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Ship Breaker

Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)

Set in a grim near-future, Bacigalupi's YA debut is an action-packed, frighteningly believable story of class warfare set on the ecologically wrecked Gulf of Mexico coast. Bacigalupi's world-building is exceptional, as his protagonist, Nailer, learns uncomfortable truths about a world that has already dealt him a difficult hand.

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Cosmic

Frank Cottrell Boyce (HarperCollins/Walden Pond)

In a story that's equal parts Willy Wonka and Big, Boyce offers a hilarious yet moving exploration of what it means to be a man and, in particular, a dad (whether on Earth or in outer space). Twelve-year-old Liam's extraterrestrial journey, as he masquerades as a friend's father, will have kids rethinking the notion that adulthood is a breeze.

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Mockingjay

Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press)

Collins brings to a close a trilogy that captured the hearts and spirits of teenagers and adults alike, while inspiring the current craze for dystopian fiction. While readers might not be ready to say good-bye to Katniss Everdeen and the Hunger Games, Collins does so with grace and an ending that's heartrending yet completely satisfying.

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Matched

Ally Condie (Dutton)

In this dystopian romance, debut author Condie crafts a cerebral society in which individual choice has all but ceased to exist, and exposes the ugliness at its heart. With undercurrents of The Giver and Fahrenheit 451, this story of forbidden loves, long-lost poems, and a teenager's desperation to break free and think for herself will leave readers hungry for the planned sequels.

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Bink and Gollie

DiCamillo and McGhee, illus. by Fucile (Candlewick)

DiCamillo, McGhee, and Fucile introduce two iconoclastic—and instantly iconic—heroines who turn striped socks, an imagined mountain-climbing expedition, and an "unremarkable" goldfish into friendship-testing (and strengthening) experiences. Bink and Gollie would call this trio of stories a "bonanza," and they'd be right.

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Incarceron

Catherine Fisher (Dial)

Fisher's story of star-crossed romance flips between two worlds that aren't what they seem: the sentient prison known as Incarceron and the tech-phobic outside world that has reverted to a medieval way of life. Impeccably developed world-building and characters and powerful insights into freedom, history, and society at large make this a rewarding work of science fiction.

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A Tale Dark and Grimm

Adam Gidwitz (Dutton)

Gidwitz debuts with a deliciously twisted reworking of Grimm's fairy tales that casts Hansel and Gretel in lead roles in several other stories, as they seek a perfect (or even just "nice") family. Quite gory and quite funny, Gidwitz's expertly engineered collection has heart, too, and is all but certain to reignite readers' interest in the source material.

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Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same!

Grace Lin (Little, Brown)

Over the course of six blithe, slice-of-life stories, two Chinese-American twins demonstrate that while they share much, they are unquestionably individuals, too, despite the assumptions of others. The stories exude a timeless charm, and while twins will appreciate the validation, Ling and Ting's message will hit home with all children who have felt dismissed or misunderstood.

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Finnikin of the Rock

Melina Marchetta (Candlewick)

Printz Award–winner Marchetta's epic is distinguished by flawed and endlessly surprising heroes, an atmospheric island setting, and a compelling quest to restore a desecrated kingdom to its former glory. Shot through with complexities, humor, and exquisitely crafted dialogue, interactions, and relationships, this is fantasy that succeeds on every level.

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The Death-Defying Pepper Roux

Geraldine McCaughrean (Harper)

Populated with singular characters, McCaughrean's warm and exuberant adventure follows Pepper as he attempts to outrun the death he has been raised to believe awaits him on his 14th birthday. It's a massively enjoyable journey of mistaken identities, preposterous careers, unconventional friendships, and fortunes that turn on a dime.

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Trash

Andy Mulligan (Random/Fickling)

A cinematic story of redemption set in an unnamed nation, Mulligan's debut novel rotates mainly among the perspectives of three boys who eke out a living picking through trash mounds, until a surprise discovery sets them on a path of moral quandaries and political corruption. The injustices that Mulligan depicts so starkly make the novel's triumphs all the sweeter.

