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The Case of the Team Spirit

John Allison (Oni)

Set in a fictional British town, Allison’s Bad Machinery webcomic jumps to print, and there’s “nuffink” more entertaining than watching his droll school-age sleuths puzzle out a mystery involving a supernatural curse that is afflicting the local footy team. Better still, for those who fall for these characters as fast and hard as we did, several subsequent Bad Machinery cases are already available online.


Doll Bones

Holly Black, illus. by Eliza Wheeler (S&S/McElderry)

A quest to appease the ghost of a murdered girl is at the heart of Black’s creepy, bittersweet novel about shifting friendships and the aches and pains of growing up. While the chilling and uncertain origins of the doll propel Zach, Poppy, and Alice’s journey, the children’s everyday concerns are, in their own way, no less scary.


Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant

Tony Cliff (Roaring Brook/First Second)

First published online, Cliff’s graphic novel stars exactly the sort of “Strong Female Character" the world could use more of. This 19th-century rollick soars thanks to the relationship—and banter—between daredevil Delilah and the comparatively timid Turkish lieutenant, Selim, whose paths cross in ways that typically involve explosions, swordplay, and plummeting airships, much to Selim’s dismay.


The Kingdom of Little Wounds

Susann Cokal (Candlewick)

Adult author Cokal’s first book for teens can be jaw-dropping in its brutality, yet also hopeful and even empowering. Set in a fictitious 16th-century Scandinavian court, the story follows Ava, a seamstress, and Midi Sorte, a slave, as they attempt to surmount rape, violence, and political machinations. The mercilessness of the world Cokal constructs only emphasizes the strength of Ava, Midi, and others.


Ghost Hawk

Susan Cooper (S&S/McElderry)

Cooper brings a touch of fantasy to this haunting story of the friendship between two boys—one a Pilgrim, the other Wampanoag—in the 17th century. Their friendship does not end well, but through their stories, Cooper paints a vivid portrait of the struggle to do right when facing widespread intolerance and injustice.


Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

Kate DiCamillo, illus. by K.G. Campbell (Candlewick)

Blending comics sequences and prose, DiCamillo and Campbell tell a story that’s as iconoclastic and memorable as its heroes: Flora, a comic book aficionado stung by her parents’ divorce; and Ulysses, the squirrel she rescues who, against all expectations, turns out have superpowers. Yes, there’s superhero-style fun here, but it’s the emotion at the heart of the story that lingers.


The Golden Day

Ursula Dubosarsky (Candlewick)

A field trip, a vanished teacher, and a group of girls left with unanswered questions are the focus of this novel of fading innocence and growing awareness of the injustices and evils of the world. Dubosarsky infuses her narrative with dread and uncertainty, right through the haunting, not-quite-conclusive ending.


Better Nate Than Ever

Tim Federle (Simon & Schuster)

Thirteen-year-old Nate Foster has Broadway dreams, and he’s willing to sneak off to the Big Apple to realize them. Debut author Federle has firsthand experience on the Great White Way, and it shows in this heartwarming and effortlessly funny story about a boy’s attempt to better understand himself and what he hopes to get out of life.


From Norvelt to Nowhere

Jack Gantos (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Gantos’s follow-up to his Newbery Medal–winning Dead End in Norvelt is as over-the-top as its predecessor, and just as rewarding. Gantos’s dark brand of humor shines through in the road-trip shenanigans between young Jackie Gantos and Miss Volker as they head for Florida in a secondhand VW Beetle.


Maggot Moon

Sally Gardner, illus. by Julian Crouch (Candlewick)

Gardner offers a violent and original twist on the dystopian genre in this alternate history set against the backdrop of the Cold War. In dyslexic 15-year-old Standish Treadwell, she creates a singular hero willing to risk everything to stand up to corruption.


How to Catch a Bogle

Catherine Jinks, illus. by Sarah Watts (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Victorian London wasn’t always a walk in Hyde Park, and the same is true of Jinks’s monster-ridden version of the city. True, a job that amounts to “monster bait” is risky, but it beats the workhouses, as far as orphan Birdie McAdam is concerned. Jinks’s alternate history brims with wit and peril.


The Thing About Luck

Cynthia Kadohata, illus. by Julia Kuo (S&S/Atheneum)

Kadohata offers a beautifully observed and often humorous story about a contemporary Japanese-American family of “custom harvesters,” centering on 12-year-old Summer as she and her grandparents travel between Midwest farms in an effort to keep the bills paid. While the specifics of Summer’s life may be unfamiliar to many readers, the pressure she feels is universal.


Reality Boy

A.S. King (Little, Brown)

Training her eye on the world of reality TV, King introduces 16-year-old Gerald Faust, who gained notoriety as a child during appearances on a show called Network Nanny. Gerald’s rage and pain are visceral, and King tackles a sensational topic with sensitivity while turning a mirror on our culture’s own voyeurism.


Hostage Three

Nick Lake (Bloomsbury)

Lake follows his Printz-winning In Darkness (about the 2010 earthquake in Haiti) with a gripping thriller set against another of-the-moment topic—piracy off the coast of Somalia. Expertly balancing teenage angst, social inequity, romance, and very real danger, Lake’s story is as gripping as it is provocative.


