If you are a book lover, the books you read in your teenage years can shape your life forever. For example: my undying love of stories with vampires in them (pun intended). When you find a book that speaks to you, its voice will continue to echo down the years, so that every time you glimpse one of your favourites on the shelf your mind is instantly transported back into that world.
- The Hannibal series by Thomas Harris. When I was thirteen or fourteen I had a
Hannibal movie poster hanging over my bed. I hadn’t seen any of the Hannibal movies (still haven’t actually), but I loved the books, and it freaked out anyone who walked into my room. Thomas Harris has the slightly dubious skill of making horrific murderers into sympathetic characters. His portrayal of Hannibal as this charming psychopath who could draw even the most virtuous into his web was captivating, and I devoured the books. I haven’t reread the books in years, but my love of the Hannibal TV show has me thinking that maybe I should.
- The Tomorrow Series & The Ellie Chronicles by John Marsden. I was initially introduced to this series by a woman named Brenda who is the mother of one of my mum’s friends. I think she was about 65 when we met. When were introduced at a morning tea, we started talking about books, and didn’t stop for hours. She happened to be reading the first book of the Ellie Chronicles: While I live. She loaned me the book and I devoured it. The Ellie Chronicles is actually a sequel series to the Tomorrow series. The Tomorrow series follows a group of Australian teenagers who are out camping in the bush when Australia is invaded. When they return home they discover what has happened, and decide to return to their remote campsite. As country kids they have the skills necessary to survive in the wild with occasional raids to outlying farms for supplies. Unwilling to sit by and do nothing, the group start a campaign of guerrilla warfare. As the series progresses they become more and more accomplished fighters, occasionally joining up with other forces in the fight against the occupying forces. At the end of the first series, the occupying force agrees to cease hostilities against Australians in exchange for territory. The Ellie Chronicles picks up after the war has finished and the main characters of the Tomorrow Series are trying to readjust to civilian life. All of them have lost friends and family, and there are still occasional border skirmishes and raids between the two countries that now exist in Australian territory. Neither series pulls any punches. Not all of the heroes survive. Most of them have some kind of physical and mental scars, and none of them come out of the war the same person who went in. The characters are all powerfully real and identifiable, and their actions cause you to question what you might do in the same situation.
- The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. I love Scott Westerfeld’s writing. I first discovered him through the Midnighter’s series (people born on the stroke of midnight are able to access an extra hour every day, in certain places, giving them access to special powers). I quickly started searching out his books whenever I could. So Yesterday drew me further in with its subtle anti-establishment message and tongue-in-cheek refusal to mention brands my name (the Finnish phone company instead of Nokia, etc), and Peeps cemented my affection with its alternative telling of the vampire story (including alternate chapters on other kinds of parasites), but it was the Uglies series that had me obsessed. Set in an indeterminate future after a virus in oil has trashed society as we know it. In this future, at the age of sixteen everyone undergoes surgery to make them beautiful, and they transition from being an Ugly to being a Pretty. The different segments of society (Uglies, Pretties, Specials, Crumblies, etc) live separate from each other, and transitioning is not an option unless you escape and choose to live in the wild as a Smokie. The series follows Tally as she transitions from Ugly to Pretty and then onto a Special (augmented humans who serve the government). Tally is constantly questioning the strict rules of her society, even when she becomes an agent of it. The culture that Westerfeld has created is so rich, from the stratification of society to all the cool surgery mods Pretties can get, every part of the story makes you want to closely examine the way that Tally’ world works, and doesn’t work.
- The Interview with the Vampire (Vampire Chronicles) series by Anne Rice.
There is no non-pretentious way of saying this, but I liked vampires before it was cool. I read Anne Rice before I read Twilight. In fact I read Twilight because Anne Rice’s novels cemented by love of vampire stories. If any of you are doing the mental maths, yes I was already reading Anne Rice when I was 12-13. Shortly after I convinced my mother to buy me the Southern Vampire Chronicle as well, better known as the books True Blood is based on. Safe to say she wasn’t really vetting my reading choices. I devoured vampire novels of all kinds (still do to be honest), but Anne Rice has always served as my benchmark.
- The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud. These books follow the reluctant adventures of a fourth level djinni named Bartimaeus. The bulk of the series takes place in an alternate reality version of London were magicians form the majority of important positions in government, and society in general. They summon djinni to do their bidding and boost their powers. Bartimaeus is one such djinni. He is grumpy, sarcastic, and slightly incompetent, but he always manages to tumble his way through problems and come out the other end only mildly scorched. These books are always enjoyable, and demonstrate that contracts and bureaucracy govern all worlds, even ones ruled by magicians.
Honorable Mentions: Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien (because duh), all of the books in the Shadowhunters universe by Cassandra Clare (excellent world building + sarcasm = yay!)
Dishonorable Mention: The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer, because I too was once a thirteen year old girl.
P.S. Here’s a poem written about me by Brenda (the woman who introduced me to The Tomorrow series) shortly after we met.
‘A Thoroughly Modern Miss’
I met a girl – I’ll call her Jess
A modern miss I must confess
The twinkle in her big blue eyes
Matched the smile on one so wise
I will admit, I was impressed
Not only with the way she dressed
But in her manner – she was ‘it’
So confident, not shy a bit.
Though we are split by two generations
It seems we share the same aspirations
We both love books – too much I fear
And poetry we write – it seems so clear
That though we live so far apart
We really are alike at heart.
By Brenda Berrisford