40ish Great Reads
Adults and KS5
The Green Road by Anne Enright
The Book of Night Women by Marlon James
If A Brief History of Seven Killings is nearly as good as this, then it’s easy to see why it won the Booker. Chronicles the lives of Jamaican plantation slaves rebelling against the pitiless brutality of their conditions – powerful, shocking and at times difficult to read.
The Fisherman by Chigozie Obiama
Reminiscient (self-consciously so) of Chinua Achebe, the disintegration of the lives of a group of brothers mirrors divisions in contemporary Nigerian society.
The Moor: A Journey into the English Wilderness by William Atkins
Fantastic account of English moorlands that blends geology, history and plenty of literature.
Cockfosters by Helen Simpson
Author’s latest collection of short stories, with a real focus on form. Short story as recipe, as tube journey etc.
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
For me, one of Tyler's better books in recent years. Great evocations of marriage, family life, growing older, the relationships between young and old, and, for me, a really terrific ending!
Arctic Summer by Damon Gulgut
Fascinating novel about E.M. Forster and his relationship with India and his repressed sexuality. Great for anyone studying any of Forster's novels.
The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
A powerful evocation of contemporary family life in the USA. Through the lives of the characters it also acts as a 'state of the nation' novel, in exploring the social mores and political tensions of modern America, raising issues of migration, culture and race, through tensions between the Somali community and their neighbours in a predominantly white town.
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
A post-apocalyptic novel which follows the lives of a troupe of nomadic actors, with flashbacks to ‘before’. I found it quietly gripping and totally believable.
Pond by Claire Louise Bennett
Because it’s like living in someone else’s head for a bit – which turns out to be quite a nice (if slightly disorientating, sometimes disturbing) thing to do. See-through writing which simultaneously allows you to relish language. And because any book with the sentence ‘I have lost my wherewithal.’ has to be worth reading.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Because it’s a brilliant and absorbing story of love and friendship in ordinary and exceptional circumstances. (Or, as its detractors would have it, indulgent misery fiction offering relentless pain. They still seem to have read it compulsively.)
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Because we are – and Gawande explores with humility and clear-sightedness (and in lovely transparent prose) why, in order to live well, we need to learn how to die well.
The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms by Eavan Boland and Mark Strand
Because in clear and beautiful writing Boland and Strand explain key poetic forms and the way they have been adapted into the present day, along with brilliant anthology of poems to illustrate the forms. And because it’s a very satisfying book to hold.
Capital ‘by’ Kenneth Goldsmith
Because in one glorious golden book you are given New York in all its clever, writerly glory – addictive browsing.
The Room by Jonas Karlsson
Because this short modest tale of working in an office is both wonderfully surreal and very real.
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams and On Directing by Elia Kazan
Because I’ve been working on Streetcar for 5 months and enjoy more and more both reading and studying the play and the critical work surrounding it.
Accidents of Love and Off the Voortrekker Road by Barbara Bleiman
Because you'll enjoy two very different but equally gripping novels by the same author – EMC's very own Barbara Bleiman.
Darkmouth by Shane Heggarty
Deadpan humour, page turning plot, fantasy genre. Sounds like a great recipe for boys but enjoyed just as much by girls, particularly fans of Skullduggery Pleasant or Harry Potter. Book 2 (Worlds Explode) is just as good.
The Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cotterall Boyce
When a boy turns green his dad suggests that he might be a superhero and for a while it seems that he might be, along with school bully Grim and new friend Koko. Boyce cleverly keeps the reader guessing as to whether or not the three children have super powers with KS3 friendly humour, cute penguins, and a prime minister who gets a lot of calls from his mum.
The Lie Tree by Francis Hardinge
Dark, atmospheric historical novel. Compelling plot with plenty of original twists. A good recommendation for more able readers and fans of Hardinge’s excellent Fly by Night series.
