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Best books for the new term: secondary

To help teachers in search of books for secondary pupils, here's a selection of new works that received rave reviews

A selection of book reviews for secondary pupils

To help teachers in search of books for secondary pupils, here's a selection of new works that received rave reviews

As you prepare to head back to school, you might be thinking about which books to add to your library or recommend to your readers. To give you a helping hand, we’ve rounded up some young-adult reads from the past academic year that were given the thumbs-up by secondary teachers and students alike. If you’d like the chance for you and your students to review a book over the next academic year, email


By Sarah Crossan

If the highest praise Carnegie Medal-winning author Sarah Crossan has been aiming for is from someone who once had a poem published in a collection of Suffolk’s Future Voices, then today she has officially made it. Moonrise is brilliant. Apparently I can’t just write that, but really that’s all you need to know…And I know what I’m talking about, because I once wrote a poem.

David Gower is assistant headteacher at King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

I thought that Moonrise was an amazing book, which left me in a very emotional state of mind. The build-up to the end was incredible.

Nia, age 13


The Smoke Thieves

By Sally Green

Hurrah for The Smoke Thieves, with clearly defined families and countries, and short, punchy chapters headed with the individuals’ names, which leave you in no doubt where you are and who you’re reading about. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next in the series.

Gill Ward is senior librarian at Fortismere School, London

Every chapter is exciting and interesting. Chapters begin with a quote that hints at what is to come and entice you into reading for even longer than you’d planned to. Each narrator has characteristics that differentiate them clearly. This means that, unlike many books that use polyperspectivity, it is not difficult to remember which protagonist a particular slice of the story belongs to.

Mimi, Year 9


Sunflowers in February

By Phyllida Shrimpton

Sunflowers in February is a multi-tissue read, but it is not a grim or depressing story. It is often very funny…The characters are believable and likeable. There are no heroes or villains here, just human beings who do their best but sometimes fall short. The pain of loss is tangible, but there is an even stronger sense of the wonder of every day, the resilience of the human spirit and the hope that death is not the end of everything.

Jackie Murrell is librarian at Bromley High School in Kent

I think that the book portrays what it is like to lose someone you love – and the guilt of taking somebody away from their family. I found all of the characters very interesting and I also liked that they all grieved in different ways, because it makes the book feel more real.

Emmanuelle, age 15


Everybody Hurts

By Joanna Nadin and Anthony McGowan

Because this book is well and truly British, with characters and colloquialisms (and swearing) that we encounter on a daily basis, it’s infinitely preferable to The Fault in Our Stars. It’s grittier, and without the candy coating…Lots of laugh-out-loud moments and some emotional ones make this a book that will be extremely popular at our school.

Gill Ward is senior librarian at Fortismere School, London

Everybody Hurts is a story that cleverly portrays teenage love and other issues that are faced by young people, as a hilarious and moving tale. It is full of twists while still being realistic, and has a perfect balance of sad moments and side-splittingly funny ones.

Callista, Year 9


Ash Princess

By Laura Sebastian

Ash Princess is an action-packed novel laced with difficult and complex themes. I was especially impressed by Sebastian’s bravery in addressing some more complex issues in a young adult novel. Although it has all the typical, and possibly overdone, tropes of teen fiction (a love triangle, a tyrant), it also subtly explores the dangers of power and the effects of invasion, and does not hide from brutal truths such as violence, degradation and rape.

Annie Karatzenis is an English teacher at Ponteland High School, Northumberland

Every page in the book holds jaw-dropping revelations about the inspiring city that helps you understand the long, twisted history of a conquered empire. I would recommend this book – it could be enjoyed immensely by anyone who loves to lose themselves in reading.

Jemma, age 14


Lady Mary

By Lucy Worsley

In this fascinating book, we experience events through the eyes of Henry VIII’s young daughter, Mary. In common with other children of warring parents, she is desperate for them to remain together. However, as we all know, this was not to be. I think that many young readers will be able to identify with Mary’s feelings of confusion and sadness, despite the vast differences in their situations, and for me, that was a real strength of the book: to see figures from history as human beings.

Emily Marcuccilli is the librarian at King’s Hall School, an independent prep school in Somerset

This is one of my favourite books that I have ever read. It was very gripping and had lots of twists…Also, it was very interesting seeing the story from a different perspective.

Maddie, Year 7


Piecing Me Together

By Renée Watson

In Piecing Me Together, Renée Watson has created a coming-of-age story that allows young people of all backgrounds to realise their potential…The author shows young people that they have a voice that should be heard – that needs to be heard – and that their voice has the power to make change.

Jodie Newsham is an English teacher at Ripley St Thomas C of E Academy

Piecing Me Together is a book that made me feel stronger and inspired me to go on the right path and know that, even if I don’t fit in, it’s not the people around me who can make my life better, it’s the decisions I make that benefit my family and me. It was a really empowering book – there should be more like this!

Wami, Year 8


The Light Jar

By Lisa Thompson

I can’t wait to put this fabulous story into the eager hands of my pupils. As well as appealing to mystery fans, it will be a big hit with those readers who love a powerful, emotional and character-driven story.

Emily Marcuccilli is librarian at King’s Hall School in Taunton, Somerset

If you like mystery, adventure or a tiny element of fantasy, this is the book for you. The ending was a surprise. To be honest, there were a lot of surprises! When I was reading it, I really thought that I was the main character.

Freya, Year 7


The Red Ribbon

By Lucy Adlington

The Red Ribbon is a fascinating account of a Jewish girl’s incarceration in Auschwitz-Birkenau during the Second World War…This is a well-crafted story, likely to appeal to readers who enjoy gritty historical fiction, such as The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Private Peaceful.

Natalia Marshall is learning resource centre manager at The Compton School in North London

The theme of hope running throughout the book and the sadness of that time brought tears to my eyes and gave me goosebumps. It is a disturbing, heartbreaking story – especially as it is based on true events. I would definitely recommend this book, because it is so interesting and unexpected. It really left an impression on me – but be prepared with a box of tissues!

Natalia, Year 10

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