Young adult and junior fiction roundup

RED QUEEN
Victoria Aveyard
Hachette

In this fantasy trilogy there are two types of people. The powerful silver bloods who have special ''abilities'', and the red bloods who are either workers or cannon fodder in an ongoing war.

Mare Barrow (who bears a striking resemblance to Katniss Everdeen, Hunger Games) is a red blood facing conscription until a chance encounter leads her to leave her village for the Silver palace. She soon discovers abilities of her own and becomes embroiled in court politics, rebellion and the obligatory love triangle.

Some elements are far from original and it takes a while to get to the action but the scenes involving the use of abilities are cool and I'm looking forward to seeing where the trilogy goes.

Contains some violence but nothing too gruesome. Ages: 14+.

A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES
Sarah J. Maas
Allen & Unwin

Described as part Beauty and the Beast and part Tamlin (the traditional tale of a maiden who must save her true love from the Queen of the Fairies) A Court of Thorns and Roses feels like two different books.

Feyre the huntress (yes, think Katniss Everdeen again) has to provide for her crippled father and spoiled older sisters. When she kills a special wolf near the border with the Faerie Realms, she must pay the price by being imprisoned in a faerie court under the protection of a mysterious masked captor.

Full of monsters, magic and heroic acts, this is the first part of a trilogy from the author of The Throne of Glass series and it's better than it sounds. It's also quite steamy in places. Ages: 16+.

A SINGLE STONE
Meg McKinlay
Walker Books

Those with a fear of confined spaces may struggle with the concept of A Single Stone.

In a community cut off from the rest of the world after a natural disaster, the villagers' only hope of survival is to stockpile mica, a material that can be burnt through the long, cold winter.

The smallest girls are trained since birth to eventually become part of ''the line'' - literally a line of seven girls tied together - who are repeatedly sent into the mountain's caves and crevices, deeper and deeper as accessible stocks are depleted.

Jena, the leader of the line, is happy in her vocation until she discovers something that makes her question her loyalty to the regime and seek answers about her own mysterious past.

I would have liked even more intrigue and historic detail but A Single Stone is well-written and developed and is wonderfully creepy. Ages: 10+.

BOMB
Sarah Mussi
Hachette

In a Britain set in the near future, Genesis Wainwright wakes up in a basement with a bomb strapped to her. A robotic voice in her ear feeds her instructions on how to complete her ''assignment'' and in the following hours she must use all her wits to avoid being used as a weapon of mass destruction.

Bomb is full of action and tension, and the vision of a powerful terrorist group that draws in teenage boys (''We radicalise your sons. We sacrifice your daughters'') is believable and horrifying. On the downside, there are some unnecessary mystical visions and the story gets bogged down at times with the repetition of Genesis' thoughts: How can I survive? Am I ready to die? Why did my boyfriend break up with me?

A compelling and topical read. Contains violence. Ages: 14+.

I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN
Jandy Nelson
Walker Books

The special connection between twins is tested in this story of rival siblings Noah and Jude.

The story, which tracks their battles with identity, sexuality, the loss of a loved one and each other, is another emotional wallow from author Jandy Nelson (The Sky is Everywhere).

The story jumps between Noah, aged 13, who is struggling to come to terms with being gay and is desperate to get into a prestigious art school, and his twin Jude, who narrates three years later aged 16, and is no longer a fearless surfer and is somehow doing a terrible job in Noah's place at art school.

This jumping between time and characters made it hard to connect with either twin and the metaphors threatened to drown me at times but Noah's story was both sad and beautiful and when combined with Nelson's trademarks - original characters, unbearable suffering and perfect love connections - made this well worth a read. Some sexual content. Ages: 14+.

PIECES OF SKY
Trinity Doyle
Allen & Unwin

Champion swimmer Lucy hasn't been in the water since her older brother Cam tragically and mysteriously drowned eight weeks earlier.

Her family is broken, her friendships are unravelling and Lucy can't shake the feeling there is something more to Cam's death than she knows. Her incredible grief gives her carte blanche to go off the rails, helped by her childhood best friend and a new boy in town.

Anyone who has read Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere might experience a hint of deja vu, but this story feels more grounded and less flowery and the Australian setting is a nice change. Some minor sexual content. Ages 13+.

LULLABY
Bernard Beckett
Text Publishing

This short philosophical novel examines the fraught relationship between identical twin brothers Rene and Theo as well as the ideas of identity and loyalty.

Theo has been in a life-threatening accident and Rene must be evaluated to see if he is suitable to agree to a controversial and experimental medical procedure. As Rene is interviewed about key events in their relationship, we learn more about the twins and the procedure being proposed.

This story raises some interesting questions about medical ethics as well as what makes a person an individual. Some sexual content. Ages: 16+.

THE BAKEHOUSE
Joy Cowley
Gecko Press

Bert is 84, lives in a rest-home and has just buried his older sister. A visit from his great-grandson asking for information about his youth - in particular the Geronimo Bakehouse - takes him back to 1943, when he was 11 and desperate to be part of the war.

The story is centred around events at the Bakehouse, which have been a source of guilt and misery ever since.

Delving into the themes of patriotism, sacrifice and loyalty there is also a whole heap of information about life in New Zealand during World War 2, making this perfect for the classroom. Comes with teaching notes. Ages: 10+.

FIVE THINGS THEY NEVER TOLD ME
Rebecca Westcott
Puffin Books

Erin has been counting the days since her mum left and it's only her love of art and her dog Picasso that are getting her through.

After a particularly bad spate of teenage rebellion, Erin is grounded and is forced to accompany her dad to his job at a rest-home for the summer. What seems like the end of the world is unexpectedly not, as Erin sparks up a friendship with one of the residents, learning a lot about life along the way.

Each chapter introduces a painting to chart Erin's mood, which is a nice introduction to new paintings for young art lovers. Ages: 10+.

THE MONSTER WITHIN
Darrell Pitt
Text Publishing

The Monster Within is the fourth instalment in the Jack Mason adventure series and follows bright and brave teenagers Jack and Scarlet and their mentor Mr Doyle (a Sherlock Holmes-type character) as they hunt a monster in the London sewer system and pursue a group of terrorists around the world.

Author Darrell Pitt has created a Victorian world with some great steampunk touches and, while it is preferable to read the earlier novels, it is entertaining as a stand-alone.

Packed with action as well as lessons in politics and geography. Ages: 8+.

- Laura Hewson is an ODT subeditor and mother.

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