Good books for booktalking to young adults

Thirsty by Matthew T. Anderson

A gruesome vampire tale with lots of dark humour. In an America besieged by demonic beings, teenager Chris is horrified to discover that he’s turning into a vampire. He’s even more horrified to discover that an ancient vampire lord is about to be resurrected, and it’s up to him to prevent it! A real page-turner, the plot has lots of twists and turns and keeps you guessing right up to the end. Try pages 61-63 for a comic moment.

Walker, 2001, ISBN 9780744582628

Feed by Matthew T. Anderson

A bizarre and nightmarish story set in America in the near future, when everyone has a “feed” implanted into their brain by big corporations which send constant adverts directly into their heads. Titus and his friends are shallow and stupid, but when he meets Violet, a girl fighting back against the feed, and they are attacked by an anarchist who hacks into their brains, Titus finally begins to think for himself and question the morality of the corporate culture. Wacky, scary and more than a little plausible. Read pages 48-50.

Walker Books, 2003, ISBN 1844286118

Tithe by Holly Black

Kaye is a rebellious teenager with a reputation for being weird – the girl who sees fairies. No one suspects that she’s telling the truth. When she rescues a sexy but violent Knight from the faerie folk in the woods, she unleashes a battle of otherworldly proportions and finds herself centre-stage as the tithe: a human sacrifice to the vicious Unseelie Court. Brutal and graphic, with lots of swearing, this is no tame fairy tale but a striking study of teen alienation and cruelty, with a sinister, sharp edge of romance. Read pages 136-137 for an insight into the fae world.

Simon & Schuster, 2002, ISBN 0689860420

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

If you love the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, you'll be blown away by the far superior Realms series by Libba Bray. It's set in Victorian England and concerns Gemma, a girl with an unusual talent, and her boarding school friends Felicity, Ann and Pippa. Trauma, excitement and tragedy follow the girls as they venture into other dimensions and Gemma discovers it is her destiny to save the world. This is far more satisfying than Twilight in that its heroine is far more feisty than Meyer's feeble Bella, and although Gemma is a flawed character, this gives her real substance and her dilemma real punch. The romance is more tortuous yet utterly compelling - Kartik is more alluring yet dangerous than Edward any day! Despite the hefty size of the sequels and the Mills and Boon-ish covers, I couldn't wait for each installment in this trilogy and was genuinely sad to finish them. Bray created thoroughly corporeal characters which I'll really miss. 

Simon & Schuster, 2006, ISBN 9780689875359

Kissing the Rain by Kevin Brooks

Moo is the fat kid constantly bullied at school. Every night he takes refuge on the motorway bridge and counts passing cars to calm himself down, but one night he witnesses a car chase and a murder. Suddenly he’s untouchable: everyone wants to know what happened and he becomes a celebrity, even being protected by the school bully who tormented him for years. But now Moo faces a dangerous dilemma – does he testify against the violent villain accused of the murder, and run the risk of retribution; or does he tell the truth, ruin a police conspiracy and land his own dad in jail? An uncompromisingly dark and violent tale of one boy lost in an adult world that is cruel and brutal, with no way out. Read pages 211-213 for a shocking moment, which leads to a cliffhanger ending.

The Chicken House, 2005, ISBN 1904442390

Martyn Pig by Kevin Brooks

Welcome to the life of Martyn Pig – who’s just got himself into loads of trouble. All it took was a few seconds of anger and his life is changed forever; and his drunk dad is dead on the living room floor. But then Martyn discovers that his dad was worth £30,000 and with the help of his friend Alex, hatches a plan to dump the body and claim the cash. But things start to go wrong when he receives blackmail threats... A gripping thriller which keeps you guessing. Try pages 37-38.

Chicken House, 2006, ISBN 9781905294169

Walking Naked by Alyssa Brugman

Megan’s cool. Leader of the in-crowd. It’s up to her who’s in or out – who’s cool and who’s a nerd. Perdita’s a freak. Super-intelligent, friendless, weird. When Perdita and Megan are given detentions and forced to spend time together, Megan realises that there’s a lot more to Perdita than the in-crowd realises, and the two become unlikely – but secret – friends. But then the in-crowd find out and give Megan a choice – Perdita and social suicide, or them. And Megan’s choice will have terrible repercussions... An unflinching tale of girls’ sadistic power over each other and one girl’s efforts to break free and be herself. Strong stuff.

