Friday, June 19, 2015

Recommended Books for Older Readers, June 2015

Recommended Books for Older Readers
by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


Today I want to share some of the most interesting books for older readers I’ve read so far this year. Although I tend to review books for younger children, I read MG and YA as part of my reading for pleasure. So below we have some books for kids 10 - 12, while others are more appropriate for teens. All the books below made intriguing reading for me as an adult. Some have been very recently published while others are already “classics”. Many of them have been suggested to me by my wonderful local librarian, Sue, one of the most voracious readers I know and like librarians everywhere, keen to match great books with readers.

I hope to make reviews for older readers a semi-regular feature here at The Book Chook.

The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly

Written by Ted Sanders and published by Hot Key Books, 2015 (Five Mile Press in Australia.)

From the publisher:

From the moment Horace F. Andrews sees the sign from the bus―literally a sign with his name on it―everything in his normal little life changes. An encounter with the House of Answers, a magically hidden warehouse full of mysterious objects and even stranger people, only leads to more questions. These people think he's special―a Keeper of an incredible gift―although scientifically-minded Horace isn't so sure he really believes in that kind of thing. But then a confrontation with an impossibly tall, thin, creepy and undoubtedly menacing man makes him think twice...

Horace must now quickly begin to unravel the mysteries of this hidden world and his new gift, as he finds himself immersed in a battle between ancient forces, where the bad guys don't pull any punches, even the good guys have their flaws, and where friendship, loyalty and trust turn out to be the greatest powers of all.


I believe the very best kinds of children’s books are those that are so well-written they are instrumental in kids becoming avid readers. Second on the “best books spectrum” (to me) is when I begin a children’s or YA book because I suspect it may be brilliant, but completely forget about that because I am pulled into the story as an adult. Yes, this is a middle grade book and these are child characters but they are ones I could relate to. I loved the cast of quirky characters, I loved the puzzles to solve, I loved the intricately detailed world and I truly believe kids will too. I predict both boys and girls 10+ will grab this 500 page chapter book crammed with moments of scariness, humour, drama, and action, and enjoy Horace and Chloe’s adventures as much as I did.

Dropping In

Written by Geoff Havel, and published by Fremantle Press, 2015.

From the publisher:

Sticks and Ranga live on the same street, go to the same school and love the same things – skateboarding and PlayStation.

When new kid James arrives in his wheelchair, Sticks isn't sure they can be friends. But Sticks quickly discovers they have a lot in common. Cerebral palsy stops James from doing some things but it hasn't dulled his sense of humour – and he's pretty brainy, too. The only thing James can't do is join Sticks and Ranga when they go skateboarding – or can he?

Three mates, a beat-up old couch, a couple of skateboards and a steep hill ... what could possibly go wrong?


This is an excellent choice for boys who want to read a book that speaks to their lives. Although I don’t ride a skateboard, have a PlayStation or attend high school, I found myself pulled into the story instantly. The characters' voices are authentic and believable. First person/present tense gives the book a sense of immediacy too. It’s obvious Havel knows boys. He understands not only what makes them tick, but how to write the sort of action and humour they enjoy.

The publisher classifies the novel as children’s/YA. I would say it might suit boys from 10-15 years. It’s a fast, easy read, so don’t hesitate to recommend it to reluctant readers. I loved the way Havel included James, a character with cerebral palsy, quite matter-of-factly. He reveals James’s problems and interactions with others with honesty, not preaching, but allowing readers to draw their own conclusions.

Dragonkeeper

Written by Carole Wilkinson, and first published by black dog books, an imprint of Walker Books Australia, in 2003, Dragonkeeper has won many prizes. It deserves them all. It’s a well-researched and imaginative story about a slave girl, Ping, who saves the life of an ageing dragon, Long Danzi. They set off for Ocean, and journey across ancient China, having all sorts of exciting adventures on the way. Dragonkeeper is the first book written in the Dragonkeeper series

What pulled me into the story was Wilkinson’s ability to transfer me to a place and time and immerse me in it. I could taste the flavours, smell the mud and rotting fish, see the wilting peonies and gape at the width of the Yellow River. Never once was I thrown out of the story with an anachronism, yet dialect, beliefs, customs and traditions were seamlessly interwoven into the story so I saw through Ping’s eyes and felt her conflicts.

Although Ping is only eleven, I would confidently suggest this book to children 10+ and adults and teens who don’t restrict themselves from reading excellent books because of age recommendations. I read it in one night, caught up in the tale of a wonderful old dragon and the child destined to be his keeper. You can read a sample chapter at Wilkinson’s website.

Urban Outlaws and Urban Outlaws: Blackout

Urban Outlaws was written by Peter Jay Black, published by Bloomsbury, 2014, and Urban Outlaws: Blackout was written by Peter Jay Black, published by Bloomsbury, 2015.

