As a high school librarian in South London, UK, I work with students ages 11–19. The ages from 11–15 are the ones who use the library the most. Our circulation is averages at 1,000 books per month. I’m glad to see so many books flying off the shelves that are, in my opinion, under the radar compared to the celebrity books that you see in supermarkets and bookshops alike.
Here are ten books that have been consistently popular this school year, and even before that.
Crater Lake by Jennifer Killick
One of those books that is rarely seen on our shelves! Lance and his school friends go on a school trip from hell. When they arrive at their campsite, Crater Lake, they know that something just isn’t right. The teachers are acting weird, the camp counsellors even weirder, and it isn’t long before Lance’s conspiracy theories rear their ugly heads, literally. A hilarious sci-fi horror read, it’s hard to find something not to like in this brilliantly engaging story.
High Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson
Nik and Norva are sisters that live in the Tri, a high rise apartment building in the middle of London. Set during a sweltering summer heatwave, the sisters discover the body of a beloved resident. It’s up to them to discover the truth behind the murder and bring the culprit to justice. A funny, smart murder mystery with lots of twists and a sequel to boot! Can’t keep any copies of this on the shelves.
Nothing Ever Happens Here by Sarah Hagger-Holt
Izzy has always had a “normal” life, nothing especially interesting has ever happened to her or her family or her town for that matter, and she’s fine with that. But when her dad comes out as Danielle, a trans woman, Izzy is terrified of what will happen to her and her family when word spreads around her hometown and school. When the bullying starts, it will be up to Izzy, who is typically shy, to face her fears and find her voice. A really tender and important story for students to evoke empathy and understanding.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
When 12-year-old Jerome is murdered by a policeman in the streets of Chicago, his ghost emerges and watches what unfolds in the aftermath. Not only that, for some reason he can only speak to one living human, the daughter of the policeman who murdered him. He can also communicate with Emmett Till, another ghost. Jerome doesn’t know Emmett’s story yet, but he will. This is a gut-wrenching story that will hit too close to home for many African Americans in this day and age, a historical tour de force that resonates with today like never before.
When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
A truly devastating comic book from Victoria Jamieson. This tells the true story of Omar Mohamed, who, at the age of 4, fled Somalia with his 2-year-old brother. Together, alone, they travelled for three months to the infamous refugee/detention camp Dadaab in Kenya. After arriving, they would spend the next 17 years searching for their mother, never once giving up hope that they’d find her. Omar also dreamed of getting an education and getting out of the camp, a long and arduous path. This is brutally painful to read yet it’s accessible for ages 11+ because it’s done so expertly. Don’t miss it.
Rebound by Kwame Alexander
This is the prequel to the Newbery Award–winning novel The Crossover. It tells the story of Chuck Bell before he became the father to Josh and Jordan in The Crossover. When Chuck finds himself in trouble, he goes to live with his grandparents for the summer. There, he learns to love jazz and of course basketball, something he swore he’d never play. As his past comes back to haunt him, Chuck must decide if he’s going to be a star on the court or possibly lead a life of crime. It’s poetic and thrilling and our students love it.
The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf
Eight-year-old Ahmet has come to the UK out of desperation. He is a refugee from Syria and he’s been separated from his parents. He can’t speak English, he’s frightened, confused, and overwhelmed. However, with a little help from his friends in his class, he might be able to find what he’s looking for. Another amazing story to build empathy and understanding around a topic often misrepresented in the UK media.
Jemima Small Versus the Universe by Tamsin Winter
Jemima Small just wants to be like everyone else, but when she’s enrolled in Health Club, which is labelled “Fat Club” by the student body, she becomes a target. Her dream is to get on her favourite TV quiz show, because she’s got a quickfire brain that can rattle off facts and trivia like no other. She’s also dealing with some pretty tough issues at home. This novel is heartwarming, funny, and honest, and is a huge hit at Glenthorne High School.
New Kid by Jerry Craft
Jordan Banks is in 7th grade and wants to be a cartoonist when he grows up. However, instead of going to art school he’s sent to a top-notch private school where he’s one of the few Black students in the entire school. Not only does he have to deal with bullying, he’s got to contend with casual racism from the teachers as well. It’s a really poignant graphic novel that hits home the importance of being yourself, standing out, and speaking up for yourself.
A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll
By far one of the most popular books at Glenthorne High School with both students and staff right now. It tells the story of Addie, an autistic student who loves sharks and becomes fascinated and appalled about the story that her Scottish village executed witches hundreds of years ago. She finds herself in a battle against the local government for a memorial she wants erected in these women’s name. She’s also dealing with bullying at school and with her sisters, one who doesn’t always understand her and one who seems to be acting more and more distant every day. A powerful look at the daily challenges autistic students face and a call for those not on the spectrum but are hoping to gain some insight and understanding to a world that they may never fully grasp.