As a long-time fan of Andy Robb’s, dating back to his fabulous Geekhood books, I’m really pleased to have him on the blog today as the first guest poster in Best of the Last Decade series! I’m excited for Andy’s new book Smashed, which publishes this week. After a little about Smashed, over to Andy below!
From the author of the Geekhood series, the first of which was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Award, comes Smashed by Andy Robb. Funny, touching, true, with a narrator readers will instantly love, Smashed is a rollercoaster exploration of young masculinity.
Since ‘The Night Everything Went Weird’, Jamie Bartlett’s life has been a cocktail of calamity. His parents are splitting up, his girlfriend Nadia is soon to become his ex-girlfriend and his best mate Adil seems to have forgotten the Number One Unwritten Rule of Friendship. When his dad moves out, Jamie tries to fill his shoes. He needs to become head of the household – right? With his mum dealing with the aftermath of toxic masculinity at its finest, and his little sister Bex struggling to understand what’s going on, Jamie has to navigate the choppy waters of what he thinks it means to be a man.
Having learned that the best way to deal with feelings is to push them down as far as they will go, he finds help from an unlikely source. Drinking makes him feel invincible – Super Jim can take on anything – and anyone… But how long will it be before this particular well of wisdom runs dry? And what will it take for Jamie to realise that help was at hand all along?
Andy: Whenever I listen to Desert Island Discs, I’m always left wondering how anyone can possibly whittle their music selection down to the Chosen Few. Writing this list has been a real challenge, resulting in piles of books on my floor, as I’ve raked through much-loved and much-leafed-through stories. There are plenty of others that rank up there as favourites, but if you’re culling, brutality is best. So, for better or for worse, here are My Favourite Five Awesome Indie Books From The Past Decade. Let the recriminations begin!
Published by Barrington Stoke.
Looking at this from showbiz terms, there are, loosely speaking, two kinds of actors. There are those who you can depend on to give you a comfortable ride; you know how they work, and you trust that they’ll get you rom A to Z, without too much trouble. These are actors who like to be liked. You can probably think of a few. They’re like a decent chocolate box selection; there might be a few surprises, but nothing that’ll stop you from enjoying just a little bit more. And then there are actors who don’t care what you think of them. They’ll play the bad guys without trying to excuse them and offer a ride that’s less comfortable – but one that’s equally rewarding.
I’d put Anthony McGowan into the second category. I’m a huge fan of his and, although I’ve yet to meet him, always feel that his Northern nature drags you by the twisted sideburn into his world. You’re not spared or coddled in a McGowan tale, but you’re always left humbled and thoughtful. Every generation needs its Kes. Brock is just that. It looks at everything from social class, courage, and broken families, to having to take on responsibilities that were probably designed for later in life. Not to mention an uncannily-accurate depiction of brotherhood.
Double Trouble: Another Year in The (Not So) Simple Life of Rachel Riley by Joanna Nadin
Published by OUP Children’s.
Jo Nadin came onto my radar about four years before I had my first book published and I’ve remained a dedicated fan. I’ve been lucky enough to meet her but didn’t have the guts to tell her just how great I think she is. In fact, this is as close as I’ll get! Double Trouble was the first Nadin I read, and I loved it. Teenage boys have been the subject of literary magnifying glasses for decades. This book turns that focus onto the female of the species and doesn’t spare the horses. If you liked the Adrian Mole series, you’ll love this. It’s toe-curlingly funny, disarmingly honest and stuffed with heart.
The only problem with Double Trouble is that you’ll want to read the rest of Nadin’s work – and she’s pretty prolific. A great read for teenage girls and teenage chaps wanting a peek into the way these mysterious unicorns think. However, it’s also ideal for adult readers: we’ve all had teenage adventures that we’d probably rather forget. Double Trouble puts them on a plate for you, with a huge helping of fondness on the side.
Published by Back Alley Books.
