Next in our popular Happy Young Readers series, novelist Karen Healey recommends five urban fantasies for young adults. For further reading ideas for the young readers in your life, see Barbara Else's Top 5 fantasy reads for determined girls and the Reading Doctor’s regular reading advice column.
A good urban fantasy brings the weird into the everyday, breaking the boundaries of the familiar. It unites a strong focus on a realistic setting with a thrilling exploration of the uncanny and unnatural. Here are five great young adult urban fantasies (and their great heroines) from around the world. Five nations, five urban settings, five extremely good main characters to follow into adventure. Your teens may or may not thank you for the introduction, but they'll probably be grateful all the same.
For: The teenager who wants a series where vampires are scary again.
Caine's Morganville teens go through an ever-increasing number of fast-paced, action-filled adventures in their fictional small Texas town, where vampires rule and the dark is always dangerous. Heroine Claire is tiny and brilliant. She is endowed with the powers of logical thinking and of being more awesome than everyone, ever.
2. The Lynburn Legacy series by Sarah Rees Brennan
For: The teenager bent on bringing wrongs to right, via journalism.
The gorgeous, golden Cotswalds village of Sorry-in-the-Vale hides deadly secrets and private-detective-slash-investigative-journalist Kami is the one to expose them! With the aid of her imaginary friend, who inconveniently turns out to be real, she solves a mystery, tries to bring murderers to justice and discovers that some secrets are very personal.
For: The teenager who likes their fantasy weird… super, awesome weird.
Scotch is an athletic, pretty and popular student at her Toronto high school who is struggling with her dance troupe, conflict between her parents and her brother, the tension between her sexuality and the demure self she presents to her parents, and the fact that Toronto has just gotten super (awesome) weird. How weird? Volcano in the middle of the bay, Baba Yaga wandering around in her chicken-legged house, her brother disappearing into another dimension, and then Scotch kind-of melts into other people in a pile of bizarre shapes. That weird.
4. The Changeover by Margaret Mahy
For: All teenagers. Ever. All adults too.
In a never-named but recognisable Christchurch, halfway witch Laura Chant has to remake herself wholly magic in order to save her brother from an unimaginably horrific consumption. Possibly Mahy's best ever work; certainly her best heroine.
For: The angry, arty teenager intent on bringing down the system.
Okay, Johnson's future hi-tech Brazillian pyramid city is strictly speaking an urban science-fiction setting. But her first full-length young adult novel has so many excellent things to say about rebellion and power structures and the politics of art (and heroine June is so solidly real and pleasingly flawed) that I'm sneaking it in anyway.
Karen Healey is a young adult novelist and a teacher who likes writing about tough girls with brains and interesting boys with secrets. Her first two books, Guardian of the Dead and The Shattering, are urban fantasies set in New Zealand. When We Wake, and its forthcoming sequel, While We Run, are dystopias set in Australia. Visit her website for more information about her writing and books.