~posted by Ruth
Heading back to school can be perfect timing to put hot-of-the-presses books into the hands of teens in your family and your classroom. 2010 has been a banner year (so far–more to come!) for intriguing new reads. Here are a few of the books I’ve been passing on to the kids who want fresh ideas, characters, and intriguing plots.
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
A great introduction to the world of well-crafted and believable fantasy. Readers come to know two main characters in a future world: Claudia, stuck in a computer-generated 17th century world, where no progress is allowed and artists and poets can only reproduce what has been accomplished in the past; and Finn, trapped in Incarceron, a prison designed to be a Utopia for caring for prisoners which has degenerated into a programmed hell for the generations of people born within its walls. Finn has memories of “Outside” and struggles to make sense of his memories. Claudia is trapped in a very different world of court intrigue, with an all-powerful father who is the Warden of Incarceron. Their worlds collide when they each find a crystal key, and work to help each other understand–and escape–their restricted worlds. Strong characters, lots of intrigue and adventure, and lyrical prose make this book a winner. And the good news–a sequel is due out in December 2010!
Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd
The setting is 1981 Northern Ireland, and 18-year-old Fergus McCann lives in a border town struggling with the politics and difficult life of the times. A brilliant historical novel, Bog Child explores the complexities of the struggle between the Provisional IRA and the British government. Fergus’ older brother is jailed as a member of the IRA and takes part in a hunger strike to be treated as a political prisoner. His father is proud of his courage, while his mother and brother are devastating by his continuing weakening condition. At the same time, another story unfolds, as Fergus finds a 2,000-year-old body in the bogs while digging peat. In flashbacks and through Fergus’s dreams,we learn of the rough times during the Iron Age and what led to the death of Mel, the “bog child” whose body he has discovered. The dialogue rings true, and drew me as a reader into Fergus’ world–and Mel’s, too. Bog Child handles the big questions–about personal responsibility, sacrifice, political action, love and borders—with appropriate gravity, respect and thoughtfulness.
The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk
Will Halpin is the unlikely hero of this contemporary realistic adventure and mystery story. Will decides to leave the deaf school he has always attended and become part of a public high school community, relying on his lip-reading and computer/ texting abilities. As “the new kid” who also happens to be overweight and deaf, Will suffers at the hands of his classmates. What sounds dark and depressing is actually filled with humor as we come to understand Will’s terrific sense of the world, and the hilarious odd spin he puts on situations. He and another social outcast become friends and detectives when one of the popular kids is murdered and they take on Hardy Boys’ personas to find the murderer. A combination of satire and sleuthing with a completely original protagonist. The kind of book that appeals to both adolescents and older adults as well.
Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
It’s hard to pigeon-hole Cosmic into one genre. It’s contemporary fiction with a touch of fantasy and science fiction–kind of a space adventure–with satire and life metaphors throughout. Liam is a 12-year-old who is, well, very big. Not just tall, he looks like an adult and people often think he is much older. He ends up the “adult chaperone” at a new state–of-the-art space-themed amusement park–and has to learn to “be the Dad.” I couldn’t help but compare the off-beat humor and wacky descriptions of children with different troubling personality traits to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory updated to the 21st century. Very British dialogue–American readers will enjoy both the vocabulary and the wit. (Liam says of chips, “the moment they make contact with your tongue they stop being crisps and become soggies.”) A great family read-aloud.