The Price of Friendship by Anne Schraff
Kirk Howell is working hard to get into college and become an engineer, but when his two closest friends give up on their dreams, he must find a way to pursue his own dreams while remaining loyal to his friends.
Why I Fight by J. Adams Oaks
Ever since he turned 12-and-a-half, Wyatt has been on the road with his cool uncle Spade, who lives by his wits and has a different “ladyfriend” in every new town they visit. For six years his uncle’s Chevy “was my house,” Wyatt tells the reader, and “all his ladyfriends was my mom.” It’s Spade’s idea that Wyatt, who is unusually tall and strong, should start bare-knuckle fighting for money, and the boy, heartbreakingly eager to please, complies, winning fight after fight . . . until the last one. Oaks’ first novel is a breathtaking debut with an unforgettable protagonist, a boy who may claim he hates the word love but is nonetheless desperately in search of it and of himself. The voice Oaks has created for Wyatt to tell his painful and poignant story is a wonderful combination of the unlettered and the eloquent. One example, his description of Spade: “I looked at him real good: his skin like a greasy diner, his black eyes like spiders in holes, his body like a starved bird.” Will Wyatt ever find himself? Readers who meet him will care desperately about the answer.
After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson
“The summer before D Foster’s real mama came and took her away, Tupac wasn’t dead yet.” From this first line in her quiet, powerful novel, Woodson cycles backward through the events that lead to dual tragedies: a friend’s departure and a hero’s death. In a close-knit African American neighborhood in Queens, New York, the unnamed narrator lives across from her best friend, Neeka. Then D Foster wanders onto the block, and the three 11-year-old girls quickly become inseparable. Because readers know from the start where the plot is headed, the characters and the community form the focus here. A subplot about Neeka’s older brother, a gay man serving prison time after being framed for a hate crime, sometimes threatens to overwhelm the girls’ story. But Woodson balances the plotlines with subtle details, authentic language, and rich development. Beautifully capturing the girls’ passage from childhood to adolescence, this is a memorable, affecting novel about the sustaining power of love and friendship and each girl’s developing faith in her own “Big Purpose.”
The Angel Experiment by James Patterson
Patterson, best known for his dark, gritty thrillers featuring psychologist Alex Cross, first dipped his toes in the waters of children's literature with SantaKid (2004). Aiming at an older youth readership this time and reworking ideas and characters that appeared first in his adult novels When the Wind Blows (1998) and The Lake House (2003), he delivers an action-packed cross between Gertrude Chandler Warner's Boxcar Children and Marvel Comics'X-Men. Fourteen-year-old Max (short for Maximum Ride) leads an usual group of children, escapees from an institution that designed them by "grafting avian DNA onto human genes."Yup, these kids have wings. When Angel, the smallest of the group, is kidnapped by mutants and taken back to the "school, "Max and her family determine to get her back--no matter what. Patterson occasionally forgets his audience here, as evidenced by his sardonic tone and such glib adult asides as "they found their prey: moi, "but he's picked a comfortable formula (orphans protecting one another and making a home together), which he's cushioned with an abundance of slavering beasts, childhood heartaches, and unresolved issues--all in preparation for the sequel in 2006, in which Max will, presumably, assume the role she's been assigned here: savior of the world. Expect the Patterson name to attract a crossover audience of both adults and youth.
Bird Lake Moon by Kevin Henkes
Mitch Sinclair, 12, is at Bird Moon Lake because his parents are divorcing. But there are tense moments with his grandparents, so Mitch fantasizes about moving into the empty house next door. Then Spencer Stone and his family, who own the cottage, arrive. Spencer and younger sister love the lake, but it’s also the place where their barely remembered brother, Matty, drowned at age four. Told in overlapping chapters, the story is spare. Mitch tricks Spencer into thinking Matty is haunting them; then he does something worse. After the boys become friends, the truth becomes both barrier and bridge. As in his Newbery Honor Book Olive’s Ocean (2003), every word counts, moving the story forward moment by moment. Yet the writing is as evocative as it is precise: fireflies are “pinpricks of topaz.” Emotions are just as carefully carved, turning characterization into portraiture; the children stand out in relief, against the deceptive tranquility of the lake. Some children may find the story too quiet or the ending too abrupt. But Henkes knows children and their secrets, and readers will lean close to hear the whispers.
