Have you seen the #DiscoverIrishKidsBooks campaign trending? Writers based in Ireland create such powerful and hilarious work daily surrounding their culture, sharing the experience of living there with a wider audience. From stories about two lovers on opposite sides of the divide to games of online chess, all of these books share glimpses of life in Ireland. Equally, they involve beautifully complex characters, themes, and all the wonder of Young Adult fiction that will appeal to teenagers worldwide. Don't believe me? Check out my pick of YA books by Irish writers as a teen writer and reader.
Guard Your Heart by Sue Divin
A romance set in Derry following two teenagers of opposite communities, Aidan and Iona, Guard Your Heart explores the history of Northern Ireland. Both protagonists were born on the day of the Good Friday Agreement, and as their relationship grows, are faced with the challenges of the past keeping them apart.
Everyone who shares my passion for Irish history will have heard of my love for Divin's writing. This story truly struck my heart, hit close to home and has stuck with me since. The prose is beautiful and hilarious, depicting the reality of life in a post-conflict North. Aidan and Iona are very well-developed characters and many of the others are strikingly real. Divin evaluates this part of history with unbiased force, taking on tough topics from abortion to paramilitaries that make her work very admirable. In a special way, Divin just gets what life is like as a young person in Northern Ireland.
Things I Know by Helena Close
A powerful story of mental health, Things I Know follows eighteen-year-old Saoirse as her final exams are about to end. Until the death of her ex-boyfriend, where she is accused of causing him to end his life.
Ouch. When I remember this story, my heart aches for the incredibly real protagonist that is Saoirse. Close captures life in a rural Irish town perfectly. The process of this incredibly real character regaining hope, facing anxiety and overcoming grief will tug on your heart strings. For anyone that has struggled with their mental health, this novel will capture every emotion that you couldn't describe. After reading, I felt genuinely understood.
The First Move by Jenny Ireland
Set in Ireland, teenage Juliet – known as the girl with crutches – believes that love doesn't exist for girls with arthritis. She decides to start playing online chess, and soon begins chatting with another player under a pseudonym. Meanwhile she meets new-kid Ronan, a boy that she believes could never be interested in her. Little do they know, they may have more in common than they thought …
If anyone needs a heart-warming rom-com to leave you giggling, smiling non-stop and with an urge to play chess, The First Move is your book! One of my favourite reads of 2023. PAWN and BASIC are such lovable, complex characters that will have you rooting for them from the first page. Ireland will bring back your lost feelings of waiting on a text from a crush, and give you a ton of butterflies with the most adorable scenes. Plus, this novel has wonderful disability representation through Juliet, who shares the reality of living with arthritis. Any fans of The Queen's Gambit will adore this one!
Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill
In a world in which baby girls are created scientifically, girls are ranked for their beauty standard and women are solely trained in schools to please men, Only Ever Yours leaves young women with three fates. Best friends Frieda and Isabel are certain that they will be selected at graduation to become Companions – the highest ranking for a woman – yet Isabel begins to mysteriously change. Suddenly, Frieda must choose between betraying her best friend or saving her.
For the fans of dystopian novels, Only Ever Yours will leave you with bubbling rage and your jaw dropped. The ending of this book has left me stunned to this day! O'Neill's writing is masterfully both unsettling enough to make your skin crawl while too fascinating to put down. Many tiny details of this story are brilliant, such as how the Eves don't have proper names. Yet this novel will evoke such a rage within you for the cruel injustice and the treatment of women within this world that feels frighteningly real. Once you reach those final pages, get the tissues out (I did warn you).
The Wonders of Life List by Gabrielle McMaster
The Wonders of Life List is simple, you do everything that you were once too afraid to do. All in one summer. Despite battling grief, Poppy decides to craft her own list – and she encounters Ian. These two teenagers from opposite social statuses find what they both need: a heart, a friend and hope.
This book is very readable, and similarly to Helena Close's Things I Know, handles the difficult topics of grief and mental health. There's a lovely mixture of sweetness and heartbreak, and McMaster handles the hard-hitting moments wonderfully. Want to laugh? Read this. Sob? Read this. Both at once? Pick up a copy of McMaster's work. Your heart will be left both shattered and full of warmth.
There we go! Five gorgeous books written by Irish writers – and mostly set in Ireland – to add to your reading pile. After reading these novels, I'm proud to be a writer based in Ireland alongside such talented company. All of these books share powerful prose with stories straight from the heart, and for all my fellow Irish folk, will undoubtedly hit home. Let’s get Irish kids books in the media.