Faber and Faber, 2004, ISBN 9780571219261

Bloodtide by Melvin Burgess

An epic novel crammed with brutality, betrayal, sex, horror, revenge... and impossible to put down. Set in the future when London is in ruins, and controlled by ganglord Val Volson. In order to create pace he hands over his daughter Signy to rival ganglord Conor; but he cannot be trusted. War ensues between the two factions but it’s the Gods themselves that are directing the battles. Read pages 137-139 for a gory bit!

Penguin, 2001, ISBN 0141306890

Junk by Melvin Burgess

Every time Melvin Burgess writes a book there’s a huge outcry in the media. Lots of parents and teachers get their knickers in a twist and write to the newspapers, saying stuff like “this book is disgusting!”, “it should be banned from school libraries!”, “it’s going to corrupt young people!”. I think that’s a complete load of rubbish. In fact, if you only read one book in your entire life, make it this one. It’s controversial because it’s about drug addiction. It follows the story of two teenagers, Gemma and Tar, who have run away from home. At first it’s a big adventure – they party every night, meets loads of weird and wonderful people, and drugs are just part of that scene, it’s no big deal. Read pages 183-184 for Tar’s big decision – of course he ends up taking heroin, and before long, he and Gemma find themselves in the very dangerous and depraved world of drug addiction. It’s a very gut-wrenching story, very graphic in places, but does tell it how it really is. I’ve not met anyone yet who’s been able to put this book down because it’s such an addictive read.

Puffin, 2003, ISBN 9780141315935

Lady: My Life as a Bitch by Melvin Burgess

A highly controversial story which caused an outcry in the media. Sandra is 17 and having a wild time – parties, drugs and sex. Everyone disapproves but she doesn’t care, why shouldn’t she have fun? But she’s enjoying herself way too much and suddenly, she gets turned into a dog! At first she’s terrified but soon comes to appreciate the life of an animal (read pages 134-135 to find out why). But it’s a difficult choice to make – remain as a dog and have freedom, or become human again with all the responsibilities that entails. What will Sandra decide? Totally surreal, rude and earthy, but it’s an addictive story that has a lot to say.

Penguin, 2003, ISBN 0141310286


Sara’s Face by Melvin Burgess

Sara is obsessed with the way she looks. She wants plastic surgery to make her perfect but her family can’t afford and won’t allow it – until she takes the hot iron, and presses it against her face. Lying in hospital, she’s visited by superstar Jonathan Heat, a man so obsessed with beauty he’s had endless operations on his face. Now he’s so scarred he has to wear a mask. He offers Sara the surgery she’s so desperate for – but there’s a terrifying price to pay…. A shocking story that really will make your skin crawl, and haunt your dreams.

Puffin, 2008, ISBN 9780141316321

The Time of the Reaper by Andrew Butcher

The end of the world as we know it comes not with a bang, but a whimper... People are getting sick. Just flu, Travis thinks, but then the deaths begin. Lots of them. And here’s the twist – anyone under the age of eighteen is immune. But that doesn’t mean they’ll survive, in a world gone mad and bad, where anarchy reigns. Can Travis and his friends escape Wayvale and find sanctuary? A terrifying, realistic story which I couldn’t put down and which gave me nightmares. It could happen tomorrow... Read pages 166-168 for the beginning of the end.

Atom, 2007, ISBN 9781904233947

Possessing Rayne by Kate Cann

Rayne runs away from the stifling city and ends up working as a waitress at an old country house. There she meets dashing biker St John, who charms her right off her feet, and life finally seems perfect. But there’s something sinister about the old house and before long Rayne has discovered that a terrifying history of abuse and murder haunts the grounds. And the deeper Rayne digs, the more she suspects St John is somehow linked to the terrible events and ghostly goings-on. But what does he have in store for Rayne? A creepy and atmospheric story.