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Bartoletti
In Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow, Booklist’s 2005 Top of the List for youth nonfiction, 2005, Bartoletti included a portrait of Helmuth Hübener, a German teenager executed for his resistance to the Nazis. In this fictionalized biography, she imagines his story as he sits in prison awaiting execution in 1942 and remembers his childhood in Hamburg during Hitler’s rise to power. Beaten and tortured to name his friends, he remembers how he started off an ardent Nazi follower and then began to question his patriotism, secretly listened to BBC radio broadcasts, and finally dared to write and distribute pamphlets calling for resistance. The teen’s perspective makes this a particularly gripping way to personalize the history, and even those unfamiliar with the background Bartoletti weaves in–the German bitterness after World War I, the burning of the books, the raging anti-Semitism––will be enthralled by the story of one boy’s heroic resistance in the worst of times. A lengthy author’s note distinguishes fact from fiction, and Bartoletti provides a detailed chronology, a bibliography, and many black-and-white photos of Helmuth with friends, family, and members of his Mormon church. This is an important title for the Holocaust curriculum. See the Booklist interview with Bartoletti, in which she discusses how this teen’s story moved her.
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Death is the narrator of this lengthy, powerful story of a town in Nazi Germany. He is a kindly, caring Death, overwhelmed by the souls he has to collect from people in the gas chambers, from soldiers on the battlefields, and from civilians killed in bombings. Death focuses on a young orphan, Liesl; her loving foster parents; the Jewish fugitive they are hiding; and a wild but gentle teen neighbor, Rudy, who defies the Hitler Youth and convinces Liesl to steal for fun. After Liesl learns to read, she steals books from everywhere. When she reads a book in the bomb shelter, even a Nazi woman is enthralled. Then the book thief writes her own story. There's too much commentary at the outset, and too much switching from past to present time, but as in Zusak's enthralling I Am the Messenger (2004), the astonishing characters, drawn without sentimentality, will grab readers. More than the overt message about the power of words, it's Liesl's confrontation with horrifying cruelty and her discovery of kindness in unexpected places that tell the heartbreaking truth.
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Ember, a 241-year-old, ruined domed city surrounded by a dark unknown, was built to ensure that humans would continue to exist on Earth, and the instructions for getting out have been lost and forgotten. On Assignment Day, 12-year-olds leave school and receive their lifetime job assignments. Lina Mayfleet becomes a messenger, and her friend Doon Harrow ends up in the Pipeworks beneath the city, where the failing electric generator has been ineffectually patched together. Both Lina and Doon are convinced that their survival means finding a way out of the city, and after Lina discovers pieces of the instructions, she and Doon work together to interpret the fragmented document. Life in this postholocaust city is well limned--the frequent blackouts, the food shortage, the public panic, the search for answers, and the actions of the powerful, who are taking selfish advantage of the situation. Readers will relate to Lina and Doon's resourcefulness and courage in the face of ominous odds.
The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau
At the end of The City of Ember (2003), Lina and Doon had found the way out of their doomed underground home. At the opening of this hotly anticipated sequel, they have led some 400 survivors to the village of Sparks, a community of above-ground dwellers only just beginning to see prosperity after years of Disaster-induced privation. Although the citizens of Sparks uneasily welcome the Emberites, the two groups, propelled by suspicion, narrow-mindedness, and misunderstanding, find themselves battling over resources and power in a depressingly familiar dance. A climax such as the ending to the previous tale is by definition followed by an anticlimax, and this offering, deprived of its compelling setting and situation, has lost some of the drive and focus of its predecessor. Still, Lina and Doon remain engaging protagonists, and they are joined by emotionally credible new characters. Although some of the scenes deteriorate into set pieces ("One bad thing after another leads to worse things," muses Lina. "So you do a good thing, and that turns it around"), this fast-paced tale of post-Apocalyptic strife will resonate with new and returning fans alike.
