Freshers by Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison
Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison are two of my favourite YA authors and are among the funniest, loveliest people in UKYA. With Freshers, Lucy and Tom show that you can write YA about 18-year-olds and you can set in university, and it is not this mythical New Adult category. University stories are rare in UKYA – and I’d love to see more!
Freshers, narrated by Luke and Phoebe, captures the first year of university excellently. Both Luke and Phoebe’s experiences as first years are quite different to mine – let’s just say that university wasn’t exactly the best three years of my life – but it was great to read about (particularly the Quidditch society!), and I know it’ll be similar to lots of teenagers’ experiences. I loved the friendship dynamics and wish I’d made those sorts of intense, close friendships during my first few months away from home. I was a little sceptical about Luke (as I told Tom at one of his events), but grew to love him – and Phoebe was just brilliant. They’re two of the most realistic teenage characters I’ve come across (as we’ve all come to expect from Lucy and Tom!).
Freshers was as hilarious as you might expect from our duo, yet it covers serious topics that are vital to talk about at university, from sexual harassment on campus and one-night stands to ‘laddish’ behaviour and homesickness. I wish I had Freshers to read at university. It’s one of my favourite books of the year so far!
“He’s tall and fit and he knows about grammar and Quidditch and murder. He’s literally the perfect man.”
Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
I love reading YA novels set in Italy (one of the countries I must go back to soon). I recently read One Italian Summer and it was so fun picking up another one, this time set in beautiful Florence.
Lina is suffering from terrible grief, forced to move from America to Italy because her mother passed away. She’s off to live with a father she’s never met in a country she’s never been to. Once she gets there, Lina’s not convinced she can stay in Florence (as pretty as it is). Her best friend is at home, she barely knows her father, and what even is prosciutto, gelato and a Margherita pizza (Americans, really?!). Once she starts to explore, she meets Italian-American Ren and is introduced to a whole host of Italian friends who love her straight away, and maybe, just maybe, she can start to call this place home.
Love & Gelato is Lina’s story, but it’s also her mother’s. I really enjoyed reading her mother’s diary, from when she was studying in Florence in her 20s, until she left after becoming pregnant with Lina. I did guess the plot twist quite early on, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying each characters’ journey, from the sweet romance between Lina and Ren – although I mostly loved how they became best friends – to Lina’s father, Howard, who is also super lovely. Howard made Lina feel welcome, from thoughtfully redecorating her bedroom to taking her out to his favourite pizza place.
A sweet story about love, family and secrets, Love & Gelato has made me want to jump on a plane to Tuscany…
And Then We Ran by Katy Cannon
And Then We Ran wasn’t quite the summer road trip story I expected. It’s set in rainy, wintry Pembrokeshire, in the south west of Wales.
Megan and Elliot feel suffocated by their small beach town. Megan’s sister died not so long ago and Elliot’s given up on his future. Together, they embark on an adventure to take control of their lives – a road trip to Scotland’s Gretna Green to get married (of course), with plans to move to London and follow their dreams.
Megan and Elliot are flawed and flaky teenagers, and that made them fun to read about. Megan wasn’t exactly prepared for her big adventure – she’s spontaneous and decides to move to the capital to be a photographer, even though she doesn’t know what a career in photography involves. Meanwhile, Elliot is too busy being a Bad Boyfriend to work out exactly what he wants to do. But who, as a teenager, knew exactly what they’d be doing in their 20s?
I can understand how frustrating Megan’s parents were for her – constantly pressuring her to go to university, refusing to accept that their daughter might be happier taking another path. I’m lucky – my family never pushed me to do anything I didn’t want to do, but Megan has to constantly push back. Even so, I know what it’s like to feel compelled to run away and start a new life – I nearly did a gap year in Australia for this reason! – and so, then, And Then We Ran starts to make sense.