A Small Smorgasbord of Scandinavian YA Lit

Photo courtesy of jari
Photo courtesy of jari

Over the past several years, Scandinavian and Scandinavian-influenced culture seems to be popping up everywhere.  We’ve seen this during the past six to eight years in the popularity of authors such as the Swedish Stieg Larsson, who wrote The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, and the Norwegian Jo Nesbø, who writes the Harry Hole series.  Over the past few years you or someone you know has definitely played “Angry Birds,” a game app created by Finnish company Rovio Entertainment.  (I admit that I myself facilitated an “Angry Birds” pom-pom craft at my library.)  Recently, the movie Frozen, based in part on 19th century Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Snow Queen, took over the box office. To bring it back to young adult literature, the 2014 Printz Award and a Printz Honor went to two novels with Scandinavian settings, respectively Midwinterblood by the British writer Marcus Sedgwick and The Kingdom of Little Wounds by American Susann Cokal.

So this all inspired me to find out what’s been written in the past few years by  Scandinavian YA authors.  Read on for a sampling of recent popular and award-winning titles – feel free to serve yourself!

erlings boy on the edgeFrom Iceland:

Boy on the Edge by Fridrik Erlings (sometimes written as “Erlingsson’) is the story of Henry, a teen who stutters, has a clubfoot and is almost illiterate.  A growing rage has also developed inside him and one day he lashes out physically at his mother.  As a result, he’s sent to live at the “Home of Lesser Brethren,” a farm on a lava field on the Icelandic coast.  Henry finds that he really enjoys working with the animals there, and this along with the compassion of the wife of the reverend who runs the farm somewhat lessens the difficulty of his new environment.  Henry’s desperate desire to make friends affects his actions, sometimes for the worse, but sometimes for the better, such as when he becomes interested in reading and writing.  This novel is based on the author’s actual relationship with the real Henry. 


hagerup markus and diana

From Norway:

Klaus Hagerup’s Markus + Diana is the first in a series about shy thirteen-year-old Markus, who enjoys writing letters in which he takes on alternate personas in order to get celebrities’ autographs.  Pretending to be a thirty-year-old mountain-climbing millionaire, he begins a correspondence with beautiful American actress, Diana Mortensen.  When she decides she’d like to come to Norway to meet him, Markus and his overly confident best friend Sigmund hatch a scheme to become masters of etiquette in order to pass as wealthy adults.  The second book in the series, Markus and the Girls, is also available in the U.S.


jagerfeld me on the floor bleedingFrom Sweden:

In 2010 author Jenny Jägerfeld earned the August Prize for Best Swedish Children’s Book of the Year for Me On the Floor, Bleeding.  Seventeen-year-old narrator Maja is an unpopular and bullied goth who, on top of all this, is having an even harder time of it. When she one day accidentally cuts off the end of her thumb in sculpture class, many appear concerned, including her dad.  The exception is her mother, Jana, whose love Maja desperately seeks.  When Maja attempts her usual visit with Jana, she finds that she has disappeared.  Because she is at her mother’s home, however, Maja happens to meet Jana’s next-door neighbor, Justin, with whom she has a brief relationship.  In her search for answers about her mother, Maja eventually learns that Jana has been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a fact which is difficult for Maja to assimilate. Author Jägerfeld is herself a psychologist.


simukka as red as bloodFrom Finland:

As Red As Blood is the first book in author Salla Simukka’s Snow White Trilogy.  Lumikki is a seventeen-year-old who lives on her own in order to attend art school.  When she one day finds some money soaked in blood in a photography darkroom, she decides to try to solve the mystery, which turns out to involve some danger.  She and three other classmates become involved in the investigation, and standoffish Lumikki actually makes friends with Elisa, the daughter of a police officer.  Parents do not play much of a role in the story, but the four teens find strength in each other.  Lumikki is a strong and independent lead character in this fast-paced adventure.


teller nothingFrom Denmark:

Janne Teller earned a 2011 Printz Honor for Nothing (also a 2011 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers), along with numerous other awards.  Matter-of-fact narrator Agnes tells us how seventh grader Pierre one day decides that life has no meaning and walks out of the classroom.  He then proceeds to climb up a tree, and there he remains.  To get him to come down, his classmates decide to show him in a tangible way that life has meaning.  They do this by making a pile of things that are meaningful to each of them.  However, the story becomes dark and eventually horrifying as the students begin to demand more and more serious sacrifices of each other.


If you’ve read any of the above titles, we’d love your comments on what you thought of them.  Also, if you can recommend additional Scandinavian standouts, please let us and your fellow Hub readers know!

– Anna Dalin, currently reading World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters