The best coming of age darkly: fiction about deeply troubled teens

Why am I passionate about this?

Linda Collison's composite career has included critical care and emergency nursing, freelance writing and novelist, and teaching skydiving. She has sailed many bluewater miles with her husband, Bob Russell, aboard their sloop Topaz, based in Hawaii. Their three-week sailing experience aboard the HM Bark Endeavour, a replica of Captain Cook's three-masted 18th-century ship, inspired Linda to write Star-Crossed, a historical novel published by Knopf in 2006, and a New York Public Library pick in 2007 for Books for the Teen Age. Star-Crossed has been republished as the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure series from Fireship Press. Her sailing experiences also inspired the novel Water Ghosts, a Foreword Reviews finalist for Independent Book of the Year, 2015.

I wrote...

Water Ghosts

By Linda Collison,

Book cover of Water Ghosts

What is my book about?

"I see things other people don't see; I hear things other people don't hear." Fifteen-year-old James McCafferty is an unwilling sailor aboard a traditional Chinese Junk operated as adventure therapy for troubled teens. Once at sea, James believes the ship is being taken over by the spirits of courtiers who fled the Imperial palace during the Ming Dynasty, more than 600 years earlier, and sailing to its doom. A psychological nautical adventure with strong historical and paranormal elements.

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The books I picked & why

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

Linda Collison Why did I love this book?

"This will not be a funny book. I cannot tell jokes because I do not understand them. This is a murder mystery," the young narrator tells us. It begins with a brutal death by stabbing; fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone is arrested for killing Wellington, the neighbor’s poodle. Normally I don’t read murder mysteries. I don’t really care who done it – after all, the author holds all the cards and sets up the clues. Mark Haddon’s mystery is different. True, the author holds all the cards, but he tells the story through an Asperger/autistic teenager. I am completely engaged. I care about this kid; I want him to find the real dog murderer. Haddon uses the trope of the child sleuth – Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Harriet the Spy – to frame a poignant story and portray an unexpected hero. Make no mistake: This is not a Hardy Boys rehash; this is the telling of a traumatic event by a young man on the autism spectrum. I smiled through my tears.

By Mark Haddon,

Why should I read it?

21 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 The Wasp Factory

Linda Collison Why did I love this book?

"There just aren’t enough natural deaths. You can’t explain that sort of thing to people, though." Sixteen-year-old Frank lives with his father on a remote Scottish Island. His older brother Eric was institutionalized but he now has escaped and needs Frank’s help. Oh, and Frank kills things. Insects, rodents, small mammals, people. It gets weirder and I was drawn into Banks’ psychological horror story, a twisted, tragic coming-of-age in a sick family, told through the eyes of both a perpetrator and a troubled teen who is a victim of violence. 

By Iain Banks,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Wasp Factory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The polarizing literary debut by Scottish author Ian Banks, The Wasp Factory is the bizarre, imaginative, disturbing, and darkly comic look into the mind of a child psychopath.

Meet Frank Cauldhame. Just sixteen, and unconventional to say the least:

Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different and more fundamental reasons than I'd disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim.

That's my score to date. Three. I haven't killed anybody for years, and don't intend to ever again.…

Book cover of We Are Pirates

Linda Collison Why did I love this book?

Can our happiness be stolen? The creator of Lemony Snicket gives us a laugh-out-loud immersion into the life of a contemporary American family headed for disaster as seen through the eyes of Phil Needle and his fourteen-year-old daughter, Gwen, arrested for shoplifting. I’m laughing but it’s an ugly laugh, and uneasy. This is definitely not a children’s story, nor is it “YA” but it is about coming of age in a piratical society. Arrrrgh – beware the barbed humor! The author breaks the rules, runs up the black flag, and I’m on the deck, bleeding with laughter. Yes, Handler’s gotten excessive, this is a farce, now he’s gone overboard dragging me along with him and suddenly it’s not funny anymore. Wait – this isn’t the cruise I signed up for – but it's too late, I’m hooked. Ultimately, there is no treasure, but the words are worth their weight in pieces of eight.

