Darwin’s First Birthday!

On June 29th, our team will be gathering together to celebrate one successful year of our Darwin Rare Books Room.


This time last year we were frantically painting, filling the shelves (then emptying them when they didn’t look quite right and refilling them!), and putting all the finishing touches on what has become a really special area in our shop.

All of the hard work paid off, of course, and we have now been running our Darwin Rare Books Room for a full year, and our customers and visitors have enjoyed it even more than we could have imagined.


It has been brilliant to showcase all of our vintage, rare, and beautiful books, and the presence of the room has meant that customers have been bringing collections of their own antique books to us, telling us stories of how they came to have them, who they belonged to.

Lots of our visitors have enjoyed the familiarity of the books, whether having owned a copy as a child, or having seen the books on the shelves of grandparents and older family members.

On Friday 29th of June, we will be hosting a birthday party in the Darwin Room, with a 25% discount all day, poetry readings and music.

We hope to see you there, and if you’re unable to make it, pay us a visit some other time – if only just to breathe in that old books smell!

If you’ve any questions about the event, don’t hesitate to contact us on 01761 451777, or send us an email at bookbarn@bookbarninternational.com. 


Independent Bookshop Week at the Bookbarn


“The best place to buy a book is a bookshop.”

Next week brings another wonderful Independent Bookshop Week celebration for us to get involved in.

Since having joined the Bookseller’s Association, we are reminded constantly of what it means to be an Independent Bookshop in such a popular and competitive industry, and how lucky we are to have been in business such a long time.

Next week gives us the opportunity to celebrate with other independent bookshops all over the country, and encourage our customers and other book lovers to join in and visit your favourite independent bookshop.

What’s really special about being an independent bookshop is that we are able to be a part of our community, to build relationships with regular customers and provide a unique and personal service to all of our visitors. Most of our staff are local, or have known of the bookbarn before having worked here, and therefore understand the importance of keeping us going. As do our customers, who treat us with so much kindness and support, we couldn’t do it without them!


Here are some of our favourite visitor comments to commemorate the occasion, from book lovers who have kept us going all these years!

“What a lovely place to visit on a gloomy day! Very friendly and helpful staff. Lovely cakes as well!” – 21-2-2013

“This Bookbarn is a Cathedral of Knowledge!!!” – 26-7-2013

“Never can I visit this area without popping into the Bookbarn at least once. Lovely staff throughout. Long may this wonderful place survive! Thank you.” – 14-9-2013

“Wonderful place full of mystery & memories – Will be back.” – 5-3-2016



Learn Sugar Craft at Bookbarn!


Beginning this month, we will be running a series of Sugar craft workshops in our café, led by a qualified sugar craft enthusiast.

The first workshop will be from 7pm – 9pm on the 21st of June, and will be £25 per person.

An opportunity to learn and practice elegant classical piping techniques with the guidance and instruction of a friendly qualified sugar craft enthusiast.


You will be given a board so you can take your piping home.

Further workshops will include:

Learning how to prepare and cover a cake

Crafting sugarpaste wildflowers…

Various seasonal special techniques…




Get in touch with us to book on to the workshop, or for any further information:


01761 451777.


The Bookbarn Big Summer Reading List

In preparation for the upcoming Summer months, we’ve put together a Summer reading list. It features books for all ages, of all genres and all shapes and sizes. The books on this list are fun to read, well written and intelligent. We hope you find something on this list that is perfect for reading on a beach in the sunshine, or inside on a comfy chair during the inevitable summer rainstorms.



Lauren Child books

Lauren Child is a writer, illustrator and Children’s Laureate all wrapped up in one. Whether you’re reading the Charlie and Lola books, or Clarice Bean, the endearing ‘That Pesky Rat’, or her young adult series Ruby Redfort, Lauren Child’s work is fun, unique and the illustration style is so bright and colourful its hard not to love it.

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden was my favourite book as a child. I remember it well, and it is so wonderfully optimistic and sweet that I find time to read it regularly, and it’s a perfect Summer book, it might just encourage you to do that gardening you’ve been putting off!

Neverending Story

Michael Ende’s Neverending Story acts as a doorway for children into the world of fantasy writing. It’s also a brilliant representation of what it means to read books as a child (and even for some of us as an adult). Though Bastian quite literally loses himself in the story, we can all relate to his curiosity and need to find out where the story ends. We recommend this one when you’re in the mood for an adventure.

Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things are, like Harry Potter, always lands itself on any reading lists I write. There’s a trend on this list of fantasy worlds and adventures, from secret gardens to worlds hidden within books. I can’t help but be drawn to children’s books that make my imagination run wild. Like Lauren Child’s books, what I love best about Where the Wild things are is the illustrations.

The Hobbit

What better time than the Summer to read Bilbo’s tale? Another fantasy story filled with Dragons, Dwarves, Elves, and all of the best parts of the genre. I’m massively fond of this story, and should be enjoyed by every young reader.



Harry Potter Series

Is Harry Potter on every reading list of ours? Absolutely! If you’re on school/college/university holidays, it’s the perfect time to re-read the Harry Potter series.

Looking for Alaska 

John Green’s Looking for Alaska is one of his six famous YA novels, alongside An Abundance of Katherines, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and The Fault in Our Stars. Looking for Alaska follows Miles “Pudge” Halter as he navigates a new school and new friends. Pudge has a fascination with famous last words, such as Francois Rabelais’s “I go to seek a great perhaps”.  It’s a unique coming-of-age novel and John Green is a must for Young Adult readers.

Eleanor and Park

Eleanor and Park is the story of two young misfits in the 1980s. It’s a love story, that begins with the two bonding over comic books and music. Another perfect YA novel, working through the struggles of growing up. The author, Rainbow Rowell, has also written two other novels, Fangirl and Carry On, and now works on the Marvel Runaways comics.

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Debut novel by Becky Albertalli, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is the coming out story of teenage boy Simon Spier. It has since been adapted into a film, which has drawn a large fanbase to the story due to its unique representation of LGBT teens. Albertalli has just last month released the sequel, Leah On the Offbeat, in which Simon’s best friend Leah is the protagonist.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Another Young Adult novel turned popular movie, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a fun read for those of us who were (or are) teenage misfits and outcasts. The story is told in a unique way, through photographs and narrative.

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls is on this list because of its truly beautiful artwork. The story isn’t something to snub, but the illustrations are what draw me to it. Illustrated by the incredible Jim Kay, who gave us the illustrated editions of the first three Harry Potter books (Philosopher’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban), the story was inspired by an unfinished story from Siobhan Dowd, who died before being able to complete it.



The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: a trilogy in five parts

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the most ridiculous and super fun set of books I’ve read. I love the silliness of it. A great read for the summer, as it is easy going and easy to digest.

A Song of Ice and Fire

Quite the opposite of the previous recommendation, the A Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones) by George R R Martin is full of blood, guts, sword fights, dragons; everything you expect from the books that brought us the intense TV show. Bit hard going to read, but worth it.

Discworld Series

I’ll admit, I’ve not actually read every one of the forty-one novels in the Discworld stories. There are plenty of members of staff at Bookbarn who have – and they can wax lyrical about how wonderful they are, and that’s why they’re on this list. The books that I have read were intelligent, witty and enjoyable, and I really do intend to read the rest of the series (just add it to my giant pile of books to be read).



Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

It’s likely that you have heard of Eleanor Oliphant before. It’s taken the book world by storm, and has just been named Book of the Year. It’s an optimistic tale, filled with reminders of the important of kindness. Read it, you’ll love it.

Lincoln in the Bardo

Last year’s Man Booker Prize winner by George Saunders depicts President Abraham Lincoln’s grief after the loss of his son. It’s always good to check out the prize winners.

Purple Hibiscus

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is everything good in the world – talented novelist, feminist and all round awesome woman, her novels are vibrant and moving and intelligent, and truly brilliant reads. Purple Hibiscus is her first novel, and sets a trend of great work from her. We’d also recommend Half of a Yellow Sun, and any of her short story collections, or essay collections.

Call me by Your Name

Call me by your name took the world by storm last year, and it makes me long for a summer in Italy.  It’s the story of the ultimate summer romance between Elio and Oliver, and the years that follow. A romantic and poetic novel, perfect for reading on a hot day.