Empire by Orson Scott Card
Some video-game developers asked Card to write a scenario for "an entertainment franchise . . . about a near-future American civil war."They came to the right man and held off on releasing the game until he completed this relentless thriller, which couldn't be timelier and is, for all its hyperactivity and flip, Hollywoodish one-liners, heartfelt and sobering. Its heroes are two special-ops army officers who keep their oaths to defend the U.S. against all enemies when far too many of their ostensible colleagues have decided to abandon theirs. A rocket hits the west wing of the White House, killing the president, vice-president, and secretary of defense. While those directly responsible are Arabs, the next day, 14-foot-tall, bulletproof, armed globes on mechanical legs, backed by shooters on individual hovercraft, seize New York City by killing anyone in uniform. None of the new attackers looks anything other than American. A "Progressive Restoration"administration is established in the city, and it encourages other cities and states to join it to restore government as it should have been but for the stolen elections of 2000 and 2004. Intriguing plot wrinkles come fore and aft of those basic developments, there are many deftly shaped supporting players, and major shocks explode in a split second (no Stephen King slo-mo for Card!). Moreover, all the action doesn't obscure the author's message about the dangers of extreme political polarization and the need to reassert moderation and mutual citizenship; indeed, it drives it home.
Holes by Louis Sachar
"A Yearling book." As further evidence of his family's bad fortune which they attribute to a curse on a distant relative, Stanley Yelnats is sent to a hellish correctional camp in the Texas desert where he finds his first real friend, a treasure, and a new sense of himself.
Escape by Sea by L.S. Lawrence
Sara and her father, Hanno Harcar, flee Carthage in the face of an impending invasion by the Romans. Sara has already lost her beloved bother in battle and her mother to illness. Now she and Hanno, a wealthy merchant and Carthaginian senator, take everything they own and cast their fate into the turbulent Mediterranean, swarming with pirates and ever more Romans. With coolness and courage, Sara gradually overcomes her terror and becomes a plucky heroine. Hanno never quite recovers from the trauma of having his world uprooted, and Sara must deal with crew, weather, and enemies while making the decisions about where to sail and how to trade the merchandise that is their livelihood. Markus, a proud but honorable Roman patrician who is captured after a skirmish, and Sara eventually learn to trust each other, forming a bond that will prove fortuitous to the safety of all by story’s end. While nautical terms and mercantile details clutter the narrative at times, this is still a welcome, seaworthy historical adventure in an atypical setting.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
In the ``ideal' world into which Jonas was born, everybody has sensibly agreed that well-matched married couples will raise exactly two offspring, one boy and one girl. These children's adolescent sexual impulses will be stifled with specially prescribed drugs; at age 12 they will receive an appropriate career assignment, sensibly chosen by the community's Elders. This is a world in which the old live in group homes and are ``released'--to great celebration--at the proper time; the few infants who do not develop according to schedule are also ``released,' but with no fanfare. Lowry's development of this civilization is so deft that her readers, like the community's citizens, will be easily seduced by the chimera of this ordered, pain-free society. Until the time that Jonah begins training for his job assignment--the rigorous and prestigious position of Receiver of Memory--he, too, is a complacent model citizen. But as his near-mystical training progresses, and he is weighed down and enriched with society's collective memories of a world as stimulating as it was flawed, Jonas grows increasingly aware of the hypocrisy that rules his world. With a storyline that hints at Christian allegory and an eerie futuristic setting, this intriguing novel calls to mind John Christopher's Tripods trilogy and Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl. Lowry is once again in top form--raising many questions while answering few, and unwinding a tale fit for the most adventurous readers.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
While a highly motivated killer murders his family, a baby, ignorant of the horrific goings-on but bent on independence, pulls himself out of his crib and toddles out of the house and into the night. This is most unfortunate for the killer, since the baby was his prime target. Finding his way through the barred fence of an ancient graveyard, the baby is discovered by Mr. and Mrs. Owens, a stable and caring couple with no children of their own—and who just happen to be dead. After much debate with the graveyard’s rather opinionated denizens, it is decided that the Owenses will take in the child. Under their care and the sponsorship of the mysterious Silas, the baby is named “Nobody” and raised among the dead to protect him from the killer, who relentlessly pursues him. This is an utterly captivating tale that is cleverly told through an entertaining cast of ghostly characters. There is plenty of darkness, but the novel’s ultimate message is strong and life affirming. Although marketed to the younger YA set, this is a rich story with broad appeal and is highly recommended for teens of all ages.
Gym Candy by Carl Deuker
Having grown up in the shadow of his father’s failed NFL career, high-school football player Mick Johnson is determined not to make the same mistakes. But when he’s tackled just short of the goal in a pivotal game, he decides that vitamin supplements aren’t enough and begins purchasing “gym candy,” or steroids, from the trainer at his local gym. His performance starts breaking records and his father couldn’t be more proud, but along with gains in muscle, he suffers “’roid rage,” depression, and unsightly acne. When his secret finally comes out, he attempts suicide. Even after therapy, Mick is left wondering if he’ll continue to be tempted by steroids. Deuker skillfully complements a sobering message with plenty of exciting on-field action and locker-room drama, while depicting Mick’s emotional struggles with loneliness and insecurity as sensitively and realistically as his physical ones. Pair this solid addition to the sports fiction shelf with John Coy’s Crackback (2005).
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Sequel: The river. After a plane crash, thirteen-year-old Brian spends fifty-four days in the Canadian wilderness, learning to survive initially with only the aid of a hatchet given him by his mother, and learning also to survive his parents' divorce. This handsome large-format twentieth-anniversary edition features a new introduction and conversational sidebars written by Paulsen that personalize some of the novel's material. Naturalistic sepia-tone drawings are lovely but would be better suited to illustrate a nature journal than a survival story. Readers may be put off by the book's large size, but teachers will especially appreciate the additional content.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Selznick's "novel in words and pictures," an intriguing mystery set in 1930s Paris about an orphan, a salvaged clockwork invention, and a celebrated filmmaker, resuscitates an anemic genre--the illustrated novel--and takes it to a whole new level. The result is somewhat similar to a graphic novel, but experiencing its mix of silvery pencil drawings and narrative interludes is ultimately more akin to watching a silent film. Indeed, movies and the wonder they inspire, "like seeing dreams in the middle of the day," are central to the story, and Selznick expresses an obvious passion for cinema in ways both visual (successive pictures, set against black frames as if projected on a darkened screen, mimic slow zooms and dramatic cuts) and thematic (the convoluted plot involves director Georges M'eli'es, particularly his fanciful 1902 masterpiece, A Trip to the Moon0 .) This hybrid creation, which also includes movie stills and archival photographs, is surprising and often lovely, but the orphan's story is overshadowed by the book's artistic and historical concerns (the heady extent of which are revealed in concluding notes about Selznick's inspirations, from the Lumière brothers to Francois Truffaut). Nonetheless, bookmaking this ambitious demands and deserves attention--which it will surely receive from children attracted by a novel in which a complex narrative is equally advanced by things both read and seen.
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
Left alone on a beautiful but isolated island off the coast of California, a young Indian girl spends eighteen years, not only merely surviving through her enormous courage and self-reliance, but also finding a measure of happiness in her solitary life.
Black Box: A Novel by Julie Schmacher
Elena and her older sister Dora are opposites—Elena is quiet and stoic; Dora is funny and unpredictable—but they are still best friends. After Dora is hospitalized for depression, Elena can’t understand why she didn’t confide in her. While her parents spend their nights arguing, Elena does her best to deal, finally striking up a quirky relationship with the school bad boy, Jimmy, who says his older brother went through the same thing. Dora returns from the hospital a different person, one who skips class, hoards her pills, and lies to her parents. Elena can’t reconcile this new sister with the one she’s always known, especially when glimpses of the old Dora surface, but she’s determined to save her, even if that means taking responsibility for Dora upon herself. Schumacher beautifully conveys Elena’s loneliness and guilt as she tries to protect her sister without betraying her, as well as the emotional release she experiences upon finding someone to trust with her own feelings. The spare prose is loaded with small, revealing details of the relationships that surround Elena and how they change through Dora’s illness. This novel is a quick read, but it will leave a lasting and ultimately hopeful impression.
The Landing by John Ibbitson
During the Depression, 14-year-old Ben and his Mom have been forced to move in with his gruff uncle after the tragic death of Ben?s father. Henry and Ben do whatever daily construction work is available, and Ben?s mom tends the garden, the livestock, and the small supply store. Ben really wants to play the violin, but although his father managed to buy him a violin before his death, his mom has never been able to get him lessons. He steals away every morning to practice until his uncle demands that he stop making so much noise. Things change when a wealthy widow hires Ben to get her vacation home livable, and she invites him to play violin at a party. As the story is winding down, everything changes for Ben?s family. Based on a true event, the steamship Waome sinks during a sudden squall on Lake Muskolo. This exciting and horrible occurrence alters everything for Ben. The author cleverly waits until near the end of the book to portray this life-changing event, which makes the story surprisingly exciting. The author accurately portrays Depression-era life.
