If the term “literary” frightens you, you’re not alone. It’s something of a buzz word, and a confusing one at that. Literary YA, though, is a little different to literary adult fiction–generally speaking, it’s more accessible, and a great place to get started if you’re curious about lit fic, especially if you love language. These novels run the gamut from fantasy through contemporary, some light, some dark, some in between, each with a strong focus on character. Some are closer to middle grade, but all will appeal YA lovers.
1. BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS, Shannon Hale
When Dashti, a maid, and Lady Saren, her mistress, are shut in a tower for seven years for Saren’s refusal to marry a man she despises, the two prepare for a very long and dark imprisonment. As food runs low and the days go from broiling hot to freezing cold, it is all Dashti can do to keep them fed and comfortable. But the arrival outside the tower of Saren’s two suitors—one welcome, and the other decidedly less so—brings both hope and great danger, and Dashti must make the desperate choices of a girl whose life is worth more than she knows.
With Shannon Hale’s lyrical language, this forgotten but classic fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm is reimagined and reset on the central Asian steppes; it is a completely unique retelling filled with adventure and romance, drama and disguise.
2. STARDUST, Neil Gaiman
Tristran Thorn falls in love with the prettiest girl in town and makes her a foolish promise: he says that he’ll go find the falling star they both watched streak across the night sky. She says she’ll marry him if he finds it, so he sets off, leaving his home of Wall, and heads out into the perilous land of faerie, where not everything is what it appears. Gaiman is known for his fanciful wit, sterling prose and wildly imaginative plots, and Stardust is no exception.
3. THIS IS WHAT I DID, Ann Dee Ellis*
Eighth-grader Logan is struggling to deal with a violent situation he witnessed a year ago between his best friend, Zyler, and Zyler’s abusive father but insists to everyone around him that he is fine. Just fine. Reluctant readers will be drawn into this story, which also includes bullying classmates and a dismal winter camping trip. Frequent line breaks, screenplay-style dialogue, and e-mails and notes illustrated with black icons break up the scenes. Logan gets to play one of the Lost Boys in the school play, and finds that the theater crowd offers a respite from bullies. A friendship with a girl named Laurel (a palindrome collector who is is thinking of changing her name to Laral), and a relationship with a counselor help Logan to begin the healing process and convince him to reconnect with Zyler. This psychological drama effectively explores our failure to protect youth from abuse inflicted by peers or adults. Caution: there’s a slang term for scrotum on page 1. — Dobrez, Cindy for Booklist
4. SPEAK, Laurie Halse Anderson
Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that’s not safe. Because there’s something she’s trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. This extraordinary first novel has captured the imaginations of teenagers and adults across the country.
5. THE UNDERNEATH, Kathi Appelt
Appelt’s impressive novel (her first) entails animals in crisis—a topic of enduring popularity. But the author, whose path from picture books to fantasy is discussed in the Story behind the Story, breathes new life into the sentient-animals premise, introducing strong currents of magic realism into a tale as rich and complex as “the gumbo-like waters of the bayous.” Chained and starved by cruel trapper Gar Face, lonely hound Ranger finds companions in a stray cat and her two kittens. When Mother Cat falls victim to Gar Face’s abuse, the surviving animals, especially sensitive kitten Puck, struggle to keep their makeshift family together. The animals’ caring, generous bonds juxtapose with the smothering love of an ancient shape-shifter in a moving parallel story. Joining Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting as a rare example of youth fantasy with strong American underpinnings, Appelt’s novel folds in specific traditions of the Caddo peoples of east Texas, and casts the bayous as a kind of enchanted forest laden with spirits and benign, organic presences. Some readers may struggle with Appelt’s repeated phrases and poetic fragments, and wish the connections and conflicts in the story came to a faster boil. But most children will be pulled forward by the vulnerable pets’ survival adventure and by Small’s occasional, down-to-earth drawings, created with fluid lines that are a perfect match for the book’s saturated setting and Appelt’s ebbing, flowing lyricism. –Jennifer Mattson for Booklist
6. THE STAR OF KAZAN, Eva Ibbotson
Abandoned as a baby, Annika is found and adopted by Ellie and Sigrid, cook and housemaid for three professors. Growing up in early-20th-century Vienna, she learns to cook and clean and is perfectly happy until a beautiful aristocrat appears and claims to be her mother, sweeping her off to a new life in a crumbling castle in northern Germany. Annika is determined to make the best of things, and it takes a while for her to realize that her new “family” has many secrets, most of them nasty. With the help of Ellie, Sigrid, the professors, and friends old and new, Annika escapes from a ghastly fate and learns to face the truth about her relatives. Winding like a braid through this story is a mystery involving a chest of worn costumes and junk jewelry left to Annika by an old woman she has befriended. This is a rich saga in the tradition of Frances Hodgson Burnett, full of stalwart friends, sly villains, a brave heroine, and good triumphing over evil. Annika’s determination to do the right thing is both laudable and utterly frustrating, especially when readers realize that her loyalty is misplaced. Almost every character is distinct, but the ones that stand out are the “regular folk,” individuals whose sense of decency propels them into amazing acts of courage. Vienna itself is colorfully portrayed, brimming with pastries, coffee, and dancing Lipizzaner horses. An intensely satisfying read.–Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library for School Library Journal
7. A THOUSAND NEVER EVERS, Shana Burg
Set in rural Mississippi during the civil rights movement, this gripping first novel offers an up-close look at the racism and violence endured in an African-American community. By the time Addie Ann Pickett, the narrator, enters junior high, she is well aware of the racial divisions in her county. She has been warned not to stay on the white side of town after the sun has set and not to “look at white folks too close.” But her older brother and the local minister have different ideas and argue that “there comes a time when a man’s dignity’s worth more than his life.” Caught between her mother’s rule to stay away from trouble and the call to take action, Addie must make decisions, especially when the lives of two family members are at stake. References to significant historical events (Medgar Evers’s assassination, the March on Washington) add authenticity and depth, while Addie’s frank, expertly modulated voice delivers an emotional wallop. –PW
8. A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, Megan Whalen Turner
Following The Thief, a 1997 Newbery Honor Book, and The King of Attolia, a 2007 Best Book for Young Adults, Turner continues her exquisite series with another rich story that examines peace, power, leadership, and loyalty. After initial, tense prison scenes focused on Eugenides, the king of Attolia, the novel’s viewpoint switches from third to first person, and Sophos, the reluctant king of Sounis who prefers poetry to politics, relates the adventures that precipitated his rise to questionable power. Tutors have drilled Sophos in imaginary attacks, but after he loses his family in a real invasion, he is bereft and goes into hiding as a slave on a nobleman’s estate in order to avoid his sovereign responsibilities. Even though Eugenides’ fans will miss his presence, he continues to pull strings from the sidelines as he joins leaders in high-priced alliances and prepares for an invasion. Turner’s plotting remains deft, and the subtlety with which she balances her characters’ inner and outer worlds will delight both series newcomers and fans, who will be waiting to grab this stand-out, stand-alone adventure, filled with all the expected intrigue and political machinations, from the shelves.–Cindy Dobrez for Booklist
9. NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL, Justina Chen Headley
Sixteen-year-old Terra seems to be a typical high-achieving high-school student. Under her heavy makeup, though, she hides a port-wine colored birthmark on her cheek that makes her feel like an outsider. During yet another attempt to remove the birthmark, Terra runs into Jacob, a gorgeous Goth with a cleft-palette scar. That encounter initiates a transformation in both Terra and her subservient mother. Headley has written an exquisite book that explores the difference between physical and true beauty as Terra and her mother travel from Washington state to China, and from the home of a shame-faced, cruel cartographer into the presence of an adventurous, strong woman and her insightful teenage son. Headley uses map metaphors throughout, even in the activity, geocaching, which helps bond Terra and Jacob in both Washington and China. She also uses Terra’s artistic medium, collage, as a literary device to create layer upon layer of experiences and insights into a artfully written journey of self-discovery, self-actualization, and love. With every carefully chosen word, well-crafted sentence, and fully developed character, Headley maps out a wholly satisfying reading experience that takes readers from terra nullis to terra firma. –Frances Bradburn for Booklist
10. A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, (series), Ursula K. LeGuin
Often compared to Tolkien’s Middle-earth or Lewis’s Narnia, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea is a stunning fantasy world that grabs quickly at our hearts, pulling us deeply into its imaginary realms. Four books (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, and Tehanu) tell the whole Earthsea cycle–a tale about a reckless, awkward boy named Sparrowhawk who becomes a wizard’s apprentice after the wizard reveals Sparrowhawk’s true name. The boy comes to realize that his fate may be far more important than he ever dreamed possible. Le Guin challenges her readers to think about the power of language, how in the act of naming the world around us we actually create that world. Teens, especially, will be inspired by the way Le Guin allows her characters to evolve and grow into their own powers.