Maya Angelou Autobiography (7 books)

Another all round superstar woman to add to your bookshelves, Maya Angelou was an incredible poet and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, spanning across her life and her struggles. They are brilliant, and worth taking the time to read.

1984 George Orwell

Published in 1949 as a dystopian novel, reading 1984 now is truly chilling, as so much of it reflects the world that we live in today. A must read for our current time.


We hope this list at least gave you some inspiration for your reading this summer, and please fire some recommendations right back at us, we’re always looking for new authors and new genres to explore.

-by Emma Bilsborough, Retail Team Leader




Weaving the Tapestries of Lives: The Lost Art of Book Inscriptions

-Guest Blog Post by Lauren O’Hagan

My name is Lauren O’ Hagan and I am a postgraduate researcher in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at Cardiff University. My project is entitled ‘Class, Culture and Conflict in the Edwardian Book Inscription’ and essentially uses book inscriptions to explore social class in early-twentieth- century Britain.

My project would not have been possible without the wonderful Bookbarn International! Having regularly shopped here since 2000 when they operated out of a bricks and mortar bookshop at the Paintworks, I knew that when I needed to collect my dataset of 3,000 book inscriptions, this paradise for bibliophiles was the only place to look!

The CEO, Fenna Leake, was so lovely and accommodating, giving me free rein of
Bookbarn’s humongous warehouse and allowing me a sneak peek behind the scenes in the online business – somewhere I’ve also wanted to enter!

Three years on, I am coming to the end of my project and I am keen to share some of my findings with you all!

What I did:

My research set out to explore three things:
 The types of inscriptions that Edwardians used in their books
 The ways in which inscriptions and book ownership varied according to gender, age
and class
 The communicative purposes of book inscriptions

The study involved the following steps:

1. Manually searching the shelves of Bookbarn for Edwardian books (it’s actually easier than you think! Edwardian book spines are notoriously colourful and decorative!)
2. Photographing the book, inscription and any bookseller stamps/labels inside
3. Creating a database of information on each inscription
4. Using archival documents (i.e. census records, birth/marriage/death certificates etc.) to investigate the background of each inscriber
5. Investigating patterns and trends in the data

What I found out
Before I tell you what I found out, you may be wondering what was so special about the
Edwardian era. The years between 1901 and 1914 marked a high point in the history of
book ownership in Britain. Growing literacy rates and the dramatic decrease in production costs meant that for the first time, books became increasingly accessible to all classes in society. Furthermore, the early twentieth century marked a sharpening of class
consciousness: the upper classes wanted to preserve the “hallowed structure”, while the
lower classes wanted a sweeping reconstruction of social hierarchy. For this reason, an
exploration of book inscriptions and their manipulation by users has the potential to reveal important information regarding the class conflicts and social tensions that existed in Edwardian Britain.

Types of Book Inscription
There were five main types of book inscription in Edwardian Britain:

Ownership Inscription, Gift Inscription, Author Inscription and Bookplates.

Ownership Inscription:

Ownership Inscription

This was the most basic declaration of book possession. As it only required a writing implement to create, it tended to be favoured by groups in Edwardian Britain that were
located at the bottom of the social hierarchy: working-class adults, females and children.
Despite their humble appearance, the mere fact that these groups were able to inscribe
marked a symbolic change in the rigid structures of Edwardian society. These marginalised groups were empowered by three important acts – the 1870 Education Act, the 1882 Married Women’s Property Act and the 1908 Children’s Act – which respectively increased levels of literacy, ensured women’s legal right to possession and protected young people. Prior to these acts, many working-class adults lacked the knowledge to read, let alone, own books, while women and children were totally excluded from owning possessions.

Gift Inscription:

Gift Inscription
While examples of gift inscriptions appear across all class groups, they are favoured by the lower-middle class. As a newly emerging group who were conscious to carve their niche in Edwardian society, this group were particularly susceptible to the commercialisation of gift-giving and saw it as part of a social obligation and necessity to retain social status. Amongst working-class Edwardians, gifts were only given to children – perhaps a reflection of the limited disposable income available.

Author Inscription:

While in the nineteenth century, book owners primarily obtained author inscriptions from attending public lectures or contacting publishing houses, by the mid-Edwardian era, department stores, such as Selfridge’s, had popularised the modern-day concept of book signings. These events were typically frequented by upper-middle- class men and women, whose increased leisure time and disposable income were major pull factors.