Whistle in the Dark

Susan Hill Long (Holiday House)

Life looks grim for 13-year-old Clem Harding as he’s pulled out of school to work in the lead mines in his 1920s Missouri town. Long paints Clem’s hopes and apprehensions with skill as he struggles to balance the loyalty he feels for his family, which desperately needs the income, with his dreams of a better life for himself.


The Truth of Me

Patricia MacLachlan (HarperCollins/Tegen)

MacLachlan gives newly independent readers plenty of food for thought in this story of intergenerational friendship between a boy named Robbie and his grandmother. Robbie has some very big revelations during his stay with Maddy, as well as a chance to save the day. It’s a quiet but elegantly written story about a boy’s first encounter with some grown-up problems and concerns.


Far Far Away

Tom McNeal (Knopf)

McNeal marries ghostly supernatural elements with all-too-human horrors in a story that places fairy-tale terror in a contemporary setting without compromising either. Readers’ dread will match that of the ghost of Jacob Grimm, who watches helplessly as danger circles in on a boy named Jeremy and his town.


Sex and Violence

Carrie Mesrobian (Carolrhoda Lab)

First-time author Mesrobian makes a bold, memorable debut with a novel that examines both the psychological aftereffects of an act of violence and a teenage boy’s growing awareness of his own destructive attitudes toward sex. Packed with big ideas, big struggles, and big questions with answers that are never clear-cut.


The Infinite Moment of Us

Lauren Myracle (Abrams/Amulet)

Through the romance of Wren Gray and Charlie Parker (no, not that Charlie Parker), Myracle creates a smart, honest, and valuable portrait of a teenage relationship built on love and respect. While the book’s frankness may rub some (adults) the wrong way, few books handle teenage sexuality as well as Myracle does here.


Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

Matthew Quick (Little, Brown)

The pain (and the gun) Leonard Peacock carries with him make every page of Quick’s novel intense, dread-soaked, and all but impossible to turn away from. Leonard’s anguish, frustrations, disappointments, and rage are crystal clear as the teenager begins to put into action his plan to kill his former best friend, and then himself.


Picture Me Gone

Meg Rosoff (Putnam)

The betrayals and failings of adults rise to the surface of this coming-of-age story, in which a 12-year-old British girl accompanies her father to the U.S. in an effort to track down an old friend of his. As Mila’s keen observations begin to reveal secrecy and lies, readers will feel her awakening intensely and intimately.


Eleanor & Park

Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin's Griffin)

Rowell’s first book for teens has been one of the breakout success stories of the year, and it’s easy to see why. The way she captures the slow, tantalizing development of a romance between the two misfit teens of the title is dead on, and the relationship itself is breathtakingly realistic in its imperfections, pain, and joy.


The War Within These Walls

Aline Sax, trans. by Laura Watkinson, illus. by Caryl Strzelecki (Eerdmans)

First published in Belgium, this fictionalized account of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1942 is as riveting as it is horrifying. The history speaks for itself, but Sax’s nameless young narrator and Strzelecki’s brutal, graphic illustrations plunge readers directly into the midst of the confusion, heartbreak, and devastation of the city’s Jewish residents.



Marcus Sedgwick (Roaring Brook)

Sedgwick brilliantly stitches together seven stories, moving backward in time across the centuries as he explores love, death, and sacrifice on a strange and isolated Nordic island. It’s a multilayered story whose motifs, interconnected characters, and underlying hints of menace draw readers in as they try to piece together the island’s mysteries.



Andrew Smith, illus. by Sam Bosma (Simon & Schuster)

Smith takes a break from the supernatural horrors of The Marbury Lens and Passenger with a boarding-school comedy/drama that pulls in rugby, bullying, late-night dares, romance, and tragedy. Awkward, searching, and hormonal, Ryan Dean West is a near-unforgettable narrator in this funny but also heartrending coming-of-age story.


Rose Under Fire

Elizabeth Wein (Hyperion)

Wein follows her acclaimed Code Name Verity with another WWII-era novel of heroism and friendship under brutal circumstances. Captured and imprisoned in the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany, American volunteer pilot Rose Justice strives to tells the world of the atrocities she witnesses firsthand in this hard-hitting, detail-rich work of historical fiction.


P.S. Be Eleven

Rita Williams-Garcia (HarperCollins/ Amistad)

Building on the social upheaval and coming-of-age themes of One Crazy Summer, Williams-Garcia continues the story of sisters Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern Gaither, as they return to Brooklyn after their summer with the Black Panthers. Once again, the author expertly examines a tumultuous slice of American history through the perspective of a sharp-eyed, steely-willed heroine.


Boxers and Saints

Gene Luen Yang (Roaring Brook/ First Second)

This diptych of graphic novels forces readers to consider the roles of faith, fervor, and nationalism in the Boxer Rebellion in China, which Yang explores from opposing viewpoints. The author does a remarkable job of humanizing this conflict and its players, creating fully realized and empathetic characters on both sides.


The Lucy Variations

Sara Zarr (Little, Brown)

Pressures—both self-imposed and external—are viscerally felt in this coming-of-age story about 16-year-old Lucy Beck-Moreau, a piano prodigy who has given up music. Zarr’s razor-sharp prose and multidimensional characterizations make Lucy’s world uncommonly real, as she works through past regrets, family tensions, and tricky decisions.


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