As I live in a house full of teachers, I intimately understand (and resent) the start of the school year as much as I did when I was a student. Admittedly, there are some positives, namely that I like my class and my staff, but getting up in the morning... well. I'm not a huge fan! Here I have compiled a list of books that will make you feel better about your impending incarceration... because everyone is a lot worse off than you are! Beat the Back to School Blues by immersing yourself in stories about horrible, horrible happenings that will give you the heebies. Fourteen weeks of term, fourteen books on the list! Read one a week and you’ll make it to Christmas feeling like the luckiest person alive!
1) Gone by Michael Grant
Everyone over the age of 15 disappears, and a mysterious barrier cuts off the children left from the rest of the world. Now they must find a way to survive, but stranger things are coming for them. Things that they couldn't expect. Powers are developing and what remains of society is disintegrating. GONE is a fantastic series, one of my all time favourites, incredibly well written and super creepy. Reading it will make you feel good about being in school because it’s so deliciously normal compared to the horrors and struggles the teens face in Gone.
2) The Enemy by Charlie Higson
Not just another zombie book. Told from multiple perspectives, gritty and raw, The Enemy follows a band of young survivors as they attempt to navigate a post apocalypse, zombie torn world. There is a lot that makes this series stand out even in a world glutted with zombie books, and I highly recommend giving it a shot. The characters are fresh, believable, and tragically mortal. The world is hard and horrible, but moments of hope are scattered throughout to make you feel like you can keep reading. Honestly, math class will seem like a breeze after reading this book!
3) The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Patrick Ness has the distinction of receiving my own, personal ‘best title’ award for his Chaos Walking trilogy (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, Monsters of Men - ohh they just give me the good shivers) Book one had a slow start, and the writing style threw me for a loop, but I stuck it out as it was highly recommended. In a distant future, on a far off planet, men have developed telepathy and all the women are gone. The mind to mind communication is dark. This is not a happy series. It’s awful, painting a depressing picture of humanity, but the protagonist is a young idealist who hasn't been destroyed by his harsh existence yet. And then he finds a girl. This book will make you happily open your psychology textbook in order to escape how awful these people are.
4) The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
In a bizarre future, vampires exist and are very, very dangerous. They are also confined in Coldtowns, walled off cities where the bloodsuckers can be kept apart from normal humans. The ones who don’t choose to enter and exist in bloody, decadent turmoil, that is. After waking up surrounded by corpses, Tana finds herself on a madcap mission to enter the nearest Coldtown to solve the mystery of what happened at the party. The only problem is, once you enter a Coldtown, you can never leave. The Coldest Girl is a whirling dervish of a novel, that I devoured in a single sitting. If nothing else, it will help you leave the mundane, everyday plod of school far, far behind.
5) The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Thomas wakes up remembering nothing except his own name. Ejected from a metal elevator into a glade filled with teenage boys, surrounded by enormous walls, he has to figure out what is going on as well as survive the bitter new world he’s now a part of. The Maze Runner is part action-packed adventure, and part mystery, ladled out in intriguing doses. I have to say I wasn't the biggest fan of the follow-up novels, but The Maze Runner itself is a fantastic fast paced read that will get your adrenaline pumping and wake you up after a boring lesson.
6) Henderson’s Boys by Robert Muchamore
This one might actually help you with your history class. Told from the perspective of the young French orphans who were pressed into military service, delivering secrets to the British army and gathering intelligence on the Germans, this World War Two series is a thrilling and educational ride through war-torn Europe. Plus, who doesn't love teenage spies?!
It is far, far better to be stuck in English class than trapped underground in a huge bunker, surrounded by toxic wasteland and forced to exist under the strictest of rules. Wool is a short story that shot Howey up the bestseller lists and into the public eye, and it’s well deserved. A brutal, intense read.
8) Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
An oldie but a goodie. Hatchet is one of my all time favourite books, and although it will make you long to be outside instead of trapped at school, it will also make you appreciate what you have. From the simplest of things, food, shelter, warmth, to the more complex issue of what becomes of someone entirely alone, Hatchet tells the story of an incredibly resourceful thirteen-year-old, stranded in the Canadian Northwoods. Could you survive? Probably not, so eat your school lunch with joy in your heart because you’re not starving to death.
FitzChivalry Farseer is one of the most layered, complex heroes/anti-heroes I've ever come across. His life sucks. It’s brutal, and awful. Every time you think it’s getting better it sucks some more. But there’s also magic, and dragons, and swords, a wonderful and complex mythology and a plot that deserves far more recognition than it gets. PE Class will seem so much more pleasant when you remember you’re not being beaten up on a freezing rooftop in the rain every day for hours and hours in order to ‘train’ your magic.
10) Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce
It’s tough to get an education when your family is slaughtered and, also, you turn into a wolf and hunt down those who did it. Tamora Pierce is one of the best authors around for accessible strong female fantasy. Wild Magic is the first novel in her second series, although stands alone very well. You’ll lose yourself completely in the rich universe of Tortall, and never want to come back. I recommend buying the hardback, wrapping it in a textbook cover and trying to convince your teachers you’re studying.
Oh man, Incarcerado! This book is SO well written I just want to follow Hornor Jacobs around all day and listen to him talk, I'm sure it would be lovely. Do you know what’s better than jail? School! The twelve-fingered boy tells the story of Shreve, a fascinating protagonist who is deeper and darker than your average YA fella. In juvie, he meets Jack, a shy, quiet lad with an extra finger on each hand. And then he discovers Jack isn't normal for other reasons as well. Jack is different, Jack has powers. And... it turns out, so does Shreve. But the bad guys will stop at nothing to get them under control. Your teachers won’t seem nearly as awful after you finish this non-stop adrenaline ride!
12) Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Other places worse than school include concentration camps in the Second World War. Join Rose and her compatriots as they buck the system, try to keep their spirits up, and most of all attempt not to be brutally murdered in this hellish story of survival, humanity and war.
Dreaming of something better? So is Azoth, street rat, urchin, bottom of the food chain, he’s all that and more. But his heart and brain push him to strive for greatness, he wants to train as a wetboy under legendary Durzo Blint. Drawn into a rich world of spies, thieves, death and war, Azoth struggles to find his place amongst giants. And when you reach the part with the Hole you’ll feel like maybe Physics isn’t so bad.
14) Brother in the Land by Robert Swindells
I'm a sucker for a good apocalypse, and Brother in the Land was one of the first and best I've ever read. Follow Denny as he navigates nuclear war torn England and tries to keep his young brother, Ben, alive in the wake of disaster. You’ll be so glad you’re not him that life will seem like a constant party in comparison!
Tash McAdam’s first writing experience (a collaborative effort) came at the age of eight, and included passing floppy discs back and forth with a best friend at swimming lessons. Since then, Tash has spent time falling in streams, out of trees, learning to juggle, dreaming about zombies, dancing, painting, learning Karate, becoming a punk rock pianist, and of course, writing.
Tash is a teacher in real life, but dreams of being a full-time writer, and living a life of never-ending travel. Though born in the hilly sheepland of Wales, Tash has lived in South Korea and Chile and now calls Vancouver, Canada home.
Book covers from Goodreads.