YA Fiction

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME by Mark Haddon

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Seven minutes after midnight, Christopher John Francis Boone found a dead dog outside of Mrs. Shears’ house, stabbed straight through with a garden fork.  Since Christopher’s teacher had encouraged him to write a story, he decides to write a murder mystery: an account of his own investigations into the dog’s death.  Despite his father’s command that he “stay out of other people’s business,” he sets out to detect who killed the dog—and ends up uncovering a host of family secrets in the process.

Christopher has Asperger’s syndrome.  The entire novel is told in his voice in a stream-of-consciousness style which gradually reveals the details of his life to the reader.  The book examines both the challenges that Christopher faces in relating to his family and those around him and the beauty of his world and his unique and brilliant perspective on life.  Mark Haddon, who has worked with children on the autism spectrum, crafts the story masterfully around the murder mystery framework.  Christopher’s voice is believable and clear, and his experiences range from humorous to heartbreaking.  I highly recommend it!

PETER AND THE STARCATCHERS by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

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Peter was the leader of the orphan boys at St. Norbert’s for several reasons.  First, he was the oldest—or at least he said he was.  He was also very smart and very brave.  And he could spit the farthest, which is an important qualification for leadership.  So when Peter, James, Prentiss, Thomas, and Tubby Ted end up as cabin boys on the rickety old ship the “Never Land” on their way to become snake food at the royal palace of King Zarboff the Third, Peter takes charge.  He leaves the rat-infested cabin every night to find the other boys some food.  That’s how he meets Molly, a girl who can talk to porpoises, and discovers the mysterious trunk that she is guarding—a trunk with the power to make rats fly and men feel light as a feather.  Molly is the daughter of a Starcatcher, in charge of protecting the trunk’s magic from the evil “Others” in her father’s absence.  But when Molly learns that her enemies are onboard the “Never Land,” she needs Peter’s help to keep the trunk and its contents safe.  And then, there are the pirates: Black Stache and Smee and the terrible crew of the “Sea Devil” who also want to get their hands on the greatest treasure ever to be taken on the sea.

This prequel to Peter Pan is a wonderful adventure story full of action, magic, and humor (it is very clear that Dave Barry is one of the writers).  It is the first in a series, followed by Peter and the Shadow Thieves, Peter and the Secret of Rundoon and Peter and the Sword of Mercy.   They are intended for an upper elementary/ middle grade audience, but this is one grown up who enjoys them very much!  There are also several “spin-off” books about the Lost Boys and the adventures of the Mollusk Indians: Escape from the Carnivale, Cave of the Dark Wind, Blood Tide, and The Bridge to Neverland.

A word on the series:  The first book can stand alone.  There are a few things that aren’t explained fully, but you can make the jump from the ending of Starcatchers to the beginning of Peter Pan pretty easily.  Shadow Thieves and Secret of Rundoon are a lot scarier than Starcatchers (I read Starcatchers aloud with a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old with a few minor alterations to pirate vocabulary and behavior, and they loved it, but I  did not continue on in the series because it would have been too scary).   It’s fine for 4-6th graders, who are the book’s intended audience, but just a heads up if you start it as a read aloud with younger kids—preview the Shadow Thieves before you jump in!  The fourth book, Sword of Mercy, breaks the prequel logic, unfortunately, because it occurs years after the first three end, and involves the Darling children, but does not fit into the original Peter Pan timeline.   So that disappointed me.  I might recommend only reading books 1-3.  But if you really enjoy the characters and won’t be bothered by the series becoming more “fan fiction” than true “prequel,” Sword of Mercy is a good book, too.

ARTEMIS FOWL by Eoin Colfer

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Artemis Fowl, Jr., is not your average twelve-year-old.  For one thing, he is the son of an incredibly wealthy crime lord and has grown up surrounded by advanced technology and bodyguards.  For another, since his father’s disappearance and the onset of his mother’s mental illness, Artemis has virtually no adult supervision, managing his own life and the family’s assets.  And most importantly, Artemis is a genius.  It is precisely his unique position on the boundary of childhood and very mature adulthood that allows him to perpetrate his latest scheme–because when he learned of the existence of fairies, he was just innocent enough to believe in them, and plenty brilliant enough to concoct a foolproof plan to extort their gold.

After stealing the Book of the People from an alcoholic sprite in Vietnam, Artemis returns to his home in Ireland to crack the fairy language and learn all of their secrets.  He then proceeds to Phase Two of the plan: kidnap a fairy and hold him for ransom, threatening to reveal their secret, underground world to the humans if the Lower Elements Police (LEP) do not comply with his financial demands.  Unfortunately for Artemis, he kidnapped Captain Holly Short, an officer in the LEP Recon division, and she just may be his match.  While Artemis uses his brilliant mind to stay one step ahead of Commander Root and the LEP technology, and his formidable bodyguard Butler keeps the perimeter secure, Holly tries to find a way to escape and take down the super-genius “mud-man.”

