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Find more Top 10 First Novels for Youth
There’s a wide range of genres in this year’s best first novels, from fantasy and mystery to social realism, and many new writers open up the old formulas and break boundaries in form and subject. Also be sure to check out established adult writers’ debuts for young people, including Herbert Mankell’s Secrets in the Fire and Cynthia Kadohata’s Kira-Kira. The books below were reviewed in Booklist from November 15, 2003, through November 1, 2004.
Balliett, Blue. Chasing Vermeer. Illus. by Brett Helquist. 2004. Scholastic, $16.95 (0-439-37294-1).
Gr. 5-8. In a gripping story that mixes mystery, puzzles, possibilities, ideas, and art, two Chicago sixth-graders become friends as they try to find out what happened to a stolen Vermeer painting.
Collins, Suzanne. Gregor the Overlander. 2003. Scholastic, $16.95 (0-439-43536-6).
Gr. 4-7. Gregor, 11, and his little sister are sucked through an air vent into the Underland, where Gregor is transformed into a warrior hero and discovers his long-lost father. The action-packed fantasy is set in a highly original world. Children who like this will want Collins’ new Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane.
Constable, Kate. The Singer of All Songs. 2004. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $16.95 (0-439-55478-0).
Gr. 7-10. Tremaris is a broken world, and when a sorcerer tries to take over, novice priestess Calwyn becomes a key member of a small band determined to stop him. Fans of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books will welcome the respectful reinvention.
Fusco, Kimberly Newton. Tending to Grace. 2004. Knopf, $14.95 (0-375-82862-1).
Gr. 7-10. Fourteen-year-old Cornelia is dumped with elderly, angry Great-Aunt Agatha in a dirty backwoods cottage, where at first they quarrel and uncover secrets and hurt each other deeply. But Cornelia’s stammering speech improves, she shows how smart she is, and she finds a loving home.
Hale, Marian. The Truth about Sparrows. 2004. Holt, $16.95 (0-8050-7584-4).
Gr. 5-8. Twelve-year-old Sadie is heartbroken when her family is forced by drought and the Depression to leave their Missouri home for Texas. Her colloquial voice, raging against her displacement, brings alive the setting and the family’s struggle with cinematic detail reminiscent of the Little House books.
Hannigan, Katherine. Ida B. 2004. Greenwillow, $15.99 (0-06-073024-2).
Gr. 4-6. Ida B. enjoys being homeschooled, but her world changes after her mother gets cancer. Part of their land must be sold, she is forced to start public school, and her sunny disposition is overcome with fury. Her talk about her angry feelings will touch many children.
McMullan, Margaret. How I Found the Strong: A Civil War Story. 2004. Houghton, $16 (0-618-35008-X).
Gr. 5-9. One of the best of the many recent books about young people in the South during the Civil War, this draws on family history to tell the story of Frank, 11, who wishes he were old enough to join his dad and brother in the Confederate army. His spare narrative brings close the battlefield slaughter and the virulent racism of the town.
Murray, Martine. The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley (Who Planned to Live an Unusual Life). 2003. illus. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $15 (0-439-48622-X).
Gr. 5-8. Australian writer Murray creates a true original in a 13-year-old girl who has her own way of “overhauling the ordinary state of things” as she speaks in a unique voice about her eccentric friends and tries to separate the rumors about her family from the truth.
Rosoff, Meg. How I Live Now. 2004. Random/Wendy Lamb, $16.95 (0-385-74677-6); lib. ed., $18.99 (0-385-90908-X).
Gr. 8-11. In an ominous foreshadowing of what a third world war might look like, Manhattan teen Daisy and her English cousins confront horrific violence and deprivation, even as they find courage and resilience.
Whitney, Kim Ablon. See You Down the Road. 2004. Knopf, $15.95 (0-375-82467-7).
Gr. 9-12. Bridget and her family are Travelers; they move across the U.S. in trailers and support themselves through con jobs and stealing. But Bridget wants a different life-to be able to go to school and choose her own husband. This taut story raises questions about culture, character, and the struggle to break from parents.
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