eighteen-year-old Natalie has just finished year twelve and is enjoying one final summer with her best friends Zach and Lucy before they all go to university. But on Christmas Day, her parents announce they are separating and everything in Natalie’s life starts changing fast. Natalie finds herself going to parties for the first time, getting a surprise crush and being way, way out of her well-maintained comfort zone. This is topnotch YA romance with a lovably neurotic narrator – equally funny and heartwarming.
The fake dating trope is taken for a spin in Frankly In Love by David Yoon, with childhood friends Frank Li and Joy Song pretend to date to get their respective parents off their back. Frank and Joy are both harbouring secret loves, but of course, as their deception wears on, things get tangled and confusing. This thoughtful and comedic story touches on issues of culture, family, class, identity and prejudice.
If your teen enjoys the anthology format then look no further than Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOzYA Stories. Twelve of Australia’s finest writers from the LGBTQIA+ community, including Claire G Coleman, Benjamin Law, Erin Gough and Christos Tsiolkas, have contributed short stories about family, friends, lovers and strangers – the connections that form us.
For more teen LGBTQIA+ suggestions, please check out author Alison Evans' top five LGBTQIA+ young adult novels.
SCI-FI & FANTASY
Aurora Rising (the first book in new series, The Aurora Cycle) has to be the sci-fi YA book of the year. Aurora Academy star graduate Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the perfect squad, but after missing the draft to rescue the cryogenically frozen Aurora, he finds himself lumped with the squad from hell. Penned by megastar Australian authors, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, this action-packed, witty and strange space story is a joy to read, from start to finish. Anyone that loves big casts of well-drawn characters will lap this up.
Avid sci-fi readers will also be tempted by The End and Other Beginnings: Stories from the Future – a collection of six novella-length short stories by Divergent author Veronica Roth. All stories delve into future worlds and moments of change, with two taking place in the Carve The Mark universe.
Looking to fantasy, legendary author Garth Nix has written a meaty new novel set in an alternate seventeenth century, in which humans can use icons to magically summon and control angels. In Angel Mage, the ancient angel mage Liliath returns to resurrect her destructive plans, and catches four young people in her powerful wake. Don’t just take my word for it – see here how much our Teen Advisory Board loved this novel here.
Another fantastic local fantasy novel is Astrid Scholte’s debut, Four Dead Queens. When highly-skilled teen thief Keralie steals a valuable package from messenger Varin, she becomes entangled in a conspiracy that leads to the assassination of all four queens of the Kingdom of Quadara. This timeline-jumping murder mystery follows two uneasy allies on the run, and hurtles along at satisfyingly breakneck speed.
For a light and quirky fantasy read, check out Rainbow Rowell’s duology, Carry On and Wayward Son, which detail the (mis)adventures of Simon Snow, The Chosen One. Grown-up Harry Potter fans or fan-fiction aficionados will love these books.
MYSTERIES, THRILLERS, DYSTOPIA & HORROR
Thrillers and mysteries continue to be popular with teens this year. Last year it was all about by One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus; if you know a reader that loved that, give them McManus’s latest, Two Can Keep a Secret.
For super-charged survival thrills, I Am Still Alive takes the diary format and fills it full of tension. After losing her mother, Jess is sent to live in the Canadian wilderness with her survivalist off-the-grid dad. When Jess witnesses her father being murdered by shady associates, she must find a way to survive in the isolated cabin with her father’s dog Bo. As winter approaches the conditions worsen, and there’s a very real possibility that Jess’s dad’s murderer may return to the cabin to try and find her.
Two homegrown mysteries we can heartily recommend are Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller, about a Queensland teenager searching for her missing twin sister, and All That Impossible Space by Anna Morgan, a contemporary story that also draws on the famous 1948 Somerton Man cold case.
If family Christmas feels like a full-blown dystopia to the teens you know, you could give them Everywhere Everything Everyone: a debut Australian novel about a sixteen-year-old stranded on the wrong side of a new safety border in a divided and controlled society. Wilder Girls will also please enormously, in which three teenage schoolgirls are quarantined on an island infected with a deadly virus, as the lies and suspicions pile up.
And finally, to be truly terrified, we have two picks that will satisfy teens who want to scream. Rules for Vanishing dishes up creepy local lore vibes, with a ghost girl and a secret road that opens in the forest once a year, and Highway Bodies will have readers brushing up on survival techniques and self defence methods to survive the inevitable zombie apocalypse.
There’s a wide variety of graphic novels around for teens this Christmas, from the serious through to the lighthearted.
White Bird by R.J. Palacio (of Wonder fame) tells a family story from school bully Julian. When Julian interviews his grandmother Sara for a school project, he finds out about the terrible hardship her Jewish family experienced during the Nazi occupation of World War II.
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks is a funny romantic romp set in a commercial pumpkin patch! Best friends Deja and Josiah only see each other once a year when they work the Halloween rush at the patch. In their senior year, Deja is determined (and Josiah reluctant) that their last Halloween shift should be memorable. There’s pumpkin patch pursuits, endless snacks and nostalgia in this story of two teens who are close friends, and maybe something more…
And an Orwell classic gets a painterly new treatment in Animal Farm: The Graphic Novel, created by Brazilian artist Odyr. Faithful to the original, this is the allegorical story of the downtrodden animals of Manor Farm who overthrow their master, Farmer Jones, only to end up back under the tyrannical rule of pigs, Napoleon and Snowball.
For more graphic novel suggestions, check out our full collection here.
Excellent biographies abound for teen readers this year. Adventurer Tim Cope tells the story of his travels in the footsteps of Genghis Khan in Tim & Tigon. Cope covered 10,000 kilometres from Mongolia to Hungary on horseback, meeting a dog along the way called Tigon, who became his best friend and closest companion. Cope first detailed his perilous, emotionally and physically challenging adventure in his bestselling adult memoir, On the Trail of Genghis Khan, and teens are sure to be fascinated with Cope’s old-school pioneering spirit, and the amazing cultures and geography he experienced in Central Asia.
Renowned Pitjantjatjara activist and artist Mumu Mike Williams, also known as Kunmanara, wrote the stirring Kulinmaya! Keep Listening, Everybody! in Pitjantjatjara and English before his passing in March of this year. Williams' art was political. He was a pastor, politician and traditional healer, and he was heavily involved in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara land rights movement. It was his dream to illuminate Anangu culture, law and knowledge through this book, which features his artwork, photos, and the story of his life.
Songs of a War Boy, adapted from an adult memoir of the same name, is Deng Thiak Adut’s account of how he survived unthinkable adversity to become a lawyer, refugee advocate and NSW Australian of the Year. Deng was six-years-old when he was conscripted into the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, and entered the horrific realities of war as a child soldier. But, after five years, he was rescued by his brother John and, miraculously, they became the third Sudanese family resettled in Australia. This is a sobering, thoughtful and very moving story for teens interested in thinking deeply about the world’s problems.
You can find other recommendations in this collection of biography and memoir for young adults.