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
The escapades of the Greek gods and heroes get a fresh spin in the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, about a contemporary 12-year-old New Yorker who learns he's a demigod. Perseus, aka Percy Jackson, thinks he has big problems. His father left before he was born, he's been kicked out of six schools in six years, he's dyslexic, and he has ADHD. What a surprise when he finds out that that's only the tip of the iceberg: he vaporizes his pre-algebra teacher, learns his best friend is a satyr, and is almost killed by a minotaur before his mother manages to get him to the safety of Camp Half-Blood--where he discovers that Poseidon is his father. But that's a problem, too. Poseidon has been accused of stealing Zeus' lightning bolt, and unless Percy can return the bolt, humankind is doomed. Riordan's fast-paced adventure is fresh, dangerous, and funny. Percy is an appealing, but reluctant hero, the modernized gods are hilarious, and the parallels to Harry Potter are frequent and obvious. Because Riordan is faithful to the original myths, librarians should be prepared for a rush of readers wanting the classic stories.
Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Giff
With wry comedy and intense feeling, and without intrusive historical detail, Giff gets across a strong sense of what it was like on the home front during World War II. Lily makes up stories about her involvement with spies, submarines, and anti-Nazi plots in her small seaside town in 1944, but underlying her melodrama and lies is grief for her dead mother. When Lily's father has to leave to fight in France, she is so hurt and furious that she refuses even to say good-bye to him. As she gets to know Albert, an orphaned Hungarian refugee, she learns about his secret anguish: he is guilt-stricken about the younger sister he left behind (he, also, didn't say good-bye), and he is determined, somehow, to cross the ocean and find her. The happy ending, when Lily's father finds Albert's sister in France, is too contrived, but the reunion scenes at home are heartbreaking. The friendship story is beautifully drawn: both Lily and Albert are wary, reluctant, and needy; they quarrel as much as they bond, and in the end, they help each other to be brave.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
The author of the Anastasia books as well as more serious fiction (Rabbi Starkey, 1987) offers her first historical fiction--a story about the escape of the Jews from Denmark in 1943. Five years younger than Lisa in Matas' book (below), Annemarie Johansen has, at ten, known three years of Nazi occupation. Though ever cautious and fearful of the ubiquitous soldiers, she is largely unware of the extent of the danger around her; the Resistance kept even its participants safer by telling them as little as possible, and Annemarie has never been told that her older sister Lise died in its service. When the Germans plan to round up the Jews, the Johansens take in Annemarie's friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is their daughter; later, they travel to Uncle Hendrik's house on the coast, where the Rosens and other Jews are transported by fishing boat to Sweden. Apart from Lise's offstage death, there is little violence here; like Annemarie, the reader is protected from the full implications of events--but will be caught up in the suspense and menace of several encounters with soldiers and in Annemarie's courageous run as courier on the night of the escape. The book concludes with the Jews' return, after the war, to homes well kept for them by their neighbors. A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards--not only for their king, who was in the habit of riding alone in Copenhagen, but for their Jews.
All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg
Airlifted from Vietnam at the end of the war and adopted by a loving American family, Matt Pin, 12, is haunted by what he left behind, even as he bonds with his new little brother and becomes a star pitcher on the school baseball team. In rapid, simple free verse, the first-person narrative gradually reveals his secrets: his memories of mines, flames, screams, helicopters, bombs, and guns, as well as what the war did to his little brother (He followed me / everywhere, / he follows me still). But this stirring debut novel is about much more than therapy and survivor guilt. When his parents take Matt to a veterans’ meeting, he hears the soldiers’ stories of injury and rejection and begins to understand why the school bully calls him frog face (My brother died / Because of you). There is occasional contrivance as Matt eavesdrops on adults. But the haunting metaphors are never forced, and the intensity of the simple words, on the baseball field and in the war zone, will make readers want to rush to the end and then return to the beginning again to make connections between past and present, friends and enemies. Add this to the Booklist read-alike column Children at War.
Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith
Includes bibliographical references (p. ix). Sixteen-year-old Jefferson Davis Bussey cannot wait to join the Army and defend the Union against the dreaded Colonel Watie, but when he is assigned to infiltrate the enemy camp as a spy, he discovers the rebels are boys and men just like him, and he must then decide whether to betray his enemies or join them
Eye Of the Crow by Shane Peacock
In the first intriguing volume in an ambitious new series, Peacock imagines Sherlock Holmes’ youth and his entrée into crime solving. In 1867 London, 13-year-old loner Sherlock lives in poverty, more interested in watching people and reading crime blotters than attending school. His curiosity is piqued when an Arab youth insists he has been wrongly arrested for a vicious murder. Sherlock’s search for the truth leads him into a shadowy, vividly described London, where he encounters both allies and enemies, and brings unforeseen tragedy to those he holds dear. Creative references to Doyle’s characters abound—Sherlock’s brave, new friend, Irene, is the daughter of one Andrew C. Doyle—and Sherlock himself is cleverly interpreted. Peacock casts him as a half-Jewish victim of prejudice, whose struggles between head and heart and justice and vengeance make him both fascinating and complex, at the same time providing a credible rationale for the skill, ego, stoicism, and penchant for disguises so familiar in Doyle’s iconic adult detective. Information about Doyle’s creation would have enriched this story, and young people familiar with Holmes canon will best appreciate Peacock’s rifs; but plenty of readers will like the smart, young detective they find here, and find themselves irresistibly drawn into his thrilling adventures.
Saga by Conor Kostick
In the sequel to Epic (2007), a Booklist Top 10 Fantasy for Youth, the Dark Queen infiltrates New Earth’s central computer system, erasing the role-playing game called Epic. It’s replaced with Saga, designed to enslave New Earth’s populace. In Saga, Ghost, a 15-year-old girl with no memory of her first 9 years, is part of an anarcho-punk airboard gang. Strange things have been happening in Saga—strangers are appearing, then disappearing into thin air—and Ghost’s gang eventually learns what readers already know: Saga is not a real world but a sentient computer game. When Eric arrives in Saga as his avatar Cindella Dragonslayer, he joins forces with Ghost and her gang to stop the Dark Queen from destroying New Earth. Though this adventure sustains the suspense of its predecessor, the replacement of magical Epic (with its strong resemblance to real-world computer games) with the more mundane Saga may disappoint some returning readers. Another sequel is planned, and it will definitely be interesting to see where Kostick goes from here.
Schooled by Gordon Korman
Homeschooled on an isolated “alternate farm commune” that has dwindled since the 1960s to 2 members, 13-year-old Cap has always lived with his grandmother, Rain. When she is hospitalized, Cap is taken in by a social worker and sent—like a lamb to slaughter—to middle school. Smart and capable, innocent and inexperienced (he learned to drive on the farm, but he has never watched television), long-haired Cap soon becomes the butt of pranks. He reacts in unexpected ways and, in the end, elevates those around him to higher ground. From chapter to chapter, the first-person narrative shifts among certain characters: Cap, a social worker (who takes him into her home), her daughter (who resents his presence there), an A-list bully, a Z-list victim, a popular girl, the school principal, and a football player (who unintentionally decks Cap twice in one day). Korman capably manages the shifting points of view of characters who begin by scorning or resenting Cap and end up on his side. From the eye-catching jacket art to the scene in which Cap says good-bye to his 1,100 fellow students, individually and by name, this rewarding novel features an engaging main character and some memorable moments of comedy, tenderness, and reflection. Pair this with Jerry Spinelli’s 2000 Stargirl (and its sequel, Love, Stargirl 2007) for a discussion of the stifling effects of conformity within school culture or just read it for the fun of it.
Slam by Walter Dean Myers
Sixteen-year-old "Slam" Harris is counting on his noteworthy basketball talents to get him out of the inner city and give him a chance to succeed in life, but his coach sees things differently.
Breathless by Lurlene McDaniel
McDaniel’s raw take on a teen’s right to die will jerk so many tears that they should bundle the book with Kleenex. Travis is a high-school diving champ whose sudden broken leg reveals both a malicious bone cancer and the dedication of the three people closest to him: his best buddy, girlfriend, and younger sister. In alternating first-person chapters, McDaniel leads the reader down a grim path, but the alacrity of the characters prevents the plot from feeling like a senseless series of sucker punches. Once the central dilemma is set in motion, it becomes impossible not to hurry toward the haunting final pages.
