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Octavia Boone's Big Questions About Life, the Universe, and Everything
Rebecca Rupp (Candlewick)
Rupp delivers a complex and nuanced story of a girl's search for faith and meaning, as seventh-grader Octavia uses science—and synesthesia—to try to understand her mother's decision to join a fundamentalist religious group, which causes the implosion of her family. With no easy answers and many flawed adult characters, it's a deeply honest yet sympathetic novel.

The Cardturner
Louis Sachar (Delacorte)
In Sachar's expert hands, what is perhaps the unlikeliest subject for a YA novel—the game of bridge—becomes the basis for a moving and humorous story about the testy relationship between narrator Alton and his eccentric, blind great-uncle. Parallels between the game and real-life human connections become clear, and Alton's growing respect for and fascination with the game will mirror that of readers.

Marcus Sedgwick (Roaring Brook)
In a story as brutal and cold as its setting miles north of the Arctic Circle, Sedgwick tackles issues of violence, manhood, and morality. With both his parents dead and a threat to his life and that of his sister literally at the door, teenage Sig faces impossible choices in a historical thriller that holds readers with a viselike grip.

The Marbury Lens
Andrew Smith (Feiwel and Friends)
To say that Jack's world is turned upside down when a pair of glasses transports him to an alternate world doesn't do justice to the horrors he witnesses in Marbury, a twisted apocalyptic land with a very high body count. Jack's "real" life isn't so hot either, and the calamities that unfold in both places will be as unforgettable and traumatic for readers as they are for Jack.

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors
Francisco X. Stork (Scholastic/Levine)
Themes of vengeance, loss, and self-determination are woven through Stork's story of the friendship between orphan Pancho and terminally ill cancer patient D.Q. Pancho's emotional journey, from a place governed by the deaths of his father and sister to one where he can open up to D.Q. and others, is rewarding and deeply affecting.

Janne Teller (S&S/Atheneum)
One boy's existential crisis and minor act of civil disobedience has profoundly disturbing consequences in Teller's story of peer pressure and the point at which civilized society breaks down. The escalation of Pierre's classmates' frustration and rage makes the story, which is evocative of Lord of the Flies, all the more believable and devastating.

Deborah Wiles (Scholastic Press)
The Cuban missile crisis provides a tense backdrop for this moving story of innocence lost in 1960s Long Island; the changes happening on a national level mirror the small-scale turmoil in the family and social life of 11-year-old Franny. In tandem with Wiles's visceral prose, strong design elements—extensive photographs and other imagery—bring the setting to life.

One Crazy Summer
Rita Williams-Garcia (HarperCollins/Amistad)
With expert depictions of sisterly dynamics and the tumultuousness of the 1960s, Williams-Garcia offers the memorable tale of 11-year-old Delphine and her younger sisters, as they grow to understand their unconventional estranged mother better—with a little help from the Black Panthers. A vivid and highly relatable coming-of-age story.


They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group
Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Houghton Mifflin)
A powerful study of the development of the Ku Klux Klan, from its formation to the present day, Bartoletti's accessible and chilling work makes use of letters and other writings of some of the group's founders, as well as her own firsthand research, including a visit to a Klan gathering. A searing examination of fear, hate, violence, and an organization that, despite progress, persists to this day.

Sir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World
Sid Fleischman (Greenwillow)
The late Fleischman's final gift to readers is a captivating and balanced portrait of film legend Chaplin, which celebrates his successes without glossing over his failings. Packed with period photographs, it's a biography that's as entertaining as it is informative—but who would expect any less from Fleisch-man?

The War to End All Wars: World War I
Russell Freedman (Clarion)
Freedman's hard-hitting account of WWI skirts none of the conflict's brutality, as major advancements in weaponry produced a war the likes of which the world had never seen. Photographs and quotations from combatants drive home the atrocities and the war's ramifications for future generations.

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