Nicola Morgan

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Book ideas for an anxious teenager

There are some teenagers who contact me when they’re worried about something and, of course, I always try to help. This time, I need your help.

So, one of my favourite teenagers (though I’ve never met her) contacted me quite late one night. She was baby-sitting so there were no adults around to turn to, and she’d started to worry about the world news, and that World War 3 was about to start. I completely identify with this worry because, growing up during the Cold War as I did, my teenage fears and nightmares were all about war. I wasted a lot of time with that fear.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see the message till the morning and I felt bad that I hadn’t been able to help her in time. But she said that now that it was daytime, she wasn’t quite so worried. And we got chatting about how horrible (and normal) it is to lie awake worrying and how overwhelmingly scary things can feel.

I suggested that she bury herself in a book, to take her mind off worries and create different emotions in her mind in preparation for peaceful sleep. And then she asked me for ideas. I asked her what books she already likes and I promised to get back to her with some ideas.

Which is where you come in! So can you recommend a variety of books (NOT on the theme of modern war!) for a bright, anxious, deep-thinking 16yo British girl, whose favourite books have included “The Fault in Our Stars, Goodnight Mr Tom, The Secret Garden, The Notebook, The Jungle Book  etc etc.”

I think we are looking for something escapist, something with a fast-paced plot but a load of emotion, too. Neither too light nor too heavy? Something she can really get into and bury herself in.

Over to you! Especially if you are a school librarian :)

20 Responses

  1. I known it’s a bit young for her but Skellig is a beautiful book, and so thought-provoking. I loved it when I read it in my forties.

  2. Modern YA fiction tends to be dystopian or otherwise focussed on “could happen” scenarios which we don’t always want to read. I’d recommend going back in time to books written around the middle of the 20th century and/or historical fiction. Try Daphne du Maurier, who wrote strong stories about loyalty and relationships but with plenty of action, eg The King’s General, set in the English Civil War, or Elizabeth Goudge’s Green Dolphin Country (her books can get a bit mystical, but this is about settlers in New Zealand in the 19th century.

    1. Lovely ideas, especially Elizabeth Goudge. Interesting to think about whether modern YA might be too dark – I think some of it might not be right for this girl, but I also think that reading dark books can be escapist, too, as long as it’s not the situation you are particularly afraid of or that you are in yourself. I think fiction is generally the safest way to explore fears or angsty/dystopian ideas.

  3. The only ones coming to mind right now are Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnston, Neverwhere by Gabrielle Zevin, and A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd – although they all discuss mortality quite a lot, so I’m not sure if they’ll be the best. That being said, they’re all great reads for different reasons, so I hope she likes them!

  4. Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle for escapism. Almost anything by Marcus Sedgwick – Midwinterblood, She is Not Invisible – Sedgwick writes great female characters. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys – another coming-of-age story in the wonderful setting of 1950s New Orleans. More romance and period feel with What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell…

  5. I Capture the Castle is the first thing that springs to mind. It’s such an immersive book: the setting is so evocative and the characters are so endearing and well realised.

    The main character, like your correspondant, is bright and deep thinking. Over the course of the novel we watch her transform from a girl anxious about the future and what it might (or might not) hold for her, to a young woman eager to get started on the next stage in her life. It’s also pretty romantic – but not soppy – which may appeal to someone who likes The Fault in Our Stars and The Notebook.

    On a similar note, she may enjoy Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate and Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm – very funny and very escapist with a touch of romance.

    Jaclyn Moriarty’s YA books are also wonderful: they are whimsical and quirky without being twee. There is a loose series set around a fictional high school: Feeling Sorry for Celia, Finding Cassie Crazy, Becoming Bindy MacKenzie and Dreaming of Amelia.

    The same characters crop up in all the books but they are very loosely connected and don’t necessarily need to be read in any particular order – I reccommend starting with Finding Cassie Crazy. The books are all written in a kind of scrapbook form – letters, diaries, notes, emails – and are very funny but also quite bittersweet. Moriarty is very good at balancing humour with real emotional depth.

    Finally, on a different tack, Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series is great escapism with fantastic heroines and a gripping plot. They can be a little scary but are not too dark. The books are: Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen. A prequel, Clariel is soon to be released.

  6. Jo Nadin’s Eden is bloomin’ good – a mystery and a romance, with Daphne du Maurier overtones (it’s Cornish). She could try Georgette Heyer for a bit of Georgian escapism – perfect teen fodder. If she likes fantasy (I don’t see any fantasy books there, but it’s a possibility, and very good escapism), the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo and the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas are cracking though there IS blood in them, and there’s my absolute favourite – Robin McKinley (The Blue Sword, Hero and the Crown, Beauty and Rose Daughter). Also Diana Wynne Jones’s The Darklord of Derkholm and Year of the Griffin (slightly older than the Chrestomanci books). Er…I’d better stop now!

  7. Fantasy, humour and romance are all great for escaping anxieties. I’d second Lucy’s recommendation of Georgette Heyer and also mention Ruth Warburton’s Witch in Winter series, anything by Zoe Marriott for beautifully written fantasy with kickass heroines, Louise Rennison for laughs and Lydia Syson if she likes historical fiction.

  8. Dystopian fiction doesn’t always lead to worry & can be great to escape into. Thoroughly recommend these series: Divergent, Teri Terry’s Slated & Tom Pollock’s City’s Son, all brilliant books which have action , adventure & feelings ;-)

  9. 13 reasons why by Jay Asher
    The Summer I turned pretty by Jenny Han
    Life on the refrigerator door by Alice Kuipers
    Adorkable by Sarra Manning
    Have all been big hits in my library lately.

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