Kids entering their teen years often face demands that require newfound inner strength, a recurrent theme in recent books for the 12-and-older crowd. Bing, a Chinese boy living in 1907 Vancouver, British Columbia, considers himself a coward—until he takes on anti-Asian bigotry and manages to curry favor with a couple of ghosts in The Bone Collector’s Son (Marshall Cavendish), by Paul Yee. In Francis Chalifour’s autobiographical novel After (Tundra), the 15-year-old narrator recounts the year following his father’s suicide. While he tries to understand the family tragedy, he also must step into a new role for his younger brother.
Juliana’s adoptive parents are contemplating divorce, so she is forced to move to an English hamlet with her mother and siblings in Blackthorn Winter (Harcourt), by Kathryn Reiss. When one of the town’s artists is murdered, Juliana takes it upon herself to solve the mystery—and, in the process, recovers long-repressed memories about her birth mother. Dana Reinhardt’s A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life (Wendy Lamb) also revolves around an adopted teenager; at 16, Simone reluctantly meets her ailing birth mother and surprises herself by forming a connection, only to find out that their time together will be brief.
Twelve-year-old Tom’s mother is ill, as well, so the two of them pack up and move into his grandmother’s spooky old house in Sign of the Raven (Atheneum). Tom is soon traveling back to the 18th century, where, in Julie Hearn’s tale, he must rescue circus “monsters” in danger of becoming the subjects of an experimental scientist. Drift House: The First Voyage (Bloomsbury), by Dale Peck, features three children on a temporal adventure of their own. Their eccentric uncle’s house is really a sailing vessel, and they are given the task of mending the fabric of Time itself before they can navigate safely home.
German author Lilli Thal weaves a fantastical tale of a different sort in Mimus (Annick), translated by John Brownjohn. Florin, a young prince seduced with a promise of peace for his war-torn kingdom, is deceived and captured. Forced to become an apprentice to the book’s eponymous court jester, Florin learns that trickery can help free his father, his countrymen, and himself. Your Eyes in Stars (HarperCollins), by M.E. Kerr, is set against the backdrop of the Great Depression. Elisa, an expatriated German girl, and her American neighbor Jessie become friends despite the biases of their respective parents. After a convict escapes from the local prison, Elisa’s family returns to the relative safety of Berlin, only to discover that the political and cultural changes in that country are leading it toward war, forcing both girls to muster all the strength they can.
A version of this article appeared in the January 01, 2006 edition of Teacher as KIDSBOOKS