In this first book, A Wizard of Earthsea readers will witness Sparrowhawk’s moving rite of passage–when he discovers his true name and becomes a young man.–Amazon
11. WHEN YOU REACH ME, Rebecca Stead
Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever.??By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner. But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:
I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.
The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.
12. STARGIRL, Jerry Spinelli
“She was homeschooling gone amok.” “She was an alien.” “Her parents were circus acrobats.” These are only a few of the theories concocted to explain Stargirl Caraway, a new 10th grader at Arizona’s Mica Area High School who wears pioneer dresses and kimonos to school, strums a ukulele in the cafeteria, laughs when there are no jokes, and dances when there is no music. The whole school, not exactly a “hotbed of nonconformity,” is stunned by her, including our 16-year-old narrator Leo Borlock: “She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow. She was the faintest scent of a cactus flower, the flitting shadow of an elf owl.”
In time, incredulity gives way to out-and-out adoration as the student body finds itself helpless to resist Stargirl’s wide-eyed charm, pure-spirited friendliness, and penchant for celebrating the achievements of others. In the ultimate high school symbol of acceptance, she is even recruited as a cheerleader. Popularity, of course, is a fragile and fleeting state, and bit by bit, Mica sours on their new idol. Why is Stargirl showing up at the funerals of strangers? Worse, why does she cheer for the opposing basketball teams? The growing hostility comes to a head when she is verbally flogged by resentful students on Leo’s televised Hot Seat show in an episode that is too terrible to air. While the playful, chin-held-high Stargirl seems impervious to the shunning that ensues, Leo, who is in the throes of first love (and therefore scornfully deemed “Starboy”), is not made of such strong stuff: “I became angry. I resented having to choose. I refused to choose. I imagined my life without her and without them, and I didn’t like it either way.”
13. THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, Mary E. Pearson
Seventeen-year-old Jenna Fox awakens after more than a year in a coma to find herself in a life—and a body—that she doesn’t quite recognize. Her parents tell her that she’s been in an accident, but much of her past identity and current situation remain a mystery to her: Why has her family abruptly moved from Boston to California, leaving all of her personal belongings behind? Why does her grandmother react to her with such antipathy? Why have her parents instructed her to make sure not to tell anyone about the circumstances of their move? And why can Jenna recite whole passages of Thoreau’s Walden, but remember next to nothing of her own past? As she watches family videos of her childhood, strange memories begin to surface, and she slowly realizes that a terrible secret is being kept from her. Pearson has constructed a gripping, believable vision of a future dystopia. She explores issues surrounding scientific ethics, the power of science, and the nature of the soul with grace, poetry, and an apt sense of drama and suspense. Some of the supporting characters are a bit underdeveloped, but Jenna herself is complex, interesting, and very real. This is a beautiful blend of science fiction, medical thriller, and teen-relationship novel that melds into a seamless whole that will please fans of all three genres.—Meredith Robbins for School Library Journal
14. THE BOOK THIEF, Marcus Zusak
Zusak has created a work that deserves the attention of sophisticated teen and adult readers. Death himself narrates the World War II-era story of Liesel Meminger from the time she is taken, at age nine, to live in Molching, Germany, with a foster family in a working-class neighborhood of tough kids, acid-tongued mothers, and loving fathers who earn their living by the work of their hands. The child arrives having just stolen her first book–although she has not yet learned how to read–and her foster father uses it, The Gravediggers Handbook, to lull her to sleep when shes roused by regular nightmares about her younger brothers death. Across the ensuing years of the late 1930s and into the 1940s, Liesel collects more stolen books as well as a peculiar set of friends: the boy Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max, the mayors reclusive wife (who has a whole library from which she allows Liesel to steal), and especially her foster parents. Zusak not only creates a mesmerizing and original story but also writes with poetic syntax, causing readers to deliberate over phrases and lines, even as the action impels them forward. Death is not a sentimental storyteller, but he does attend to an array of satisfying details, giving Liesels story all the nuances of chance, folly, and fulfilled expectation that it deserves. An extraordinary narrative.–Francisca Goldsmith for School Library Journal
15. THE GIVER, 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.–PW
16. JELLICOE ROAD, Melina Marchetta
Taylor Markham isn’t just one of the new student leaders of her boarding school, she’s also the heir to the Underground Community, one of three battling school factions in her small Australian community (the others being the Cadets and the Townies). For a generation, these three camps have fought “the territory wars,” a deadly serious negotiation of land and property rife with surprise attacks, diplomatic immunities, and physical violence. Only this year, it’s complicated: Taylor might just have a thing for Cadet leader Jonah, and Jonah might just be the key to unlocking the secret identity of Taylor’s mother, who abandoned her when she was 11. In fact, nearly every relationship in Taylor’s life has unexpected ties to her past, and the continual series of revelations is both the book’s strength and weakness; the melodrama can be trying, but when Marchetta isn’t forcing epiphanies, she has a knack for nuanced characterizations and punchy dialogue. The complexity of the backstory will be offputting to younger readers, but those who stick it out will find rewards in the heartbreaking twists of Marchetta’s saga. –Daniel Kraus for Booklist
17. CRANK, Ellen Hopkins
Seventeen-year-old Kristina Snow is introduced to crank on a trip to visit her wayward father. Caught up in a fast-paced, frightening, and unfamiliar world, she morphs into “Bree” after she “shakes hands with the monster.” Her fearless, risk-taking alter ego grows stronger, “convincing me to be someone I never dreamed I’d want to be.” When Kristina goes home, things don’t return to normal. Although she tries to reconnect with her mother and her former life as a good student, her drug use soon takes over, leaving her “starving for speed” and for boys who will soon leave her scarred and pregnant. Hopkins writes in free-verse poems that paint painfully sharp images of Kristina/Bree and those around her, detailing how powerful the “monster” can be. The poems are masterpieces of word, shape, and pacing, compelling readers on to the next chapter in Kristina’s spiraling world. This is a topical page-turner and a stunning portrayal of a teen’s loss of direction and realistically uncertain future.–Sharon Korbeck for School Library Journal
18. PUSH, (Precious), Sapphire *
An electrifying first novel that shocks by its language, its circumstances, and its brutal honesty, Push recounts a young black street-girl’s horrendous and redemptive journey through a Harlem inferno. For Precious Jones, 16 and pregnant with her father’s child, miraculous hope appears and the world begins to open up for her when a courageous, determined teacher bullies, cajoles, and inspires her to learn to read, to define her own feelings and set them down in a diary.
