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Last month we shared our must-read adult fiction books for this summer. Now we’re taking a look at the best children’s and YA novels to enjoy over the warmer months. From magical middle grade stories to romantic coming-of-age tales, our summer selections include unputdownable debuts and sequels, as well as the latest books from the likes of Sandhya Menon, Gayle Forman, Rachael Lippincott and more. Happy reading!

Children’s & Middle Grade:

Mayhem Mission by Burhana Islam

Yusef Ali Khan is 9 ¾ and his older sister is getting married, which means it’s time for him to step up and be ‘the man of the house’. He’s super excited for the wedding until he realises that it means he’s now going to have to be the responsible one. Cue ‘Operation Stop The Wedding’, as Yusef sets out to cause as much chaos as he can in order to halt his sister’s big day. Inspired by her own family and Bengali community, Burhana Islam’s Mayhem Mission is a funny and entertaining celebration of multi-generational families, sibling-love and what happens when household dynamics begin to change. It’s the first book in the My Laugh-Out-Loud Life series, so expect plenty more entertaining and relatable instalments from Islam. (1 April, Knights Of)

Moonchild: City of the Sun by Aisha Bushby

Inspired by The Arabian Nights, the second book in Aisah Bushby’s middle grade fantasy series is another imaginative tale of magic, traditions and legends. It follows Farah, a Moonchild with a magical animal companion – a lizard called Layla. Unable to sit back and watch as the magic that she and her fellow Moonchildren unlocked destroys their world, the friends are thrust into another adventure that takes them into the desert, where more secrets and stories lie in wait. City of the Sun is a captivating tale set within an enchanting Middle Eastern-inspired land. It’s the ideal summer book for younger readers who enjoy magical fables full of mystery and exploration. (29 April, Farshore)

Maria’s Island by Victoria Hislop

Maria’s Island is Victoria Hislop’s first book for children and it’s a wonderfully evocative tale that will transport readers to Greece. Taking inspiration from the themes explored in her adult fiction book The Island, Hislop weaves a tale of isolation, prejudice, courage and hope that centres around the leper colony on the Cretan island of Spinalonga. It’s told from the perspective of a grandmother recounting the story of how leprosy touched her life as a child and how advances in medicine paved a way for hope amidst the gloom. This might be an educational book for children but with its blend of history, family drama and Gill Smith’s transporting full-colour illustrations, there’s plenty for young-at-heart adults to enjoy here too. (3 June, Walker Books)

Something I Said by Ben Bailey Smith

From comedian, actor and screenwriter Ben Bailey Smith comes this funny and uplifting story about friendship, family and the things that really matter in life. Thirteen-year-old Carmichael ‘Car’ Taylor is a natural comedian – or at least he thinks he is. He’s not sure why nobody else agrees. He has a talent for one liners and sarcastic retorts, and when footage of one of his stand-up performances gains international attention, suddenly Car’s comedy dream is within his grasp. But the promise of fame and fortune comes with trouble, and Car needs to decide just how far he’s willing to go to get a laugh. Something I Said is an honest and witty look at growing up and having a dream, and realising that some things are infinitely more important than others. (10 June, Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

The Raven Heir by Stephanie Burgis

An epic quest is at the heart of Stephanie Burgis’ new middle grade novel, which takes its inspiration from the War of the Roses. In this story, triplets Cordelia, Rosalind and Giles have been safely hidden since birth, protected from their royal lineage by the spells their mother wove to keep her children from harm. But when the enchantments are broken and her mother and half-brother are taken prisoner, Cordelia – who has the power to shape shift into any animal she chooses – is forced to flee with her siblings. On the run from their pursuers but racing towards a new destiny, Cordelia must find a way to save her family and heal a kingdom devastated by a war that’s been raging for generations. Brimming with magic, exciting adventure and historical influences, The Raven Heir is a truly cinematic fantasy story. (5 August, Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

YA:

Influence by Sara Shepard & Lilia Buckingham

Just how much can you ever really know about the real people behind their perfectly curated online personas? Influence sees Pretty Little Liars’ author Sara Shepard team up with actress and social media personality Lilia Buckingham for a twisty YA mystery that takes place amidst the world of clicks, follows, likes and DMs. Delilah, Jasmine, Fiona and Scarlet are all internet famous and living the dream. But are they really? Alternating between the girls’ perspectives, Influence shines a spotlight on the ruthless, often fabricated and always dramatic world of internet stardom. Full of glamour, betrayal and – in true Sara Shepard style – murder too, this is a diverting and soapy summer read that’s perfect for PLL fans. (5 January, Atom)

