Best new books for older kids

Teen-eating monsters, visiting angels, world-scourging viruses! This year's 6 best new page turners are sure to please your favorite tween or teen.

By Susan Freinkel

The Summer I Learned to Fly

By Dana Reinhardt

Ages: 11 and up

In the passage from childhood to adulthood, there’s a point when discovery about oneself and the world begins to take root. For Drew Solo, the heroine of this book, that point takes place in the summer before eighth grade. It's 1986 and she's 13, living in a small California town with her mother, who runs a gourmet cheese shop. Drew loves the adults in her life and her pet rat, but she yearns for a friend her own age. That friend arrives in the unexpected person of a slightly older boy, Emmett Crane. At first Emmett tells her little about himself, but eventually he reveals his secret dream: to find a legendary spring said to have healing waters. Joining Emmett on his quest brings new understanding about belief, family, what it means to have a friend, and to be one.

Bottom line: The Summer I Learned to Fly, is the perfect pick for readers who like stories centered around relationships.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone

By Laini Taylor

Ages: 15 and up

"Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well." Taylor gives away her basic plot in the first two lines. But you’ll want to keep reading this tale of self-identity for the luscious writing, compelling characters, and imaginative mythology. Karou, 17, is an art student in Prague with naturally blue hair and a life that is a mystery even to herself. She doesn’t know who were her real parents are, how she came to be raised by a group of demonic creatures, or why they keep sending her on globe-trotting trips to collect teeth. Her questions only deepen when she is confronted by an angel who is set on stopping the trade in teeth and the creatures who traffic them. 

Bottom line: Given the dark themes and romantic elements, Daughter of Smoke & Bone ($11.09), is best for older teens who love fantasy.

The Death Cure

By James Dashner

Ages: 12 and up

The Death Cure($11.50) is the last installment in The Maze Runner science fiction trilogy about a group of teenagers who are being held by a shadowy organization, WICKED. For as long as Thomas and his comrades can remember, they've been trapped in this isolated place, forced to undergo grueling challenges and uncertain whether they can trust their captors. Eventually, the teens learn they're being used as test subjects to find a cure for a fatal virus that is ravaging the world outside. In this volume, Thomas and friends escape to Denver, which is now a walled city for the uninfected and immune. Yet one of their crew is showing signs of sickness and WICKED is hot on their trail.

Bottom line: Another in the recent spat of post-apocolyptic YA novels, Dashner's last in his series offers gripping suspense and a satisfying end — although could be hard to follow for those who haven't read the first two books.

A Monster Calls

By Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay

Ages: 12 and up

Conor is 13 and facing impossible horrors. His mother is dying; his father lives with a new family in America; his grandmother pays him little attention, while the bullies at school give him all too much. He's also plagued by recurring nightmares. When a real and menacing monster — part giant, part yew tree — appears at his window one night, Conor is unfazed. "Shout all you want," he tells the monster. "I've seen worse." Yet he can't maintain indifference in the face of the monster's proposition: He will tell Conor three stories and then Conor must tell his own true tale — "Not just any truth. Your truth." Otherwise the monster will eat him. Yes, this is a sad book, but also darkly funny as it explores, with unusual honesty, the complicated feelings stirred by death.

Bottom Line: A Monster Calls ($11.18), is a conversation-provoking read for mature middle graders and older teens.
 

Ashfall

By Mike Mullin

Ages: 12 and up

The scariest apocalyptic visions are those that could be true — which is what makes Ashfall so gripping. A supervolcano erupts in Yellowstone Park, spewing ash for hundreds of miles and cleaving the world into a chilling before and after: "The pre-Friday world of school, cell phones and refrigerators," and the "post-Friday world of ash, darkness and hunger." Left alone for the weekend when the eruption occurs, 15-year-old Alex decides to leave his destroyed hometown in Iowa and hazard the harrowing trek to find his family in Illinois. Along the way he sees how disaster brings out both the best and worst in people, and picks up a new friend, Darla. Together, they bring their skills and wits to the harsh struggle to survive.

Bottom line: A thriller that will suck in even the most reluctant teen reader.

The Future of Us

By Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

Ages: 12 and up

Here's a book for the Facebook generation, set in 1996 when Mark Zuckerberg was just a brainy tween. High school classmates Emma and Josh were best friends until an awkward romantic moment introduced a new tension between them, changing everything. Then Josh receives a free CD-ROM in the mail and shares it with Emma, thereby automatically logging both onto each other's Facebook page. The catch is that  Facebook hasn’t been invented yet. Their respective pages reflect their lives 15 years in the future. The chapters alternate between Emma's and Josh's perspectives, as both grapple with the discovery that choices they make in the present can have far-reaching consequences for the future.

Bottom line: The Future of Us is an insightful glimpse at the present for teens of all ages — just be prepared to explain what life was like before the Internet and Ipod.

Susan Freinkel is the author of Plastic: A Toxic Love Story and has written for the New York Times, Discover, Smithsonian, Real Simple, and other national publications.