Yesterday, I posted about the growth of e-books and the possible need for e-agents. Thinking about e-books set me a-wander, and here are the results. Not all of the stories presented here are novel length; some are short stories–there’s even a short graphic novel. All are worth a proper sit down read through, and, to me, YA appropriate (remembering that I’m very liberal). A note on Fairyland: it’s all there save for the final chapter. Although it can be frustrating to wait for an ending, I recommend you read it anyway, slowly, and over a cup of steaming hot tea.
*Titles link to online text or download pages.
1. FOR THE WIN, Cory Doctorow
Doctorow is indispensable. It’s hard to imagine any other author taking on youth and technology with such passion, intelligence, and understanding. Although perhaps less urgent than Little Brother (2008), this effort is superior in every other aspect: scope, plot, character, and style. Set in the near future and in locations across the globe (though primarily China and India), the story involves a sweeping cast of characters making a living—if you want to call brutal conditions and pitiful wages a “living”—in such virtual-game worlds as Svartalfheim Warriors and Zombie Mecha. Many of them, like 15-year-old Mala (known by her troops as “General Robotwalla”), endure physical threats from their bosses to farm virtual gold, which is then sold to rich First World gamers. Then these brilliant teens are brought together by the mysterious Big Sister Nor, who has a plan to unionize and bring these virtual worlds—and real-world sweatshops, too—to a screeching halt. Once again Doctorow has taken denigrated youth behavior (this time, gaming) and recast it into something heroic. He can’t resist the occasional lecture—sometimes breaking away from the plot to do so—but thankfully his lessons are riveting. With it’s eye-opening humanity and revolutionary zeal, this ambitious epic is well worth the considerable challenge.–Daniel Kraus for Booklist
2. TIME TRADERS, Andre Norton
Head over to the Baen Free Library, then follow the prompts to authors, then Andre Norton.
Intelligence agents have uncovered something which seems beyond belief, but the evidence is incontrovertible: the USAs greatest adversary on the world stage is sending its agents back through time! And someone or something unknown to our history is presenting them with technologies — and weapons — far beyond our most advanced science. We have only one option: create time-transfer technology ourselves, find the opposition’s ancient source…and take it dawn.
When small-time criminal Ross Murdock and Apache rancher Travis Fox stumble separately onto America’s secret time travel project, Operation Retrograde, they are faced with a challenge greater than either could have imagined possible. Their mere presence means that they know too much to go free. But Murdock and Fox have a thirst for adventure, and Operation Retrograde offers that in spades.
Both men will become time agents, finding reserves of inner heroism they had never expected. Their journeys will take the battle to the enemy, from ancient Britain to prehistoric America, and finally to the farthest reaches of interstellar space…
3. THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING, Catherynne M. Valente
A young adult novel, following September on her journey. From the first chapter:
Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her father’s house, where she washed the same pink and yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog. Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were very large and ungainly, the Green Wind took pity on her, and flew to her window one evening just after her eleventh birthday. He was dressed in a green smoking jacket, and a green carriage-driver’s cloak, and green jodhpurs, and green snowshoes. It is very cold above the clouds, in the shanty-towns where the Six Winds live.
“You seem an ill-tempered and irascible enough child,” said the Green Wind. “How would you like to come away with me and ride upon the Leopard of Little Breezes, and be delivered to the great sea which borders Fairyland? I am afraid I cannot go in, as Harsh Airs are not allowed, but I should be happy to deposit you upon the Perverse and Perilous Sea.”
4. BETTER ZOMBIES THROUGH PHYSICS, Jim Ottaviani and Sean Bieri
A short, online only graphic novel. Join us for chills, thrills, and pulse-pounding scientific breakthroughs as we embark on a tour of the Quantum Zombie, Inc. facility, courtesy of a guy who bears a striking resemblance to famed scientist and cat-lover Erwin Schrödinger. Hijinks, hilarity, and an abundance of felines await you in “Better Zombies Through Physics.”
*Tor.com & the authors encourage fan fic based on this story.
5. TOAST, Charles Stross
The title of Stross’s provocative new SF collection—a revised, expanded version of a 2002 title of the same name—is a mordant reference to catastrophes at the climaxes of these 11 stories. In “A Colder War,” a stand-alone sequel to Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness,” monsters from outside space and time are liberated as weapons of mass destruction by Russia and the Middle East. In “Antibodies,” a mathematical theorem undermines the foundations of all computer encryption systems, forcing fugitive behavior from the narrator who has depended on the anonymity they hitherto ensured. “Ship of Fools,” written in 1995, evokes the epic scale of Arthur C. Clarke’s fiction in its projection of dire technological fiascos that rock the world at the turn of Y2K. In Stross’s worlds, virtual reality is the new frontier, AI is a fact of life and everyone is fluent in the sometimes impenetrable technogeek-speak that goes with the territory. For all that, his characters are familiar and sympathetic hackers, slackers and opportunists, whose lives have not been improved by their technological expertise, and whose adventures he interweaves seamlessly with the circuitry.–PW
6. HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES, Neil Gaiman
A story about a couple of British 1970s teen-aged boys, Enn and Vic, who go to a party to meet girls, only to find that the girls are much different than they imagined.
The story follows Enn, a shy boy whom the more confident Vic encourages to just talk to girls. While at the party, Enn talks to three very nice but strange girls. As he focuses on “making a move” on the girls, it is revealed to the reader the exchange students there are more interplanetary than foreign.
7. TANGLEFOOT: (A Story of the Clockwork Century), Cherie Priest
A novelette, Tanglefoot is steampunk/alternate history fic. From the prologue:
Stonewall Jackson survived Chancellorsville. England broke the Union’s naval blockade, and formally recognized the Confederate States of America. Atlanta never burned.
It is 1880. The American Civil War has raged for nearly two decades, driving technology in strange and terrible directions. Combat dirigibles skulk across the sky and armored vehicles crawl along the land. Military scientists twist the laws of man and nature, and barter their souls for weapons powered by light, fire, and steam.
But life struggles forward for soldiers and ordinary citizens. The fractured nation is dotted with stricken towns and epic scenes of devastation–some manmade, and some more mysterious. In the western territories cities are swallowed by gas and walled away to rot while the frontiers are strip-mined for resources. On the borders between North and South, spies scour and scheme, and smugglers build economies more stable than their governments.
This is the Clockwork Century.
It is dark here, and different.
8. AGENT TO THE STARS, John Scalzi
The space-faring Yherajk have come to Earth to meet us and to begin humanity’s first interstellar friendship. There’s just one problem: They’re hideously ugly and they smell like rotting fish.
So getting humanity’s trust is a challenge. The Yherajk need someone who can help them close the deal.
