Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan has spent the last ten years fighting for survival in the notorious death prison, Zalindov. Prison life is brutal – vicious guards monitoring the prisoners’ every move, fatal work and abhorrent conditions – every prisoner is expendable. Kiva survives by being impassive and earns herself the privileged position of working as the prison healer. She dreams of one day being free of Zalindov, a prisoner no longer, free to reunite with her family on the outside.
When the Rebel Queen is captured and brought to Zalindov, Kiva is charged with keeping the seriously ill woman alive long enough for her to undergo the Trial by Ordeal – a series of elemental challenges against the torments of air, fire, water and earth. The Trial by Ordeal is assigned to only the most dangerous of criminals and no one has ever survived. Then a coded message from Kiva’s family arrives, containing a single order –
Stay alive. Don’t let her die. We are coming.
Aware that the Trials will kill the sickly queen, Kiva risks her own life to volunteer in her place. If she succeeds, both she and the Rebel Queen will be granted their freedom. With an incurable plague sweeping Zalindov, a mysterious new inmate fighting for Kiva’s heart, and a prison rebellion brewing, Kiva can’t escape the terrible feeling that her trials have only just begun.
This is the first novel I have read in the Young Adult Fantasy genre and to say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. I just loved getting lost in this world. And I think that’s the attraction with the fantasy genre. The reader is transported to a kingdom which is so alternative to the one in which we exist, yet you’re so invested in the characters, perhaps because the conditions and situations they are in are so extreme. The Prison Healer is masterful storytelling by Australian author, Lynette Noni. The ending was both surprising and exhilarating and had me eagerly anticipating the next book in the series.
You may be familiar with the #1 New York Times best selling author, Sarah J. Maas, who penned the seriously popular ‘Throne of Glass‘ series and the ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’ series. Authors such as Lynette Noni and Sarah J. Maas create worlds that are so richly imagined – their books have intelligent, strong and determined female heroines, people with special powers, a renegade group of friends, they inhabit strange, deadly worlds, there are kings and queens and war, a slow burn love interest and the main character is also grappling with a greater internal struggle, haunted by the past which is teased out throughout the story. The Young Adult Fantasy genre is immersive and transportive. There is so much to enjoy, it is captivating reading.
So if you would never typically pick up a Young Adult Fantasy fiction, I recommend you give them a try – you will not regret it! The Prison Healer is suitable for anyone aged over 14 years. The ending will have you running to the bookshelf to make way for the entire series of The Prison Healer. And you will need to get ready, because the second book in the series, The Gilded Cage, is out on 28 September. I can’t wait.
The Prison Healer, published 2021 by Penguin Random House Australia, 403 pages.
What book do you remember reading in your teenage years? Perhaps it was Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery? Or Lord of the Flies by William Golding? How about Are You There God, it’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume? For me, it was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Certainly, the books you read in those teenage years can leave a lasting impression.
Often referred to as ‘coming-of-age’ novels, Young Adult (YA) books are aimed at the teenage market, generally aged 14 – 18 years. They are characterised by a teenage protagonist who will navigate several difficulties and crises and consequently their character will grow and develop throughout the story. These days, the content of Young Adult fiction is as diverse as the teenagers they represent. Indeed, Young Adult fiction is responsible for leading important conversations around topics such as friendship, love, identity, mental health, gender, racism and family.
Interestingly, over half of the Young Adult market are adults, aged 18 – 60. So what attracts adults who already have a plethora of fiction available to them to Young Adult novels?
Firstly, Young Adult books are highly consumable. They pack a big emotional punch and are highly engaging without being overly heavy or distressing. Further, Young Adult books tend to blur the boundaries of genres. After all, teenagers are never dealing with one incident in isolation – they are navigating friendships, love, relationships, school and family whilst opening their eyes to the world and finding their place in it. Such multi-layered story-telling makes for really interesting reading.
Finally, Young Adult novels are so diverse. From fantasy to psychological thrillers, suspense to romantic comedy, drama and mystery. Check out the diversity in this list of 10 Must Read Young Adult Novels.
10 Must Read Young Adult Novels
1. Honeybee by Craig Silvey In Honeybee, author Craig Silvey presents a truly unique perspective on teenagers in modern Australian society. The story starts late at night, fourteen-year-old Sam steps onto a quiet overpass and notices an old man at the other end of the same bridge, smoking his last cigarette. It’s a chance encounter that ultimately changes both their lives forever – one offering hope, the other offering redemption.
2. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey Thirteen-year-old Charlie Bucktin is startled late one hot summer night by an urgent knock on his window. It’s Jasper Jones, a teenage outcast in the mining town of Corrigan, begging for Charlie’s help. What Jasper will lead Charlie to discover must remain a secret, one which Charlie will carry like a brick in his belly throughout a simmering summer when everything changes. Jasper Jones is a quintessential Australian coming-of-age story made all the better for the hilarious banter between Charlie and his stoic, ever-smiling, cheeky, cricket-mad, Vietnamese best friend, Jeffrey Lu.