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Monsters of Men

Patrick Ness (Candlewick)

As brutal and provocative as its predecessors, Ness's conclusion to the Chaos Walking trilogy hits with the force of a concussive blast, as armies of terrorists, mass murderers, and subjugated aliens converge with Viola and Todd at the center of it all. Few books in recent memory have addressed issues of warfare, racism, misogyny, and human nature with such power.

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Before I Fall

Lauren Oliver (HarperTeen)

If the plot of Oliver's debut novel suggests at first glance Groundhog Day (high school senior Samantha relives the day of her death again and again), it quickly becomes clear that this is a very different kind of story. Samantha's death may be inevitable, but the changes that result from her choices each day say so much about what it means to be alive.

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Heart of a Samurai

Margi Preus (Abrams/Amulet)

Based on the life of Manjiro Nakahama, the first Japanese man to set foot on American shores, Preus's gripping historical fiction is an inspiring story of personal determination set against the hardships and prejudice of the mid-19th century. A superior mix of history, adventure, self-discovery, and personal triumph.

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Octavia Boone's Big Questions About Life, the Universe, and Everything

Rebecca Rupp (Candlewick)

Rupp delivers a complex and nuanced story of a girl's search for faith and meaning, as seventh-grader Octavia uses science—and synesthesia—to try to understand her mother's decision to join a fundamentalist religious group, which causes the implosion of her family. With no easy answers and many flawed adult characters, it's a deeply honest yet sympathetic novel.

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The Cardturner

Louis Sachar (Delacorte)

In Sachar's expert hands, what is perhaps the unlikeliest subject for a YA novel—the game of bridge—becomes the basis for a moving and humorous story about the testy relationship between narrator Alton and his eccentric, blind great-uncle. Parallels between the game and real-life human connections become clear, and Alton's growing respect for and fascination with the game will mirror that of readers.

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Revolver

Marcus Sedgwick (Roaring Brook)

In a story as brutal and cold as its setting miles north of the Arctic Circle, Sedgwick tackles issues of violence, manhood, and morality. With both his parents dead and a threat to his life and that of his sister literally at the door, teenage Sig faces impossible choices in a historical thriller that holds readers with a viselike grip.

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The Marbury Lens

Andrew Smith (Feiwel and Friends)

To say that Jack's world is turned upside down when a pair of glasses transports him to an alternate world doesn't do justice to the horrors he witnesses in Marbury, a twisted apocalyptic land with a very high body count. Jack's "real" life isn't so hot either, and the calamities that unfold in both places will be as unforgettable and traumatic for readers as they are for Jack.

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The Last Summer of the Death Warriors

Francisco X. Stork (Scholastic/Levine)

Themes of vengeance, loss, and self-determination are woven through Stork's story of the friendship between orphan Pancho and terminally ill cancer patient D.Q. Pancho's emotional journey, from a place governed by the deaths of his father and sister to one where he can open up to D.Q. and others, is rewarding and deeply affecting.

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Nothing

Janne Teller (S&S/Atheneum)

One boy's existential crisis and minor act of civil disobedience has profoundly disturbing consequences in Teller's story of peer pressure and the point at which civilized society breaks down. The escalation of Pierre's classmates' frustration and rage makes the story, which is evocative of Lord of the Flies, all the more believable and devastating.

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Countdown

Deborah Wiles (Scholastic Press)

The Cuban missile crisis provides a tense backdrop for this moving story of innocence lost in 1960s Long Island; the changes happening on a national level mirror the small-scale turmoil in the family and social life of 11-year-old Franny. In tandem with Wiles's visceral prose, strong design elements—extensive photographs and other imagery—bring the setting to life.

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One Crazy Summer

Rita Williams-Garcia (HarperCollins/Amistad)

With expert depictions of sisterly dynamics and the tumultuousness of the 1960s, Williams-Garcia offers the memorable tale of 11-year-old Delphine and her younger sisters, as they grow to understand their unconventional estranged mother better—with a little help from the Black Panthers. A vivid and highly relatable coming-of-age story.

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