Bookplates were typically used by upper-class, middle-aged men. This was partially due to their expensive cost of commissioning, as well as the fact that the coats of arms that figured so prominently on them were limited to male usage only. However, by the beginning of the Edwardian era, the surge in consumerism and the desire for cheaper products led to the emergence of the mass-produced pictorial bookplate. As these bookplates were priced at a substantially lower cost than their privately commissioned counterparts, they granted some working-class and lower-middle- class Edwardians access to bookplates for the first time.

Prize Inscription

Prize Inscription

In Edwardian Britain, awarding books as prizes was a standard practice for most schools, Sunday schools and other institutions. Prizes were typically awarded in recognition of an outstanding achievement or contribution, but the books they were given also served a secondary function of moral education and were often used by educational and religious institutions as tools to disseminate approved fiction. For this reason, working-class children were the predominant recipients of prize inscriptions.

Edwardian Reading Habits
The reading habits of working-class and lower-middle- class children was influenced largely by the prize book movement. Religious fiction by such authors as Charlotte B. Yonge, Hesba Stretton, Bessie Marchant and E.E. Green was most frequently owned by girls, while adventure fiction by W.H.G. Kingston, G.A. Henty, R.M. Ballantyne and Gordon Stable was favoured by boys. Other popular books include Pilgrim’s Progress, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, Westward Ho! and Little Lord Fauntleroy – many of which are still classics today.

Amongst working-class and lower-middle- class adults, books from J.M. Dent’s Everyman’s Library series were particularly favoured, which attests to the growing self-education movement in Edwardian Britain. Other popular books amongst these two groups include Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies, Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare and poetry volumes by Tennyson, Browning, Wordsworth and Longfellow.

Upper-middle and upper-class Edwardians particularly enjoyed the biography genre. Life of Gladstone, Evelyn’s Diary and Dr. John Brown all regularly reoccur, as well as novels by Walter Scott, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson – typical authors of the literary canon. These groups also owned many books in the Macmillan & Co.’s Highways and Byways travel series.

The differences in books owned by each class group becomes apparent through their
formats and bindings:

Lower-Class Prize Books and Everyman’s Library Books

Upper-Class Vellum and Leather-Bound Books

Despite their class differences, most Edwardians bought their books from W.H. Smith and Foyles:

Most books were purchased within one year of publication. This suggests that books had
reached such economic prices during the Edwardian period that most people were able to buy them as soon as they were released rather than having to wait for second-hand copies or cheap editions.

Communicative Functions of Book Inscriptions
While the chief purpose of a book inscription is to express ownership, marking possession is, in fact, just one of its many communicative functions.

I have discovered that book inscriptions can be used as:

1. Identity markers:
Name, terms of address, education, religion, occupation, relationship status etc.
2. Speech acts:
Expressing gratitude, begging forgiveness, saying farewell, congratulating, wishing good
luck, giving advice, insulting, warning, gift giving (birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Lent, Saints’ Days, Bar Mitzvahs, New Year, in memoriam), recording past experiences etc.
3. Creative mediums:
Bubble writing, calligraphy, sketches, water colours, pen-and- ink drawings etc.
4. Diary entries
5. Reminders to future self
6. Recontextualised spaces (i.e. taking texts or images from their original context and
introducing them into a new context)
7. Face-saving devices (i.e. to promote a positive image of oneself)

Some of my favourite examples are below:

I would like to end with a short story of one of the Edwardians which particularly struck a chord with me.

Ministry of Comfort

This inscription was made by Edith Buller, the daughter of Maria Buller, a lower-middle- class housewife from London. Maria was diagnosed with tuberculosis and kept the severity of her illness a secret from her daughter for as long as possible. Finally, on April 10 th 1913, she entered Prior Place sanitorium in Camberley, giving her copy of The Ministry of Comfort (a book about coming to terms with death) to her daughter before leaving. Just over two weeks later, Edith died. Her daughter’s inscription above really captures her private thoughts at this time and is a wonderful yet tragic example of the ways in which books were, as Roger Chartier states, “companions of choice in a new kind of intimacy.”