Enter Thomas Stein, who knows something about closing deals. He’s one of Hollywood’s hottest young agents. But although Stein may have just concluded the biggest deal of his career, it’s quite another thing to negotiate for an entire alien race. To earn his percentage this time, he’s going to need all the smarts, skills, and wits he can muster.–Publisher description
Fairy tale literature, once mostly stock standard retellings of The Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, is moving on. Old fairy tales are still being retold (Book of a Thousand Days), but new ones are constantly being written, too (Once Upon a Marigold). Of course, that leaves dedicated fairy tale readers like me in a bit of bind–there’s so much to read that sometimes the best books get lost in the bookshelf shuffle. Here’s a list of some of the great fairy tale lit you may have missed. Some titles listed are younger than a YA audience, but fun reads all the same. (Have something to add to the list? Email me, or leave a note in the comments!)
1. BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS, Shannon Hale
Hale (River Secrets) delivers another winning fantasy, this time inventively fleshing out the obscure Grimm tale, Maid Maleen, through the expressive and earthy voice of Dashti, maid to Lady Saren. A plucky and resourceful orphan, Dashti comes from a nomad tribe in a place resembling the Asian Steppes, and is brought to the Lady’s house in the midst of a crisis. Lady Saren, having refused to marry the powerful but loathsome Lord her father has chosen, faces seven years’ imprisonment in an unlit tower. Initially, Dashti believes her worth is tied to her ability to care for her “tower-addled” lady until she can join Khan Tegus, to whom she is secretly betrothed. When the gentle Tegus comes to the tower, Dashti must step in for her traumatized lady, speaking to him as Saren through the one tiny metal door. Hale exploits the diary form to convey Dashti’s perspective; despite her self-effacing declaration that “?I draw this from memory so it won’t be right,” the entries reflect her genuinely spirited inner life. The tension between her unstinting loyalty and patience and burgeoning realization of her own strength and feelings for Tegus feels especially authentic. Readers will be riveted as Dashti and Saren escape and flee to the Khan’s realm where, through a series of deceptions, contrivances and a riotously triumphant climax, the tale spins out to a thoroughly satisfying ending.–PW
2. BEAUTY: A RETELLING OF THE STORY OF BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Robin McKinley
Beauty has never liked her nickname. She is thin and awkward; it is her two sisters who are the beautiful ones. But what she lacks in looks, she can perhaps make up for in courage. When her father comes home with the tale of an enchanted castle in the forest and the terrible promise he had to make to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows she must go to the castle, a prisoner of her own free will. Her father protests that he will not let her go, but she answers, “Cannot a Beast be tamed?” Robin McKinley’s beloved telling illuminates the unusual love story of a most unlikely couple: Beauty and the Beast.–B&N
3. FAIREST, Gail Carson Levine
Levine’s enchanting, intelligent fairy tale, set in a kingdom devoted to singing, lends itself well to full-cast production; this one features 32 voices. Composer Todd Hobin has set Levine’s lyrics to music; Naughton does a terrific job as maid Aza, the narrator, a demanding role that requires near-operatic talents. Homely Aza, abandoned at birth, not only sings like a lark, she can throw her voice and mimic others, a skill she calls illusing. In a chance meeting, the treacherous new queen, whose abrasive voice has a Valley Girlesque quality, discovers Aza’s talent and blackmails the girl into secretly providing her voice for all of the queen’s public singing. Additional background music augments the many perilous predicaments Aza finds herself in, as well as providing a backdrop to the fairy-tale romance that develops between her and Prince Ijori. –PW
4. THE STINKY CHEESEMAN, AND OTHER FAIRLY STUPID TALES, Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith
Scieszka and Smith, the daring duo responsible for revealing The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (Viking, 1989), return here with nine new exposes, all narrated by the ubiquitous Jack (of Beanstalk fame). Unlike the detailed retelling of the pigs’ tale, most of these stories are shortened, one-joke versions that often trade their traditional morals for hilarity. “The Stinky Cheese Man” is an odoriferous cousin to the gingerbread boy; when he runs away, nobody wants to run after him. “The Other Frog Prince” wheedles a kiss only to reveal that he is just a tricky frog (as the princess wipes the frog slime off her lips); the Little Red Hen wanders frantically in and out of the book squawking about her wheat, her bread, her story, until she is finally (and permanently) squelched by Jack’s giant. The broad satire extends even to book design, with a blurb that proclaims “NEW! IMPROVED! FUNNY! GOOD! BUY! NOW!” and a skewed table of contents crashing down on Chicken Licken and company several pages after they proclaim that the sky is falling. The illustrations are similar in style and mood to those in the earlier book, with the addition of more abstraction plus collage in some areas. The typeface, text size, and placement varies to become a vital part of the illustrations for some of the tales. Clearly, it is necessary to be familiar with the original folktales to understand the humor of these versions. Those in the know will laugh out loud. –Susan L. Rogers, Chestnut Hill Academy, PA for School Library Journal
5. TITHE, Holly Black
Kaye is 16 when she finally learns why she’s such a strange young woman: she’s a changeling pixie under a spell. A move home to the New Jersey shore brings her back in touch with her childhood friends, the solitary fey, who want to end their servitude to the higher-born faeries by foiling the sacrifice of human blood known as the Tithe. Kaye offers to masquerade as a human for the Tithe and is swept into a complicated net of politics and treason between two rival courts of faeries. Grim scenes from Kaye’s life in the human world pile up at the beginning of the story in what initially seems a gratuitous manner (her mother is almost stabbed by her current boyfriend, Kaye steals for thrills, a new acquaintance tries to rape her), but the details all have explanations later on in the equally grim world of the faeries. The plot moves quickly, and the secondary characters are appealing, if not always entirely believable. Occasional awkward changes in point of view won’t discourage readers who enjoy dark, edgy fantasy. However, the excessive use of obscenities adds little to character development. Thegreatest strength of the story lies in the settings, particularly the descriptions of the debased Unseelie Court.-Beth Wright, Fletcher Free Library, Burlington, VT for School Library Journal
6. ONCE UPON A MARIGOLD, Jean Ferris
In a gratifying fantasy that contains elements of classic fairy tales, Ferris (Love Among the Walnuts) breathes new life into archetypal characters by adding unexpected and often humorous dimensions to their personalities. The protagonist, Christian, has been raised in the forest by a troll named Edric. As he nears manhood, Christian decides it is time to see the world-or at least the section across the river, where the lovely Princess Marigold resides. Having spent many hours gazing at Marigold through a telescope and corresponding with her by “p-mail” (letters sent by carrier pigeon), he has already felt the sting of Cupid’s arrow by the time he lands a job in court. Marigold readily returns his affections, but unfortunately, she is about to become betrothed to Sir Magnus. Meanwhile, Marigold’s evil mother, Queen Olympia, is plotting to murder both Marigold and her kindly, doting father, King Swithbert. Readers swept into the lighthearted spirit of this novel will likely not be bothered by the predictability of outcomes. As in fairy tales of old, jabs are made at social values and norms, and concepts of nobility and ignobility are painted in very broad strokes. Nonetheless, heroes and heroines emerge as convincing, well-rounded characters embodying flaws as well as virtues. Their foibles-Edric’s tendency to mix up adages, Christian’s stubborn streak and Marigold’s penchant for “awful” jokes-make the good guys all the more endearing.–PW
7. HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, Dianna Wynne Jones
Sophie Hatter reads a great deal and soon realizes that as the eldest of three daughters she is doomed to an uninteresting future. She resigns herself to making a living as a hatter and helping her younger sisters prepare to make their fortunes. But adventure seeks her out in the shop where she sits alone, dreaming over her hats. The wicked Witch of the Waste, angered by “competition” in the area, turns her into a old woman, so she seeks refuge inside the strange moving castle of the wizard Howl. Howl, advertised by his apprentice as an eater of souls, lives a mad, frantic life trying to escape the curse the witch has placed on him, find the perfect girl of his dreams and end the contract he and his fire demon have entered. Sophie, against her best instincts and at first unaware of her own powers, falls in love. So goes this intricate, humorous and puzzling tale of fantasy and adventure which should both challenge and involve readers. Jones has created an engaging set of characters and found a new use for many of the appurtenances of fairy talesseven league boots and invisible cloaks, among others. At times, the action becomes so complex that readers may have to go back to see what actually happened, and at the end so many loose ends have to be tied up at once that it’s dizzying. Yet Jones’ inventiveness never fails, and her conclusion is infinitely satisfying. Sara Miller, White Plains Public Library, N.Y. for School Library Journal
Yesterday, I posted about Magic Realism and promised a reading list of novels. It’s important to remember, though, that in YA, Magic Realism is snuggled right up against the fantasy border–meaning some of the books on this list may be a bit less realistic than the adult style (Paul Coelho, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende). A few, such as Terri Windling’s The Wood Wife and Alice Hoffman’s The River King, are adult novels that may pique the interest of mature YA readers.
