These are the books that I love to bits and will always recommend.
Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen
A friend, knowing my love for Peter Pan, recommended this to me, and I am so glad I tracked it down. ‘Alias Hook’ tells Hook’s backstory, and the story of his eventual escape from Neverland. I do worry about adaptations, and this one I think could have been awful… but it’s perfect. This is NOT a book for children, mind. This is Neverland with all its dark and rotten bits. Hook is not a good man, and Peter is a monster. But for Hook there will be one last chance for redemption. Jensen’s book holds up a dark mirror to the original – I felt so much admiration reading this. My crush on Hook was also ENTIRELY validated.
Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone (Illustrated Edition) by J.K. Rowling, ill. Jim Kay
I grew up alongside the Harry Potter books, and this new illustrated hardcover edition made me fall in love all over again. Jim Kay illustrated Patrick Ness’s award-winning A Monster Calls, and there are hints of that book’s inky menace. Kay has done a beautiful job of reimagining Hogwarts and its inhabitants. The page showing Harry with the Mirror of Erised broke my heart. My only regret is that Bloomsbury is only releasing one book per year, so I will have to wait until 2021 for the full set.
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
I will always adore this book. I have memories of a large, illustrated copy borrowed semi-constantly from my school library, and right now I have three editions lined up on my shelf (one hardcover, one illustrated, and a beautiful abridged pop-up edition). As a child, I loved it for the fairy-dust, the pirates, and the adventure. As an adult, I think I love it for being both magical and cynical at once. Peter is too cruel and careless to be a true hero, and Barrie’s narration is fabulously snarky. There is a definite bias towards Captain Hook! The 2003 film by P.J. Hogan is essentially perfect, too.
Sabriel by Garth Nix
I discovered ‘Sabriel’ when I was thirteen. It’s heroine made a huge impression on me. I wanted to be Sabriel: level-headed, courageous, and compassionate, even in the face of death. I mean that part literally. Sabriel is an Abhorsen, a mage who can walk in Death, charged with keeping the undead down. She is also young, and inexperienced, thrust into an unfamiliar Kingdom long since fallen to ruin. This mixture of strength and vulnerability still speaks to me. ‘Sabriel’ is the first in a dark and wonderful trilogy (which also features my favourite snippy talking cat). That cover, by the way, is the work of Sebastian Ciafagglione, who is amazing.
The Minnow by Diana Sweeney
‘The Minnow’ is strange and beautiful book, and difficult to categorise. It has a young narrator with an old voice, and a plot shaped by grief and a teenage pregnancy. This might seem depressing, but it’s not: Tom is knowing and pragmatic, and often wryly funny. At the same time, her conversations with fish and her dead grandfather give the book a surreal dreaminess. ‘The Minnow’ was a debut novel, by an Australian author, besides which the cover is gorgeous, so please do find it and read it and then tell ALL YOUR FRIENDS.
Honourable author mentions to (in the children’s and YA realm) Eoin Colfer, Frances Hardinge, Jonathan Stroud, and Scott Westerfeld, along with (for adults) Susanna Clarke, Scott Lynch, Erin Morgenstern, and Naomi Novik.