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The Vine: December 5, 2012

Submitted by on December 5, 2012 – 10:03 AM158 Comments

I'm looking for book suggestions for my just-turned-thirteen niece. It's a very in-betweeny age, where her Christmas list is mostly clothes, but she still doesn't want me to cancel her American Girl magazine subscription. Though I am a embarrassingly voracious reader of children's and young-adult lit, I'm a little stymied for this age range. She has a high-school reading level, but younger interests. She does not really like things that are scary, but likes fantasy and stories set in the past.

I also have an almost-thirteen nephew and their interests are pretty much aligned (though I'm pretty sure he wouldn't be caught dead reading some of the "girlier" things on this list (sigh)), so anything that works for him would be great too. His reading level is also high and he also likes to read, though not quite as much as she does.

Here are books I've given one or both of them before that proved popular: Suzanne Collins' Gregor the Overlander series; Patricia Wrede's Sorcery & Cecelia and Talking to Dragons series; N.D. Wilson's Ashtown Burials series; The Penderwicks (and sequels); A Little Princess and The Secret Garden; Anne of Green Gables (and sequels); in other words, the Usual Suspects, both old and new. They've read and loved the Harry Potter books (obvi) and, because they are young and have not yet developed sufficient taste defenses, my niece also loves Twilight and they both like Percy Jackson and Riordan's other series. She (more than he) liked okay some of the older stuff I've given her, like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The Westing Game.

The only books on which I've gotten negative feedback from my niece were Uglies and the City of Ember (though I think the latter was mostly because at the time she was scared of the dark so the books got in her head too much); she claims she liked the first book of The Hunger Games but I think she really found it too violent and generally adult in content (which I agreed with, and asked my sister what in the world, letting a 12-year-old read that, and then she told me all the fourth-graders had read it too. I am old and prudish, apparently, because my pearls got a good clutching at that). I think I tried to give both of them The Mysterious Benedict Society and I'm not sure that went over too well — though I love those books, I have yet to give them to a child who seemed at all interested. 

The last book I gave her was Ruby in the Smoke by Pullman, and if she likes that I can continue with the Sally Lockhart books. But I'm looking for some fresh new ideas, new authors, and maybe stuff not everyone in their age group has also read. It would also be nice to get something set in a more contemporary/real world, anything navigating high school, like if the Sweet Valley High books were real, decent, thoughtful books instead of ones written by a computer-programmed Mad Lib enthusiast. Also anything in a graphic novel that's cool and interesting and age-appropriate would be great.

I'm also seeking advice on whether certain books I already love are good for this age group, and I know there are a bunch of parents, librarians and teachers in the Nation who I figured would have thoughts. Is she too young for His Dark Materials? Cynthia Voight's The Kingdom series? Jane Austen? Her reading level is high enough for these books on a vocabulary level, but I don't have enough experience with kids her age to know if the ideas are too sophisticated or adult, or the content otherwise lacking in interest. Is Judy Blume too dated? I loved Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, and I know they've updated it a little, but do kids still like it?

Thanks in advance, Nation,

Stanley

*****

Hello, Sars and Nation –

I have a question about books and teen-aged boys. Specifically books for teen-aged boys. And because I am an awesome procrastinator I am writing this on December 5th to ask for help with a Christmas present. Whomp whomp. (If this doesn't run before Christmas, which is totally understandable, I'd still love some help because his birthday is in early spring and I'll be running into this same issue.)

Anyway, here is the deal: I have a 15-year-old nephew whose interest in reading is fairly limited, and I would like the Nation's help in finding him some awesome books that he would like. Right now the only books he really enjoys are gory, scary sci-fi/horror books. Sadly, I know nothing about the current crop of YA horror, and I'd love some help finding fun, well-written, age-appropriate books for him. As reference, he really loved the Hunger Games series, and I know he was into the Cirque du Freak books a while back. He read Twilight because of the vampires, but I'd like to steer him towards stuff with a little more…literary merit. And a little less "you should control your girlfriend and sneak into her room and be creepy and undead" subtext. He'll read stuff with a female protagonist, but I think he enjoys male protagonists a little more.

He reads well at grade-level and a little above, but he'd have trouble with adult-level reading, so keeping suggestions YA is pretty key here. Bonus points for series or authors with multiple books in the same vein!

