Last week I had a wonderful relaxing time holidaying with my family. For the first week in about fifteen years I didn’t write a word. Instead, I read. I read five books that had been on my desperately want to read pile for quite some time.

Although they were the same genre, contemporary YA/perhaps crossover, they were still very different books.

But each one moved me to tears, and made me proud to be a writer. Each book, powerful in its own way, reminded me how important it is to be brave in your writing – how important it is to write the story that is true to you and the characters you have created.

Here’s what I read:

living dead girl by Elizabeth Scott

This is a disturbing but brilliant book about Kyla who was kidnapped five years earlier at aged 10 and whose captor, Ray turned her into a girl called Alice. She endures incredible physical and emotional pain, but her story does not end how she thinks it will. You can’t help but feel connected to Kyla’s experience and admire the bravery of the writer in the sensitive way she has tackled such a difficult subject.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

This is a heartrending but life affirming story about a girl whose life changes forever one cold February morning on a snowy road when she is out driving with her family. As the blurb says, “Suddenly all of Mia’s choices are gone, except one”. I desperately wanted Mia to make the right choice…but If I Stay also made me think about which path I would take. The raw honesty in this story makes it so powerful.

the chosen one by Carol Lynch Williams

Kyra’s bravery is breathtaking in this story about a thirteen-year-old girl’s fight against the destiny that others have picked out for her. She has grown up in an isolated community where her father has three wives, she has twenty siblings and she has barely questioned her lifestyle until she is promised in marriage to her 60 year-old uncle.

As the blurb says, “How far should she go for freedom?” And how far does an author go to tell their story? As Carol Lynch Williams proves in the chosen one, an author needs to go as far as the story takes them.

Beyond Evie by Rebecca Burton

This is a story about a vulnerable teen and her obsessive love for someone who deliberately entraps her in a heartbreaking relationship. It’s a story of betrayal and recovery, of risks taken and consequences, of living with a family legacy. It’s another story of honesty and the devastation that can happen in relationships, but the human spirit and hope that keeps us going.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

It took Peter Houghton nineteen minutes to shoot his way to notoriety, taking revenge on the fellow students who had made his life a misery for the last 13 years. But this is really the story of his friend, Josie who spent those years torn between her loyalty to her childhood friend and her need to be part of the cool gang who were responsible for Peter’s pain. In Nineteen Minutes, her loyalty and control over her own life are put to the ultimate test. Jodi Picoult made me question my own principles and integrity. How could I feel sympathy for a cold blooded killer?

The bravery of all these authors in tackling these difficult topics has been rewarded by how well received they have been by both teen and adult readers.

Why is Truth important?

After I finished writing my debut YA novel, Letters to Leonardo I knew it wasn’t perfect. I knew I had a lot to learn as a writer (still do) but I was proud of the fact that I had stayed true to the integrity of my story – that I had started and finished it in a way that made sense to me, and the characters in it. They had acted in ways you would expect them to behave based on the type of people they were – (bearing in mind that over a ten year period these characters had become almost as real to me as my own children.)

Letters to Leonardo has been widely and positively reviewed, but a couple of people (my stepmother among them were devastated with how my characters played out their lives – how the book ended.) In my heart, I knew I had written the story as it needed to be told, but niggling away at the back of my head was that writer’s self-doubt – that perhaps they were right – that I had put my characters through too much. I had tested them beyond the bounds that I could reasonably expect reader forgiveness.

I confess, it dinted my confidence, made me more tentative in deciding just how high to raise the stakes in my new YA manuscript – made me wary of putting characters through too much.

So last week’s reading of these five books was a timely reminder that sometimes as writers we just have to be brave. There are people we will upset, people who become so attached to our characters that they can’t separate them from real people. Real life can be hard and every day, real people suffer beyond what we could imagine. This shouldn’t stop us from telling their stories.

The main character in each of last week’s Fab Five was subjected to more pain than I think I could endure, but the common thread that left me feeling okay at the end of them was hope.  Each of these characters had their own form of optimism to shape their future – something positive to come out of their suffering and give hope to the reader that things would get better.

So what did these books teach me? Don’t put your characters through needless suffering to sensationalise your book so it sells a squillion copies. But don’t be afraid to ‘get real’. Don’t be afraid to tell it like it is. Be brave, be bold. Be honest, Write the book readers will want to read and the rest will take care of itself.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about honesty and truth in books for kids and young adults…and also if you have an example to share of your own writing bravery or someone else’s.

