Beach reads for tweens

These popular, engaging titles will keep older kids' interest all summer long.

By Danielle Marshall

The True Meaning of Smekday

The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex
Hyperion (2007), $6.99
Amazon / IndieBound / Powell's

When 12-year-old Gratuity ("Tip") Tucci is asked by her teachers to write about the "true meaning of Smekday," she's not sure where to begin. How about when her mom started telling everyone about the messages aliens were sending through a mole on the back of her neck? Or maybe Christmas Eve, when spaceships descended on Earth and aliens abducted her mother? Or what about the time those aliens declared Earth a colony, renaming it "Smekland" and forcing all Americans to relocate to Florida?

Adam Rex has written a hilarious satire on modern society, and there are more laugh-out-loud (or LOL) moments than any adult novel I have read in quite a while. An outrageous plan to save Earth from another alien invasion emerges in this apocalyptic comedy, and we're along for the ride. Full of Rex's "photos," drawings, and newspaper clippings, this is a side-splitting and very sharp novel that may be the hit of your child's summer reading list. 432 pages.

Listening for Lions

Listening for Lions

Listening for Lions, by Gloria Whelan
HarperTrophy (2006), $5.99
Amazon / IndieBoundPowell's

Thirteen-year-old Rachel Sheridan is living in British East Africa in 1918 when she loses her missionary parents to influenza. She's taken in by unscrupulous neighbors who cook up a plot to send her, because of her likeness to their deceased daughter, back to England to collect an inheritance from an ailing relative. The post-WWI setting, the animals, and the Masai people are what make Gloria Whelan's story come to life. Readers will root for Rachel as she bonds with the grandfather she was sent to dupe and triumphs over evil. Award-winning author Whelan has penned a rich, historical coming-of-age adventure. 194 pages.

Totally Joe

Totally Joe

Totally Joe, by James Howe
Aladdin (2007), $5.99
Amazon / IndieBound / Powell's

The topic of sexual orientation seems to be reaching into ever-lower grade levels these days — this book is a perfect jumping-off point for discussion. With a deft hand, James Howe intertwines the subject of coming out into Joe's struggles with common adolescent issues, creating a wonderful story about self-discovery. Joe's teacher asks his seventh-grade class to write an "alpha-biography" throughout the year, presenting themselves from A to Z. Joe's essays begin and end with friends — from Addie, a longtime pal and confidant, to Zachary, a new student who, like Joe, has a unique approach to life. It's a hip tale of what it means to discover who you are in your community, in your family, and within yourself. Highly recommended. 208 pages.

Uglies

Uglies

Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld
Simon Pulse (2005), $9.99
Amazon / IndieBoundPowell's

Tally Youngblood lives in a society that calls its inhabitants "uglies" until, at age 16, they are surgically altered to become "pretties." Just before Tally's upcoming transformation, she meets Shay, another female ugly, with whom she has a lot in common. But Shay is a conscientious objector and doesn't believe in the brainwashing to which they have been subjected. When Shay runs away to a colony of dissenters, Tally is forced by an evil doctor to find Shay or remain forever "ugly." As so many of the finest novels do, Uglies will provoke thought and discussion on many topics, not the least of which is self-awareness and courage. Scott Westerfeld's exciting story engages even the most cynical readers, with his futuristic sci-fi tale of a dystopian society. 448 pages.

Tunnels

Tunnels

Tunnels, by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams
Scholastic (2009), $7.99
Amazon / IndieBound / Powell's

Initially called the next Harry Potter, this wonderful adventure stands well enough on its own. Fourteen-year-old Will Burrows has a passion for archeological digging with his father in the abandoned train tunnels and underground shafts around their home in Highfield, England. When his father disappears, Will suspects that he may be in danger connected to some secret excavation. Tunnels reveals a subterranean culture that is hostile to "Topsoilers." This is a superb fantasy story with danger, intrigue, and alternate worlds that will ignite your child's imagination. 480 pages.

Stargirl

Stargirl

Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli
Laurel-Leaf Books (2004), $8.95
Amazon / IndieBoundPowell's

When Stargirl — as she currently calls herself — arrives at Mica High, she is unlike anyone else. Homeschooled until she was 15, Stargirl wears pioneer dresses, sings "Happy Birthday" to students in the lunchroom while strumming a ukulele, and carries around a pet rat. At first the students stare and whisper, then assimilate her into their peer groups when they consider her entertaining. Eventually, however, everyone begins to shun her for her differences. Her boyfriend, Leo, experiences firsthand the perils of true nonconformity and finds he can't endure the pressures of being different. Although Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl character may be an exaggeration, the essence of his story rings true and will encourage readers to give thought to tolerance and the price of popularity. 186 pages.

Danielle Marshall is a former longtime bookseller, most notably for Powell's Books in Portland, Ore. She continues her love of all things book related by working as the marketing manager for Beyond Words Publishing, best known as the publisher of The Secret.