I know not all bored kids are readers, but here are a few suggestions for captivating reads that might entertain even the pickiest of readers over this holiday break:
The Lunar Chronicles: Cinder, Scarlet, soon to be released Cress, Marissa Meyer
"First in the Lunar Chronicles series, this futuristic twist on Cinderella retains just enough of the original that readers will enjoy spotting the subtle similarities. But debut author Meyer’s brilliance is in sending the story into an entirely new, utterly thrilling dimension. –Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
Seraphina, Rachel Hartman
Amazon Best Teen Book of the Month, July 2012: In Seraphina, dragons and humans maintain an uneasy peace and for a woman who is both there is nowhere to turn for acceptance--not even within herself. Seraphina has spent her young life concealing the truth of her parentage and authentic nature, a task that proves ever more difficult when she is thrust into the spotlight of the royal court. Author Rachel Hartman’s dragons take human form but shun the messiness of human emotion by remaining “in ard” (a highly rational state of mind), while their counterparts cling to a dangerous assumption of species superiority. As the anniversary of the treaty between the two sides approaches, court intrigue reaches a fever pitch and hard-won truths, betrayals, and intricacies of the heart are laid bare. Seraphina is a beautifully complex fantasy that delves into the most basic of desires—to be loved, to belong, and to find peace in self-acceptance.
Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
Intense is the word for Ender's Game. Aliens have attacked Earth twice and almost destroyed the human species. To make sure humans win the next encounter, the world government has taken to breeding military geniuses -- and then training them in the arts of war... The early training, not surprisingly, takes the form of 'games'... Ender Wiggin is a genius among geniuses; he wins all the games... He is smart enough to know that time is running out. But is he smart enough to save the planet?
The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
In The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman has created a charming allegory of childhood. Although the book opens with a scary scene--a family is stabbed to death by "a man named Jack” --the story quickly moves into more child-friendly storytelling. The sole survivor of the attack--an 18-month-old baby--escapes his crib and his house, and toddles to a nearby graveyard. Quickly recognizing that the baby is orphaned, the graveyard's ghostly residents adopt him, name him Nobody ("Bod"), and allow him to live in their tomb. Taking inspiration from Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Gaiman describes how the toddler navigates among the headstones, asking a lot of questions and picking up the tricks of the living and the dead. In serial-like episodes, the story follows Bod's progress as he grows from baby to teen, learning life’s lessons amid a cadre of the long-dead, ghouls, witches, intermittent human interlopers. A pallid, nocturnal guardian named Silas ensures that Bod receives food, books, and anything else he might need from the human world. Whenever the boy strays from his usual play among the headstones, he finds new dangers, learns his limitations and strengths, and acquires the skills he needs to survive within the confines of the graveyard and in wider world beyond.
His Dark Materials Trilogy (Golden Compass, Subtle Knife, Amber Spyglass), Philip Pullman
From Publishers Weekly: "Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy now appears in sophisticated trade paperback editions, each title embossed within a runic emblem of antiqued gold. The backdrop of The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials, Book I sports a midnight blue map of the cosmos with the zodiacal ram at its center. The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass carry similarly intriguing cover art, and all three titles offer details not seen in the originals: in Compass and Knife, for example, Pullman's stamp-size b&w art introduces each chapter; Spyglass chapters open with literary quotes from Blake, the Bible, Dickinson and more. "
Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
From Kirkus: "In a rousing first novel, already an award-winner in England, Harry is just a baby when his magical parents are done in by Voldemort, a wizard so dastardly other wizards are scared to mention his name. So Harry is brought up by his mean Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia Dursley, and picked on by his horrid cousin Dudley. He knows nothing about his magical birthright until ten years later, when he learns he's to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Hogwarts is a lot like English boarding school, except that instead of classes in math and grammar, the curriculum features courses in Transfiguration, Herbology, and Defense Against the Dark Arts. Harry becomes the star player of Quidditch, a sort of mid-air ball game. With the help of his new friends Ron and Hermione, Harry solves a mystery involving a sorcerer's stone that ultimately takes him to the evil Voldemort. This hugely enjoyable fantasy is filled with imaginative details, from oddly flavored jelly beans to dragons' eggs hatched on the hearth. It's slanted toward action-oriented readers, who will find that Briticisms meld with all the other wonders of magic school."