Out of Reach by V.M. Jones
In this New Zealand import, Phil, 13, is desperate to be a soccer star to please his macho dad, who comes to every school game, insults the referee, and yells at Phil when he fumbles the ball. But Phil finds his real success is with rock climbing, and a kind coach helps him secretly train on the exciting indoor wall. The coach is too perfect as an alternative father figure, but Phil’s dad has more depth, and his motivation for pushing his son is slowly revealed. The message in the young teen’s first-person narrative is too heavily spelled out, especially the metaphors about balance, timing, rhythm, and focus, not just in climbing but “as part of his philosophy of life.” The elemental coming-of-age conflict between the teen and the bullying desperate parent will pull readers, though, as will the sports action, both on the soccer field and on the climbing wall.
The White Gates by Bonnie Ramthun
When Torin Sinclair’s mother lands a job as a doctor in Snow Park, Colorado, Torin looks forward to learning how to snowboard. The sudden death of a young snowboarder, however, causes public hostility toward his mother. Then Torin learns of an old curse placed on all of the town’s physicians. Building on the classic formula of the newcomer who encounters the strangely hostile residents of a small western town, Ramthun spins an adventurous mystery that features elements of the supernatural, chases on snowboards, abandoned mine tunnels, a dramatic avalanche, and a blood-doping scandal. Along the way, Torin and his friends help unmask a criminal and save a colony of river otters. Some readers may be disappointed with the ending, in which the kids’ sleuthing is downplayed. Still, snowboarders will like the action scenes, and mystery fans will enjoy puzzling over the entwined plot elements.
Sounder by William Armstrong
Angry and humiliated when his sharecropper father is jailed for stealing food for his family, a young black boy grows in courage and understanding with the help of the devoted dog Sounder.
Taken by Edward Bloor
Bloor sets his latest novel in Florida, 2035, in a world sharply divided by wealth and race. Kidnapping has become a “major growth industry,” and everyone knows the rules: pay up within 24 hours, and the child is returned. Thirteen-year-old Charity’s rich family lives in the Highlands, a tightly secured gated community; they have a butler who doubles as a heavily armed security guard. Even so, Charity is “taken.” But for some reason, the payoff goes tragically wrong, and Charity is forced to step outside the rule book and fight for her life. Although many of the secondary characters are flat, Charity is an appealing observer who looks beyond class and begins to think for herself. Her calm recounting of the kidnapping scenario increases the tension, while interspersed flashbacks provide believable details of her disturbing world. This page-turner will grab readers at the outset, and its unexpected twist at the close will send them back through events to look for embedded clues. Pair this with Caroline Cooney’s Code Orange (2005).
Well Witched by Frances Hardinge
Hardinge, the English writer whose first novel was Fly by Night (2006), sets her second in contemporary England, where friends Ryan, Josh, and Chelle become stranded in an outlying area and need bus fare home. Josh’s idea of climbing down into an old wishing well and swiping coins answers their immediate problem. But after they learn that the ancient spirit living in the well has granted them weird, unwieldy powers and demands that they make other people’s wishes (those made on the stolen coins) come true, events begin to spiral out of control. First published last year in England as Verdigris Deep, this compelling, though sometimes disquieting fantasy is richly layered with fine, figurative language, quirky but believable characters, and old magic playing its way out rather blindly from the past to the present. The many young readers who look to fantasy as their best source of adventure stories will enjoy the many suspenseful scenes here, though they may find the narrative’s darkness and density oppressive at times. Still, there’s no denying Hardinge’s power as a storyteller, her ability to create beautiful, precise imagery, or her expectation that her readers will grasp the subtle ideas and reflections woven into the novel.
