The best novels featuring a child who has a tough journey through life

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm an author of dark fiction from Wales, UK, who, for many years, taught primary school children. In my own writing I often gravitate towards the child’s point of view, and the same can be said of the fiction I choose to read. As a teacher I dealt with children’s issues on a day-to-day basis, and sometimes you wonder how these kids survive, or at least you understand the trauma they carry for the rest of their lives. But what about those who manage to rise above it? Those are the characters whose stories I love to read. The child lurks in all of us, and we must never lose sight of that fact.


I wrote...

The Wolf and the Favour

By Catherine McCarthy,

Book cover of The Wolf and the Favour

What is my book about?

Ten-year-old Hannah has Down syndrome and oodles of courage, but should she trust the alluring tree creature who smells of Mamma’s perfume or the blue-eyed wolf who warns her not to enter the woods under any circumstance?

The Wolf and the Favour is a tale of love, trust, and courage. A tale that champions the neurodivergent voice and proves the true power of a person’s strength lies within themselves.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Catherine McCarthy Why did I love this book?

Neil Gaiman has such a unique story-telling voice. It’s simply magical.

I first read The Ocean at the End of the Lane not long after it was published back in 2014 and fell in love with it. I knew it would forever remain one of my favourite reads. Since then I have re-read it, and also listened on several occasions to the audio version, which Neil himself narrates.

I highly recommend you do the same. This is a story about the confinement of being a child in an adult world. It is also a tale that insists we never lose sight of the gift that comes with imagination. Essentially, it is a book about a misfit, one who dreams of something far better than reality.

By Neil Gaiman, Elise Hurst (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Ocean at the End of the Lane as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD 'BOOK OF THE YEAR'

AN ACCLAIMED WEST END THEATRE PRODUCTION *****

'Neil Gaiman's entire body of work is a feat of elegant sorcery. He writes with such assurance and originality that the reader has no choice but to surrender to a waking dream' ARMISTEAD MAUPIN

'Some books just swallow you up, heart and soul' JOANNE HARRIS

'Summons both the powerlessness and wonder of childhood, and the complicated landscape of memory and forgetting' GUARDIAN

---

'My favourite response to this book is when people say, 'My childhood was nothing like that - and it was as if…


Book cover of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Catherine McCarthy Why did I love this book?

I taught primary school children for many years, including children with a variety of learning difficulties.

It just so happened that at the time I was reading The Curious Incident I was also teaching a young boy with autistic spectrum disorder. The main character in the novel, Christopher Boone, shared so many character traits with the boy in my class that I pictured him the whole way through.

It’s not easy to write about neurodivergent people, you have to get it right as the last thing you want to do is patronize or stereotype. In my opinion, the author did an incredible job. I laughed and I cried, and I’m sure you will do the same.

By Mark Haddon,

Why should I read it?

24 authors picked The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year

'Outstanding...a stunningly good read' Observer

'Mark Haddon's portrayal of an emotionally dissociated mind is a superb achievement... Wise and bleakly funny' Ian McEwan

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a murder mystery novel like no other. The detective, and narrator, is Christopher Boone. Christopher is fifteen and has Asperger's Syndrome. He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the…


Book cover of A Monster Calls

Catherine McCarthy Why did I love this book?

I need to pause here, because writing this article has made me think about our need as a species to be able to see ourselves through the eyes of others. A need to empathize and to know that others suffer the same traumas we do and also experience the same joy that we do.

Though categorized as YA, this novel has wide appeal. It’s a story of a child who is dealing with grief, but that experience is handled in a gentle, impactful way with plenty of metaphor. Published in 2011, I read it at a time when I was grieving the loss of my own mother, which brings me full circle to my first statement: As humans, we need to see ourselves through the eyes of others.

By Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd, Jim Kay (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked A Monster Calls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

The bestselling novel and major film about love, loss and hope from the twice Carnegie Medal-winning Patrick Ness.

Conor has the same dream every night, ever since his mother first fell ill, ever since she started the treatments that don't quite seem to be working. But tonight is different. Tonight, when he wakes, there's a visitor at his window. It's ancient, elemental, a force of nature. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth. Patrick Ness takes the final idea of the late, award-winning writer Siobhan Dowd and weaves an extraordinary and heartbreaking…


Book cover of Betty

Catherine McCarthy Why did I love this book?

Oh boy, am I glad I picked up a copy of this.

Although the cover did nothing to attract me, it turned out to be one of those rare books you want everybody to read. Even though it was quite a long book, at around 480 pages, I loved every single sentence. The plot, the references to Native American culture, characterization, you name it. Superb. 

By Tiffany McDaniel,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Betty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A coming-of-age story filled with magic in language and plot: beautiful and devastating'
Observer, Books of the Year

'I felt consumed by this book. I loved it, you will love it'
Daisy Johnson, author of Sisters

'A page-turning Appalachian coming-of-age story told in undulating prose that settles right into you'
Naoise Dolan, author of Exciting Times

'Vivid and lucid, Betty has stayed with me'
Kiran Millwood Hargrave, author of The Mercies

'I loved Betty'
Fiona Mozley, author of Hot Stew

'Breahtaking'
Vogue

'A GIRL COMES OF AGE AGAINST THE KNIFE'

So begins the story of Betty Carpenter.
Born in a…


Book cover of Of Foster Homes And Flies

Catherine McCarthy Why did I love this book?

This is a short read, one you'll devour in just a few sessions, as it will hold your attention from start to finish. This is real-life horror, not make-believe. Yes, there are some graphic descriptions, but this tale does not set out to shock. There is no gore for the sake of it.

As horrific as Denny's (M.C.) situation is, there are beautiful, tender moments that will tug at your heart.

I don't know if it was because the whole of my career was spent teaching kids of Denny's age, but I found myself fully engaged in his story. Denny's situation resonated deeply, and I wanted to take him home.

The characters were so well drawn and the neighborhood vibe was spot on, too. Highly recommended.  

By Chad Lutzke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Of Foster Homes And Flies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A neglected 12-year-old boy does nothing to report the death of his mother in order to compete in a spelling bee. A tragic coming-of-age tale of horror and drama in the setting of a hot New Orleans summer.

"Original, touching coming of age."—Jack Ketchum, author of The Girl Next Door

"With "Of Foster Homes and Flies" Lutzke is firing on all cylinders. It's a lean mean emotional machine. Coming-of-age presented in a fresh direction. Bearing tremendous emotional weight and heart. It made me cry. "—John Boden, author of Jedi Summer and Dominoes

"Disturbing, often gruesome, yet poignant at the same…


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Book cover of This Animal Body

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What is my book about?

Neuroscience PhD student Frankie Conner has finally gotten her life together—she’s determined to discover the cause of her depression and find a cure for herself and everyone like her. But the first day of her program, she meets a group of talking animals who have an urgent message they refuse to share. And while the animals may not have Frankie’s exalted human brain, they know things she doesn’t, like what happened before she was adopted.

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Why should I read it?

1 author picked This Animal Body as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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