Inkheart, Inkspell, Inkdeath, Cornelia Funke
(December 15, 2003; STARRED)
Tackling Funke's (The Thief Lord) meaty, intricately plotted tale of magic and books, Redgrave colors her reading with appropriately varying degrees of suspense, revelation and drama. Twelve-year-old Meggie, a self-proclaimed bookworm, finds it odd that her bookbinder father, Mo, has never read aloud to her. But when a mysterious man named Dustfinger appears in the rainy shadows of the garden one night, Meggie begins to unravel the secret her father has kept all her life: when Mo reads aloud from books, the characters come to life and appear before him. This magical power proves dangerous, as characters from a certain book-Inkheart-are on the loose and after Mo. Many twists and turns that will particularly intrigue those who love books unfold before Meggie ultimately learns that she and her father have something in common when it comes to magic. Redgrave's voice takes on growling, sometimes whispery qualities as she portrays villains; a brighter inquisitive tone prevails as Meggie makes observations and interacts with the other characters. The end result is a satisfying listen, perfect for long winter evenings by the fire.
All of our Yesterdays, Cristin Terrill
"Time travel done right.
Narrator Em and her boyfriend, Finn, escape from their totalitarian future, time traveling back four years to commit a heart-wrenching assassination of a loved one in order to prevent time travel from being invented and the future from turning so wrong. The future's hinted-at horrors are threatening but expertly backgrounded, avoiding dystopia-fatigue. The clever, accessible time-space treatment isn't weighed down by jargon. Em and Finn's proactive mission means the characters are the hunters instead of the frequently seen on-the-run teen protagonists. The other side of the storyline, taking place in the past that Em and Finn travel to and starring their past selves, is narrated by Marina (Em, in this timeline) and involves her brilliant yet interpersonally challenged best friend (and crush) James and his friend Finn, who annoys Marina, as they deal with a tragedy in James's family. The believable, complex relationships among the three characters of each respective time and in the blended area of shared time add a surprise: A plot ostensibly about assassination is rooted firmly in different shades of love. Perhaps richest is the affection Em feels for Marina-a standout compared to the truckloads of books about girls who only learn to appreciate themselves through their love interests' eyes.
Powerful emotional relationships and tight plotting in this debut mark Terrill as an author to watch."
--Kirkus, starred review
The Giver series, Lois Lowrey
From Kirkus: "In a radical departure from her realistic fiction and comic chronicles of Anastasia, Lowry creates a chilling, tightly controlled future society where all controversy, pain, and choice have been expunged, each childhood year has its privileges and responsibilities, and family members are selected for compatibility. As Jonas approaches the ``Ceremony of Twelve,'' he wonders what his adult ``Assignment'' will be. Father, a ``Nurturer,'' cares for ``newchildren''; Mother works in the ``Department of Justice''; but Jonas's admitted talents suggest no particular calling. In the event, he is named ``Receiver,'' to replace an Elder with a unique function: holding the community's memories--painful, troubling, or prone to lead (like love) to disorder; the Elder (``The Giver'') now begins to transfer these memories to Jonas. The process is deeply disturbing; for the first time, Jonas learns about ordinary things like color, the sun, snow, and mountains, as well as love, war, and death: the ceremony known as ``release'' is revealed to be murder. Horrified, Jonas plots escape to ``Elsewhere,'' a step he believes will return the memories to all the people, but his timing is upset by a decision to release a newchild he has come to love. Ill-equipped, Jonas sets out with the baby on a desperate journey whose enigmatic conclusion resonates with allegory: Jonas may be a Christ figure, but the contrasts here with Christian symbols are also intriguing. Wrought with admirable skill--the emptiness and menace underlying this Utopia emerge step by inexorable step: a richly provocative novel."