1. CITY OF THE BEASTS, Isabel Allende
Combine a magical world, mystical shamanic adventure, and feisty and eccentric characters with a fast-paced eco-thriller and you have Allende’s first book for young adults. Set in the lush and treacherous Amazonian rain forest, this is the story of 15-year-old Alexander Cold and 12-year-old Nadia Santos. While his mother is in Texas for chemotherapy treatment, Alex is spending the summer with his emotionally distant grandmother, who has been hired to find and write an article on the “Beast” that has been terrorizing the jungle. Partially funded by a suspicious businessman, the party includes a self-centered professor, several photographers, a government doctor and soldiers, a few native Indians, and a guide, C‚sar Santos, who brings along his daughter. Alex and Nadia become good friends, and together discover their own inner strengths through visions and shamanic journeys with the local tribe. The plot is as thick as its jungle setting. There are dangers such as the terrifying humanoid Beast that kills with huge claws, anacondas, natives with poison dart arrows, and an untrustworthy member of the expedition. The story is a struggle between good and evil, filled with surprises and adventure. Put this title on your “If You Liked Harry Potter” lists, and Allende may just find new fans. Though this is a rather hefty book, it is a real page-turner with hope for more, as Allende leaves readers with, “Until we meet again.”–Angela J. Reynolds, Washington County Cooperative Library Services, Hillsboro, OR for School Library Journal
2. CORALINE, Neil Gaiman
Coraline’s often wondered what’s behind the locked door in the drawing room. It reveals only a brick wall when she finally opens it, but when she tries again later, a passageway mysteriously appears. Coraline is surprised to find a flat decorated exactly like her own, but strangely different. And when she finds her “other” parents in this alternate world, they are much more interesting despite their creepy black button eyes. When they make it clear, however, that they want to make her theirs forever, Coraline begins a nightmarish game to rescue her real parents and three children imprisoned in a mirror. With only a bored-through stone and an aloof cat to help, Coraline confronts this harrowing task of escaping these monstrous creatures.–Barnes & Noble
3. HOLES, Louis Sachar
“If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy.” Such is the reigning philosophy at Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention facility where there is no lake, and there are no happy campers. In place of what used to be “the largest lake in Texas” is now a dry, flat, sunburned wasteland, pocked with countless identical holes dug by boys improving their character. Stanley Yelnats, of palindromic name and ill-fated pedigree, has landed at Camp Green Lake because it seemed a better option than jail. No matter that his conviction was all a case of mistaken identity, the Yelnats family has become accustomed to a long history of bad luck, thanks to their “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather!” Despite his innocence, Stanley is quickly enmeshed in the Camp Green Lake routine: rising before dawn to dig a hole five feet deep and five feet in diameter; learning how to get along with the Lord of the Flies-styled pack of boys in Group D; and fearing the warden, who paints her fingernails with rattlesnake venom. But when Stanley realizes that the boys may not just be digging to build character….–Brangien Davis for Amazon
4. BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, Kate DiCamillo
Because of Winn-Dixie, a big, ugly, happy dog, 10-year-old Opal learns 10 things about her long-gone mother from her preacher father. Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal makes new friends among the somewhat unusual residents of her new hometown, Naomi, Florida. Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal begins to find her place in the world and let go of some of the sadness left by her mother’s abandonment seven years earlier. With her newly adopted, goofy pooch at her side, Opal explores her bittersweet world and learns to listen to other people’s lives. This warm and winning book hosts an unforgettable cast of characters, including a librarian who fought off a bear with a copy of War and Peace, an ex-con pet-store clerk who plays sweet music to his animal charges, and the neighborhood “witch,” a nearly blind woman who sees with her heart. Part Frankie (The Member of the Wedding), part Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird), Opal brings her own unique and wonderful voice to a story of friendship, loneliness, and acceptance. Opal’s down-home charm and dead-on honesty will earn her friends and fans far beyond the confines of Naomi, Florida. (Ages 9 and older) –Emilie Coulter for Amazon
5. THE BOOK THIEF, Marcus Zusak **
Zusak has created a work that deserves the attention of sophisticated teen and adult readers. Death himself narrates the World War II-era story of Liesel Meminger from the time she is taken, at age nine, to live in Molching, Germany, with a foster family in a working-class neighborhood of tough kids, acid-tongued mothers, and loving fathers who earn their living by the work of their hands. The child arrives having just stolen her first book–although she has not yet learned how to read–and her foster father uses it, The Gravediggers Handbook, to lull her to sleep when shes roused by regular nightmares about her younger brothers death. Across the ensuing years of the late 1930s and into the 1940s, Liesel collects more stolen books as well as a peculiar set of friends: the boy Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max, the mayors reclusive wife (who has a whole library from which she allows Liesel to steal), and especially her foster parents. Zusak not only creates a mesmerizing and original story but also writes with poetic syntax, causing readers to deliberate over phrases and lines, even as the action impels them forward. Death is not a sentimental storyteller, but he does attend to an array of satisfying details, giving Liesels story all the nuances of chance, folly, and fulfilled expectation that it deserves. An extraordinary narrative.–Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA for School Library Journal
6. THE GOOD FAIRIES OF NEW YORK, Martin Millar
British author Millar offers fiercely funny (and often inebriated) Scottish fairies, a poignant love story as well as insights into the gravity of Crohn’s disease, cultural conflicts and the plight of the homeless in this fey urban fantasy. Due to the machinations of the obnoxious Tala, Cornwall’s fairy king, only a few humans can see the 18-inch-tall fairies who alight in Manhattan: Magenta, a homeless woman who thinks she’s the ancient Greek general Xenophon; Dinnie, an overweight slacker; and Kerry, a poor artist/musician who hopes her Ancient Celtic Flower Alphabet will win a local arts prize. Fairies Heather MacKintosh and Morag MacPherson scheme to put Dinnie and Kerry together, rescue fairy artifacts and prove that in love or war, music is essential.
