Joanne Harris is the author of Chocolat and Five Quarters of the Orange, among other novels. Her latest book, Runemarks, is a young adult novel set in a universe of nine worlds, inspired by Norse legends. It features Maddy, a kickass heroine with magical rune powers.
1. The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
This novel is splendidly written in the tradition of the Victorian melodrama, but Sally Lockhart is no simpering miss. Raised by her father, she can shoot, fight and speak Hindustani, and has none of the accomplishments thought necessary for a young lady of her time. Left in the care of a relative following her father’s death, and threatened with the horrid possibility of having to become a paid companion, she runs away, but is haunted by dreams and strange messages that point her to the mystery in her own past.
2. The Black Tattoo by Sam Enthoven
After his visit to Chinatown, Jack will never be the same again. Demons, martial arts and vomiting bats feature in this strange and fabulous world – not to mention the Black Tattoo itself, and Esme, a young girl with the most spectacular fighting skills kids’ fiction has ever see.
3. Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr
One of the enduring favourites of my own childhood, this book still has the power to charm and unsettle. In bed, recovering from a lingering illness, the imaginative, stubborn, rather hot-tempered Marianne draws a picture of a house. That night she travels there in her dream, and finds a boy, Mark, living there. Mark is a prisoner, both of his own inertia and of his paralysis in the real world. As Marianne’s dreams grow darker and sinister forces threaten the children, she understands that she and Mark must escape. But Mark won’t even try to walk.
4. The Angel Experiment by James Patterson
The first story of a series, this book deals with the story of Max, a heroine with attitude as well as wings – she’s a genetically- engineered hybrid created from avian and human DNA – who, along with a number of other child test subjects, escapes the laboratory that was her home.
5. The Diamond Of Drury Lane by Julia Golding
Set in London in the late 18th century, this is the story of the feisty and unpredictable Cat Royal, who has spent her life around Drury Lane and whose only family consists of the motley crew of performers, stagehands and dressers that make up the existence of the famous theatre. Intrigued by a randomly overheard conversation about a diamond hidden somewhere in the theatre, Cat braves rival gangs, professional boxers, riots and sinister underworld figures to find out where it is.
6. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
As strange but far more sinister than Alice through the Looking Glass, this story sees the determined young heroine of the title enter a parallel world behind the walls of her house, where a warped mirror image of her own house exists, including copies of her own parents, with sewn-on buttons for eyes, who seem oddly reluctant for her to leave.
7. Fearless by Tim Lott
Little Fearless is one of a thousand girls, robbed of their names, separated from their parents and forced to work in the giant laundries that lie hidden at the heart of the City Community Faith School. Tim Lott has created a dark, Orwellian fable in which one brave spirit dares to confront a faceless, sinister institution for the sake of truth and justice.
8. The Wish List by Eoin Colfer
From the creator of Artemis Fowl comes a typically clever, funny, irreverent novel about two teenagers on the road to hell. Following a botched attack on a pensioner, hoodlums Meg Finn and Belch Brennan both die in a gas explosion. Belch goes straight to Beelzebub. But Meg’s final act suggests she may yet be saved. After an interview with Saint Peter and his rather torturous points system, Meg sets off on her redemptive mission; to help a boy work through his wish list before he dies.
9. The Dare Game by Jacqueline Wilson
The second of three splendid novels starring Tracy Beaker, a tough, mischievous and often difficult young person whose life in a children’s home – and now in her new foster home – gives rise to a number of touching, funny and weirdly plausible adventures.
10. Spilled Water by Sally Grindley
When her husband dies, Lu Si-Yan’s mother is encouraged to sell her young daughter into domestic service. Years may pass before she is allowed to come home. This is a beautifully-written, moving story, which manages to depict perfectly the details of a childhood in rural China, and the innermost thoughts and quiet courage of an 11-year-old girl forced to confront, for the first time, some of life’s harshest realities.