City of Ember series by Jeanne DuPrau
From Booklist: "Ember, a 241-year-old, ruined domed city surrounded by a dark unknown, was built to ensure that humans would continue to exist on Earth, and the instructions for getting out have been lost and forgotten. On Assignment Day, 12-year-olds leave school and receive their lifetime job assignments. Lina Mayfleet becomes a messenger, and her friend Doon Harrow ends up in the Pipeworks beneath the city, where the failing electric generator has been ineffectually patched together. Both Lina and Doon are convinced that their survival means finding a way out of the city, and after Lina discovers pieces of the instructions, she and Doon work together to interpret the fragmented document. Life in this postholocaust city is well limned--the frequent blackouts, the food shortage, the public panic, the search for answers, and the actions of the powerful, who are taking selfish advantage of the situation. Readers will relate to Lina and Doon's resourcefulness and courage in the face of ominous odds."
Hatchet, Gary Paulsen
From School Library Journal: "Brian Robeson, 13, is the only passenger on a small plane flying him to visit his father in the Canadian wilderness when the pilot has a heart attack and dies. The plane drifts off course and finally crashes into a small lake. Miraculously Brian is able to swim free of the plane, arriving on a sandy tree-lined shore with only his clothing, a tattered windbreaker, and the hatchet his mother had given him as a present. The novel chronicles in gritty detail Brian's mistakes, setbacks, and small triumphs as, with the help of the hatchet, he manages to survive the 54 days alone in the wilderness. Paulsen effectively shows readers how Brian learns patienceto watch, listen, and think before he actsas he attempts to build a fire, to fish and hunt, and to make his home under a rock overhang safe and comfortable. An epilogue discussing the lasting effects of Brian's stay in the wilderness and his dim chance of survival had winter come upon him before rescue adds credibility to the story. Paulsen tells a fine adventure story, but the sub-plot concerning Brian's preoccupation with his parents' divorce seems a bit forced and detracts from the book. As he did in Dogsong (Bradbury, 1985), Paulsen emphasizes character growth through a careful balancing of specific details of survival with the protagonist's thoughts and emotions."
Holes, Louis Sachar
From School Library Journal: "Stanley Yelnats IV has been wrongly accused of stealing a famous baseball player's valued sneakers and is sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention home where the boys dig holes, five feet deep by five feet across, in the miserable Texas heat. It's just one more piece of bad luck that's befallen Stanley's family for generations as a result of the infamous curse of Madame Zeroni. Overweight Stanley, his hands bloodied from digging, figures that at the end of his sentence, he'll "...either be in great physical condition or else dead." Overcome by the useless work and his own feelings of futility, fellow inmate Zero runs away into the arid, desolate surroundings and Stanley, acting on impulse, embarks on a risky mission to save him. He unwittingly lays Madame Zeroni's curse to rest, finds buried treasure, survives yellow-spotted lizards, and gains wisdom and inner strength from the quirky turns of fate. In the almost mystical progress of their ascent of the rock edifice known as "Big Thumb," they discover their own invaluable worth and unwavering friendship. Each of the boys is painted as a distinct individual through Sachar's deftly chosen words. The author's ability to knit Stanley and Zero's compelling story in and out of a history of intriguing ancestors is captivating. Stanley's wit, integrity, faith, and wistful innocence will charm readers. A multitude of colorful characters coupled with the skillful braiding of ethnic folklore, American legend, and contemporary issues is a brilliant achievement. There is no question, kids will love Holes."
Tunnels series (has some sci-fi elements), by Roderick Gordon
From Booklist: "*Starred Review* Positing not just one secret civilization beneath London’s streets but many, this compelling doorstopper debut in a new series (apparently to be called Tunnels) pits two teens digging into the disappearance of one’s father against a subterranean colony kept in Victorian squalor by the advanced science and ominous preaching of a mysterious semireligious body called The Styx. Though a tad slow off the mark, the plot quickly picks up speed as Will and Chester discover chains of inhabited or once-inhabited caverns down below, while enduring both physical and psychological torture in the course of multiple chases, captures, separations, and escapes. After learning the shocking truth about Will’s supposed sister, Rebecca (who may play a larger role in future episodes), the pair, plus a local ally, are last seen hiding aboard a train chugging its way into even deeper unknown realms. The authors add distinctive, vivid touches to the somewhat trendy “towns down below” premise (frequent references to digging, disturbing odors, and dirty clothing), and the murderous, refreshingly competent Styx makes an uncommonly challenging adversary. The illustrations were seen only in placeholder samples, but by all other accounts, this appears to be a very promising series kickoff."
Labels: books, teen fiction, YA fiction