Scholastic, 2008, ISBN 9781407102467

Just Jealous by Anne Cassidy

Elly’s been in love with her best friend Carl forever. But when he starts dating new girl Sandy, Elly is tormented with jealousy and resolves to find a way to split them up. So she starts meddling – spreading rumours, playing people off against each other… and it almost works. But then Elly goes a step too far and tragedy strikes. The scene is set for bloody revenge, and it’s all Elly’s fault… A very believable and powerful story that is very easy to relate to, as many of us have been in Elly’s position. How far would you go for love?

Scholastic, 2009, ISBN 9781407104041

Love Letters by Anne Cassidy

Vicky is excited to receive anonymous love letters, and thinks that they’ve come from her best friend’s older brother, Chris, on whom she has a sneaky crush. But she’s wrong, and soon finds out that she’s being stalked by a man who’s out of control and very, very dangerous. And what’s worse, no one believes her... Very realistic thriller that makes the everyday seem sinister.

Scholastic, 2003, ISBN 0439982952

Bang, Bang, You’re Dead! By Narinder Dhami

Mia and her twin brother Jamie have problems at home, and Jamie has started to act strangely. When all the alarms go off at school and there are fears that a gunman is holding a class hostage, Mia has a gut feeling that the gunman is none other than her brother. Desperate to stop him doing something crazy she stays in the building to try and find Jamie. But is he the gunman? And is Mia in deadly danger herself? A real cat and mouse tale, very tense, with an ending you don’t see coming.

Corgi, 2009, ISBN 9780552560436

Eva by Peter Dickinson

Teenager Eva wakes from a coma after a horrific car accident. Her body’s been so badly damaged her desperate family did the only thing they could to keep her alive: they’ve had her brain implanted into the body of a chimpanzee. Read pages 15-17 for the chilling reveal; this story will make your flesh crawl, but is completely original and thought-provoking.

Macmillan, 2001, ISBN 9780330483841


Falling by Sharon Dogar

Neesh is different. She can see ghosts and hear voices. Her family are ashamed of her and try to marry her off, but Neesh is in love with a boy called Sammy. By coincidence, his granddad loved her great aunt back in Kashmir, but their love story ended in tragedy, and it looks like history is destined to repeat itself. Neesh is being stalked by psycho Kef and her family want to mete out punishment because she’s with the wrong boy. Gripping, shocking, edge of your seat stuff; read pages 116-117 for Neesh’s predicament.

Chicken House, 2009, ISBN 9781905294695

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

Louisa is unusual – she wants desperately to be a doctor and isn’t afraid to speak her mind, traits that are not tolerated in polite Victorian society. Suddenly, whilst on the way to visit relatives, she finds herself locked up in a lunatic asylum! The doctors say her name is Lucy and that her whole life has been a delusion. But Louisa knows who she is and is determined to escape and find out who has betrayed her. A passionate and shocking love story, try pages 170-171.

Young Picador, 2009, ISBN 9780330458160

Baby Baby by Viv French

Short but very powerful story about two teenage girls who are very different, but who become friends when they find themselves at a school for teenage mums. It makes you angry how they are treated by their families and other people who look down on them, but these girls are not cowed by other peoples’ prejudice – try pages 3-7 for a rousing moment.

Barrington Stoke, 2002, ISBN 1842990616

The Night Hunger by Alan Gibbons

John’s tempted into betraying his girlfriend Andrea with new girl Beth, but Beth is cold and dangerous, and has a nasty secret. Soon John is eating raw steak and fantasising about drinking blood, and when his teacher is murdered, he realises that he is being transformed into some evil and deadly thing... Will he stop Beth from hurting Andrea, and more importantly, will he be able to stop himself from hurting her? A gory little tale with a sexy edge, give pages 14-16 a nip.

Barrington Stoke, 2008, ISBN 9781842995631

Bumface by Morris Gleitzman

If you’ve had a hard day at school, take home Morris Gleitzman and he will cheer you up, guaranteed! This book has the best opening ever.

Puffin, 2003, ISBN 9780141303550

The Day My Bum Went Psycho by Andy Griffiths

Read pages 1-5 which never fail to raise a snigger. This completely daft story in which Zack has to stop his renegade bum from taking over the world is a hit with males of all ages!