7. DINGO, Charles De Lint
De Lint ingeniously incorporates Aboriginal mythology into an intriguing story. Miguel, 17, is minding his dad’s funky comics and record store in a small resort community when a girl dashes in with her dog to escape the town bully. Miguel feels an immediate connection to her, but there is something strange about her dog. Gradually, he discovers that Lainey is a shape-changer, a magical creature from Australia’s Aboriginal past, and the dog—really a dingo—is actually her twin sister. The girls are hiding from their father, who wants to sacrifice Lainey to the powerful Aboriginal spirit Warrigal, the original clan leader, who is trapped in a tree. Suddenly Miguel is catapulted into a rain forest fantasy world complete with a talking cautionary turkey, haunted ancestral bones, and mysterious spirits. Fantasy lovers will enjoy this tale of an initially clueless protagonist thrust into a dangerous situation where he’s expected to become an instant hero. A somewhat unnecessary subplot involves the town bully, who actually has a heart of gold and a tender artistic side, and is drawn into the adventure when he falls for Lainey’s twin. Still, the juxtaposition of contemporary teen life with fantasy is well done. Readers might be interested enough to investigate more about the complicated Aboriginal Dreamtime of Australia and its early clan spirits and creation myths.—Quinby Frank, Green Acres School, Rockville, MD for School Library Journal
8. THE RIVER KING, Alice Hoffman**
Set in and around an exclusive private school in fictional Haddan, Mass., bestselling author Hoffman’s (Practical Magic; Here on Earth) latest novel flows as swiftly and limpidly as the Haddan River, the town’s mystical waterway. As one expects in a Hoffman novel, strange things have always happened in HaddanDa combination of Mother Nature gone awry and human nature following suit. In 1858, the year the school was completed, a devastating flood almost destroyed it and the town. The esteemed headmaster, Dr. Howe, married a pretty local girl who hung herself from the rafters “one mild evening in March.” Local superstitions prove true more often than not, and twice in recent history a black, algae-laden rain has covered people and buildings with a dark sludge. An uneasy peace has always existed between the locals and the Haddan School, based on the latter’s financial benefit to the community and the local authorities’ willingness to look the other way when necessary to maintain the school’s reputation. But when student August Pierce is found drowned in the Haddan River, detective Abel Grey is flooded with memories of his own teenage brother’s suicide, and refuses to look away. Supporting characters are richly textured: new photography instructor Betsy Chase feels unsafe in Haddan, yet somehow finds herself engaged to a mysterious young history professor Eric Herman; Carlin Leander, a poor, strikingly beautiful young girl, comes to Haddan to recreate herself and escape her neglectful mother, and becomes misfit August’s only friend while dating the most popular boy on campus; Helen Davis, chair of the history department, is haunted by a long-ago affair she had with Dr. Howe, which she believes had something to do with his young wife’s suicide. As ever, Hoffman mixes myth, magic and reality, addressing issues of town and gown, enchanting her readers with a many-layered morality tale and proving herself once again an inventive author with a distinctive touch.–PW
9. THE WOOD WIFE, Terri Windling **
When writer Maggie Black learns that her friend and mentor, poet Davis Cooper, has died and left her his house in the arid hills outside Tucson, Ariz., she travels there intending to write his biography and to investigate the mysterious circumstances of his death. Every detail she uncovers about Cooper’s past, however, only seems to raise more questions. When Maggie comes home one evening to find that the house has been ransacked, it becomes clear that she’s not the only one looking for answers. To solve the puzzle of Cooper’s life and death, Maggie will have to outwit the Trickster and the other powerful quasi-human creatures that roam the desert hills and feed on creative energy. Although at times Windling’s humans come off as too sensitive and artistic, her Native American spirits comprise an intriguing blend of human folklore and alien emotion. Her debut novel is richly imaginative, a captivating mix of traditional fantasy and magical realism.–PW
10. FIREBIRDS RISING, an anthology edited by Sharyn November
Imagine that Archeoptrix, the prehistoric link between birds and dinosaurs, had evolved into the dominant life-form on a planet. In Carol Emshwiller’s Quill, representatives of that planet have secretly crashed on Earth and begun interbreeding with humans. In Kelly Link’s The Wizards of Perfil, an orphan boy and his caustic cousin, both dirt poor and gifted with unusual psychic powers, are bought by a strange man to serve the awesome and forbidding wizards of Perfil, only to learn after difficult trials and life-changing tragedies that they are the wizards. In Kara Dalkey’s near-future Hives, cell phones can beam and receive messages without external sound. The phones are highly addictive and used by high school girls to connect ultra-exclusive cliques. A former-addict-turned-girl-detective gets involved when the rejects of one such hive begin committing suicide one after another. These are just 3 of the 16 stories in this collection. The selections range in length from 9 pages (Francesca Lia Block’s chilling Blood Roses, in which two sisters confront a serial killer) to 50 pages. Fantasy stories outnumber sci-fi two to one, and the great majority of the tales feature female protagonists. Even those with male protagonists deal with themes of friendship, family, love, and loss more than action and adventure. Compelling stories for thoughtful readers.-Susan L. Rogers, Chestnut Hill Academy, PA for School Library Journal
11. THE CITY AND THE CITY, China Mieville
The city is Beszel, a rundown metropolis on the eastern edge of Europe. The other city is Ul Qoma, a modern Eastern European boomtown, despite being a bit of an international pariah. What the two cities share, and what they don’t, is the deliciously evocative conundrum at the heart of China Mieville’s The City & The City. Mieville is well known as a modern fantasist (and urbanist), but from book to book he’s tried on different genres, and here he’s fully hard-boiled, stripping down to a seen-it-all detective’s voice that’s wonderfully appropriate for this story of seen and unseen. His detective is Inspector Tyador Borlu, a cop in Beszel whose investigation of the murder of a young foreign woman takes him back and forth across the highly policed border to Ul Qoma to uncover a crime that threatens the delicate balance between the cities and, perhaps more so, Borlu’s own dissolving sense of identity. In his tale of two cities, Mieville creates a world both fantastic and unsettlingly familiar, whose mysteries don’t end with the solution of a murder. –Tom Nissley, for Amazon
It’s been an exhausting week–an exhausting month, really! Baby’s teeth are driving us both around the bend and down the freeway. I’m hoping to get back to my regular posting schedule next week, when Baby’s grandparents are around to help. And now for our regularly scheduled booklist…
The World Cup is fast approaching–and if you love the game like me, I’ll bet you can barely wait. Here are a few selections, from picture books through memoir through graphic novels, to tide your whole family over. Some are fun, and more about relationships, others are more about the love of the game.