— — –

If you have enjoyed reading my post, please feel to follow me on Twitter @laurenohagan91


If you are interested in writing a guest blog post for us, send an email to bookbarn@bookbarninternational.com with some examples of your work. 

Bookbarn’s Marvellous May Fayre!

Last week was one of the busiest and most fun we’ve had at Bookbarn. It was a week of firsts – we began the week with a Bank Holiday Kilo Sale, the first of its kind for us, and we ended it with our first May Fayre.

may fayre 3

For the past two years, we have held a Winter Fayre in November. The fayre is a chance for us to use our space for something a little different than book-selling, and we invite local craftspeople of all kinds to come and join us and showcase their talents.


This year, we decided to kick off the Summer here at Bookbarn with our first May Fayre. We invited stall holders to join us for the day on Saturday, and thankfully the rain held off and a couple of our talented visitors were able to set up stalls outside in the sunshine.

We had a brilliant mix of stalls, selling an array of wonderful gifts, including photography, stained glass craft, chocolate (incredibly yummy chocolate), cards and prints, and much more.


The café made tasty takeaway food for our visitors, and we also had the pleasure of an afternoon of poetry readings from the talented Barn Poets. The Barn Poets meet every third Tuesday evening in our café, and explore their talents within a supportive and encouraging group of other poets. They settled themselves in our Darwin Rare Books Room and delivered some funny, poignant and sweet poems.


We’re very lucky to have the space to hold events like this, and we enjoy getting involved in the community around us. We love being able to encourage the arts projects and groups around us. If you are interested in using our space to hold a group or a class, email us at bookbarn@bookbarninternational.com or call 01761 451333.


Our first Book Kilo Sale!

On the 7th of May we held our first ever Book Kilo Sale. The event was a fun way for us to clear some of the excess stock in our warehouse, whilst providing some new and exciting services to our customers.

The event was well received on social media and in store, and we put in a lot of work to make sure that everyone had the best possible experience during the event.

In the weeks leading up to the event, our team worked hard to put together a collection of books that would appeal to our customers, book collectors and dealers, and to set up the space.

Most of the preparation tasks were completed before the day of the sale, but we still managed to find ourselves rushing around like mad in the morning in order to make sure we were all set up!

kilo sale

By 10.30am, we already had a large crowd of visitors gathered outside, excited

to see what the Kilo Sale had to offer (we were only a little stressed at this point).

Come 11am, the crowd moved towards the back of our warehouse, picking up boxes and pulling along trolleys to fill with books. We had a steady crowd of customers all day – despite the intense heat! Nothing was going to stop these book lovers from finding some treasures.

Throughout the day, we had visitors from all over the country, and of all ages!

kilo sale 2

We also provided tours of our warehouse area, where we store all of our internet stock.

warehouse tours

The visitors who signed up to tour our warehouse were able to spend 40 minutes in the stacks with a member of our staff, browsing and learning about what we do behind the scenes here at the Bookbarn.

warehouse tours 2

All in all, it was a wonderful day for the Bookbarn team, and our visitors all left with happy faces and arms full of books – the best and only way to leave us!

After the success of this event, we are already planning the next sale. Keep an eye on our social media and our website to find out more.

Next up: our May Fayre on Saturday the 12th of May – craft stalls, food, music and much more. We’ll see you there!

How to refurbish a café in 10 steps

What we learned along the way – by Fenna Leake, CEO of Bookbarn International

Step 1: Planning and Designing.

Careful planning and meticulous measuring is crucial to the success of your installations.

Drawings can help you to make sense of your ideas – our warehouse team leader Jarek drew us a very effective plan to work with.

Step 2: Remove the old equipment fixtures and fittings.


We started the project on Sunday 8th April after closing. The Full stop cafe was buzzing with activity. Friends and family volunteers stayed late helping to take apart the old kitchen and counter to make way for the new.

Step 3: Lay a new floor if needed.

Ours got a sealant treatment in a fetching shade of green, and was left looking shinier than ever!


Step 4: Build and install a counter.

The work on our counter actually began weeks ago, our team worked hard to make the frame and cladding in advance so that it could be fitted swiftly during the refit.


Step 5: Utilities: Plumbing, electrics and equipment.

Make sure your electrics and water don’t mix!


Step 6: Make it look extra special and add the finishing touches.


Step 7: Move back in!

