Continuing my series of BEST BOOKS TO GIVE KIDS YOU DON’T KNOW VERY WELL, which began with my picks of books to give younger kids and continued with easy-to-read titles, here are my picks for older kids and young adults.
Fiction Ages 9 and up
Wonder, R.J. Palacio, (RH/ Knopf Young Readers; Brilliance Audio), ages 9 and up
This stunning debut novel about a home-schooled boy with a facial disfigurement who attends school for the first time has hit the bestsellers lists. I suspect it is grownups, teachers and librarians that are making that happen. I am hoping that this book with its multiple points-of-view finds itself in the hands of middle-school children who desperately need permission to make mistakes, make amends, and begin again.
Almost Home, by Joan Bauer, (Penguin/Viking), ages 9 and up
For the kid that has read all of Katherine Paterson, Patricia Reilly Giff, and loved Because of Winn Dixie.
Full disclosure – I will read anything Joan Bauer writes. She had me at Rules of the Road. Each novel is a gem. If there is a theme to her books it is resilience, defined as the process of learning to cope with stress and adversity. Bauer’s storytelling gift is her ability to paint her fictional world in the spectrum of colors, the good and the bad, the surprising and the disappointing. Sugar Mae Cole copes with an unpredictably absentee father, a mother with mental health issues and the stress, sadness, discomfort of homelessness. This isn’t a sad book (although there a weepy bits), it is one that makes the reader cheer when Sugar is discovering moments of joy and putting together a stack of “best days.”
The False Prince, by Jennifer Nielson, (Scholastic; Scholastic Audio), ages 11 and up
Looking for a few quiet moments during the holidays? After handing this page-turner to a kid, it is a good bet that we won’t hear from them for hours. This is a book for readers who ate up Harry Potter, tore through Rick Riordan, and are just discovering the entire backlist of Diana Wynne Jones. The story begins predictably enough, Sage is surviving in an orphanage, wretched and unloved when his life takes an unexpected and dangerous turn. He is to be presented to the court as the missing heir of the King. Fast-paced plotting, plenty of twists make this a worthy gift to the Rowling/Riordan fans. The second title in this projected trilogy, The Runaway King, is scheduled for release in March.
Jepp Who Defied the Stars, by Katherine Marsh, (Hyperion; Blackstone Audio), ages 12 and up
Marsh’s stunning debut The Night Tourist featuring Greek mythology set in New York City’s Grand Central Station captured the 8th graders who had aged out of Riordan’s Lightning Thief series. Here she presents a meaty read for historic fiction readers. Set in 16th century Europe, we follow the coming of age journey of Jepp, a dwarf who becomes a court jester, a transformative story of compassion and forgiveness, immersed in a world of faith, fate and scientific discovery.
Devine Intervention, by Martha Brockenbrough, (Scholastic), ages 12 and up
In a new twist to the “dead girl genre” (Thirteen Reasons Why, The Lovely Bones, If I Stay) we have the dead boy teen. Imagine that a barely literate stoner dude, who dies in an incredibly stupid accident, is appointed a guardian angel to help a living soul. Only he doesn’t read much of the manual or comprehend what little he does read. Laugh out-loud funny.
Cinder, by Marissa Meyer, (Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends), ages 12 and up
That middle school speculative fiction fan who has read everything may have overlooked this not-really fairytale retelling of Cinderella set in a dystopic future of indentured servitude, class warfare and overt prejudice, subjugation and persecution of economic and geographic classes. A resourceful independent heroine compels the readers’ empathy and cheers as she battles forces beyond her (and our) understanding. The second in the series, Scarlet, which plays on the Red Riding Hood story, arrives in February.
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, (Random House; Listening Library)
Turning the trope of a fantasy novel with sentient dragons on its ear, Hartman’s debut features a race of dragons who are alien beings capable of transforming to “fit in” yet not quite being able to grasp the norms of social graces. Seraphina discovers that all that she was sure of in life is not true, yet she has been graced with love and loyalty. The second in this two-part series is planned for fall 2013.
Move over vampires, werewolves and zombies, there is a new original fantasy genre, assassin nuns. What if there was a society where young women were educated in a convent-like atmosphere and trained to murder for a “higher-cause”? With all of the intrigue of The Thief, this is a compelling read that I couldn’t put down. The sequel, Dark Triumph, arrives in April.
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, (Disney/Hyperion; Brilliance Audio), ages 14 and up
Did you know that the Royal Air Force employed women as pilots and couriers to serve in occupied France during World War II? This historic novel weaves the stories of young women who risked their lives to save others during the darkest days of the war. Wein begins this heart-wrenching story with the memoir-like writings of a captured British spy. This is more than a “war story,” It is a tale of friendship and love, of courage and endurance. So suspenseful, I could barely catch my breath to turn the page.