Keen 13 to 16-year-old readers are needed to help choose the winner of the Booktrust Teenage Prize, for which the shortlist is announced today.
Seven novels have been selected for their collective appeal to a wide readership, with the aim of keeping this age group turning pages through the summer. The author of the top teen novel will pocket a cheque for pound;1,500 in November.
From Julie Burchill's lesbian love story to Ann Halam's dystopian tale of the struggle to preserve outlawed knowledge in a harsh regime, the list should satisfy every reader's taste. It also embraces historical fiction, a ghost story and contemporary tales of troubled teenagers' lives.
Four contributors to Booktrust's online debate on the shortlisted books will be recruited as judges early next term to help choose the winner, which will be decided during autumn half-term.
They will join the five judges who selected the shortlist: myself as chair plus English teacher Lucy Dalton from Kelmscott school in the London borough of Waltham Forest; Stuart Bryan, in Year 8 at Reading grammar school; author Matt Whyman and actress Terri Dwyer. We read 85 novels published between July 1, 2004, and June 30, 2005.
The Booktrust Teenage Prize is for slightly older readers than other children's book awards and several contenders have explicit content. For example, there is a scene of sexual abuse in Terri Paddock's novel about a tough anti-drugs boot camp, Come Clean. The judges sought powerful stories, well told, that would strike a chord with this age group.
The remaining four judges will be recruited from contributors to www.bookheads.org.uk, where reviews of the seven books will soon be invited.
SEVEN ON THE SHORTLIST
Sugar Rush by Julie Burchill (Young Picador). Set in Brighton, and gleefully read in education circles because of the "uncanny resemblance" between Ravendene comp in the book and East Brighton college of media arts (Diary, August 27, 2004), this is also a well-observed story of how girls learn to hurt each other in love and friendship.
Siberia by Ann Halam (Orion). The compelling tale of Rosita, who grows up in a prison camp where her mother has been sent for teaching science.
Come Clean by Terri Paddock (HarperCollins).
Based on survivors' accounts of a dehumanising anti-drugs youth programme.
The Whisper by Bali Rai (Corgi). Catches up with "The Crew" of Rai's earlier novel (Asian, black and white friends in inner-city Leicester) who become unwitting pawns in a drugs war.
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (Penguin).
Britain is at war and Daisy, visiting from New York, finds love and hidden strength as she battles to survive.
Century by Sarah Singleton (Simon and Schuster).
A haunting first novel about a house wrapped in spells.
The Unrivalled Spangles by Karen Wallace (Simon and Schuster).
Roll up for the thrills and tragedy of a Victorian circus in London's East End.