The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (2002)

13376This chilling recent classic gives the contemplative reader a lot to think about.

Recommended grade level: 7 and up

Pages:  380 (for ISBN 9780689852237)

Genre(s) and keywords: science fiction, dystopian, award winner, diverse

Tone/Style: bleak, atmospheric

Pace: leisurely to moderate

Topics: clones, drugs, undocumented immigrants

Themes: purpose in life, family, science, power, ethics

Summary: Between the U.S.A. and Aztlán (once called Mexico) lies a strip of land, known as Opium, the name of its chief product.  It is ruled by a 146-year-old drug lord known as El Patrón.  His fields are tilled by illegal immigrants, called “eejits,” who have computer chips implanted in their brains so that they can be kept in slavery.  Matt, a boy who is confined in a cottage on El Patrón estate, manages to break out, only to find himself treated like an animal.  Eventually he learns why.  The tattoo on his foot, “Property of Alacrán Estates,” means that he is a clone of El Patrón–and that he is being raised to provide spare body parts for his original.  With the aid of Tam Lin, his bodyguard, Matt escapes from Opium but that is not the end of his troubles.  He is imprisoned in a brutal labor camp for orphaned boys in Aztlán and leads a rebellion to rescue not only himself, but the other “Lost Boys.” (Source)

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Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee (2017)

every falling starThis tense, heartbreaking true story about a boy’s struggle to survive on the streets of North Korea offers a rare glimpse into a country shrouded in mystery.

Recommended grade level: 6 and up

Pages:   336 (for ISBN 9781419721328)

Genre(s) and keywords: nonfiction, memoir, survival, diverse, dystopian, current events, Kylie’s favorites

Tone/Style: grim, determined

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: North Korea, gangs, orphans, poverty

Themes: loyalty, trust, injustice, family, friendship

Summary: Every Falling Star, the first book to portray contemporary North Korea to a young audience, is the intense memoir of a North Korean boy named Sungju who is forced at age twelve to live on the streets and fend for himself. To survive, Sungju creates a gang and lives by thieving, fighting, begging, and stealing rides on cargo trains. Sungju richly re-creates his scabrous story, depicting what it was like for a boy alone to create a new family with his gang, his “brothers”; to be hungry and to fear arrest, imprisonment, and even execution. This riveting memoir allows young readers to learn about other cultures where freedoms they take for granted do not exist.  (Source)

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The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (2016)

Romance laced with social issues and philosophical musings.

Recommended grade level: mature 8th graders and up

Pages:   348 (for ISBN 9780553496680)

Genre(s) and keywords: romance, realistic, diverse

Tone/Style: contemplative

Pace: moderate

Topics: Asian-Americans, African-Americans (sort of; she is technically Jamaican), undocumented immigrants

Themes: love, romantic relationships, fate, chance, finding meaning, preparing for the future

Summary: Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story. Continue reading

City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson (2017)

This mystery, set in Kenya and the Congo, packs an emotional and disturbing punch.

Recommended grade level: mature 8th graders and up

Pages:   401 (for ISBN 9780399547584)

Genre(s) and keywords: mystery, thriller, realistic, diverse, international, Africa (Kenya and the Congo)

Tone/Style: gritty

Pace: moderate

Topics: murder, investigations, refugees

Themes: family, trust, revenge, traumatic family history

Summary: In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who doesn’t exist. After fleeing the Congo as refugees, Tina and her mother arrived in Kenya looking for the chance to build a new life and home. Her mother quickly found work as a maid for a prominent family, headed by Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most respected business leaders. But Tina soon learns that the Greyhill fortune was made from a life of corruption and crime. So when her mother is found shot to death in Mr. Greyhill’s personal study, she knows exactly who’s behind it. Continue reading

15 Days Without a Head by Dave Cousins (2013)

daysIn this British import, a teen goes to great lengths to keep anyone from discovering that he and his little brother have been abandoned by their alcoholic mother.

Recommended grade level: 6 and up

Pages:   302 (for ISBN 9780738736426)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic, British

Tone/Style: humorous, distressed

Pace: moderate

Topics: alcoholism, siblings, contests, survival, cons

Themes: family, trust, responsibility

Summary: How far would you go to keep your family together?

Meet Laurence – fifteen years old and six feet tall – he’ll dress up as his mum and impersonate a dead man on the radio. Meet Jay – his six year old brother. He looks like an angel but thinks he’s a dog. He’ll sink his teeth into anyone who gets in the way.

Today is Tuesday – and the next fifteen days will change the boys’ lives for ever… (Source) Continue reading

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (2011)

monsterA moving and heartbreakingly honest modern fairy tale.

Recommended grade level: 6 and up; maybe older for sensitive readers

Pages: 216 (for ISBN 9781406311525)

Genre(s) and keywords: fantasy, (light) horror, drama, British import, Europe (England), Kylie’s Favorites

Tone/Style: mysterious, sad

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: monsters, fables, ill parents

Themes: being honest with oneself, death, acceptance, grief and loss, denial, change, moving on, family

Summary:  The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.

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Click Here to Start by Dennis Markell (2016)

clickThree twelve-year-olds hunt for treasure in a book that integrates virtual escape-the-room games into its mystery.

Recommended grade level: 5 and up

Pages:  320 (for ISBN 9781101931875)

Genre(s) and keywords: mystery, adventure, puzzle, diverse

Tone/Style: analytical, curious

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: escape rooms, World War II, Asian-Americans, Jewish Americans

Themes: friendship, family, legacies

Summary: What if playing video games was prepping you to solve an incredible real-world puzzle and locate a priceless treasure?

Twelve-year-old Ted Gerson has spent most of his summer playing video games. So when his great-uncle dies and bequeaths him the all so-called treasure in his overstuffed junk shop of an apartment, Ted explores it like it’s another level to beat. And to his shock, he finds that eccentric Great-Uncle Ted actually has set the place up like a real-life escape-the-room game! Continue reading