Macmillan, 2006, ISBN 9780330400893

The Enemy by Charlie Higson

A gang of kids are hiding in a supermarket from the hordes of flesh-eating zombies that have taken over London. There’s a rumour that they might find sanctuary at Buckingham Palace so they make the perilous journey across the city – but not all of them will make it alive… Deliciously gory and not for the faint-hearted, this is a rollercoaster of a read and I can’t wait for the next instalment – bring on the zombie mayhem! Read pages 25 to 28 for a bloody mouthful.

Puffin, 2010, ISBN 9780141325019

The Devouring by Simon Holt

Reggie loves horror stories, and reads them to her little brother Henry every night. But one night she makes the mistake of reading from an old book called The Devouring, about creatures that steal your soul, and now her little brother is possessed by a Vour! It’s a terrifying battle to save his soul, and will take Reggie to the very edge of her sanity in facing her nightmares to win back her brother. Extremely gruesome, this is real horror, and suits those with a strong stomach! If you’re scared of spiders read pages 81 – 83 for nightmares at bedtime.

Puffin, 2008, ISBN 9780141325262

Megan by Mary Hooper

What would you do if you found out you were pregnant at 15? That’s the dilemma facing Megan in this compulsive story. Her mother is furious and determined that the baby will be adopted; her best friend is loving the gossip and her peers think she’s a slag; the school want her out. But Megan is determined to make up her own mind and to stand tall against all the whispers and open insults. You really admire her and want her to win through; try pages 108-110 to see what she’s up against.

Bloomsbury, 2002, ISBN 0747541647

Monster Republic by Ben Horton

A school trip ends in disaster when an explosion kills most of the class. Cameron survives, and wakes up weeks later to find himself a prisoner in a scientific facility. Rescued by a mysterious girl called Rora, he discovers that he’s now a cyborg – patched up from pieces of his classmates and melded with a machine. Even worse, his girlfriend, who also survived, has had her brain replaced by that of the school bully! The evil scientist responsible is plotting to assassinate the Prime Minister – can Cameron and a bunch of reject cyborgs stop him? Action-packed adventure or particular appeal to boys, for a nugget read pages 37 to 39.

Corgi, 2010, ISBN 9780553560573

The Hunting of the Last Dragon by Sherryl Jordan

It’s the year 1356 and Jude is a young man lost and tormented: his entire village, including his family, have been wiped out in a mysterious fire. Rescued by a travelling circus, Jude befriends the circus “freak”, Lizzie, and together they run away to face a deadly challenge – to hunt and slay the last living dragon. A fantastic story with characters that really live and breathe in your imagination, and a great ending that really satisfies.

Simon & Schuster, 2004, ISBN 0689860625

The Raging Quiet by Sherryl Jordan

A beautiful love story set in medieval times. Marnie is married off to a much older man who abuses her. Fortunately for her, he dies after only a few days of marriage, but the villagers think she might have murdered him so she becomes an outcast. Her only friend is Raven, a strange boy also outcast because of his wild behaviour. The villagers that Raven is mad and possessed by the devil, but Marnie discovers that he’s actually deaf – he’s never learnt how to communicate. She devises a simple system of sign language and before long, the two begin to fall in love. But when the villagers see Marnie calming down the  “madman”, they think she’s far worse than a murderer – they think she’s a witch, and they put her on trial for her life. Try pages 221-222 for a tender moment in this shocking, haunting book. It ranks as my favourite young adult novel of all time.

Simon & Schuster, 2003, ISBN 0689836864

Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause

An erotic tale of werewolves in urban America – grisly, sexy, compelling. Vivian is a werewolf but falls in love with a human boy, Aiden. This threatens the safety of her pack; can their love survive? Pages 34-35 always arouse interest.

Corgi, 1999, ISBN 0552546127

The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause

Years before Bella and Edward were Zoe and Simon. Zoe is a troubled young woman who meets strange Simon in the park. A series of brutal murders points to him as the killer, but despite that, she’d still drawn to him – even when she knows the truth, that he is a vampire. Read pages 126-127 for an erotic moment from this supernatural love story.

