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From tarot to time twisters—Irish teenage and young adult books you need to read

From tarot to time twisters—Ruth Ennis on the Irish teenage and young adult books you need to read

by Ruth Ennis

Quality books for teenage audiences are crucial in a young reader’s journey, informing their relationship with reading as they step into adulthood.

In Ireland we have been so lucky to have a wealth of excellent storytellers who dedicate their craft to this age group, with a notable increase of young adult books by Irish authors in early 2023. Here are some of the new titles you should keep an eye out for.  

Every Gift a Curse by Caroline O’Donoghue

Beginning with an ending, Every Gift a Curse by Caroline O’Donoghue (Walker Books) is the exciting conclusion to this spellbinding trilogy.

Maeve Chambers, her friends Lily and Fiona, and her partner Roe are bound together with a history of magic rooted in a mysterious tarot card. Maeve and her group are faced with their biggest challenge yet against an abusive organisation wielding powerful magic under the guise of religious ambition.

One of the strongest factors of this book is the navigation of other-worldly dangers alongside the everyday concerns of a teenager entering adulthood. Maeve’s questions over her sense of identity and direction in life are explored with grace, but are also interwoven brilliantly into the mythical world she is a part of.

Incorporating a sense of authenticity is pivotal to any magical-realism book, and O’Donoghue has proven to be one of the best writers in this field. Another admirable aspect in the book was the subtle nod to the hardships young people faced during the pandemic, justifying students learning remotely with in-world logic—a nice gesture that acknowledges a difficult reality for most teenagers.

The Irish setting, culture, and language are well represented throughout. A hugely enjoyable ending to a fantastic trilogy. Ideal for fans of Deirdre Sullivan’s Perfectly Preventable Deaths series, this book is suitable for ages 15+ years. 

Freya Harte is Not a Puzzle by Méabh Collins

Next is a personal favourite of the year so far: Freya Harte is Not a Puzzle by Méabh Collins (The O’Brien Press).

Freya has recently received a diagnosis for the way she’s felt her whole life; she is autistic. She is desperate to appear as “normal” as possible and to keep this news a secret, especially with the upcoming class trip to the Gaeltacht. Freya is navigating a lot of big changes in her life; complicated family dynamics, lost friendships, routine disruptions, and recovering from an eating disorder.

As a debut author, Collins writes an incredibly authentic story, with believable characters and dialogue. We spend a lot of time in Freya’s head and become intimately familiar with her thought process and her identity as an autistic person.

This book is a welcome opportunity to see everyday moments through a different lens. We learn about Freya’s sensory issues, difficulties with various relationships, and the institutional challenges neurodivergent people face.

However, Freya is also surrounded by an incredible support system that adds to the book’s overall feel-good tone. It is assuring to see space being given to small but incredibly important stories like this in Irish publishing. This is a book that should be in every school, suitable for 12+ years.

A Game of Life or Death by Triona Campbell

A Game of Life or Death by Triona Campbell (Scholastic) is set in a post-pandemic world and follows Asha as she is on a mission to discover who is responsible for the death of her sister.

Determined not to return to the care system, she uses her unique skillset and knowledge of technology to disappear and investigate the suspicious activities of Zu Tech, the video game company that Asha’s sister worked for. The only way she can uncover the many secrets she is surrounded by is to enter Zu Tech’s virtual reality game tournament of a mysterious new game called Shackle.

This book has the potential to appeal to a broad range of readers; fans of a murder mystery, a bit of bubbling romance, found family tropes, or video game communities will undoubtedly find this book attention-grabbing throughout.

It is a fast-paced page-turner, with every chapter ending with a twist or reveal, leaving you wanting to read just a bit more. This debut book ends on a big cliff-hanger, with lots of questions waiting to be answered in the promised sequel. An engaging read, suitable for 12+ years. 

Catfish Rolling by Clara Kumagai

Lastly is an unforgettable debut Catfish Rolling by Clara Kumagai (Zephyr Books). Steeped in inspiration from Japanese mythology, this is an exciting magical-realism story exploring ideas around grief and time.

Set in Japan, a few years ago Sora lost her mother in an earthquake that devastated the community, but also fractured the movement of time. Now, certain areas across the country experience time slightly slower or faster than regular time. Sora and her father grow obsessed with understanding this strange phenomenon, dedicating their lives to researching it to the detriment of her father’s health and their relationship with each other.

Having recently graduated from high school but with no discernible plan for her future, Sora is at a loss. The book does a superb job exploring ideas of dual identities and grief, as Sora experiences life with her Japanese-Canadian heritage without her Japanese mother.

It also offers wonderfully insightful ponderings on the concept and power of time. Kumagai’s writing is elegant and consistently excellent, and her capacity for immersive world-building is incredibly impressive. Any reader will fall in love and connect deeply with every character; Sora’s father, her friends-with-benefits partner Koki, and academic colleagues Maya and Naomi are all well developed and engaging.

This brilliant debut shows that the future of storytelling for teenagers and young adults is in good hands. Perfect for fans of Emily X.R. Pan’s The Astonishing Colour of After, this book is suitable for 15+ years. 

With these four exciting titles, there is a book for every type of young reader here. Every year we see more and better books for teenage readers and it is encouraging to see Irish writers match and excel the growth of this trend with quality stories. 

Ruth Ennis is a children’s literature writer based in Kildare. Her writing has been included in several publications and she was awarded an Arts Council Literature Bursary in 2021 and an Agility Award in 2022.