CHILDREN & TEEN BOOK REVIEWS

The Light in Everything by Katya Balen

This is a heartfelt story about making room for new friends, family and happiness in your life. The story that Balen tells  is so full of love but also shows the mixed emotions of children so brilliantly and their views of the big world that they do not always fully understand. 

We follow the lives of two children, Zofia and Tom, who could not be more different, as they try to have their families blend together, with a baby on the way. When their parents meet and their lives change forever, the two must try to understand each other while they are also trying to understand their own emotions at the same time. Tom loves his Mum very much and wants to see her happy, but he is scared that the past will repeat itself and is incredibly anxious that the past will also find him. He will not let this fear make way for positive changes. Meanwhile, Zofia does not want to share her dad with anyone else and her fear of having to share him and losing their bond shows itself in anger and frustration. 

Katya Balen does a phenomenal job of showing a child’s emotions and how, just like adults, sometimes they need help to understand them. The subtlety that Balen uses to highlight children’s mental health is wonderful and her writing pulls at the heartstrings. It is beautifully told with tenderness and care. This sensitive story about stitching a new family together is something to be read by both children and adults.

Hedgewitch by Skye McKenna

A spellbinding new series for magic lovers and would-be witches. This story follows young witch in training, Cassie, as she runs away from boarding school, goes on a quest to find her long-lost mother and starts to explore The Hedge – a perilous land of goblins and magical creatures – a place she is absolutely not allowed to go.

McKenna has created an authentic and heart-warming world you won’t want to leave.

Blood to Poison by Mary Watson

This book, rooted in South African history, shows female anger as resistance to centuries of mistreatment against women and the ever present racism that exists in today’s world. Watson brings in such a wonderful fantastical element to parallel the real world and its history, creating a story that thrums with magic and excitement as the main character, the 17 year old Savannah, hunts for explanations and justice. 

This has everything a teen book should have, and more. It is a coming of age story that has all the hiccups that teens face in daily life and the self-discovery that comes with growing up. However, it also has witches, curses, and a lick of darkness to keep things interesting. 

A mesmerising, unputdownable and gripping novel that lets a young woman come to grips with who she is and lets her find her voice.

Like a Charm by Elle McNicoll

A brilliantly fun children’s book that has an adroable and fantastic heroine. Ramya, who is proudly neurodivergent, does not fit in and would rather do things her own way rather than what the adults tell her to do. Then, after her grandfather opens up a whole new world of hidden folk to her she must fully embrace who she is, trust her insticts and help the unseen side of Edinburgh.

Full of heart, magic, creativity and loveable characters, Elle McNicoll has written another tremendous adventure for children and adults alike.

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angela Boulley

This amazing book will have you on the edge of your seats. It is a thrilling page turner but also a heart wrenching education about Native American traditions, history and the lack of justice that indigenous women receive.

Eighteen year-old Daunis is caught between two conflicting family histories and with her mixed heritage she has always felt an outsider in both strands of her community. Her father was Ojibwe while her mother is white. However, when both strands are caught up in the same string of crimes, it is Daunis who goes undercover to help try to end the cycle of violence. Combining her knowledge of the ice-hockey world, that her community revolves around, and the indigenous traditional medicine and culture, Daunis is able to start to unravel the case.

Boulley tackles some tough subjects throughout but does so in a way that educates and enlightens her readers. She has written a fast-paced thriller but also a cultural story and a coming of age tale. A tale of love between individuals and within the Ojibwe community.  This is a book that goes beyond the classic “whodunnit” but leaves you feeling as though you are not ready to say goodbye by the time the last page creeps up on you.

Content Warning: It contains drug use, racism, murder, and sexual assault.

Bone Music by David Almond

David Almond’s writing is astonishing. Lyrical and mystical but equally accessible. In Bone Music he explores how nature is never far away from us and if we allow it it has the ability to heal us too.

Bone Music is probably classified as ‘teen’ but I would urge anyone with a sensitive soul to read it.

The Hideaway by Pam Smy

I confess to being something of a fan when it comes to Pam Smy. I picked up Thornhill because of the dark, mancing house on the cover and was blown away by the strength of the ghost story within.

Recently published, The Hideaway, is set in a graveyard but is a more complex story, touching on domestic abuse.

Seen from a child’s persepctive, the situation seems insurmountable but there is also hope and friendhsip to make life bearable.

Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker

Pennypacker writes about children on the outside. Those who are alone, who are troubled, sometimes sad, sometimes happy living in their own reality. They are fully rounded characters who demand our attention and understanding.

If you know such a child, give them this book and then give them Pax, one of her previous titles.

The Highland Falcon by M.G Leanord & Sam Sedgman

Hal doesn’t want to go on holiday with his uncle, but when the Princess’s neckland goes missing he has to investigate!

Lots of fun, trains and detective worl. This is a new children’s classic.

Thornhill by Pam Smy 

Overgrown fences, creepy puppets, the diary of a lonely girl, and strange lights coming from the top window of the abandoned orphanage at night. Believe me when I tell you, this book has STYLE; even if for simply the glossy black edges to the pages, like you’re reading from a block of obsidian.

Pam Smy’s artwork hits the perfect balance between beauty and eeriness, with subtle shadowy details that will keep you flicking back to previous pages.

The story is split between two different decades, told through different mediums: the aforementioned lonely orphan girl in the 1980s, told via her diary entries; and the modern day in which a girl moves next door to the now ruined building, told via silent black and white illustrations.

Tension slowly builds simultaneously across both stories as they begin to intertwine, reeling you in to inevitably read the entire book in a single afternoon.