Corgi, 1999, ISBN 0552546119

Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence

Sarah’s world has been reduced to a single room; her purpose in life is now only to protect her younger brother and sister, both from starvation and from the radioactive fallout that is poisoning everything. The world as we know it has gone – nuclear bombs have destroyed the cities and the Earth is dying in a nuclear winter. But still people struggle to survive... A terrifying, claustrophobic story following three generations of the same family as they create a brave new world from the ashes of the old. Try pages 13-15 to discover just how quickly our reality could vanish.

Red Fox, 2002, ISBN 0099433427

Underworld by Catherine MacPhail

You’re trapped underground with people you hate. You trust no-one. You’re lost and scared, exhausted. Your teacher’s unconscious and your worst enemy is about to snap. And something inhuman is following you... Five teenagers are trapped in hell – will they survive, or will they betray each other and leave each other to die? A tense story which makes you wonder just how you would respond to a terrifying situation – would you be a coward or a hero? Gripping stuff, try pages 110-112.

Bloomsbury, 2004, ISBN 9780747570417


Let’s Get Lost by Sarra Manning

Isabel’s a bitch. Not just a bitch – the bitch. Even her best friends agree on that one! But a drunken kiss at a party leads to a secret fling with a student, Smith – and Isabel’s downfall, as her friends seize the perfect opportunity to topple her from her throne. As Isabel’s life goes into meltdown, who will save her from herself? Compulsive story, try pages 79 to 80 for a taste.

Hodder, 2006, ISBN 0340877014

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Book One of Chaos Walking)

Todd is the youngest boy in Prentistown and about to undergo an initiation rite into adulthood. But this is no ordinary town; due to a war with strange creatures called Spackles, germ warfare killed all the women and caused the men to become telepathic. The noise from other people’s thoughts is deafening, and they can even hear the thoughts of animals. But then Todd uncovers a terrifying secret about Prentistown and is forced to run for his life with his dog Manchee. This book is impossible to put down, full of twists and turns and with a shocking cliffhanger that will leave you desperate for more! Fortunately the sequels, The Ask and The Answer and Monsters of Men, are now available, and equally as brilliant. Read pages 58-60 to enter Todd’s world.

Walker Books, 2008, ISBN 9781406320756

(un)arranged marriage by Bali Rai

Manny is determined to be his own man and resist family pressure to have an arranged marriage. His family are obsessed with tradition and honour and determined that Manny will do as he’s told, even if they have to beat him into submission; but Manny has a plan, and the battle ensues... Manny really does get himself into some stupid situations, but this story is as shocking as it is funny, and gives a welcome male perspective on arranged marriages. Pages 86-89 will get boys hooked.

Corgi, 2001, ISBN 9780552547345

Rani and Sukh by Bali Rai

In the 1960s in the Punjab region of India, a young girl called Kulwant Sandhu throws herself down a well to her death, to escape her family’s deadly rage. In present day Leicester, Rani Sandhu has fallen passionately in love with Sukh Bains, but this is a love affair that can never happen. Their families are locked in a deadly feud, and where Rani’s izzat, or honour, is concerned, vengeance is inevitable... Read pages 79-81 for Rani’s predicament.

Corgi, 2004, ISBN 0552548901

Pirates! By Celia Rees

This rousing tale really kicks ass! It’s the 18th century and Nancy Kington is betrayed by her slave trading family who want to marry her off to a vile older man. But she’s not going to settle for this! Rescuing slave girl Minerva from his clutches, the two young women run away and take to the high seas as swashbuckling pirates, sorting out any men that dare to cross them! A passionate and punchy tale that brings history vividly to life and leaves you feeling very satisfied. Sample page 147.

Bloomsbury, 2004, ISBN 0747564698

Witch Child by Celia Rees

A powerful novel about prejudice and superstition, a message that’s still as relevant today as in the 17th century. Mary’s grandmother is murdered by the townsfolk who think she’s a witch (read pages 11-13 to discover the gruesome details). Mary escapes to America and is taken in by a Puritan community, but suspicion and superstition follow her and soon she’s in fear for her life.