Wringer by Jerry Spinelli
There is violent action and gentleness and also much to think about in Spinelli's novel about a boy in a rural community who dreads the annual town Family Fest, when 5,000 captured pigeons are released in the park to be shot. The 10-year-old boys get to wring the necks of the wounded birds not killed instantly by the sharpshooters. The picnic and the killing raise funds to maintain the park. Sound unbelievable? It really happens in many parts of the country. Spinelli imagines what it must be like for one boy who cannot bear to be part of the brutality. Palmer wants to belong to the gang. He is thrilled when the hoodlum kids accept him, and he gains their grim respect. He dumps his best friend, Dorothy, and joins in when the bullies taunt her unmercifully. But he has always dreaded the annual pigeon massacre, and now that he is 10, he cannot face the initiation rite--especially when a pigeon flies through his window and becomes his beloved pet, soaring free by day and returning at night to be fed, to roost in his closet, to wake him each morning with a nip on the ear. Only Dorothy knows his secret. What if the gang finds out? Or his sharpshooter dad? Can Palmer save his pet from the slaughter? Dorothy's role is unconvincing, especially when she stands up to the bullies without being affected at all, physically or emotionally. However, the combination of the tender, sometimes comic pet story with the bloody public festival will move kids to think about a lot of issues. Can lawful horror be a part of fun and food in the park? Is hunting always wrong? Can one person make a difference?
Heat by Mike Lupica
Michael Arroyo is a 13-year-old Cuban American who lives in the shadow of Yankee Stadium. Yes, he is a Little League ballplayer, and, yes, he has a dream: to pitch in the Little League World Series. To do so, his South Bronx All-Stars will need to beat the best the greater New York area has to offer in the regional championship, to be played in--you guessed it--Yankee Stadium. This setup sounds like yet another Rocky meets Bad News Bears tearjerker: the immigrants from the Bronx take on the white-bread rich kids from the suburbs. It is that (with some notable twists), but it's much more, too. Michael and his brother, 17-year-old Carlos, have a problem: their beloved father is dead, and the boys are hoping to avoid a foster home by pretending Papi is visiting a sick relative in Miami. Lupica wrings plenty of genuine emotion from the melodramatic frame story, but he sidesteps the slough of social significance by building characters who speak for themselves, not the author, and by enlivening the story with a teen version of street humor. The dialogue crackles, and the rich cast of supporting characters--especially Michael's battery mate, catcher and raconteur Manny--nearly steals the show. Top-notch entertainment in the Carl Hiaasen mold.
Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman
Fourteen-year-old Shawn McDaniel, who suffers from severe cerebral palsy and cannot function, relates his perceptions of his life, his family, and his condition, especially as he believes his father is planning to kill him.
Go Big or Go Home by Will Hobbs
When a meteorite crashes through the roof of Brady’s home in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the young astrophile is excited beyond belief. He names it Fred (for “Far Roaming Earth Diver”) and calls his cousin Quinn over to check it out. The two are enamored of anything extreme or insane and deem this space rock “extremely insane” before setting out for a headlong series of bicycling, fishing, and caving adventures. When Brady starts to surpass his normal physical limitations, it becomes apparent that the meteorite might have brought along some hidden visitors with it from outer space. Hobbs captures young teen dialogue well, and the characters are all easy to like in this solid adventure. Reluctant readers who’d rather be airborne than chair bound will appreciate the two young boys’ penchant for pushing the envelope, and the postulations involving extremophile organisms is a neat twist with just a hint of science behind it, even if it leads to a few mildly preposterous situations by the end.
The Host by Stephenie Meyer
You might assume that Meyer’s best-selling Twilight series (published for YAs), about the intense love between a human teen and a vampire, takes the interspecies relationship thing about as far as it can go. There’s where you’d be wrong. Meyer’s ingenious adult-market debut, heavily but not tediously indebted to Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, imagines the tangled web of attachments between an alien parasite and the colony of humans to which the alien’s host body once belonged. Meyer boldly chooses to narrate from the perspective of the invading alien, a 1,000-year-old female “soul” named Wanderer, and it is a tribute to the author’s skill that Wanderer is a sympathetic protagonist despite the fact that she tells her tale while clinging to the cerebellum of a human victim, 17-year-old Melanie. As Melanie’s unusually resistant consciousness begins to seep into Wanderer’s own identity, she finds herself seeking out one of the last outposts of human civilization to reunite with the people her body once loved. Some readers will find the opening scenes too hurried and contrived, and the unusually large number of humans willing to fraternize with the enemies seems idealized. But the view of the apocalypse from the vantage point of one of its horsemen makes for propulsive reading, laden with unforgettable, unsettling scenes that raise fascinating questions about distinctions between essential human identity and its physical vessel. Consider buying duplicate sets of Meyer’s work, one for adults and one for YAs, since this entertaining; somewhat soft-focus saga will only serve to broaden the penumbra of Meyer’s fame.