From the publisher:

Meet the URBAN OUTLAWS: Jack, Charlie, Slink, Obi and Wren. Five quick-thinking, super-skilled kids who live to right society's wrongs. From their bunker deep beneath the city of London, the Outlaws plan their missions, stealing money from the rich to give to those in need. But events spiral out of control when they accidentally uncover the whereabouts of Proteus – a game-changing new quantum computer with the power to steal top-security secrets in a nanosecond. It's down to the guile, guts and gadget know-how of Jack and his team to carry out their greatest plan yet – and avert world domination.

If you’re looking for middle grade fiction for kids who want a non-stop action ride, grab this series. The characters are young teens and a tween who have fantastic hacking and inventing skills and who are determined to stop the “bad guys”. I love that they also perform random acts of kindness and defend those who need defence. Black provides lots of plot twists, thrills, spills and humour, all written in structure and language that make the books accessible to both boys and girls around the 9 - 13 age group. I predict they will love the fact that the kids have few adults in their lives, have the best hideout ever, and use their wits and courage to resolve problems.

Zac and Mia

Written by A.J.Betts and published by Text Publishing, 2013.

From the publisher:

The last person Zac expects in the room next door is a girl like Mia, angry and feisty with questionable taste in music. In the real world, he wouldn’t—couldn’t—be friends with her. In hospital different rules apply, and what begins as a knock on the wall leads to a note—then a friendship neither of them sees coming.

You need courage to be in hospital; different courage to be back in the real world. In one of these worlds Zac needs Mia. And in the other Mia needs Zac. Or maybe they both need each other, always.


I know it's a cliche now, but this YA novel genuinely is un-put-down-able. The characters are believable, likeable, they grow, change, and stay with you long after you've finished reading. The setting is revealed as the story progresses with the kind of detail that pulls your senses into the story too. Never mawkish, yet truly heartwarming, dramatic yet truly funny at times, this was one of my favourite YA reads in recent times, and certainly one to recommend to teens.

Wonder

Written by R J Palacio and published by Random House, 2014.

From the publisher:

My name is August. I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.'

Auggie wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. He does ordinary things - eating ice cream, playing on his Xbox. He feels ordinary - inside. But ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. Ordinary kids aren't stared at wherever they go.

Born with a terrible facial abnormality, Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents his whole life. Now, for the first time, he's being sent to a real school - and he's dreading it. All he wants is to be accepted - but can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, underneath it all?


Although rightly classified as middle grade fiction, I found Wonder a very satisfying read as an adult. I laughed, I cried and once finished, immediately wanted everyone I know to read it too. I also found myself pondering my reaction to Wonder. It felt as if I’d gained more understanding of the human condition and yet above all, Wonder is entertaining. I decided Palacio is one of those rare authors who can prod us into thinking and challenging stereotypes, while delivering a wholly satisfying story. This is realistic contemporary fiction for anyone 10+.

Unwanted

Written by Amanda Holohan and published by Penguin, 2014. RRP: $Au19.99.

From the publisher:

All her life, Bea has wanted nothing more than to become a sniper on the wall and earn the coveted ink of a Dread warrior - a mark of distinction among her people.

She knows that one day the terrifying Erebii might break through the city's outer defences, and if her people aren't prepared and the wall is breached then the last human city will fall.

But everything Bea thinks she knows is about to be challenged...

What does the ink really do as it flows underneath their skin and who is the mysterious Unwanted boy that keeps appearing in her life?


I found myself recalling scenes and moments from this YA novel long after I’d finished it. Set in a powerfully-realised dystopian world, Unwanted shows us this frightening world from Bea’s perspective. This is an edge-of-the-seat read. Teens and adults who look for strong characters, plot twists and unrelenting tension should grab Unwanted soon.

The Fault in Our Stars

Written by John Green and published by Penguin, 2012.

From the publisher:

Despite the tumour-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green's most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.


Somehow or other I hadn’t read The Fault in Our Stars, though I’d heard of it. Now of course, I’m an evangelist, wanting everyone else to appreciate it as much as I did. It’s funny, honest, heart-wrenching, delightful. In my library it’s shelved as YA with a red heart which means young adult romance. Somehow, I never even thought about that while I was reading it, because it’s so much more than a romance. The main characters are teens, teens who meet at a Cancer Kid Support Group. As their lives intertwine, we learn not only more about them, but about ourselves.

The Flywheel:

Written by Erin Gough and published by Hardie Grant Egmont, 2015.

When the hero, seventeen-year-old Delilah, drops out of school after her romance with a straight girl goes sour, she finds herself running her dad’s struggling cafĂ©, The Flywheel, while he’s travelling. Her new crush is on the beautiful Rosa - flamenco dancer, library saver and as graceful as Delilah seems clumsy - and it threatens to become an obsession. Meanwhile, Del’s best friend, Charlie, has troubles of his own and looks to Del to keep him out of jail.

Del is honest, brash at times and we see her grow and change during the story. There’s lots of humour in The Flywheel, authentic dialogue, and a vivid portrayal of contemporary teen life. It’s great to see YA books being published like this, ones that deal with important issues teens face like sexuality, bullying, and loyalty.

I am currently reading The First Third by Will Kostakis, and loving it. Read TL Sue Warren’s review at Just So Stories.

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.

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