5 Books that Capture Teens Perfectly

Non Pratt will be appearing in our special Authors Live: Authentic Teens in YA event On 4 October 2017. The event promises to be a funny and insightful look at how teens are represented in young adult literature. In the second of our blog series celebrating the upcoming event, we asked Non to recommend some books that offer authentic and convincing representations of teenagers.

Freshers coverFreshers by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

Teen readers have a plethora of gloriously flawed central female characters, but few realistic male ones. In Freshers we have both. Phoebe crashes through her first term of uni accumulating equally clueless friends, who give her strength when she most needs it. Luke, on the other hand, is handling things very differently – stuck in an inward-looking loop, he fails to make the kind of connections that count and when presented with the chance to do the right thing, he invariably gets it wrong. Morally grey boys are a rare find in YA fiction, but not in real life.

Radio Silence coverRadio Silence by Alice Oseman

Radio Silence has all the intimacy of Oseman’s debut, Solitaire, penned when she herself was a teenager. Frances Janvier, Head Girl and Cambridge-bound star student is our narrator – except she also isn’t, because as Frances has already started to understand, she is not defined by these things. Frances is a podcast addict, and she is an artist. One is School Frances, but the other is Real Frances. A deeply absorbing, highly emotive exploration of identity and friendship, the proof of this book’s authenticity is that whenever I recommend Radio Silence during a school visit, there is always a young Alice Oseman fan among the teens in the audience.

Cover of The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Like Frances, Starr in THUG has two different versions of herself – this time it’s one for the people in her neighbourhood and another for the students at the affluent school she attends. From the moment she witnesses her friend Khalil being shot by a police officer, Starr must find her way through the minefield of personal grief and public politics. My experience reading this book as a white, middle-class Brit may be very different from someone else’s, but the fact that THUG has topped the New York Times bestseller list since publication demonstrates how Starr’s story speaks to a broad – and invested – audience.

Cover of The Fallen ChildrenThe Fallen Children by David Owen

The only book on this list that strays into science fiction, Owen’s book is nonetheless rooted in reality. The mysterious ‘Nightout’ and subsequent accelerated pregnancies of teenagers Keisha, Siobhan and Maida provide the sci-fi drive behind the plot, but it’s how the characters respond that feels authentic. Disenfranchised, dismissed and distrustful, each girl views her freak pregnancy differently, but they are united by one thing: there is no one they can turn to for help. This is a subtle exploration of how those who are consistently denied autonomy might behave when given the chance to exert true – terrifying – power.

Cover of A Change Is Gonna ComeA Change is Gonna Come by various (Mary Bello, Aisha Bushby, Tanya Byrne, Inua Ellams, Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence, Ayisha Malik, Irfan Master, Musa Okwonga, Yasmin Rahman, Phoebe Roy, Nikesh Shukla)

One thing I love about my job is that I get to write articles like this, recommending my favourite books according to whatever theme has been set. For this post, it was authenticity, but the thing is, I’m not the authority on authenticity. No one is. This is why anthologies like A Change is Gonna Come are so brilliant – in one book a reader is presented with twelve different voices, twelves different chances to find the teen character that you think feels authentic. My personal favourite is Marionette Girl by Aisha Bushby, not only because the narrator, Amani, felt almost visceral in how believable she was, but because her relationship with her cat is exceptionally similar to the one I had with mine. But there is so much here to absorb, from the ethereal beauty of Tanya Byrne’s Hackney Moon to the dawning reality of Ayisha Mailk’s A Refuge, or Nikesh Shukla’s We Who? that there really is something here for everyone.

If you enjoyed this blog post from Non, check out the other post in the series so far, from Junk author Melvin Burgess. Stand by for another post from Jean Menzies, the third panellist in our Authors Live: Authentic Teens in YA event, taking place next week!

You can sign up for this fantastic Authors Live event here. Jean Menzies has also created three videos to help teachers and pupils get started with vlogging in the classroom - check out the videos here.

Non Pratt

Non Pratt grew up in Teesside and now lives in London. Her debut novel, Trouble, was shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and the Branford Boase. It was also longlisted for the Carnegie Medal. She has also written Remix and Unboxed. Find out more about Non and her books by following her on Twitter (@NonPratt).