By Daniel Handler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Are Pirates as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mega-bestselling author Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) gives us his long-awaited new novel for adult readers: a dark, rollicking, stunningly entertaining human comedy.

A boat has gone missing. Goods have been stolen. There is blood in the water. It is the twenty-first century and a crew of pirates is terrorizing the San Francisco Bay.

Phil is a husband, a father, a struggling radio producer, and the owner of a large condo with a view of the water. But he'd like to be a rebel and a fortune hunter.

Gwen is his daughter. She's fourteen. She's a student, a swimmer, and…

Book cover of We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Linda Collison Why did I love this book?

Known for her chilling short story, The Lottery, a classic once studied in every high school in America, Shirley Jackson’s work is diffused with horror; a horror that can be humorous at times, yet always understated and profound. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is told from the peculiar perspective of eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine, AKA Merricat, about her isolated family and the wooded estate they hole up in. This is not a genre novel – not a stalker or slasher of teens, no gore to speak of – but insightful, funny, compassionate horror at its best. Funny, compassionate horror? Somehow, yes. 

By Shirley Jackson,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked We Have Always Lived in the Castle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister, Constance, and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn't leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when Cousin Charles arrives, armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect the remaining family.

Book cover of The Virgin Suicides

Linda Collison Why did I love this book?

I opened the book with trepidation – we all know someone who has done the act. All the trite explanations of “why” sound blasphemous to me. Other novelists tackled the taboo subject of teen suicide, but Eugenides’s narrative remains oddly elegiac and timeless as a Greek tragedy. The appallingly hyperbolic story is told in third person plural – we – from the outside looking in. A chorus of nameless teenaged boys function as a collective mind, of which the reader is a part. The narrators are well-meaning but unreliable because they cannot know what the girls were thinking or feeling, they can only make assumptions. I can’t say I loved a story about serial suicide, but I was drawn into the telling of it, the author’s observations and insight, and I appreciated the way he ultimately left the big question unresolved. 

By Jeffrey Eugenides,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Virgin Suicides as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Introducing the Collins Modern Classics, a series featuring some of the most significant books of recent times, books that shed light on the human experience - classics which will endure for generations to come.

That girl didn't want to die. She just wanted out of that house. She wanted out of that decorating scheme.

The five Lisbon sisters - beautiful, eccentric and, now, gone - had always been a point of obsession for the entire neighbourhood.

Although the boys that once loved them from afar have grown up, they remain determined to understand a tragedy that has defied explanation. The…

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Thorn City

By Pamela Statz,

Book cover of Thorn City

Pamela Statz

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What is my book about?

Dressed to kill and ready to make rent, best friends Lisa and Jamie work as “paid to party” girls at the Rose City Ripe for Disruption gala, a gathering of Portland's elite.

Their evening is derailed when Lisa stumbles across Ellen, a ruthless politician and Lisa’s estranged mother. And to make matters worse, Lisa’s boyfriend, Patrick, crashes the party to meet his new boss, Portland's food cart drug kingpin. Lisa makes a fateful choice that traps her, Jamie, and Patrick in Ellen’s web. In this gripping thriller, Lisa must reconcile a painful past and perilous present.

Thorn City

By Pamela Statz,

What is this book about?

Suspected murder, eclectic food trucks, and artisanal cocaine: just another day in Thorn City.

It’s the night of the Rose City Ripe for Disruption gala—a gathering of Portland’s elite. Dressed to kill in sparkling minidresses, best friends Lisa and Jamie attend as “paid to party” girls. They plan an evening of fake flirtations, karaoke playlists, and of course, grazing the catering.

Past and present collide when Lisa stumbles across Ellen, a ruthless politician who also happens to be Lisa’s estranged mother. Awkward . . . When Lisa was sixteen, Ellen had her kidnapped and taken to the Lost Lake Academy—a…

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