Bloomsbury, 2000, ISBN 0747550093

The Tortured Wood by Malcolm Rose

Everyone warns Dillon to stay away from the local wood, which has a reputation as a dangerous and evil place. But of course he doesn’t listen, and finds sinister carvings in some of the trees that resemble local people who have been killed in freak accidents. Before long Dillon is a boy possessed, and starts making his own carvings, that look suspiciously like the school bullies that are tormenting him. Just what is the evil power that has control of him, and what will happen to the bullies when they follow him into the dark and tortured wood? A real sense of menace which never fails to thrill.

Usborne, 2006, ISBN 9780746077436

The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgewick

A Victorian magician made a pact with the Devil but now it’s time for the Devil to claim his due – the magician’s only hope is a nameless orphan boy who is plunged into a nightmare race against time to save his master. But fate has terrible surprises in store for Boy and as the dead days draw to a close, who will survive? A gripping gothic tale, try pages 94-95 for a chilling taste.

Dolphin, 2003, ISBN 1842552678

My Swordhand is Singing by Marcus Sedgewick

Peter is an outsider in the isolated village where he lives with his drunken, woodcutter father. The locals are afraid of something – and the travelling gypsies seem to hold the key to the mystery, a mystery which involves Peter’s father and dead people that can rise from their graves... Will Peter be able to save the girl he loves, and his father, from the horror that is about to engulf the village? A chilling tale that brings old myths to life, and pages 94-96 never fail to enthral an audience.

Orion, 2006, ISBN 9781842555583

Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan

It started in a toilet – a dare to visit the freak show. Now Darren regrets the day his best friend Steve persuaded him to go; regrets meeting creepy Mr Crepsley and his deadly spider Madam Octa; regrets every choice he’s made since that fateful night. Because now he’s enslaved to a member of the undead and the horrors are only just beginning... Gory story, first of a very popular series, and try pages 50-52 for a taste.

HarperCollins, 2009, ISBN 9780006754169

Numbers by Rachel Ward

Jem has the psychic ability to see the date on which a person will die. So she doesn’t want to get too close to Spider, a boy whose death is only weeks away. But when they are caught up in a terrorist attack and forced to go on the run, the situation brings them closer and Jem is faced with a terrifying challenge – can she cheat death and change the future? Can she save the boy she loves? A very tense thriller this is also a very moving story, with a spine-tingling ending. Read pages 59 – 61 for a key moment.

Chicken House, 2009, ISBN 9781905294930

Generation Dead by Daniel Waters

High School can be hell, especially if you have to sit next to a zombie in class. In this unusual novel, American teens are coming back from the dead and facing prejudice and discrimination as the "living impaired" or "differently biotic". When living Goth girl Phoebe falls for dead football jock Tommy, the simmering hatred beneath the surface of Oxoboxo High erupts into violence. Bully Pete is out of control and his former friend Adam, who is secretly in love with Phoebe, is left trying to keep everything together, with tragic results. This is a compelling read with characters that seem genuinely real, both dead and alive. It was hard not to shed a tear at the end, and to feel moved by the prejudice faced by the "zombies". I hope there's going to be a sequel because this original tale really got to me.

Simon and Schuster, 2008, ISBN 9781847383273

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Tally can’t wait to be 16 – that’s the magic age when she’ll be surgically transformed into one of the perfect beautiful people, who live to party and get all the material advantages that physical perfection “deserves”. But when her best friend Shay runs off to the Smoke to avoid the operation, Tally is given a choice – betray her friend or stay ugly forever. A frightening glimpse of the future where our obsession with appearance is taken to terrifying extremes.

Simon & Schuster, 2006, ISBN 1416911049

The Haunting of Alaizbel Cray by Chris Wooding

A vivid and gruesome fantasy set in a parallel London devastated by war and plagued by demonic creatures called wych-kin. Monsters, thieves and serial killers stalk the streets, preying on the weak and vulnerable. Thaniel and Cathaline are wych-hunters, but when they rescue a strange young girl called Alaizabel Cray, they are plunged into a terrifying and bloody battles against the evil at the heart of the city. This controversial story will leave you frightened to turn out the lights – see pages 183-185 to find out why.

Scholastic, 2006, ISBN 0439963958


Please note: bibliographical details given are from copies in my library. Other editions may be available.




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