I spent a few weeks in London, then Edinburgh in August on vacation, and, being the librarian and book lover that I am, found myself frequently stopping in bookstores. I wondered whether the same books that teens are reading in the U.S. would be available to British & Scottish teens.
As I wandered the teen sections in Waterstones and WHSmith in London and Blackwell’s in Edinburgh, I found that many of the same YA books that are published here are also popular across the pond in London and Scotland. In Waterstones there was a special display with a sign saying “Everything’s turning green!” promoting John Green’s books. Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars were also included in another book display.
As I scanned the shelves in the bookstores, I also saw a few authors that I wasn’t as familiar with, or that I hadn’t heard of at all. One, author, Malorie Blackman, current Children’s Laureate for Great Britain for 2013 – 2015, is a British author I had read years ago. Her book Naughts & Crosses (Noughts & Crosses in the UK) was nominated, but didn’t make the 2006 Best Books for Young Adults list.
It’s a sort of Romeo and Juliet story of teens Sephy and Callum who’ve been in love their whole lives, but their romance is forbidden because they have different skin colors. Sephy is a Cross: black-skinned, wealthy and daughter of an important politician. White-skinned Callum is a Naught, devastatingly poor and powerless. The law now allows Naughts to enter Cross schools, and Sephy is thrilled that Callum will attend her school. But the seemingly positive desegregation degenerates into a nightmarish tangle of events ranging from expulsions, to bombings by the Naught Liberation Militia, to hangings. Callum’s older brother, denied schooling, has joined the Naught Liberation Militia. Caught up in escalating violence, Callum’s family disintegrates, and there seems little for him to do but join the terrorists as well. The teens’ romance against overwhelming odds is very powerful and moving.
Naughts & Crosses was published in the UK in 2001. In a Wikipedia article on Blackman, The Times interviewer Amanda Craig speculated about why the Noughts & Crosses series was not published in the United States the same year, “though there was considerable interest, 9/11 killed off the possibility of publishing any book describing what might drive someone to become a terrorist.” Naughts and Crosses was published in the U.S. in 2005, and the paperback published in 2007 under the title Black & White.
The sequel to Naught & Crosses/Black & White is called Knife Edge (2007). In it, Sephy’s six months pregnant with Callum’s baby, but Callum is dead – hanged for terrorism months ago, but his presence still torments Sephy. And she’s not alone. Callum’s brother, Jude, blames Sephy for the death, and wants her dead. Sephy doesn’t like Jude, but when his actions take him to the brink of disaster, his life poised on a knife edge, can she stand by and do nothing? Will she be forced â€” once again â€” to take sides in a chilling racial drama?
Blackman wrote more books in the Naughts & Crosses series after the first two: Checkmate and Double Cross, as well as several short stories. Only the first two books are available in the U.S. in hardcover.
The book store shelves were full of one author I’ve never heard of – Sophie McKenzie. She’s an award-winning London author of adult and teen thrillers including the Missing series (Girl, Missing â€“longlisted for the Carnegie Medal; Sister, Missing; and Missing Me), Blood Ties (longlisted for the Carnegie Medal) and Blood Ransom and the Medusa Project series.
Unfortunately, very few of her books are available here except the first three of the Medusa Project series (The Set-Up; The Hostage and The Rescue) available in paperback. Fourteen years ago, four babies were implanted with the Medusa gene – a gene for psychic abilities. Now teenagers, Nico, Ketty, Ed and Dylan have been brought together by government agents to create a secret crime-fighting force: The Medusa Project. Each has a unique psychic ability. Since their existence has became known to members of the criminal underworld, they have been hidden away in a secluded training camp in Spain, where their identities are being kept secret. Life in camp is hard enough, but then things take a turn for the worse. When one of them is blackmailed into using his mind-reading powers it threatens to endanger the whole Medusa Project.
The series so far features The Set-Up, The Hostage, The Rescue, Hunted and Double-Cross. A special short story, The Thief, was published in 2010 and Hit Squad, the final book in the series, came out in 2012.
Although we might not be familiar with their books, as authors, they know each other’s work. When asked in November 2012 by The Guardian, one of Britain’s leading newspapers, to name her top 10 teen thrillers, McKenzie listed Blackman’s Naughts & Crosses. She described it as â€œTightly plotted, this story is a highly original twist on the classic tale of Romeo and Juliet. I found the structure of the book fascinating and used it as a model for my own book: Blood Ties. When I started visiting schools on author visits, Noughts and Crosses was one of those books every 12-year-old girl seemed to have read!â€
Simon and Schuster will be publishing her book In a Split Second in hardcover in the United States in March 2015. Charlie’s life is torn apart by a terrorist bomb in a London market. Months later, she meets Nat, whose family was devastated by the same explosion. But as Charlie gets closer to Nat she uncovers secrets and a whole cast of shady characters that lead her to believe Nat knows more about the attack than he is letting on. It’s a breathtaking thriller that shifts between the perspectives of its two main characters as their courage and their loyalties are tested to the limit.
The sequel, Every Second Counts, is available here as an EBook but it’s also being released here in 2015 in hardcover. In the sequel, Nat and Charlie are on the run, and in more danger than ever. Nowhere is safe for them. They have each other but people are out to get them. Charlie believes the only option is to go undercover and sneaks away from Nat to pursue her plan alone. Nat is desperate to find Charlie, but his family is in danger and their enemy is coming ever closer. Even if Nat and Charlie can find each other again, could being together be even more dangerous than being apart . . .?
McKenzie’s other book that’s available through Amazon is a paperback called Falling Fast. When River auditions for a part in an inter-school performance of Romeo and Juliet, she finds herself smitten by Flynn, the boy playing Romeo. River believes in romantic love, and she can’t wait to experience it. But Flynn comes from a damaged family – is he even capable of giving River what she wants? The path of true love never did run smooth…
I went to the Edinburgh International Book Festival and bought a YA book based on its great looking cover because I’d never heard of the author. While standing in line to get books signed by Michael Morpurgo, I started talking to the teen in front of me and it turns out he had also bought the same book. It’s a thriller called Bombmaker by Scottish author Claire McFall. It was published in Scotland in 2014 and is only available here as an EBook. In it, the English government has put up border walls to keep the Welsh, Scots and Irish out. Celts caught in England are branded with a tattoo. Caught twice, they are executed. When Scottish teenager Lizzie is saved by gang boss Alexander, she becomes his property and her every move is controlled. With her skills in setting bombs, Lizzie is useful, but for how long? In a dangerous world, Lizzie is fighting for a cause and fighting for her life.
McFall’s first book Ferrymaker (2013) was nominated for the Carnegie Award and is only available here in EBook as well. When teenager Dylan emerges from the wreckage of a train crash onto a bleak Scottish hillside, she meets a strange boy who seems to be waiting for her. But Tristan is no ordinary teenage boy, and the journey across the desolate, wraith-infested wasteland is no ordinary journey. Life, death, love â€“ which one should Dylan choose?
Seeing that these authors are very popular in Great Britain and Scotland, I hope that more of their books will eventually be published here. We deserve to have the chance to read these authors too without resorting to having to buy them through amazon.uk. If there are authors that you’re aware of from across the pond that aren’t well-known here that I missed, please let me know.
-Sharon Rawlins, currently reading Sekret by Lindsay Smith
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