Recommended reads to get your book club reading YA

If you suspect your book club has fallen into a reading rut, you should consider picking a YA book one month! Contemporary YA fiction is plot- and character-driven, responsive to the current political and social climate, has an eye on inclusion and representation, and tends to cross-pollinate genres in a very satisfying way. Here are some top recent YA picks for your book club.


Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

After sixteen-year-old Grace gives up her baby up for adoption, she’s compelled to finally seek out her own birth mother. Instead, she discovers she has two siblings: Joaquin and Maya. The alternating perspectives of Grace, Maya and Joaquin speak of their very different experiences of the fostering and adoption system, and the delicate process of getting to know each other. Grace has been raised in a loving family but is grappling with extraordinary loss, Maya has never felt as if she truly belongs in her financially-privileged adopted family, and Latino Joaquin has bounced from foster family to foster family.

It’s not difficult to see why Far From the Tree won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2017. The worries, fears and secrets of these three young people are treated with respect and empathy (and, at times, a good dose of humour), and Benway’s nuanced exploration of race, privilege, grief, loss, attachment and trauma would make great book club discussion fodder.


Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina & Ezekiel Kwaymullina

Beth Teller has died in a car accident, but she won’t leave her father, police detective Michael, until she’s convinced he can cope with her loss. Until then, she follows along as Michael investigates a suspicious fire in a children’s home that claimed a life. Their investigation takes them to the hospital to interview Isobel Catching, a teenage girl found wandering and confused near the home. Isobel tells Beth and Michael a wild and fantastical story in free verse, and it slowly becomes clear her words and images contain dark truths about the crime.

Catching Teller Crow combines a small-town crime story with beguiling surrealism, and touches on crucial issues in Australian society: the legacy of the Stolen Generations, generational trauma and generational resilience, and racial prejudice in police investigations. This is a trim and intensely-layered read that celebrates the power of Aboriginal women and girls. It’s definitely one to read and reread, then talk about for hours.


Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Zélie’s home, the kingdom of Orïsha, used to be full of magic – until a despotic king ordered all maji, including Zélie’s mother, to be killed and the remaining descendants enslaved. When Zelie accidentally comes into contact with the king’s runaway daughter, Princess Amari, she finds herself at the centre of a desperate quest to bring magic back to Orïsha, and in possession of new powers. Zelie and Amari are pursued by Amari’s brother, Prince Inan, in a tense and unpredictable chase across the kingdom.

Steeped in West African mythology and culture, Children of Blood and Bone is a dense fantasy epic told in three voices, with dashes of bloody action, romance and the kind of gasp-out-loud cliffhanger ending that you’ll need to workshop at length with your book club after reading. Adeyemi has created a fully realised and believable world that causes readers to reflect deeply on real world shortcomings of prejudice, inequality, colourism, intolerance and fear.


Beck by Mal Peet

Beck is a sprawling novel that begins with Beck’s birth in 1907 to a British mother and a West African sailor, and his loveless and abusive childhood living with the Canadian Catholic Brothers. Beck manages to escape the Brothers, and spend some years wandering and travelling, but it proves nigh on impossible for a biracial orphan to find acceptance and security in Depression-era America. Belonging is fleeting, as in a particularly vivid section where Beck lives with an African-American couple in Detroit and is absorbed into their fated smuggling business, but there is the surprise of love and family at the end of Beck’s journey.

Completed after Peet’s untimely death by fellow award-winning peer Meg Rosoff, this is a mature and ultimately uplifting novel. The love that Beck finds when he meets half-Scottish, half-Siksika woman Grace, is all the more resonant for the realisation that Grace has survived similar challenges. The scope of this historical YA novel is wide, and the conversations about it will be too.


One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

If your book club needs a read that is pure macabre, page-turning joy, then look no further: One of Us Is Lying is The Breakfast Club with murder. When five teenagers end up in detention, only four of them survive. With a closed room and a dead body, the survivors are all under suspicion. Naturally all are concealing some fairly hefty secrets – the victim, Simon, was the creator of a ruthless gossip app that was poised to cause Bronwyn, Nate, Addy, and Cooper considerable angst, as he planned to out them in various ways.

Told from the alternating perspectives of the four suspects, McManus does a great job of drip-feeding clues and information, while slowly deconstructing stereotypes of the jock, the bad boy, the homecoming princess and the A-grade student. Bullying, sexual identity, mental health and family dysfunction all come under the spotlight as this mystery draws to a thrilling conclusion.


Between Us by Clare Atkins

Ana is a young Iranian asylum seeker in detention, who is attending a mainstream Darwin high school for the first time. The outside world is a culture shock for Ana – the contrast between her life in the grim conditions of the detention centre and regular Australian high school is stark. When she strikes up a friendship with disaffected Jono, their growing intimacy feels like a rare spot of hope for both teenagers. But when Jono’s father Kenny, a Vietnamese refugee himself and a guard at the detention centre, learns of their friendship, fear and ignorance drive his actions.

The brutality of the Australian government’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers is underscored in this highly empathetic novel that goes deep into the internal lives of two teenagers struggling to connect and find meaning.


Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

This graphic novel memoir explores the author’s attendance at the religious all-girl Camp Bellflower and the difficulties of first love. When an outbreak of head lice results in fifteen-year-old Maggie having her hair inspected by nineteen-year-old camp counsellor Erin, a full-blown crush ignites unexpectedly. But Camp Bellflower, located in the Appalachians, is rife with traditions, ceremonies, gossip and Civil War reenactments, isn’t the greatest venue for a teen to explore their sexual identity without judgement.

Maggie is lucky to have some supportive friends who encourage her crush, but her obsessive desire is a relatable kind of adolescent hell. Luckily Maggie finds a sort of calm in the shooting range, where she revels in her talent and a sporting rivalry. Her crush Erin is unbearably self-possessed and cool, but as the summer wears on, small signs show that Maggie’s crush might not be as futile as she originally assumed. This bittersweet and nostalgic memoir, located firmly in the early Noughties (Backstreet Boys, anyone?), is illustrated with clean and naive artwork that is accessible for any book club members unused to the graphic novel format.

Leanne Hall is a children’s and YA specialist at Readings Kids. She also writes books for children and young adults.

Between Us

Between Us

Clare Atkins

$19.99Buy now

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