An Island of Our Own by Sally Nicholls
A very touching book from a Waterstone’s prize winner. Three siblings struggle after their mother’s death but find new purpose in a hunt for some jewellery left to them by eccentric Aunt Irene who believes riches have to be earned. The treasure hunt drives the plot but the characters are the stars.
Would the Real Stanley Carrot Please Stand Up? by Rob Stevens
Laugh out loud comedy of errors, but also a touching story of adopted, tubby, ginger Stanley who discovers that being the cool kid isn’t the only thing that matters.
Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders
Saunders takes the children from E.E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It, grows them up a little and takes them into WW1. Suprisingly, this really works. A great book for year 7, though they should be warned to have the tissues handy – the book does not shy away from the very real impact of war.
Looking at the Stars by Jo Cotterill
Fictitious country ruled by the Kwana dictatorship with echos of many real-world problems and issues. Good for year 7/8.
Waterfire Saga: Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly
Despite being a mermaid princess, feisty Serafina is a typical teenager in many ways. Girl-friendly without being too sappy. Good for year 7/8.
Vango by Timothee de Fombelle
A fantastic adventure story in the style of Robert Muchamore, or Anthony Horowitz, but also a parable of the migrant experience in Europe.
Line of Fire by Barroux
First World War diaries of a French soldier recreated in graphic form. An alternative perspective on well-worn territory.
The Story of Crime and Punishment by A.B. Yohoshua
Fabulous reworking for young readers of Dostoevsky’s classic. Part of a great series published by Pushkin Press, including Dave Eggers’ The Story of Captain Nemo.
Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan
A good recommendation for lovers of Jaqueline Wilson or Cathy Cassidy. Crossan has a similar gift of dealing with heavy issues (in this case a girl abandoned by her mum) in an accessible way. One of those laugh a bit, cry a bit books.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Evocative autobiography written as a narrative poem. About a young black girl growing up in America during the time of the Civil Rights movement.
Magisterium by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Because you need something decent to recommend when they’ve run out of Harry Potter books and/or Clare’s excellent ‘Mortal Instruments’ series. Book 2: The Copper Gauntlet is already out but I haven’t read it yet.
Island by Nicky Singer
Based on the author’s play for the National Theatre, a superb read based around a teenage London boy’s encounter with an Inuit girl on a remote Arctic island. We’ve put this on the KS4 list but it could equally appeal to KS3, or to adults.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
First of a new series, this is an excellent fantasy for teens who’ve got too old for Harry Potter but might not be quite ready for Game of Thrones. With an epic sweep and great characters, the twisty ‘heist’ plot keeps the pages turning and there’s a touch of romance too.
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas
First of a new trilogy. Because you need something decent to recommend when they’ve run out of Twilight books (and it’s better than those).
Game Changer by Tim Bowler
The pace fairly whips along but the issues are very real and pretty dark for anxious teenager Mickey.
Mind Games by Teri Terry
Luna refuses to live in the virtual world, unlike almost everyone else in her society, which is a good job as there are some sinister things going on there. She even goes to a physical school to learn from actual teachers. Weird! Adults may find that the writing is not terribly stylish but the world is certainly an abosorbing one. Great for fans of series like Divergent, The Hunger Games, or Terry’s Slated trilogy.
A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond
A haunting, evocative portrayal of teenage love. Mature KS3 students would also enjoy it.
Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
Semi-autobiographical account mingling family history, teenage love across lines of social class, and the Cuban missile crisis!
Confessions: The Paris Mysteries by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
There’s a reason Patterson is one of the world’s best selling authors. Great page turner for teens who have lost the reading habit.
The Door That Led to Where by Sally Gardner
Convincing teenage voice and an intriguing time-travel plot with some genuinely unexpected twists. Solid friendships and some hope at the end make this less of a grim read than a lot of the YA fiction around at the moment!
More Than This by Patrick Ness
When a book starts with a boy drowning and then coming to his senses hundreds of miles away outside the house he lived in as a small child, you know you’re in for something a little different. Although baggy in places, it's an interesting book that keeps you thinking long after you've finished reading.