3. The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan has spent the last ten years fighting for survival in the notorious death prison, Zalindov. Kiva earns herself the privileged position of working as the prison healer and dreams of one day being free of Zalindov to reunite with her family. But first she must undergo the Trial by Ordeal – a series of elemental challenges against the torments of air, fire, water and earth. With an incurable plague sweeping the prison, a mysterious new inmate fighting for Kiva’s heart, and a prison rebellion brewing, Kiva is all too aware that her trials have only just begun.
4. 100 Remarkable Feats of Xander Mazeby Clayton Zane Comber Xander Maze loves lists. Then one day, from the palliative care ward at the hospital, Xander Maze’s beloved Nana asks him to write a list of 100 remarkable feats that he can achieve by the end of the school year. But can this list of 100 remarkable feats really save Nana’s life? A thoroughly heart-warming read about never accepting the unacceptable, the power of lists and one boy’s unconditional love for his Nana.
5. Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman Challenger Deep is a moving and compelling journey of a teenager grappling with his mental health through increased paranoia, anxiety and depression. This story is so cleverly written by Neal Shusterman. Constantly moving between two worlds – Caden’s increasingly detched version of reality, and life onboard an imagined pirate ship journeying to the deep. The startling connections between the two worlds becomes apparent as the story unfolds and it serves to convey what it would be like to sail the dark, unpredictable waters of mental illness.
6. Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller Ghost Bird is a wonderfully original and frightening suspenseful novel by First Nations author, Lisa Fuller. Stacey and Laney are twins. When Laney disappears one night, Stacey can’t believe she’s just run off without telling her. As the days pass and Laney doesn’t return, Stacey begins dreaming of her twin. The dreams are dark and terrifying and Stacey can’t tell what’s real and what’s imagined. All she knows for sure is that Laney needs her help. Will Stacey find her sister in time?
7. A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson This is an entertaining whodunnit! The investigator is teenager Pippa Fitz-Amobi, an A-grade student with a shameless love for homework and an obsession with the closed-case murder of schoolgirl Andie Bell from five years ago. Pip aspires to be an investigative journalist so when it comes time to apply for her English extension project, she proposes to use Andie Bell as a case study. But Pip’s investigations soon start to uncover secrets that someone in the town desperately wants to remain hidden. Could the real killer still be out there? And do they now have Pip in their sights?
8. Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein A psychological thriller from Australian author Sarah Epstein. Tash Carmody has been traumatized since childhood when she witnessed her gruesome imaginary friend Sparrow lure young Mallory Fisher away from a carnival. At the time, nobody believed Tash and she has since come to accept that Sparrow wasn’t real. Now fifteen and mute, Mallory has never spoken about the week she went missing. As disturbing memories resurface, Tash, who struggles with severe anxiety, starts to see Sparrow again. And she realizes Mallory is the key to unlocking the truth about a dark secret connecting them. Does Sparrow exist after all? Or is Tash more dangerous to others than she knows?
9. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas A teenage perspective on the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. After the incident, what Starr says could not only destroy her community, it could also get her killed.
10. All the Bright Places byby Jennifer Niven All the Bright Places is a tear-jerking romantic drama that will leave you sobbing. Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him. Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death. As their friendship grows, Finch knows that it’s only with Violet that he can be himself. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. How far will Violet go to save the boy she has come to love?
Caden Bosch is a high achieving, 15 year old, high school student. He lives at home with his mother, father and younger sister. He has friends he meets with after school on Fridays to design computer games.
Caden Bosch is on a ship headed for Challenger Deep, the deepest point on Earth in the southern part of the Marianas Trench. On board, his fellow crew mates largely keep to themselves, aware of the constant scrutiny of the ever-present captain and his scheming, treacherous parrot.
Challenger Deep is a moving and compelling journey of a teenager grappling with his mental health through increased paranoia, anxiety and depression. This story is so cleverly written by Neal Shusterman. Constantly moving between two worlds – Caden’s increasingly detached version of reality, and life onboard the pirate ship. The startling connections between the two worlds becomes apparent as the story unfolds and it serves to convey what it would be like to sail the dark, unpredictable waters of mental illness. As Caden’s disconnection from reality becomes more apparent, he is aware of the quiet concern from his family and friends. He reflects on the concern felt from his mother:
‘I feel her wave of worry like a patio heater – faint and ineffective, but constant.’
Caden Bosch, Challenger Deep (page 48)
The short, snappy chapters of one to three pages keep the reader’s thoughts jumping from one world to another, creating somewhat disoriented reading, perhaps to give the reader deeper insight into Caden’s increasingly scattered mind. As well as weaving a careful story of the two intertwining worlds, the reader also gets insights into Caden’s general observations on life. For a deeply serious subject, there is plenty of humour throughout the book and a few outrageous characters to provide light relief.
I enjoyed an author chat with Neal Shusterman, courtesy of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ bookstore at West End, Brisbane. This is a deeply personal story for Shusterman, his own son having journeyed to the deep. In fact, the drawings and poetry scattered throughout Challenger Deep are his son’s own; all ‘drawn in the depths’, as Shusterman reflects in his Author’s Note. With Challenger Deep, Shusterman hopes to give reassurance and comfort to those struggling with mental illness and their families, and greater empathy and understanding of mental health for us all.
Published 2020 by Walker Books Australia, 320 pages.