The Girls by Emma Cline*
During the dying days of the 1960s, lonely teenager Evie Boyd spots an unusual group of older girls in the park and is immediately drawn to them - their kooky dress, their devil-may-care attitude and the frisson of danger that surrounds them. Soon, she is caught up in their circle - a soon-to-be infamous cult hidden on a ranch in the California hills - and obsessed with Suzanne, a ring leader who answers only to Russell, the enigmatic and mysterious (and very creepy) head of the cult. Evie is drawn more and more into their world, abandoning her mundane, every day life - but she might very well be in real danger.
This is the book I was most excited for in 2016 and it did not disappoint. I've seen reviews which claim it is overwritten, but I found the prose very powerful and the observations on teenage girl-dom to be sharp and cutting. For those who want to read more about the Manson family, on which this cult is not-so-subtly based, this may not be the book for you - the horrors they enacted and the bizarre machinations of the cult itself are a backdrop for Evie's coming of age story - and she is far more fascinated by Suzanne than by Russell, the Charles Manson figure. This book was compelling and intense; if you're looking for a juicy summer read, then let this be it.
My Favourite Manson Girl by Alison Umminger*
There's obviously something in the water because this is also a book which takes inspiration from The Manson Family, but in a rather different way. Anna runs away to Los Angeles after fighting with her mother, staying with her glamorous but deceitful older sister. She begins researching the Manson girls, becoming obsessed with their lives and the way their stories mirror her own. This isn't a book where much happens, but it captures the feeling of being a teenage girl, of having to grow up, of fighting with your parents so perfectly, of being at once amazed and disillusioned with the world all so perfectly. LA, like New York, crops up in a lot of stories but this one felt very real - at once dreamy and devastatingly ugly all at once. This isn't a glamorous Hollywood tale, it's a very real and nuanced look at fame, sex and violence, all through the eyes of a sometimes precocious, sometimes immature teenage girl.
The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
David has always been an outsider, labelled a freak by school bullies. His parents think it's because he's gay but only David and his two best friends know the truth - he wants to be a girl. Leo has just one girl - keep his head down and stay invisible. This new school is a new opportunity for him, but his best laid plans are about to go awry when he catches the eye of the most beautiful girl in the year. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, the two form an unlikely friendship but when the secrets they've shared threaten to expose them, it's time for some drastic action.
Oh, how I cried at the end of this book. I sobbed. I smeared mascara all over my face. But they were happy tears. I adored David and Leo, and their friends and families. I didn't want to leave them, even though I was leaving them in such a good place. This book tugged at all of my heart strings, and I want everyone to read it. I do think it's kind of an unrealistic portrayal of the realities of life for trans youth; although David is bullied at school, he has supportive friends and family and although the struggles and hardships are hinted at, there is also a bit of a rose-tinted ending. That said, I loved this book and I really think that everyone should read it - it's one that's going to stick with me for a while.
Longbourn by Jo Baker
If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.
We all know what happens in Pride & Prejudice, but what happens below the stairs? Sarah is the housemaid for the Bennett family, an orphan living a life of hardship under the watchful eye of Mrs Hill, the housekeeper. Just as the Bennett girls worry for their future, so do the servants downstairs who are at the mercy of whoever takes over Longbourn once Mr Bennett passes on. Amongst the day-to-day monotony of emptying bed pans and scrubbing dresses, a new footman arrives and turns life downstairs at Longbourn upside down. There's romance, heartbreak and intrigue - just as in the original, with a familiar cast of characters making their appearance as the backdrop for Sarah's story. Fans of Austen may be disappointed by the tone, which is far more dour and serious than Austen's own playful comedy of manners style but the love story is quite, well, lovely and there's a good bit of gossip to keep you turning to the last page.
Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe*
I love Nina Stibbe. Her work is charming, quirky, entertaining and just down right British. She manages to capture all the little oddities of Britain gone by, in a really original way, and her cast of characters are always lovable and eccentric. Paradise Lodge is no different - although I urge you to read both Love, Nina and Man at the Helm before you pick this up. Lizzie Vogel, aged 15, gets a job at the local old folk's home - a totally unsuitable job for a schoolgirl but she is determined and soon finds herself quite at home there. The place is in shambles, and as Lizzie tries to navigate a complicated home life, a disastrous school life and her job at Paradise Lodge both hilarity and drama ensues. A truly lovely read that will warm your heart (and make you start saving for retriement!).