Happy writing:)



  1. So right, Dee. And a reminder about how important it is for writers to read.
    On uni holidays, I too have been attacking my ‘must read’ list and have just finished Sue Lawson’s ‘Dare You’ – also a bold and brave book, and yes, I cried. ‘Letters to Leonardo’ is the next on the pile.

  2. Thanks, Chris,

    I had an inspiring and relaxing time away – and the weather was so good:)

    Reading definitely is just as important as writing – but I always find it hard to find time to read the books I picked out to read rather than the ones I have been sent to review. These holidays, I was determined to do that…and I plan on continuing now that I am back.

    So many great books out there, waiting for me to read them:)

    Hope your writing is progressing well.


  3. Thanks, Janet,

    Dare You is an amazing book. I love all of Sue Lawson’s work. There are so many brave and wonderful books out there – unfortunately, I had to restrict the post to the ones I read last week – or I’d still be writing it:)

    I hope you are enjoying your break from uni and that you enjoy reading Letters to Leonardo.


  4. Yes, Dee,
    There are so many out there it would be impossible to talk about them all. Of course, John Marsden’s book spring to mind immediately.

    I just love what writer’s are giving the YA market at the moment.

    I have read a few of those books you mentioned in the blog and really enjoyed them. I’ll be looking out for the others now.


  5. Beautiful article, Dee. Heartfelt. And you introduced me to some books that are now on my wishlist.

  6. Great post, Dee. I think it’s the bravery of contemporary YA that appeals to me so much. I’ve added the books to my to-be-read list and am heading off to the library this afternoon. Fun!

  7. I concur, an excellent post Dee! Indeed, the only way to write is passionately and bravely and I could see it in LtL. The ending was sad, but I loved it. And I love all the book examples you’ve used.

  8. Thanks Shirley,

    Your YA novel Fury is another one of the many powerful and honest books out there for teens.

    I’m looking forward to reading your next one. Hope you’re making good progress with it.


  9. Fabulous post, Dee! Wow, what a week of reading you had 🙂 At least you had the brilliant landscape around you give some relief. They sound like wonderful books and it made me think about your remarks about being brave, or true to oneself! ♥

  10. Dee, what a great read- I think the stakes do have to be high- but not needlessly so- I think it’s the passion that grips me when I write and that’s what ultimately rings true for the reader too- if I’m moved then the reader wil be too. Characters are burnished to gold through a hardship and hope is the cloth polishing the gold- all my books have to have hope. Thanks for making us reflect on the great issues of writing.

  11. Thanks, Lorraine,

    I think you’re right about the fact that if we as a writer are moved, then our reader will be too. I think it’s part of being true to ourselves in our stories.


  12. Great post Dee. I have always maintained that in many ways, YA books are grittier than adult-targeted books, and on a superficial level, I also think that has a lot to do with basic teen melodrama. But you’re talking about much deeper issues. Kudos to you for addressing this in your blog.

    (However it does make me cringe because my own upcoming book is so fluffy by comparison !!! I’m the ‘Legally Blonde’ to ‘War and Peace’!!!) Sigh…

    Some of my earlier YAs ‘did’ tackle heavier subjects, however for me, one of the most important things you mentioned is ‘hope’. When very black fiction for YAs was hot in the 90s, I was quite distressed by some of the subjects and the sensationalist ways they were handled. It’s said that art immitates life, but I saw too many students reversing this and life began to immitate art – and with the darkness of some of these books that offered no hope at all, that became incredibly scary.

    As writers we shouldn’t shy away from the hard subjects, and yes – life isn’t always fair or nice. Sometimes it’s downright horrific, and we have to acknowledge that. To ‘not’ do so is an insult to those who suffer daily. but we should always offer some glimmer of hope that life can be better; that things can change… Hugs.

    Thank you, Dee very thought provolng and a nice way to kickstart my
    revision-dead brain!

  13. Thanks for dropping in Kerri and for your thoughtful response.

    This post was in no way meant to suggest that these books are superior in any way to others that are read purely for enjoyment. People look for different things in books and that’s why it’s important to have all kinds on offer. Congratulations on your impending release and I’m glad this post has given you food for thought.


  14. HI Dee,
    I read Living Dead Girl just a few weeks ago. I agree with your assessment – an amazing book. So harrowing to read, yet so powerful. You certainly chose some heavy reading for your holiday.


  15. Loved this post Dee…took time to savour it and now would love to read your reads too. The notion and truth behind being brave and bold and honest is resounding. It works powerfully in YA novels as you have highligted but just as effectively for Picture books and young reader offerings too. I believe in never dumbing it down for kids and youth.

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