I first read Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart as a child, not realizing then that it was a translated book, originally written in German. While YA books are regularly translated from English into other languages, it remains rare that we see books from other countries make their way into contemporary English-language YA. The titles below are just a small sample of translated YA literature, and the beginning of a hopefully growing tradition.
Maresi, by Maria Turtschaninoff, translated from the Swedish by A. A. Prime
Maresi lives in the sheltered Red Abbey, a haven for women and girls escaping abuse and poverty. Still reeling from the loss of her sister four years ago, Maresi has found safety and solace in the Abbey. But that peace is shattered when Jai arrives. Jai has also lost a sister, but unlike Maresi, she turns towards revenge and anger against her father and brothers, who killed her sister in an honor killing. As the dangers outside the Abbey walls creep nearer, Maresi realizes that while the shelter of the Abbey keeps her safe, it also keeps her out of the fight—a fight she realizes she has to join.
Reckless, by Cornelia Funke, translated from the German by Oliver Latsch
Jacob Reckless lives up to his name. As a child he stole into a portal through the mirror in his father’s abandoned study, becoming known in the Mirrorworld as a finder and seller of magical items and secrets. But deadly consequences might result when his brother, Will, follows him through the mirror. Leaning heavily on German fairy tale traditions such as the Brothers Grimm (whom Funke nods at by naming her characters William and Jacob), Jacob must venture into gingerbread houses, Sleeping Beauty’s castle, and other fairy-tale places on the quest to save his brother from a transformative magical sickness.
Real World, by Natsuo Kirino, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel
Four teenage girls—Toshi, Terauchi, Yuzan, and Kirarin—spend their hot summer days in Tokyo like any other teenage girls, wading through summer school classes and keeping secrets from each other. But amid the wails of a smog alert siren, Toshi hears something else—glass shattering at her neighbor’s house next door. When she finds her neighbor dead, she immediately suspects the woman’s son, Worm—the same boy who stole Toshi’s bike and cell phone. This is a fast-paced noir thriller offering an intimate look at teenage lives in Japan.
The Valley of the Wolves, by Laura Gallego García, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden
Dana’s best friend since she was a child is Kai. Too bad she’s the only one who can see him. But then the Maestro comes and offers her a chance to study magic in the Valley of the Wolves, a school with only one other student—and Dana knows she has to take the chance, because the Maestro also sees Kai. The Maestro only has two rules: Dana can never go into the forest near the valley after dark, and she can never disobey. As Dana learns more about the Maestro and the school’s secrets, she breaks both rules, finding herself along the way.
The Letter for the King, by Tone Dragt, translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson
Sixteen-year-old Tiuri abandons his knighthood to answer a man’s plea for help, and what follows is a Tolkien-esque adventure to deliver an important letter in this new translation of a 1962 Dutch novel. He treks through the wilderness meeting friends and foes alike, such as the righteous Gray Knights or the Red Riders. While a bit of an old-school fantasy, this is one of the few Dutch YA novels translated into English, and is an interesting glimpse at narrative structures different from our own.
Code Name: Butterfly, by Ahlam Bsharat, translated from the Arabic by Nancy Roberts
Butterfly lives in Occupied Palestine with her family, including her father, whom she suspects may be allied with the occupiers. But amid navigating life in an occupied country, she also has to deal with her normal teenage life, including her crush on a boy named Nizar who still hasn’t shown much interest. While her classmates, such as activist Maya, turn to protest, Butterfly turns inward to her imagination, escaping into the rich inner world she creates.
Tell Me What You See, by Zoran Drvenkar, translated from the German by Chantal Wright
On a cold night in Berlin, Alyssa is on her yearly pilgrimage to her father’s grave when she falls into the open grave of a dead boy with a flower growing from his chest. Compelled to eat the plant, Alyssa soon gains strange powers, including being able to converse with the dead and see things others can’t. As she battles her ex’s obsession with her and her newfound powers, the only person Alyssa can turn to is her best friend Evelin. This is a strange, gothic novel, and as it grows even stranger, only Evelin can keep Alyssa grounded in reality.
172 Hours on the Moon, by Johan Harstad, translated from the Norwegian by Tara F. Chance
No one has been to the moon in decades. But when humanity returns there in 2019, it does so as part of a publicity stunt in which normal teenagers win a chance to travel along with the crew. Antoine, Midori, and Mia all have their own reasons for wanting to travel, but things quickly begin to sour once they arrive on the DARLAH base and realize they aren’t alone—and that their trip will soon turn deadly…