The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean (2006)
Adventure, 369 pages
14-year-old Symone is fine, despite the fact that her father has just died, she has few friends, and her disability has made her somewhat socially awkward. Sym gets through life with the help of “Titus” Oates, once a great traveler of Sym’s passion, Antarctica. Dead for over 100 years, Titus is now a voice in Sym’s head, her own creation, representing everything she wants in a man and best friend. Besides Titus, Sym’s Uncle Victor has been very supportive through the grieving process and has even paid for the funeral for her father. Sym has so much confidence in her Uncle Victor, that she does not doubt him when he suggests traveling to Paris and then south to Antarctica without telling her mother. Through her sheltered experience, Sym only sees a genius uncle who has devoted much of his life to science and the discovery of Symmes’ Hole, a crack in the earth’s crust that Victor believes opens onto a world hidden under our own full of its own inhabitants and life. In this quest for amazing discovery, Uncle Victor’s guise of genius slowly slips away to insanity as Sym realizes this and other disturbing facts about her uncle. Now deep within the heart of Antarctica and left in extreme conditions, Sym must learn to stop believing what Uncle Victor tells her and start believing herself and Titus in order to attempt to make it out alive. With interesting psychological elements both within Sym’s narration and Victor’s behavior, McCaughrean creates characters in desperate need of help who get entangled in their own dreams that lead to disaster. I would recommend The White Darkness to older teens who love extreme adventure and stories that unfurl mysteries and origins of pain.
The White Darkness April 13, 2011
The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean (2006)
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (2007)
Fantasy, 432 pages
In a world that was once the United States, 11-year-old Gratuity “Tip” Tucci struggles to find her mother who Boov aliens have abducted, befriends a Boov named J.Lo, and tries to save the planet from alien dominance. Most of Tip’s cross-country adventures occur while driving her mother’s car which has now been transformed by J.Lo into “Slushious,” a hovercar that is steered by the radio tuner and operates using a combination of alien mechanical parts and convenience store finds. Earth, now called Smekland, is a hot commodity as Gorg aliens come to overthrow Boov and secretly enslave humans. Gratuity and J.Lo are running against the clock to find a plan to restore earth to human control and convince others that Gorg do not intend to allow humankind to survive. In a very unique style, Adam Rex creates a dizzying narrative full of twists and comical turns that show humanity may not just be limited to humans. Using comic-like illustrations and Polaroid drawings, Rex also walks the reader into his narrative with the history of the alien worlds (drawn by J.Lo), a new America full of alien contraptions, and a car that flies complete with pink beach ball safety devices and a Snark’s Adjustable Manifold. Rex’s quirky imaginative story would be a great find for any young adult open to extraterrestrial hilarity that turns our world upside down.
Alabama Moon by Watt Key (2006)
Adventure, 304 pages
Moon Blake is only 10 years old, but he knows how to survive in the wild and live off of the forest. Moon and his Pap have been avoiding the law and living in a half underground structure deep in the woods for almost all of Moon’s life. When his father dies unexpectedly and tells Moon to go to Alaska and find others like them, Moon is thrust into a whole new world outside the comfort of his natural surroundings. Moon then really learns what it’s like to run from the law as a boys’ home director and a sadistic constable are out to get him. Using his outdoor survival skills, Moon attempts to break out of confinement, find his way to Alaska, and live free. However, Moon’s heart begins to change as he makes friends with boys at the home, particularly Kit a sickly boy who admires Moon and his former lifestyle. In his first novel, Watt Key does an exceptional job portraying a boy who knows everything about survival but has a lot to learn about friendship, trust, and himself. The reader sees Moon grow into a multilayer character with his increasing doubts in his father’s plans for him, his inability to make an adequate medicine for Kit, and his ultimate decision to stop running. Readers who like adventure, strong male characters, and stronger introspection will appreciate Moon’s narration and his journey home. I would recommend Alabama Moon in a booktalk to share with 9-12 year olds who enjoy adventure and heart.
The Great Wide Sea by M. H. Herlong (2008)
Adventure, 288 pages
15-year-old Ben lost his mother in a fatal car accident and now has to deal with a father who has lost all sense of himself in the grieving process. In a rash decision, his father gets rid of their house, their belongings, and life as they knew it to move them onto a boat for a year. Feeling like the only sensible one, Ben is forced to grow up and be responsible for his two younger brothers, 11-year-old stargazer Dylan and 5-year-old security blanket-holding Gerry. Just as things seem like they are starting to get better, their father decides they will extend their travels to Bermuda and beyond, when all the boys really just want to go home. After a rough evening, Ben awakes to find his father missing and realizes he is now truly responsible for their survival and welfare. As a storm brews over the ocean, Ben, Dylan, and Gerry all most overcome physical, mental, and emotional limitations to survive the great wide sea. In her first book, M. H. Herlong does an amazing job using language to weave frayed relationships and ripped sails into a tale of survival, family, and the sea. The Great Wide Sea is a great book for an adventurer, a sibling, or a teen looking for insight into struggling relationships and life.