Right now my only real plan is to plunk myself down in the YA section of the library and read anything with a scary-looking cover until I find something that seems good. Any direction from the Nation would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks,

Trying To Maintain My Book Cred With Today's Youth

 

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  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Readers: Keep your responses relatively brief (3 recs per) and try to remember to specify which letter you're responding to, since they're somewhat similar. Thanks! Can't wait to see what you come up with.

  • HLM says:

    This is my wheelhouse like whoa.

    LW#1, it sounds like your niece would swoon for Lloyd Alexander's Taran Wanderer series (age-appropriately scary), Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness books (magic, fighting, a talking cat, cross-dressing), and, of course, William Goldman's eternal The Princess Bride, which differs from the movie enough to provide its own joys.

    LW#2, your nephew is probably at a perfect age for Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers (the less said about the movie, the better) and Citizen of the Galaxy. He might also be angsty enough to enjoy Michael Moorcock's Elric series, which is all doomed albino princes and their setting out on adventures accompanied only by their soul-drinking black swords. *kaff* (And then, with luck, ten years down the line he can look back and laaaaugh…)

  • Ami says:

    For LW #1: Try Ted Naifeh's comic books about Courtney Crumrin or Polly and the Pirates. Vet the first to make sure it wouldn't be too scary (I wouldn't think so, but as a lover of scary, my radar may be off.)

    For LW #2: Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen) might be a good fit. Concerns the epic saving-the-world adventures of a necromancer charged with putting the dead to rest. Very spooky and action-packed, with some fascinating world-building into the bargain.

  • Emily G. says:

    Stanley's niece (and nephew too!) might like E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (smart-cookie sophomore creatively manipulates her way into an all-male secret society at her prep school), Justine Larbalestier's How to Ditch Your Fairy (in a world where everybody has a personal fairy, a freshman girl seeks a way to get rid of hers–a useful but totally uncool Parking Fairy), and–if they haven't read it already–Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones is just fantastic.

  • KarenF says:

    First letter:
    "The Dark is Rising" series by Susan Cooper is an older one, but one I loved at 13 and still love today. Would work for either a boy or a girl.

  • Amanda says:

    Stanley–Have you tried Robin McKinley or Anne McCaffery? I burned through all of their books when I was in my early teens. With McCaffery, I would either start with the original Pern series (first book is Dragonflight) or the Harper Hall series. I think McKinley's books are all stand-alone novels. I also really liked William Sleator with Interstellar Pig probably being my favorite. As for His Dark Materials, I did not read them until I was an adult and I found them to be incredibly dark (and wonderful) so I suspect they might not be to your niece's taste right now, but maybe in another year or two.

    Tying–Have you looked at the Mortal Instuments series by Cassandra Clare? They do have a female protagonist, but are not at all girly. It also sounds like your nephew is a good candidate for Stephen King. I'm personally not a fan so I don't have a recommendation for a good entry point, but I bet someone else will.

  • Bessa says:

    Stanley –

    Both your niece and nephew may enjoy the Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce. It's a fantasy series about a girl pretending to be a boy so she can train as a knight, and all of the books are pretty great. There's enough fighting/sorcery/bad guys for boys to enjoy, and an awesome female lead for girls to relate to.

    Good luck!

  • Katherine says:

    Hi Stanley: I think that your niece would adore Hope Larson's Mercury. Mercury is a wonderful book that's set both in past and present and tells the story of two girls connected in time by a mysterious vein of gold that may or may not exist. It has some gorgeous artwork and a strong element of magical realism. Also check out Copper by Kazu Kibuishi, which is a wonderful, post-sci-fi take on Calvin and Hobbes, and the Daisy Cutter series by the same author; these are YA enough to not be too scary, but the artwork is fantastic and the main female protagonist excellent.

  • jen says:

    This is for Stanley. Your niece (and nephew) might be the right age for Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence, which I'd describe as fantasy. There are I think five pre-teen protagonists and the stories follow them searching for Arthurian artifacts and fighting the forces of darkness. She's got a number of other books that I didn't like as well as that series, but that might interest either your niece or nephew, all in a sort of fantasy vein.

    Your niece might enjoy some of Robert Cormier's work – I think I read his short story collection Eight Plus One at that age and liked it. His books are pretty mid-twentieth century, which might not be past enough for her, though, and they are not fantasy.

    Hope that's at least a bit helpful!

