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My Diary from the Edge of the World

Jodi Lynn Anderson (S&S/Aladdin)

Anderson delivers a fascinating melding of contemporary life and fairy tale lore in a novel set in a version of our world home to dragons, genies, witches, and dark clouds that portend death. When one such cloud shows up at the Maine home of 12-year-old Gracie, it's the start of a life-changing, cross-country road trip that will keep readers riveted from the first page to the last.

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The Thing About Jellyfish

Ali Benjamin (Little, Brown)

Can the scientific method help explain the inexplicable death of a friend? That's the hope of 12-year-old Suzy, who retreats into herself as she attempts to prove that a jellyfish sting was responsible for her best friend drowning. It's a contemplative and deeply affecting novel about grief that speaks volumes through its heroine's silence.

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The War That Saved My Life

Kim Brubaker Bradley (Dial)

In a hard-hitting story of prejudice and triumph set in WWII England, Ada Smith and her younger brother flee London (and their cruel mother) as part of the evacuation of children to the British countryside. Ada's self-consciousness about her clubfoot gives way to the discovery of an inner strength in an emotional and rewarding tale that isn't likely to be read through dry eyes.

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George

Alex Gino (Scholastic Press)

Given the deficit of fiction for young readers featuring transgender and gender-nonconforming characters, Gino's debut—about a 10-year-old who knows she's a girl, although the world sees her as a boy—is both necessary and welcome. Thanks to Gino's direct, compassionate writing, this is a story with the potential to open eyes, change hearts, and—given dire statistics about suicide and violence involving transgender youth—potentially save lives.

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Lost in the Sun

Lisa Graff (Philomel)

Guilt, grief, and rage are never very distant from each other in this acutely insightful novel about a 12-year-old hockey player who blames himself for the death of a friend. Graff is unafraid to face Trent's darkest moods and emotions head-on, and she sensitively charts a course to a place of self-forgiveness, without minimizing the difficulty of that journey.

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Roller Girl

Victoria Jamieson (Dial)

The thrill of a budding interest in roller derby meshes with the changing friendships and all-around uncertainties of adolescence in Jamieson's rousing graphic novel. It's a story that moves as quickly as the athletes at its center, and Jamieson's clean, bright illustrations are equally successful at capturing roller-derby action and her characters' emotional highs and lows.

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Listen, Slowly

Thanhhà Lai (Harper)

Lai's second novel is a striking counterpoint to its National Book Award–winning predecessor: written in prose, in contrast to the free verse of Inside Out and Back Again, and presenting an American girl's trip from California to Vietnam, inverting the immigrant's journey of the previous book. Yet Mai's story stands firmly on its own as she opens herself to a heritage she never saw much reason to trouble herself with.

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Friends for Life

Andrew Norriss (Scholastic/Fickling)

The unexpected friendship struck between a boy and the ghost of a girl his age is just the first step in a pay-it-forward chain of connections, actions, and revelations that has a great deal to say about bullying and the tragedies it can cause. Part supernatural mystery, part call-to-arms for empathy and kindness, Norriss's story is valuable on multiple levels.

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The Nest

Kenneth Oppel, illus. by Jon Klassen (Simon & Schuster)

A newborn child, a worried brother, a nest of wasps: Oppel uses these ingredients to construct what is easily one of the most terrifying books of the year, aided in no small way by Klassen's shadowy artwork. Yet, as unsettling a story as this is, it's also supremely rewarding, undergirded by a deep love of family—one that just happens to lead down a dangerous path.

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Echo

Pam Muñoz Ryan (Scholastic Press)

Music, history, and several expertly intertwined story lines converge in Ryan's sweeping, multifaceted novel, which draws together a harmonica that carries a prophecy, the dangers of WWII Europe, several American children, and a love of music that crosses generations. Ambitiously imagined and superbly executed.

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Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War

Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Brook)

In an age of leaked documents and whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, Sheinkin's expertly researched and recounted study of Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker of the Pentagon Papers, and the overall turbulence of the Vietnam War years couldn't be better timed or more relevant for today's young readers.

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Orbiting Jupiter

Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion)

When a troubled boy named Jack becomes the latest foster child to join Joseph Brook's family, it's the start of a gracefully written and deeply painful story about second chances, families old and new, and the tragic inability to outrun one's past. This is Schmidt at his most heartbreaking.

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The Marvels

Brian Selznick (Scholastic Press)

Selznick continues to push the boundaries of visual narrative, and his latest—a conclusion to the trilogy of sorts that began with The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck—is perhaps his most inventive and daring to date. The story blends the nautical and the theatrical, spanning generations, as Selznick weaves a powerful story of finding family and creating art.

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Goodbye Stranger

Rebecca Stead (Random/Lamb)

Stead has a true talent for getting inside the adolescent mind, and here the Newbery Medalist thoughtfully and carefully examines the evolving friendships among a group of Manhattan seventh-graders, while throwing in just enough twists and uncertainties to keep readers on their toes.

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Harriet the Invincible

Ursula Vernon (Dial)

In what might be Vernon's funniest book yet, she presents a hilarious rodent-themed twist on "Sleeping Beauty." Using the blend of comics and prose that her fans have come to love, Vernon introduces Harriet Hamsterbone, who sees opportunity where others see a curse, taking down sexist fairy tale tropes and damsel-in-distress stereotypes along the way. Utterly wonderful.

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