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Some good choices for young readers of fiction

Need a gift for a young reader? Here's a roundup of recent young adult fiction. No doubt about it, Laurie Halse Anderson is the reigning champ of young adult literature. Forge, set during the American Revolution, is the sequel to Chains (a National Book Award Finalist), but it stands alone beautifully. It continues the story of Curzo

"The Search for WondLa"
"The Search for WondLa"Read moreFrom the book jacket

Need a gift for a young reader? Here's a roundup of recent young adult fiction.

nolead begins Forge
nolead ends nolead begins By Laurie Halse Anderson

Simon & Schuster. 304 pp. $16.99

nolead ends No doubt about it, Laurie Halse Anderson is the reigning champ of young adult literature. Forge, set during the American Revolution, is the sequel to Chains (a National Book Award Finalist), but it stands alone beautifully. It continues the story of Curzon, a young teenage slave who was enlisted to serve as a soldier on behalf of his master. He was promised freedom upon completion of his service, but actually getting it is another matter, and now he finds himself at Valley Forge during that fateful, freezing winter of 1777.

The writing is so good that Anderson achieves that rare feat of making us feel as though we've experienced history - she's made her characters look and sound like colonials in a way that feels transportive, never hokey or costumey. (She's funny, too.) Forge is both more entertaining and moving than most novels and more memorable than most history lessons.

It includes an appendix that gives historical background and reading suggestions and a glossary that defines some of the delightful words her characters use (Madeira, melancholy, miasma). Like all the best genre fiction, this novel transcends categorization, since a reader of any age is likely to enjoy and benefit from it.

nolead begins Kisses From Hell
nolead ends nolead begins By Kristin Cast, Alyson Noël, Kelley Armstrong, Richelle Mead, and Francesca Lia Block

HarperTeen. 272 pp. $9.99

nolead ends There comes a time in every young woman's life when she must say: Enough with all the vampire stuff. However, now is not that time.

This little anthology collects five new vampire stories by popular names in the teen-romance-horror genre, including longtime cult favorite Francesca Lia Block. Her story, which is possibly the strongest in the collection, is certainly the crawlingly creepiest, with the most realistic and upsetting emotional truth, her stock in trade.

Alyson Noël has an excellent story here. "Bring Me to Life" reads like a classic ghost story, set in the spooky Tudor mansion where Danika has been sent to attend art school - or so she thinks! Bwa-ha-ha!

The other stories indulge somewhat in tropes of the genre, like the reluctant vampire who feels guilt over killing people. Boring. But not entirely. Kelley Armstrong gives the subject a sci-fi spin, and Kristin Cast's unsettling fantasy story, written partly in verse, is way out there, too. As a collection this one's spotty but should be of interest to vampire die-hards. Die-hards! Get it?

nolead begins Not That Kind of Girl
nolead ends nolead begins By Siobhan Vivian

Point. 322 pp. $16.99

nolead ends Newly elected student council president Natalie Sterling is one of the most hardworking, driven students at her private school. But socially she's less successful, and she's pretty stern too, always looking down on her friends and classmates for wanting to go to parties or trying to attract boys.

She may sound unlikable, but in author Vivian's deft hands she's all the more sympathetic because of her inability to open up. Until she falls for a boy herself, that is, and she has to learn to forgive herself for being human.

This complex story, which appears at first to be a cautionary tale about high school boys who humiliate girls with a "reputation," actually tackles a number of sophisticated ideas about friendship, sexual expression, and feminism, all in an intelligent, readable way.

nolead begins The Search for WondLa
nolead ends nolead begins By Tony DiTerlizzi

Simon & Schuster. 496 pp. $17.99

nolead ends Eva 9 is a 12-year-old human girl who has been raised in an underground bunker by a strict-but-doting robot named Muthr. When their sanctuary is attacked, she must go above ground, alone, until she gets word that it's safe to return home. The Earth above turns out to be populated by funny creatures and strange terrains: Alice in reverse.

Along the way the girl has the help of her Omnipod, a handheld gizmo that's a lot like an iPhone. The engaging but somewhat simple story (it's suggested for ages 9-12) is enhanced by several dozen full-page illustrations by DiTerlizzi, done in an old-fashioned, two-color style.

The novel also has an embedded "augmented reality" feature that allows readers to access pretty three-dimensional drawings online by holding three of the illustrations up to a webcam (and downloading some software and fussing a bit). It's unnecessary for understanding the story and it's not interactive, but it's pretty neat.

nolead begins Five Flavors of Dumb
nolead ends nolead begins By Antony John

Dial. 352 pp. $16.99

nolead ends High school senior Piper wasn't born deaf, but by age 6, she'd all but lost her hearing, leaving her reliant on hearing aids and lip reading. It's especially challenging, then, when the lead singer of Dumb, the hottest teen band in Seattle, asks her to be its manager. Since she can't really hear what Dumb sounds like (other than "loud"), Piper has to get creative, as when she lays down a beat for them by watching a metronome and banging out its rhythm on the floor with a broom.

Author John asks us to suspend our disbelief that a high school band could get interviews on radio and TV shows and recording time in a professional studio, and it's never made entirely clear why Piper, who isn't friends with the band, was asked to manage them in the first place. But, overall, this is an entertaining, sensitive story that is essentially a love letter to rock music.

From the moment Piper and the rest of Dumb visit the music mecca that is Kurt Cobain's house, the power of rock makes Piper a little more daring, a little more rebellious - a little more herself.

nolead begins Yummy
nolead ends nolead begins The Last Days of a Southside Shorty
nolead ends nolead begins By G. Neri and Randy DuBurke

Lee & Low Books. 96 pp. $16.95

nolead ends This graphic novel, a collaboration between writer G. Neri and award-winning illustrator Randy DuBurke, is based on a true story, an extreme example of street violence that was extensively covered in the media when it happened in 1994. At just 11, Yummy got involved with a gang in Chicago's South Side, committed crimes for its older members, and was eventually murdered.

Neri has imagined some aspects of Yummy's life and death and tells his story from the point of view of a teenager whose older brother runs with the same gang. The story is a good choice for the graphic novel format, with its desolate street scenes and stoop-sitting character studies. DuBurke's drawings are richly detailed, more like portraits than typical comics, and the art is a good match for Neri's naturalistic storytelling style. It's a powerful collaboration.