Step 7.1: Then move everything around again, at least 5 times!


Step 8: Practice using the new equipment.

Get to know your equipment. Oven’s can have their own personalities and you need to try baking a few cakes before opening.


Beki and Tana (Cafe Supervisor) admire their supersized new oven.

Step 9: Make a snag list and allow time to test things out.

Even with all the best laid plans it is easy to miss something. There is likely to be a few snags along the way. Give yourself enough time to make adjustments and corrections.

For example, on opening day our coffee machine wasn’t working due to an installation error. We should have checked this the previous evening. This wasn’t ideal but our customers were very understanding and we served a really delicious blend of filter coffee until the machine was fixed.

Step 10: Stand back and take pride in all of your hard work.

(Before the public descend on you)

Of course, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to crack open a bottle of bubbles!


Beki Leake and the cafe team and rebuild team celebrating after a successful first day after reopening Sat 14th April.


The Full Stop Café gets a makeover!


The Full Stop cafe opened in April 2014 and has been trading successfully for 4 years growing in popularity year on year. Saturday April 14th almost exactly 4 years to the day the The Full Stop Cafe upgraded reopens to the public. Ready to serve the usual favourite dishes from the menu with some fresh new recipes added. The cafe’s known for its tasty, fresh healthy homemade food served from, the newly refurbished, open kitchen.

The Full Stop cafe has grown into a busy little place and  Beki Leake, the cafe manager was finding that her team in the cramped Kitchen was under a lot of strain. With months of careful planning Beki project managed the rebuild. A new kitchen layout was planned to make the space more efficient, hobs and ovens were upgraded, and a new custom built counter handmade in house.

Beki says: I joined BBI to set up The Full Stop Cafe in 2014 and I have witnessed it grow and develop into the wonderful space it is today.

We have added more seating and the cafe now has room for over 50 people at the same time. The improved kitchen and equipment have made food and drinks preparation much easier so we can serve lots more customers each day.

Whilst we have a new look and our team are still doing what we do best, the changes we have made compliment the Full Stop Café ethos.

Now I am really looking forward to seeing where we can take it next.”

Bookbarn’s CEO Fenna Leake says: “Bookbarn International has always attracted bright, creative and passionate people to work for the company.”

Warehouse team leader Jarek Tomanna, whilst working at Bookbarn International, discovered he has a natural flair for woodwork. Despite having limited experience in joinery he flourished with the task of rebuilding the counter and lead the team rebuilding the counter with measured designs and superb attention to detail. We bought in more friends and family to help. Peter Sajdak, partner of Bookbarn’s CEO Fenna took time out from his day job to help Jarek bring his vision to life.

Freddie Dodson son of Bookbarn’s financial director Matthew Dodson joined the rebuild team too. Freddie recently studied as an apprentice for one year in Japan, where his his Sensei (Master) taught him unique, joinery and cutting techniques. Specialising in working with kanna (pronounced car-NA), traditional planes. He has now returned to the UK, instructed by his Sensei to carry on the work he was appointed, passing on this rich craft to the west. Freddie has set up a workshop and business called Tatara workshop where he creates handcrafted furniture close to Bristol airport.


For The Full Stop cafe Freddie created a beautiful bespoke countertop by joining old scaffolding planks and working them without sandpaper so they became unrecognisably smooth. The end result is incredible; a soft and sleek, oiled counter that looks as though its been made from solid wood.

Most of the counter and it’s supporting beams were constructed from second hand, up-cycled scaffolding and pallet boards. Where possible pieces from the old kitchen and counter were reused. The 3 guys created a counter out of these recycled materials to such a high standard that wouldn’t be amiss in a trendy barn or coffee shop in central Bristol.


