Alex Wheatle won the Guardian children’s fiction prize for Crongton Knights, his chronicle of life on a fictional London council estate. Now, his first work of historical fiction for teenagers proves to be every bit as compelling and relevant. Cane Warriors (Andersen Press, £12.99) is the story of a real-life slave rebellion in 18th-century Jamaica, seen through the eyes of 14-year-old Moa. Giving voice to characters seldom heard in British children’s books, this is an important, powerful novel about hope, freedom and brotherhood.
Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (HarperCollins, £7.99) takes the story of Salaam’s wrongful conviction as one of the “Central Park Five” as the starting point for a searing fictional story of racial injustice in contemporary America. Alam Shahid, 16, is a promising art student until the night he is accused of assaulting a white boy. His trial and subsequent incarceration expose the devastating impact of systemic racism in a taut, non-linear verse novel with the potential to resonate in the same way as The Hate U Give.
Also showcasing the power of verse novels is Joseph Coelho’s superb The Girl Who Became a Tree (Otter Barry, £12.99) Based on the ancient Greek myth of Daphne, who turned into a tree to avoid the attentions of Apollo, Coelho’s modern heroine is grieving the loss of her father by escaping into her phone and the local library in search of solace and freedom. A series of rich and varied poems is accented by Kate Milner’s dark, evocative art.
In another reworking of an ancient story, Deirdre Sullivan’s Savage Her Reply (Little Island, £13.99) breathes new life into the Irish legend of the Children of Lir. The tale tells of four children turned into swans for 900 years by Aife, their jealous stepmother. Sullivan spins the story to Aife’s perspective, revealing the motivations of a complex, notorious woman. This dark and lyrical feminist fable, paired with Karen Vaughan’s bewitching illustrations, will appeal to older teenagers and beyond.
Jennifer Donnelly’s Poisoned (Hot Key, £7.99) is loosely based around the story of Snow White. A wicked stepmother, a huntsman and seven small men all feature, but protagonist Sophie is a world away from the passive Disney heroine. Scorned for her kindness and lack of killer instinct, hers is a journey of self-discovery and empowerment, wrapped up in a thrilling fantasy adventure. Look out too for a more nuanced stepmother, more concerned with power than being the fairest of them all.
Finally, Laura Wood serves up an irresistible helping of old-fashioned romance in A Snowfall of Silver (Scholastic, £7.99). Freya, 18, runs away from her Cornish home to pursue her dream of being an actor. A chance meeting leads to work with a touring theatre company and the heady glamour of stage life. Wood beautifully captures the adrenaline of venturing out into the world, alongside the joy and heartache of first love. Gorgeous Christmas escapism.
• To order any of these books for a special price click on the titles or go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK p&p over £15