Roald Dahl and Me

Roald Dahl’s Grandson Luke Kelly’s Favorite YA Novels

Luke Kelly, the grandson of children’s author Roald Dahl, on his favorite young adult fictions from childhood and now. His new children’s book, with illustrator Yoko Tanaka, is Blanket and Bear, a Remarkable Pair.

The world of young adult fiction is a bridge to adult fiction and a world entirely unto itself. My taste in YA works was highly influenced by growing up with seven sisters—six of them dominatingly older than me—mixed with a dash of the swashbuckling masculinity that comes from being sent off to English boarding schools from the age of 7. Here are five of my favorites from childhood and now.

Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah.

This beautifully composed book by the British poet Benjamin Zephaniah follows the half Ethiopian and half Eritrean Alem through the horrors of events in a war between those two countries. On a visit to England, Alem’s father sneaks away, trusting the government to look after Alem and protect him from the hatred his mixed-race parentage inspires at home. Alem navigates the oppressive world of U.K. children’s homes, before eventually finding the support of a caring foster family. He has to fight a court battle to stay in the U.K. and deal with the death of his parents from afar, but throughout we are taught fundamental lessons about acceptance, with a lyrical, flowing simplicity that is highly natural and digestible.

The Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.

A gripping modern classic wilderness survival story about a boy stranded by a plane crash. Parts of The Hatchet—particularly the bear encounters—often vividly spring to mind when I’m traipsing about in the semi-wild woods that surround my cabin home in New Hampshire.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey.

A YA post-apocalyptic alien invasion novel that follows the story of a teenage girl, Cassie, and her brother, Ben. Gripping and well written, it speaks to how easily humans can be turned against each other. The story weaves together destruction and love without becoming clichéd and holds the reader’s interest throughout.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

This recent bestseller follows Hazel Grace Lancaster, whose parents force her to attend a cancer support group where she falls in love with a fellow sufferer, Gus. Their mutual support of each other and realizations of self-worth define the story, with their attachment to the book An Imperial Affliction tracking the latter half of the story. This incredibly poignant book is beautifully constructed and truly wonderful.

The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley by Martine Murray.

This quirky story follows the everyday events that occur to the protagonist, Cedar, and her idiosyncratic, marginalized surrounding cast. The book grazes on the magic of life that surrounds us all, and follows the trail of delights and difficulties that lay along the verge of adolescence.