Fiction Spotlight: Young Adult Fiction

-By Dan Kiernan, Bookseller


Towards the back of the barn we have a wall dedicated to Young Adult books. This location, which at first may seem oddly out of the way, has been chosen precisely because it is as far as you can be from the children’s area while still being in the shop. We used to have the two next to each other, but as there can be some confusion as to what distinguishes a kid’s book from a young adult one, we decided to keep them apart in order to give teens their own corner of the barn. Despite this, sorting books into this area can still be an issue. As with most definitions in the book trade, ‘Young Adult’ is not quite as clear-cut as you would expect.

downloadOn the surface, Young Adult is not a difficult tag to grasp: it is a marketing term used to define books aimed at 13-18 year olds featuring protagonists of the same age. The problem arises from the fact that this can be applied to many books of varying genre, tone and style (hence my reluctance to call Young Adult a genre). The age range also blurs the distinction. For example, in the first Harry Potter book our eponymous hero and his friends are 11, which would make it a kid’s book. Come Prisoner of Azkaban, however, the characters have turned 13, making this and the following books works of Young Adult fiction. Given this, where do we put the entire series? Keep Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets in kids with the rest in Young Adult, or choose one and put them all in there? Either parents might worry that their children are being exposed to something too dark for their age, or teenagers may feel they are being offered ‘kiddy’ books and not something that speaks directly to them.

The_Guardian_of_Education_vol_IThe concept of teenagers, as a group distinct from children or adults with their own needs and desires, is relatively recent phenomena, having only come about in the 1950’s: Young Adult fiction, on the other hand, has been around much longer. As early as 1802 Sarah Trimmer separates ‘Books for Children’ from ‘Books for Young Persons’ in her periodical The Guardian of Education, but publishers only cottoned on to Young Adults as a seperate market in the 1960’s. Since then we have been treated to a wide range of classics and curios of Young Adult fiction. To give you an idea of what you can expect to find on our back wall, here is a selection five individual books and series ranging from gritty realism to magical fantasy, with a few others in between.


The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton


This book is doubly Young Adult: not only are the characters teenagers but so is the author, having finished the book when she was just 16. Focusing on ‘Ponyboy’ Curtis, a member of the Greasers who finds himself in conflict with rival gang the Socs, this is a tale filled with violence, drinking, social dysfunction and ultimately redemption. The realness of the story was in stark contrast to the Young Adult novels of the time, which the author described as ‘Mary Jane went to the prom’, and conveys all the raw emotion of adolescence in candidprose. Stay gold.


The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold41kPmUFCoUL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_

Susie Salmon, a 14 year old girl in 1973 Pennsylvania is raped, murdered dismembered by her neighbour. A depresing start to a book for the young, but after this horrible circumstance her spirit passes to the other-side from where she observes her family and friends struggling with her disappearance. Eventually she tries to find a way to bring them closure and justice. This is a beautiful novel which tackles heavy themes in a gripping manner, and is decidedly agnostic on the nature of the afterlife, giving it a broad appeal.


A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett


Following the lives of the three Baudelaire orphans after their parents burn with the family home, these books offer precisely what they say on the cover as the children are chased by an evil relative trying to steal their fortune. The morbidity and gothic overtones are played mostly for absurdist laughs, though the story is not without its heartbreaking moments of anguish either. While the books become a little formulaic towards the end of the series (there are, unluckily enough, 13 in total), they are packed with wit and references that can fly right over the heads of younger readers, making them ideal to revisit as an adult.


The Girls Series by Jacqueline Wilson51KK98W71BL._SX289_BO1,204,203,200_

I struggled to pick a Jacqueline Wilson book for this list – her work reflects the harsh realities faced by so many young people and their families with such good humour and marvellous plotting that to pick just one of her books or series seems criminal. While Tracey Beaker is currently on everyone’s lips as a new installment has (at time of writing) just been published, I feel Girls deserves the spotlight. The books tell the story of Ellie and her friends as they navigate school, boys, and all the other dramas faced by teenage girls. Though aimed at girls, young men could easily learn a thing or two about how the other half think from these books, and are great reads regardless of your sex or gender.


Shattered Sea Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie


Well known in fantasy circles for his dark and un-PG First Law books, this series offers everything adults love about his work while being suitable for younger readers. Set in a fantasy world not so dissimilar from our own world, each book is told from the perspective of a different set of characters fighting to keep their kingdom independant. I’d like to say more, but the less you know going in to this series the more you will be rewarded as certain facts about the secondary world become more apparent. Full of ancient magic, action, romance and written in witty and melodic prose, this is a fantastic trilogy well worth anyone’s time, regardless of their age.


Come and visit our Young Adult section! We are open Monday – Saturday 9am-5pm and Sundays and Bank Holidays 11am-5pm.