1. KEEPER, Mal Peet
Published originally in the United Kingdom, this unusual novel won the 2004 Branford Boase Award and was short-listed for the Nestle Children’s Book Prize. Framed as an interview between a South American sports reporter and the world’s best soccer goalkeeper, the now 30-year-old “El Gato” relates how he developed his skills, achieved great fame, and won the coveted World Cup. His story is one of poverty and isolation in a small logging community, of strong family ties in a beloved jungle being inexorably denuded, and of intense focus on the game of soccer. If a coming-of-age tale meeting an environmental message framed by sports narrative weren’t enough, a mystical element is added, as El Gato describes his rigorous soccer training by a ghost in a magical clearing hewn from dense foliage. El Gato’s remembrances do not consistently take the reader with him, and disparate elements don’t always gel. Rich depictions of family and forest are marred by stilted, implausible dialog and choppy transitions between present and past. With its lengthy descriptions of the game, this may appeal most to soccer fans. Holly Koelling for Booklist
2. TANGERINE, Edward Bloor
Tangerine is a town in Florida with problematic new housing developments, frequent lightning strikes, sinkholes, and muck fires. Seventh grader, Paul Fisher, his older brother and parents are leaving Texas for Tangerine, Florida where Paul’s dad will take a job as a civil engineer. Paul, who is legally blind, enrolls at the middle school in town after his trailer classrooms at the first school are swallowed by a sinkhole. Paul, a soccer goalie, is in competition for his parents’ attention with his older brother who is a football star. Football practice is not canceled even after one of the players is killed by lightning. Paul makes friends at the new school and learns some valuable lessons by working in the tangerine groves with his peers from the town school. Paul’s brother’s involvement in the death of his friends’ uncle brings back memories of how he lost his vision. Tangerine is the first novel of Edward Bloor who taught middle and high school in Florida. It is written from Paul’s point of view and rings true of the middle school experience. The unexpected plot twists keep the interest of the reader..–The Alan Review
3. FEVER PITCH, Nick Hornby
In America, it is soccer. But in Great Britain, it is the real football. No pads, no prayers, no prisoners. And that’s before the players even take the field. Nick Hornby has been a football fan since the moment he was conceived. Call it predestiny. Or call it preschool. Fever Pitch is his tribute to a lifelong obsession. Part autobiography, part comedy, part incisive analysis of insanity, Hornby’s award-winning memoir captures the fever pitch of fandom – its agony and ecstasy, its community, its defining role in thousands of young mens’ coming-of-age stories. Fever Pitch is one for the home team. But above all, it is one for everyone who knows what it really means to have a losing season.–Jacket copy
4. SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS, Ann Brashares
In this feel-good novel with substance, four teenage girls, friends since they were all born just weeks apart, are about to embark on their first summer as separate young women. Carmen, half-Hispanic, has a knack for math; Lena, the beauty of the group and self-conscious about her appearance, demonstrates artistic talent; Bridget is the tall soccer star; and Tibby, the rebel, sports a nose ring. Visiting grandparents for the first time in Greece, attending soccer camp in Mexico, spending the summer with dad in South Carolina, or working at home, how will these girls survive their time alone? Leave it to a pair of secondhand jeans, which, despite their various body shapes, fits all four perfectly. These magical jeans, dubbed the Traveling Pants, span the world, one week at a time, lending their mystical powers wherever they go. The pants become a metaphor for the young women finding their own strength in the face of new love, unexpected friendships and death, a father’s remarriage, and a reckless relationship-and without their best friends. Debut novelist Brashares renders each girl individual and lovable in her own right, emphasizing growing up without growing apart. Move over, Ya Ya Sisters.–Kirkus
5. SERGIO SAVES THE GAME, Edel Rodriguez
Sergio has big dreams of being a star soccer player. In reality, though, the young penguin often stumbles and falls running after the ball and does not attain the success he yearns to have. Then his mother suggests that he try playing goalie. The game against the big, bruisin’ Seagulls becomes his test of talent. Beginning soccer players will relate to Sergio’s frustrations and admire his resolve. Rodriguez uses an attractive, yet simple palette of aqua, golden yellow, rust red, and penguin black, and the colors stand out sharply against the white background. Action is created with varying perspectives on the ball flying at the lone goalie. –Blair Christolon, Prince William Public Library System, Manassas, VA for School Library Journal
6. SOCCER CHICK RULES, Dawn Fitzgerald
Tess Munro is the soccer chick in question, a hard-playing forward who puts the team first. But soon there may be no team; if the school levy fails, sports programs, along with plenty else, including some of the teachers, will be gone. So Tess becomes involved with something besides sports: getting the levy passed. But can she score? FitzGerald takes a serious subject–school finance problems–mixes it with plenty of action-filled sports, and frosts the whole thing with best friends and rivals. The result is just what kids, especially girl jocks, want: a fast-moving, true-to-life, amusing take on school life. The dialogue is especially spot-on, even without the use of swearwords (FitzGerald comes close, but manages to find clever ways to avoid the actual words). Plenty of girls play sports, yet few writers tackle fiction for them. Happily, FitzGerald serves it up with ease.–Ilene Cooper for Booklist
7. DEFENDING IRENE, Kristin Wolden Nitz
Irene Benenati, 13, is living in Italy with her family for one year. Because there are no girls’ soccer teams in Merano, she must play on the boys’ team. Daily, the teen faces the reality that she is an outsider in her father’s homeland and an outsider on a team with a few boys who want her to quit. Nonetheless, this likable protagonist befriends the girls in her class and finally wins the respect of her teammates, even her arch detractor. What keeps this tale from being just another soccer story with play-by-play action is the unique setting; the inventiveness of the chapter headings, which consist of Italian words, pronunciations, and definitions; and Irene’s determination.–Blair Christolon, Prince William Public Library System, Manassas, VA for School Library Journal
8. PRETTY TOUGH, Liz Tigelaar
Sisters Krista and Charlie Brown could not be more different. Krista, the eldest, is blond, smart, pretty, and popular, and, of course, is dating a popular boy. Charlie, who endures bullying and teasing at school (not helped by her last name), prefers solitude and surfing the Malibu waves. When they are recruited for their high school soccer team, the teens have to face their differences and learn to work together. This is a well-paced book with solid character development and witty, authentic dialogue. The relationship between the siblings is both strong and complicated. With its classic themes of sisterhood and romance, the book is an updated version of Francine Pascal’s “Sweet Valley High” series (Random), with a sports twist.—Sharon Morrison, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Durant, OK for School Library Journal
9. SHAOLIN SOCCER, Andy Seto et. al
Young kung fu adept “Sing” is an honor bound disciple of the legendary Shaolin Temple. His sole goal in life is to find a way to package the philosophy and physical teachings of his beloved Shaolin kung fu so that contemporary masses can learn, benefit and apply these doctrines to their daily life. When he hooks up with a former soccer champion, he quickly realizes that the world’s most popular sport may just be the vehicle to spread Shaolin kung fu all over the globe. But first he must assemble a team worthy of the Shaolin name. But his secular, out of shape former kung fu brothers are far from impressed with his idea. Kung fu action and sidesplitting comedy are heading your way!–Promotional material
What’s a mystery? Are they only stories with murders or crimes of some sort? Perhaps. But mystery can be so much more than that! This list brings together ten unusual mysteries, where characters learn about themselves and their worlds, stories that’ll rip you out of your comfortable, expected reading zone, get inside in your head, and rearrange things until you’re thoroughly confused–but dying for more.