This book is a great blend of science fiction and fantasy, popular among upper elementary and middle grade readers (and certain nerdy librarians . . . ).  The characters are fantastic, there is a decent amount of action, and humor is blended in quite nicely.  I highly recommend this series to both eager and reluctant readers.  There are eight books in the series.

AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES by John Green

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Most people have a “type.”  “Types” are often superficial, based on a few physical characteristics, or a particular type of personality.  Former child prodigy Colin Singleton’s type is linguistic: girls with the name “Katherine.”  He has dated and been dumped by nineteen of them.  And Katherine XIX truly broke his heart.

Colin and his friend Hassan decide that a roadtrip is just what Colin needs to forget his troubles and his Katherines.  They wind up in a rural town which is like a different world from their Chicago homes.  They also meet Lindsay, a girl their age who challenges all of Colin’s preconceived notions about the type of person who reads “Celebrity Living” magazine.  As Colin and Hassan join Lindsay in interviewing the locals about their personal histories and participating in local cultural activities (like hunting wild Satanic pigs), Colin tries to analyze his love life the only way he knows how: mathematically.  Who knows; if he gets this particular Theorem right, he might be able to predict the future, or maybe find a way to get K-19 back.

(If you like John Green, check out the vlog he keeps with his brother, Hank:  http://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers.)

UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld

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Every since she was a Littlie, Tally Youngblood has dreamed of her sixteenth birthday–the day she will become Pretty.  Since the government started providing the Operation to everyone at age sixteen, the social hierarchies surrounding physical attractiveness have dissolved–everyone is equally Pretty.  But until she turns sixteen, Tally is an Ugly, and so long as she’s Ugly, she’s going to have fun riding her hoverboard, playing pranks, dodging the government Wardens, and sneaking into forbidden places, like the Rusty Ruins, the remnants of civilization from before.

But on her sixteenth birthday, everything changes.  Tally’s friend Shay runs away to join an underground community of Ugly rebels in a hidden city called the Smoke.  The agents at Special Circumstances want to catch Shay and destroy the Smoke, and they need Tally.  The Specials give Tally an ultimatum: help them find the Smoke, or stay Ugly forever. Unwilling to face a life of Ugliness, Tally takes the tracking device from Special Circumstances and embarks on a dangerous journey across the wilderness, following a set of cryptic clues that Shay left behind.

Uglies is the first book in a trilogy.  It was a lot of fun to read, especially if you like dystopian/sci-fi books (as I do).  The other two books in the trilogy fell a little flat for me, but they’re still worth reading.  Or you could just read the first one.  (It kind of reminds me of The Matrix: it might be better just to watch the first one because it’s excellent, and assume that the following two involve some serious action and a major overhaul of society. . . . )

If you liked Uglies, you might also like The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn.

THE DIARY OF A WIMPY KID by Jeff Kinney

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Greg’s parents always have brilliant ideas about how to make him a better person.  Like his dad making him play outside instead (forcing him to sneak over to Rowley’s house in order to play his video games!) and like his mom buying him this diary (it even says diary on the front of it).  But don’t worry.  He’s not going to get all mushy gushy and talk about his feelings or anything like that.  He’s just going to tell you what it’s like to be in sixth grade, dodging bullies and boredom and trying very hard to move up on the popularity scale.  Or at least, not to move down. . . .

The Wimpy Kid books are favorites among upper elementary schoolers (as well as certain librarians . . . ) and book six will be coming out this fall!

If you liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid, you may also be interested in How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida CowellThe Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger, and the Big Nate books by Lincoln Peirce.

REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly

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The death of Andi’s little brother Truman has torn her family apart.  With her father in Paris with his new girlfriend and her mother slowly losing her grip on reality, all Andi has to comfort her is her music.  But when her father unexpectedly returns and discovers the state of his ex-wife’s mental health and Andi’s grades, he checks Andi’s mom into a mental hospital and whisks Andi away to Paris where she can work on her senior thesis “without distraction.”

Andi does not want to go to Paris, but once she arrives, she discovers new distractions she didn’t anticipate.   First she stumbles upon the diary of a young girl from the French Revolution who had a personal connection with the lost prince Louis-Charles.  She also meets another musician, an attractive man named Virgil who quickly becomes a friend–or perhaps something more.  As Andi gets deeper into the diary and deeper into Paris’ underground music scene, her life begins to become intertwined with the girl from the diary and the subject of her thesis, almost to the point that they become one.

This story is written for teenagers and would be of interest to anyone who enjoys books about dysfunctional families, overcoming grief, or the French Revolution.