I have a huge soft spot for Sean Cummings. We met when I was doing promos for Geekhood and he was on the same sort of circuit for Poltergeeks. We exchanged hostages and, initially, I was a bit nervous about reading his: I’m not terribly brave with scary books and movies, but Poltergeeks was a very different outing.
Cummings is a fabulously sarcastic man and that has seeped its way into this book. Think along the lines of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; a sassy, street-smart heroine who has enough of her own personal problems to be going on with – let alone having to deal with supernatural spirits. It’s darkly funny but also offers a good look at how difficult the relationship between mothers and teenage daughters can be. If you want something that dips into the shadows, but is packed with adventure and some killer put-downs, check out this little beauty.
Railhead by Philip Reeve
Published by OUP Children’s.
From the moment I bought Mortal Engines, I became a fan of the Mighty Philip Reeve. Over the years, I’ve bought everything he’s written, and he’s never let me down, whether it’s been stuff for younger readers, like Goblins and Cakes in Space (which he wrote with Sarah McIntyre) or the YA stuff. However, much as I love his writing, it also drives me nuts – because it’s so damned good! Lord knows how he comes up with what he does, but if he could bottle it, I’d be first in the queue.
Railhead is another piece of Reeve remarkability. You’ve got sentient trains, monks made from bugs, the ethereal Station Angels, and all manner of fascinating androids. Throw into the mix a petty thief, called Zen, who rides the rails like the drifters in old westerns, and you’ve got everything you need for an intelligent, exciting, and creative adventure. As much as I envy Reeve’s writing abilities, I think I’m possibly more jealous of his world-building skills. With every book he’s written, you’re thrown against a backdrop that’s perfectly-formed and complete with its own history. Railhead is no exception, and you’ll find yourself travelling with characters in settings that are as finely-crafted as anything that Tolkien put together. Book yourself a first-class ticket and enjoy the ride.
Weirdos vs Quimboids by Natasha Desborough
Published by Catnip Books.
As much as I love fantasy and a drop of sci-fi, I always seem to find my way back to contemporary YA fiction. I love the opera of teenage lives, where everything is either incredibly joyous or foundation-shakingly awful and with very little in between. Those extremes of behaviour can either be heart-breaking or hilarious and Natasha Desborough’s book really captures either end of the spectrum.
It takes a lot to make me laugh out loud when I’m reading, but Weirdos vs Quimboids pushed all the right buttons. There are moments where, if it were a TV show, you’d be watching the screen from behind your sweating palms and others where you’d be harrumphing your way through a film of tears. Female readers will relate instantly. For the males of the species, it fabulously deconstructs the idea that girls have got it sorted and always know what to do. Blossom is a brilliant lead character and the scenarios she finds herself in range from the sublime to the buttock-clenching. Just like all the others on this list, this is another book I wish I’d written.
Big thanks to Andy for those awesome picks! The next five from me are below.
Published by Walker Books.
I’ve known Non since she worked at Catnip as Commissioning Editor. (In fact, she invited me to the launch of Andy’s fifth pick above, Weirdos vs Quimboids – the first of many book events I went to after moving to London!) For me, when someone is incredibly knowledgeable about YA that often shines through in their writing. Because of this, I was hugely excited for her debut Trouble and it DEFINITELY didn’t disappoint! Since then, she’s wowed me with every book she’s released, meaning choosing just one for this feature was tough. (My auto-buy list has had to be scaled back considerably since leaving my job/moving to the US. She’s one of the YA authors who is unlikely to EVER be off it, though!)
I was split between Every Little Piece Of My Heart and Barrington Stoke novella Unboxed. Both look at friendships, although from different angles. In Unboxed, former friends reunite to open a time capsule they put together with a dying friend. In Every Little Piece Of My Heart, the people left behind when mutual friend Freya leaves form their own friendship. As they read letters that Freya sends them, and try to figure out what happened to her, they get closer to each other. One thing both novels – and the rest of Non’s impressive backlist – have in common is how character-driven they are. All of her books include brilliant relationships, wonderfully realistic characters and superb dialogue. Every Little Piece captured MY heart because of the perfect characters arcs, the wonderful sense of fun, and the beautifully ambiguous ending.
