Fans of Karen McManus and Holly Jackson, prepare for your next YA obsession. In Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s debut, Ace of Spades (Usborne, £8.99), an anonymous bully begins to expose the secrets of the only two black students at the elite Niveus Academy – scholarship student Devon and high-achieving head girl Chiamaka. The pair team up to discover some sinister truths behind the glossy veneer of privilege in this impressive debut, combining a highly addictive thriller with a blistering take-down of institutional racism.
Manjeet Mann won the Cilip Carnegie Shadowers’ Choice award for her debut novel, Run Rebel. Her second book, The Crossing (Penguin, £7.99), is even more accomplished. Written in response to the refugee crisis, this verse novel is told from the perspective of two teenagers: Natalie, a girl struggling with grief following the death of her mother, and Sammy, who has fled his home in Eritrea in search of a new life in Europe. Powerful, compassionate and ultimately hopeful.
A young black girl has spent her whole life hiding the extraordinary powers she has over plants in This Poison Heart from US author Kalynn Bayron (Bloomsbury, £7.99). When an unexpected inheritance draws Briseis to a remote, dilapidated house and rambling grounds, she embraces the opportunity to find herself and test her magic, discovering not only an apothecary and poison garden but also a deadly family legacy. A delicious mix of intoxicating fantasy and coming of age, steeped in Greek mythology and peppered with references to the Jordan Peele films Get Out and Us.
Now, more than ever, I’m searching out funny books for young people and here are three to look out for this summer. For readers of 11 and up, Girl (in Real Life) (Usborne, £7.99) by Tamsin Winter takes an astute look at the cult of social media influencers. Eva’s parents have chronicled every key moment of her life on their Happily Eva After blog; if she were ever abducted they would, she wryly notes, make a YouTube video before calling the police. When even her first period is considered “content”, Eva fights back. Highly relatable, balancing slapstick sequences with moments of real poignance.
There are more embarrassing parents in William Sutcliffe’s The Summer We Turned Green (Bloomsbury, £7.99), which sees 13-year-old Luke’s dad move into a commune with a group of climate rebels. Sutcliffe’s gentle satire pokes fun at the activists and middle-class residents alike, until the two sides form an unlikely alliance against an ecological threat to their road. A fresh and funny social comedy with a big heart.
Finally, Not My Problem (Andersen Press, £7.99) by Ciara Smyth brilliantly channels the acerbic putdowns and frank humour of TV’s Derry Girls and Sex Education. Aideen is a rule-breaker with a knack for fixing other students’ problems, but her own life is more difficult, navigating her mother’s alcoholism and the impact of poverty. Can an unlikely romance with class swot Maebh provide the answers? Smart, well observed and highly entertaining.