*book may be hard to find
** mature content, but accessible to younger readers
1. THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, Mark Haddon
Christopher Boone has had some bad knocks: his mother has died (well, she went to the hospital and never came back), and soon after he found a neighbor’s dog on the front lawn, slain by a garden fork stuck through it. A teacher said that he should write something that he “would like to read himself”-and so he embarks on this book, a murder mystery that will reveal who killed Mrs. Shears’s dog. First off, though, is a night in jail for hitting the policeman who questions him about the dog (the cop made the mistake of grabbing the boy by the arm when he can’t stand to be touched-any more than he can stand the colors yellow or brown, or not knowing what’s going to happen next). Christopher’s father bails him out but forbids his doing any more “detecting” about the dog-murder. When Christopher disobeys (and writes about it in his book), a fight ensues and his father confiscates the book. In time, detective-Christopher finds it, along with certain other clues that reveal a very great deal indeed about his mother’s “death,” his father’s own part in it-and the murder of the dog. Calming himself by doing roots, cubes, prime numbers, and math problems in his head, Christopher runs away, braves a train-ride to London, and finds-his mother..–Kirkus Reviews
2. THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, Elizabeth George Speare *
Forced to leave her sunny Caribbean home for the bleak Connecticut Colony, Kit Tyler is filled with trepidation. As they sail up the river to Kit’s new home, the teasing and moodiness of a young sailor named Nat doesn’t help. Still, her unsinkable spirit soon bobs back up. What this spirited teenager doesn’t count on, however, is how her aunt and uncle’s stern Puritan community will view her. In the colonies of 1687, a girl who swims, wears silk and satin gowns, and talks back to her elders is not only headstrong, she is in grave danger of being regarded as a witch. When Kit befriends an old Quaker woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond, it is more than the ascetics can take: soon Kit is defending her life. Who can she count on as she confronts these angry and suspicious townspeople?–Emilie Coulter for Amazon
3. THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY, (series), Trenton Lee Stewart
After Reynie Muldoon responds to an advertisement recruiting “gifted children looking for special opportunities,” he finds himself in a world of mystery and adventure. The 11-year-old orphan is one of four children to complete a series of challenging and creative tasks, and he, Kate, Constance, and Sticky become the Mysterious Benedict Society. After being trained by Mr. Benedict and his assistants, the four travel to an isolated school where children are being trained by a criminal mastermind to participate in his schemes to take over the world. The young investigators need to use their special talents and abilities in order to discover Mr. Curtain’s secrets, and their only chance to defeat him is through working together. Readers will challenge their own abilities as they work with the Society members to solve clues and put together the pieces of Mr. Curtain’s plan. In spite of a variety of coincidences, Stewart’s unusual characters, threatening villains, and dramatic plot twists will grab and hold readers’ attention. Fans of Roald Dahl or Blue Balliett will find a familiar blend of kid power, clues, and adventure in Society, though its length may daunt reluctant or less-secure readers. Underlying themes about the power of media messages and the value of education add to this book’s appeal, and a happy ending with hints of more adventures to come make this first-time author one to remember.—Beth L. Meister, Pleasant View Elementary School, Franklin, WI for School Library Journal
4. THIS IS WHAT I DID, Ann Dee Ellis **
Eighth-grader Logan is struggling to deal with a violent situation he witnessed a year ago between his best friend, Zyler, and Zyler’s abusive father but insists to everyone around him that he is fine. Just fine. Reluctant readers will be drawn into this story, which also includes bullying classmates and a dismal winter camping trip. Frequent line breaks, screenplay-style dialogue, and e-mails and notes illustrated with black icons break up the scenes. Logan gets to play one of the Lost Boys in the school play, and finds that the theater crowd offers a respite from bullies. A friendship with a girl named Laurel (a palindrome collector who is is thinking of changing her name to Laral), and a relationship with a counselor help Logan to begin the healing process and convince him to reconnect with Zyler. This psychological drama effectively explores our failure to protect youth from abuse inflicted by peers or adults.–Cindy Dobrez, for Booklist
5. MONSTER, Walter Dean Myers **
In a riveting novel from Myers (At Her Majesty’s Request, 1999, etc.), a teenager who dreams of being a filmmaker writes the story of his trial for felony murder in the form of a movie script, with journal entries after each day’s action. Steve is accused of being an accomplice in the robbery and murder of a drug store owner. As he goes through his trial, returning each night to a prison where most nights he can hear other inmates being beaten and raped, he reviews the events leading to this point in his life. Although Steve is eventually acquitted, Myers leaves it up to readers to decide for themselves on his protagonist’s guilt or innocence. The format of this taut and moving drama forcefully regulates the pacing; breathless, edge-of-the-seat courtroom scenes written entirely in dialogue alternate with thoughtful, introspective journal entries that offer a sense of Steve’s terror and confusion, and that deftly demonstrate Myers’s point: the road from innocence to trouble is comprised of small, almost invisible steps, each involving an experience in which a “positive moral decision” was not made.–Kirkus Reviews
6. ABARAT, (series), Clive Barker
Like The Thief of Always, Barker’s first book for children, this tale finds a bored protagonist venturing into a fantastical world. The novel begins with a rather cryptic scene of three women on a “perilous voyage… [emerging] from the shelter of the islands.” The action then shifts to Candy Quackenbush of Chickentown, Minn., who hates her life as the daughter of an alcoholic father and a depressed mother. One day, humiliated by her teacher, Candy skips out of school and heads for the prairie, where she stumbles on a derelict lighthouse and a creature with eight heads, John Mischief. The opening scene and the thrust of the novel gradually connect, as Candy begins an adventure to a mysterious archipelago called Abarat. Skilled at fantasy, Barker throws plenty of thrills and chills at readers. Candy becomes a pawn between Mischief and the man (Christopher Carrion, “Lord of Midnight”) from whom Mischief has stolen something of great value. However, by the middle of the novel, readers may feel that Barker pulls out too many stops; he floods the pages with scores of intriguing characters and a surfeit of subplots (some of which dead-end, perhaps to be picked up in one of the three planned sequels). The author’s imagination runs wild as he conjures some striking imagery (“Dark threads of energy moved through her veins and leaped from her fingertips” says one of the three women in the opening scene) and cooks up a surreal stew of character portraits (rendered in bold colors and brushwork, they resemble some of Van Gogh’s later work). But much of the novel feels like a wind-up for the books to follow and, after this rather unwieldy 400-page ride, readers my be disappointed by so many unresolved strands of the plot.
7. THE THIEF, (series), Megan Whalen Turner
Things are not what they seem in this story of wit, adventure, and philosophy. Gen, an accomplished thief incarcerated for stealing the king’s seal, is dragged from his cell by the king’s magus, who is on a quest. The prize is Hamiathes’s Gift, said to be a creation of the gods that confers the right of rule on the wearer. During the quest, the magus and Gen take turns telling the youngest member of their party myths about the Eddisian god of thieves. Turner does a phenomenal job of creating real people to range through her well-plotted, evenly paced story. No one is entirely evil or completely perfect. Gen is totally human in his lack of discipline, seeming lack of heroism, and need for sleep and food. The magus makes the transition from smug, superior scholar to decent guy in a believable fashion. Turner also does a neat job of puncturing lots of little prejudices. There are many deft lessons in this story. As absorbing as it is, the best part lies in the surprise ending. Though it is foreshadowed throughout, it is not obvious?its impact is more like morning sunlight than a lightning bolt. This book is sure to be a hot item with adventure and fantasy lovers, and YAs who like snide, quick-tempered, softhearted heroes will love Gen.?Patricia A. Dollisch, DeKalb County Public Library, Decatur, GA for School Library Journal