For Teen Readers
The Joy of Edginess
Born to Rock by Gordon Korman (Hyperion, $15.99)
An adolescent identity crisis and in-your-face humor trump traditional notions of comfort and joy in Korman's fast-paced coming-of-age tale of a Harvard-bound young Republican turned punk-rock roadie. For full fun impact, this is best read with music blasting in the background. The only warning from Stevenson: "Beware of bad words."
Sold by Patricia McCormick (Hyperion, $15.99)
The time is now, the place an impoverished village in Nepal and the main character is 13-year-old Lakshmi, whose stepfather sells her to the sex-slave trade in India. Little solace is to be found in Lakshmi's nightmarish new world -- but there is hope, in the form of an American journalist who, in his attempt to rescue her, will help publicize the plight, and perhaps help change the fate of others trapped in the maw of child prostitution. Laskhmi's devastating tale makes you appreciate the comfort and joy of your own life, and may even inspire you to do something to change the world.
A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick Press, $15.99)
Schlitz's self-proclaimed melodrama is replete with an orphanage, a creepy household of spiritualist sisters and an 11-year-old orphaned heroine torn between gratitude to those seemingly sweet sisters who take her in and her sense of betrayal at being taken in -- as in conned -- by them and their phony seances. This Gothic tale, set in 1909, offers outwardly kind but inwardly corrupt villains, a vulnerable whistle-blowing orphan and, in Maude's empathy for another's suffering, a reason to believe in the power of human comfort.
The More Graphic the Better
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (First Second Publishing, $16.95, young adult)
Gene Luen Yang's fantastical tale mixes the stories of a mythical super-powered monkey, a self-hating Chinese-American adolescent and "cousin Chin-Kee," an outrageously over-the-top embodiment of Asian racial stereotypes. All three plot lines meld to tell a story of transformation, self-knowledge and the importance, even comfort, of finally knowing -- not hiding -- who you are. Yang's illustrations effortlessly combine kung-fu action with a modern-day take on the Archie comics high-school caricatures. No wonder that for the first time in its 57-year history, the National Book Awards nominated a graphic novel -- this one -- as a finalist.
Kampung Boy by Lat (First Second Publishing, $16.95, young adult)
Deborah Stevenson drools over this autobiographical book: "Reading it is like really hanging out with this kid." That would be Lat, the kampong (or village) of the title. Lat's witty, stylized black and white drawings depict his boyish escapades and rites of passage (a circumcision at the age of nine) of a young Muslim growing up in Malaysia's vanishing rural landscape. By book's end, the expanding tin mines have already begun to erode community life. When Lat is sent to boarding school, he bids farewell not just to his family, but to a way of life that will soon be no more. Lat's charming, playful book is a multicultural gift of memory.
And a Shaggy Dog Story for the Pit-Bull in All of Us
Chowder by Peter Brown (Little, Brown, $15.99, ages 4 to 8)
This may well be one of those children's books that's really for Mom and Dad -- but who says you can't have fun, too? Chowder is a toilet-trained bulldog who surfs the Internet and overachieves in everything from digging up bones (he thinks he's an archaeologist) to making a mess in the kitchen. Brown's satire of upscale, over-indulgent dog owners (or, um, parents?) is a quirky reminder of who's really boss in any family.
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