The Wild by Owen Laukkanen

When Dawn’s frustrated parents send her to OUT OF THE WILD – a wilderness boot camp for messed up kids – they could never have anticipated the type of ‘therapy’ that their daughter would be undertaking. What’s supposed to be a constructive program of hiking, camping and learning valuable ‘life lessons’ soon turns a lot uglier, as Dawn and her fellow ‘Pack’ members embark on a journey of survival that’s all too real. This is a creatively formatted and tense YA story that utilises elements of the thriller, suspense and horror genres to create a real sense of threat and danger for the teens. It’s the kind of Lord of the Flies-esque book that has you racing through the pages to find out what happens at the end. (26 January, Rodale Books)

The Crooked Mask by Rachel Burge

The sequel to Rachel Burges’ 2019 debut novel The Twisted Tree – a creepy ghost story that fused Nordic folklore with fantastical horror and YA romance – reunites readers with Martha and Stig, as Martha comes to terms with her magical inheritance. Their pursuit for answers takes them deep into the forests of Northern Norway, to the Circus of Myth & Mayhem, where nothing is quite as it seems. Drawn into a dangerous game involving gods, Martha must look past the performers’ façade to get to the truth she so desperately seeks. Just as chilling and twisted as its predecessor, The Crooked Mask is a Norse-mythology inspired tale that you can completely lose yourself in. It helps that the cover art is truly mesmerising too. (21 January, Hot Key Books)

Kid by Sebastian De Souza

Taking inspiration from young climate change activists, Sebastian De Souza’s dystopian YA debut takes place in the wake of a devastating environmental disaster which has forced people to exist in a virtual reality world. It follows Josh ‘Kid’ Jones, a young ‘Offliner’ (rebels who shun the VR universe) who discovers a piece of antiquated technology called an iPhone that allows him to communicate with the past via Instagram. Striking up a friendship with Izzy, a 16-year-old living in 2021, Kid unwittingly sets in motion events that will change not just their fates, but the fate of the world too. Exploring our dependence on technology and our collective obsession with social media, Kid is an ambitious, intelligent and richly detailed time-travel novel that will have readers thinking about the world we currently live in and how our actions impact it. (18 March, Offliner Press)

Spin the Dawn / Unravel the Dusk by Elizabeth Lim

Elizabeth Lim is an author you’ll be hearing a lot about over the next few months as her East Asian inspired retelling of The Six Swans fairytale is published in July. If you’ve yet to discover the delights of Lim’s storytelling, there’s no better place to start than with her The Blood of Stars series. This duology – which began with Spin the Dawn, swiftly followed by the sequel, Unravel the Dusk – is a sweeping fantasy about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor. In order to win, Maia must sew three magical dresses for the emperor’s bride-to-be. It’s a ruse that will have grave consequences – not just for Maia herself, but for the entire Kingdom too. If you love magic, forbidden romance and epic, high-stakes adventure, you’ll find yourself captivated by these beautiful books. (4 March / 1 June, Hodder Paperbacks)

This Can Never Not Be Real by Sera Milano

Sera Milano’s first YA novel centres on five ordinary teenagers with nothing in common who are thrown together by an act of terrorism at a local festival. This Can Never Not Be Real is a book that’s best entered into without too much prior knowledge of what’s about to transpire. It’s an emotional and intense story of hope, humanity, unity and the innate fight for survival that many of us don’t realise we have until it unexpectedly rises to the surface. Milano puts readers front and centre of the harrowing experience her young characters are going through and the fraught, frightening atmosphere that surrounds them. It’s a novel that’s difficult to put down and even more difficult to forget. (29 April, Electric Monkey)

Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney

Quinn keeps lists of everything – from the embarrassing things she’d never admit out loud, to all the boys she’d love to kiss. When her journal goes missing and an anonymous account posts one of her lists on Instagram for the whole world to see, Quinn finds herself being blackmailed into tackling her greatest fears. Faced with the threat of her entire journal going public, Quinn teams up with Carter Bennett, a boy she loathes but who might just be able to help her track down the blackmailer, as well as help Quinn find the courage to confront all the things she’s afraid of. Inspired by her own list making as a teenager, Joya Goffney has written a fun, romantic and completely charming story that will fill your heart with joy as you follow Quinn’s journey. (4 May, Hot Key Books)

Love Me Not: Book 3 by Holly Smale

The latest and final book in Holly Smale’s The Valentines trilogy follows party girl actress Mercy – the oldest Valentine sister – as her glamorous world comes crashing down around her. Sarcastic, sharp and standoffish, Mercy has shut herself off from the world emotionally. But now that she’s starring in a major theatre show and hitting the gossip headlines, she’s going to be forced to confront the things in her life that are tearing her apart and holding her back. With a complex and damaged heroine at its core, Love Me Not is a story about love, grief, family, fame and finding redemption. It ends Smale’s series on a heart-warming high. (13 May, HarperCollins Children’s Books)

