I have been sorely unable to find many of the books that my eighth graders recommended to me in May. Part of that is because they didn’t provide authors’ names for all of them. I admit, though, that I do need to look at their list again, and maybe try another library as well.
However, this time I just went to the NEW books section of the YA part of the library, and I picked out four that looked interesting. First, I was looking for something that didn’t seem like another rehashing of The Hunger Games. Now, I enjoyed The Hunger Games. I liked Divergent. I thought Legend was pretty good. But they were all futuristic dystopias, and I was getting a little tired of that. Second, I was looking for books my boys would like. It seems like so many books have females as main characters or are aimed at girls. And that’s great, but I don’t think boys always like those kinds of books. So I wanted something that I could confidently recommend to a boy.
I found two that were really good.
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley won the William C. Morris Debut Award and the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. The awards were well deserved. Cullen Witter is a high school boy spending his summer in his small town of Lily, Arkansas, during which he works at the gas station, deals with his aunt grieving over his cousin’s death, traverses the always difficult path of adolescent love, scoffs at the notariety is town attracts for possibly harboring a presumed-extinct woodpecker, and suffers through the mysterious disappearance of his younger brother, Gabe. As he attempts to manage all of this, he obsesses just a bit about zombies and talking birds. But this story has some twists you wouldn’t expect (in fact, there is a whole part of the story that makes you wonder how in the world it relates — until the last five chapters or so). While I wouldn’t call most of the book super suspenseful, I held my breath while reading the last two chapters because it was so engrossing and exciting.
The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson is a gearpunk novel. (Gearpunk is similar to steampunk — just substitute machines made with gears for machines powered by steam.) It is a difficult novel to explain, so I’m going to have a quote the dust jacket a bit. “More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the wild chalklings — merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the wild chalklings now threaten all the American Isles.” Joel attends a private boarding school, where some students are Rithmatists, but some, like Joel, are not. When Rithmatist students begin to disappear, Joel assists the professor who is investigating the kidnappings. As they, along with Joel’s friend Melody, research and study, they discover information that will change Rithmatics and the world. This book is intriguing, and I think that those who enjoy geometry would especially like this book. There is fantasy and mystery, and a little bit of humor. Again, there is an unexpected twist at the end, and it is just ripe for a sequel.
Both of these books are high interest level. The Rithmatist especially is an easy read, with the only difficult vocabulary being those words that are particular to Rithmatics — and those words would be new to any reader. The Rithmatist moves at a quicker pace than Where Things Come Back, but both held my attention easily. Neither book has foul language and Where Things Come Back has only hints of sexual content — nothing graphic or detailed. I would recommend both of these books to young adult readers (or adults who enjoy YA fiction.)