The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis (2001)
Adventure, 170 pages
In this heart-wrenching story, Deborah Ellis creates the life of Parvana, a Afghan girl whose father has been arrested and whose family now depends on her to provide for them because of the strict laws forbidding women to leave home without a chaperone. Parvana’s own more restricted life as a young girl soon changes as she cuts her hair and dons a deceased brother’s clothes to become a boy street merchant to make a living for her family. Ellis’ writing style shares the truth and hardship inflicted by the Taliban and a brave young girl who works around their laws to survive. Parvana’s life is full of sacrifice as she gives up her childhood to become the breadwinner for her family. At only age 11, her life has been full of bombs, beatings, and war, and yet she fights to be brave like Malali, a historical young girl who tore off her veil and spirited Afghanistan’s troops into a battle against the British who invaded the country. Ellis does a fine job writing material that is accessible to younger readers, yet does not paint a perfect picture of an Afghan woman’s world or its culture. She dances a fine line through Parvana’s experiences, celebrating family and instances of women’s rights, while shining light on the harsh reality of many. Similar to Persepolis and The Shadows of Ghadames, The Breadwinner questions the roles of young women in a changing world, providing a protagonist that attempts to overcome a cruel social system and does not live a fairytale existence.
Falling In By Frances O’Roark Dowell (2010)
Fantasy, 256 pages
Isabelle Bean was never a normal child and neither is this half fairytale. After being sent to the office again for something that was not her fault, 11-year-old Isabelle turns a knob to a door that is supposed to lead her into the nurse’s closet but instead finds herself falling in true Alice in Wonderland fashion. She lands in a new world with five villages and learns that an evil witch has been hunting children from one village each season. While most children flee north to a camp that hides them away, Isabelle relishes the idea of meeting a true witch and heads south. However, what Isabelle finds is even a surprise to her on this magical journey. Along the way, she finds a new friend, meets her grandmother for the first time, and learns who she really is. Throughout the tale, a crafty and silly narrator shares the story but often takes alternating chapters to step out of the story and speak directly to the readers, pulling them into the action and building suspense. O’Roark’s narrator and story details add a touch of whimsy to this modern day fairytale, encouraging readers to imagine the unimaginable. All you have to do is turn that doorknob and believe “the unexpected lies beyond the door” (138). A great read for 8-12 year-olds who still cling to the lure of fairytales and magical places.
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins (2003)
Fantasy, 320 pages
11-year-old Gregor quickly becomes the man of the house when his dad mysteriously disappeared two years ago, while his mother was pregnant with Margaret. Gregor’s little sister Margaret, or “Boots,” now 2 years old, is his responsibility as his grandma is going senile and his mother has to work to provide for their now one-parent family. Gregor prepares for the hot boring summer as he watches Boots and does laundry in his family’s New York City apartment building basement. However, his dull summer plans quickly change as Boots mysteriously disappears into an air vent in the laundry room with him chasing frantically behind. What follows is similar to O’Roark’s Falling In and Carroll’s famous Alice and Wonderland when Gregor lands in the Underland and meets a group of translucent-skinned humans and a cast of talking creatures who have been living in this underground world. Initially, Gregor just wants to make it home with Boots before his mother gets home from work and he gets in serious trouble. However, his feelings change when he finds his father is being held prisoner by rats, and he must depend on the kindness of human-sized cockroaches, bats, spiders, and a rogue rat to lead him to his father and save his travel Underland companions. Completely overwhelmed Gregor realizes that everyone thinks he is the warrior, the one who has come to fulfill the Prophecy of Gray and save the Underland from rat domination. With just as much action and internal questioning as Katniss in Collins’ bestselling The Hunger Games, the author creates a young hero who must set his priorities and show courage in the face of adversity. With a little bit more humor and less focus on themes of politics and dictating regimes, Gregor the Overlander speaks to a younger reading audience who is still drawn to the same spirit as that in Collins’ second series. I would definitely recommend this book to 9-year-olds and up who enjoy adventure and getting lost in a little fantasy.