We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman sure knows how to make a reader weep! The author’s latest book tells the story of Aaron Stein, who runs a failing bookshop with his dad. Whilst his friends have gone to college and moved on with their lives, Aaron has been left behind. He’s grieving a family tragedy and dealing with his parents’ debt, and he desperately needs a lucky break. Enter Hannah, whose arrival in his life might just be the ‘inevitable’ moment that Aaron’s been waiting for. Forman describes this novel as “a love letter to books, and to booksellers”, and it really is a tribute to the power that books have on our lives and our communities (even the chapter titles are book titles). It’s also an emotional and poignant story about family, grief, friendship and learning how to find happiness after loss. (1 June, Simon & Schuster Children’s)

The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin

The first thing you notice when you pick up The Nature of Witches is the beautiful jacket cover. Then you peel away that layer to reveal the enchanting hidden flower cover under the dust jacket. And all that enchantment is before you even dive into the actual novel – an immersive tale of witches, the seasons, self-discovery and climate change. Fitting perfectly into the emerging YA CliFi genre, the story follows Clara, an Ever witch whose rare magic is tied to every season. With the climate crisis diminishing the control that witches have over the natural balance of the earth’s environment, Clara is their last hope. But in fulfilling her magical duty, Clara risks losing those she loves most. Rachel Griffin’s debut offers up a unique and witchy take on climate change that feels incredibly timely too. (1 June, Sourcebooks Fire)

Of Princes and Promises by Sandhya Menon

Of Princes and Promises, the second book in Sandhya Menon’s contemporary fairytale inspired St. Rosetta’s Academy series, offers a fresh twist on The Frog Prince. Set in the same elite boarding school world but centered on different main protagonists, the story follows St Rosetta queen Caterina LaValle and the socially inept Rahul Chopra as they join forces to get what their hearts’ desire; for Caterina, it’s her restored social status, and for Rahul, it’s Caterina herself. But their seemingly simple plan comes at a price. This entertaining follow-up to Of Curses and Kisses is a sweet and fantastical delight from start to end. It can easily be read as a standalone but if you loved the first book, it’s even easier to be swept up in Menon’s YA romance once again. (8 June, Hodder Paperbacks)

The Lucky List by Rachael Lippincott

If you’re seeking less fantasy thrills and more tender contemporary YA romance, then Rachael Lippincott’s The Lucky List should be right at the top of your reading pile. The new novel from the bestselling co-author of Five Feet Apart centres on Emily who, after discovering her late mum’s senior-year bucket list, decides to embark on a personal challenge to fulfil the list for the two of them. She recruits the help of her old friend, Blake, who helps to make Emily feel lucky again as the two of them bond. Set in a small American town, Lippincott’s solo debut is a poignant and sweet f/f romance coming-of-age tale that deals with love, loss and learning to be who you are. Read it for the summery vibes, the loveable characters and the heartfelt message at its core. (10 June, Simon & Schuster Children’s)

The Theft of Sunlight by Intisar Khanani

The second book in Intisar Khanani’s The Dauntless Path series shifts the focus from book one’s protagonist, Alyrra, to an endearing new heroine in the form of Rae, who finds herself working for the foreign princess as an attendant. Rae has always known that children go missing across the kingdom, but when her friend’s sister is snatched, she takes a job in the castle that will allow her to investigate the disappearances. Seeking answers in the dark city streets, Rae finds help in the form of a thief with his own secrets. But the more she uncovers, the more she endangers herself and the kingdom too. As the first book in a companion duology, The Theft of Sunlight can be enjoyed as standalone, but it’s best read in conjunction with Thorn, which gives you a wider insight into the characters, dangers and themes that inhabit this absorbing Middle Eastern fairytale inspired world. The next book can’t come soon enough! (24 June, Hot Key Books)

The Summer We Turned Green by William Sutcliffe

This inspiring, funny and warm-hearted comedy explores our climate crisis from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old boy who becomes an unwitting eco-warrior. It’s the summer holidays and Luke’s life has been turned upside down. His older sister and dad have joined the community of climate rebels protesting a planned airport expansion and now Luke’s being dragged into the fight too. He only wanted to save his family but somehow he finds himself at the top of a tree refusing to leave until the bulldozers stand down. Filled with passion for our planet and the youthful energy of a generation who genuinely want to make a difference, The Summer We Turned Green is an essential read for teenagers and adults alike. (8 July, Bloomsbury YA)

The Sound of Every Thing by Rebecca Henry

Kadie is all too familiar with betrayal, rejection and violence. So when she arrives at her latest foster home, she’s prepared to protect herself and not get too attached, even if the Lucas family seem like they could be better than all the rest. School isn’t easy for Kadie, and her foster sister, Shadavia, seems determined to make it even harder. But when Kadie befriends Lips, a boy who likes the same music as her, she begins to wonder if some things – like friendship and love – are more important than all the negative things that have been holding her back. The Sound of Every Thing is a heartening story about a young person struggling to find a place to belong and feel like they’re worthy of love. It introduces Rebecca Henry as a bold new voice to the YA genre. (22 July, Everything With Words)

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