Published by Andersen Press
When his dad comes back from the war, Ash wants to make him proud. Following in his footsteps as the stag boy in the traditional Stag Chase seems like a surefire way to do that. But with the boys chasing him, particularly his ex-best friend Mark (grieving his own father) seemingly even more hostile than tradition dictates, and something stirring in the mountain, sinister forces may be at work.
This is possibly the most atmospheric YA novel I’ve ever read. Sara Crowe’s writing, in the way it mixes old legends with contemporary issues, is reminiscent of two of Britain’s all-time greats, Susan Cooper and Alan Garner. For me, it’s a more impactful read even than Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence. This is perhaps because of the issues it deals with. Ash’s dad’s PTSD, and the devastation of the farming community in the early 2010s, are brilliantly handled. The two key relationships here are both perfect. Mark, once so close to Ash and now somehow hating him, is a wonderfully-written antagonist. Meanwhile, the way Ash tries to rebuild his bond with his father, who’s traumatised by what he saw at war, is heartbreaking. Eventually, though, everything builds to an ultimately hopeful ending. Outstanding.
Published by Chicken House
I had the same issue here as with choosing just one of Non Pratt’s books – how do I pick between Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison’s wondrous debut Lobsters, and their fabulous Freshers? Both are laugh-out loud reads which had me constantly entertained from start to finish. In terms of roars of laughter per page, they’re both about as good as you get from a novel.
I adore both of them, but in the end it’s the way that the pair deal with more serious issues here that gave it the edge. In a story about the first weeks of the university experience for two new students, they get just as much comedic mileage out of their character as I’d expected after that fabulously funny first book. But it’s also a cutting and insightful look at where students can be led astray in university. The way they study the drinking culture and sexism of some of the ‘lads’ Luke, one of the main characters, gets caught up with is – if anything- even more powerful as a contrast to the fun of most of the rest of the book. Superb.
Published by Guppy Books.
While I’ve been waiting for a new Louisa Reid novel for years, after being blown away in the first half of the 2010s by Black Heart Blue and Lies Like Love, her books are so hard-hitting that it took me a fair while to read this one. I knew I needed to be in the right frame of mind for her first verse novel to fully appreciate it.
If anything, it’s perhaps even MORE powerful than her two prose novels. Narration is split between Lily and her mother, with the teen character’s parts being the majority of the book. Bullied at school, Lily takes up boxing to try and build her self-confidence. Meanwhile, her mum takes her own steps to change her life. Both of them are outstanding characters, nearly broken by everything they’ve experienced but finding strength deep down to move forward.
It’s a VERY tough read – there’s a ton of bullying, verbal and physical abuse, and body-shaming. However, Lily’s character arc, in particular, is wonderful and it eventually builds to a hopeful ending. There’s even some sweet girl-girl romance! Outstanding.
Eden Summer by Liz Flanagan
Published by David Fickling Books.
What should be an ordinary day for Jess takes a strange turn. She arrives at school to find that her best friend, Eden, is missing. As Jess retraces the summer in an attempt to find Eden, she starts questioning everything.
This is such an beautiful setting, with Liz Flanagan bringing the West Yorkshire countryside wonderfully to life. Jess and Eden are a wonderful pair of friends, and I loved finding out more about their relationship through flashbacks. It kept me gripped to the pages reading it, and has stayed with me ever since. Flanagan went on to write the much-loved Dragon Daughter MG fantasy series; I hope she’ll return to YA at some point though! I’d definitely love to read another contemporary from her.
Once Andy Robb realised that he was too short to be taken seriously as a costumed hero, he decided to spend as much time as he could playing make-believe. This led to him training at LAMDA for three years and going on to become a professional show-off. Andy has shown-off in various theatres around the UK and in various living-rooms through the magic of television. His biggest feat of showing-off was in cinemas in 2011 in the Woman in Black film. Andy has a website and can be found on Twitter.