  • Kerry says:

    For the first letter, I recommend Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. Its protagonist is a girl, but that shouldn't keep a boy from wanting to read it, right? (Sigh.) It's about dragons. Very well written. It's to be the first in a series.

    I don't think she's too young for His Dark Materials, but then I was reading Stephen King at that age, and I also liked Uglies (as a grownup,) so what do I know.

  • GeorgiaS says:

    Ooh! I'm actually a reviewer of children's books, so I can give a good answer!
    For either letter writer:
    "The Missing" series by Margaret Peterson Haddix — great time-travel series without any real violence or inappropriate content.
    Any of Carl Hiaasen's books for kids — funny, off-the-wall stories with great characters and an environmental and mystery bent.
    The majority of Gary Paulsen's books for kids — I'm a bigger fan of some than others, but he's a great writer, and his books are usually filled with adventure, humor, or both.

  • holly says:

    I have a 10 year old daughter at about the same level of "can read anything, but not up for a lot of scary or violence" as the young lady above.

    Several people recommended Tamora Pierce books for her, and I pre-read some of them and they were pretty good.

    She devoured Terry Pratchett's young adult series about Tiffany Aching that starts with _Wee Free Men_

    Currently she is devouring the Myth-O-Mania series which starts with _Have a Hot Time, Hades_

    (looking forward to suggestions I can "borrow" as well ).

  • clobbered says:

    I suggest The Magnificent 12 series by Michael Grant for the first pair of kids.

    It's fantasy-adventury but in a humorous way, and you quickly figure out that despite the peril facing the protagonists, nothing really bad is going to happen to them. It's an easy read, so it won't feel like "oh no, auntie is giving me a weighty tome again".

    For "Book Cred", if they read the Hunger Games *including* the last book and were okay with it (for those who only have seen the movie – it gets *dark*), he is pretty much at the level of "give him whatever, as long as it doesn't involve heaps of dungeon sex". If he really likes horror and you want something reasonably well written, try Summer of Night by Dan Simmons – but it is genuinely horror. If scaring the pants of him will increase your streetcred, I think that will do the trick.

  • Emily says:

    Stanley, as an 11/12-year-old I loved the Blossom Culp books by Richard Peck: http://www.amazon.com/Ghosts-Have-Been-Richard-Peck/dp/0141310960/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_2 There is an entire series of them and they are not too scary. They aren't contemporary, but are fun reads.

  • Jenn says:

    Stanley – Has she read Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events? It sounds perfect for her.

  • Sue says:

    For Stanley's niece – although I read and loved Jane Austen at her age, I'm feeling that was a bit of a random chance. And a long car trip with nothing else to read. I'd suggest Wilkie Collin's The Moonstone first – Victorian, thrilling but not super-scary, love story, good plotting and lots of different voices. Not much violence (which Woman in White dips into). The Hitchhikers' Guide series is also a good option – five books total (depending on your point of view) – very funny, minimal violence and well-written. The very British humor may be a sticking point but hopefully not.

    For Cred, John Bellairs' books. They are fantastically creepy and well-written.

  • GeorgiaS says:

    OK, re-reading the second letter, I realize that my suggestions work better for the first letter-writer. So here's for the second:
    Anything by Marcus Sedgwick — beautiful writing, creepy, mysterious, often supernatural scenarios.
    The "Chaos Walking" series by Patrick Ness — gorgeous writing, awesome characters, creepy dystopia (also lots of violence, though)
    Paolo Bacigalupi's "Ship Breaker" and "The Drowned Cities" — beautiful, terrifying, violent novels about a post-apocalyptic (climate-change ravaged) USA

  • Empress says:

    I read John Christopher's dystopian Tripods books around late elementary school, I think, but they're totally appropriate for middle schoolers. And also they're amazing. There are the original three books (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire) and a prequel (When the Tripods Came) that actually kind of scared the pants off me when I was maybe 14, so this might not be a perfect suggestion for Stanley's niece.

    I re-read Jane Langton's The Diamond in the Window even now as an adult, but it's definitely appropriate for a middle schooler. It's a great introduction to transcendentalism but also is just about growing up and the changes that are part of aging out of childhood. I love it.

  • ebstarr says:

    LW1:

    1) Alanna series by Tamora Pierce – about a girl who dresses up like a boy so she can learn to be a knight. Totally awesome/empowering!
    http://www.amazon.com/Alanna-First-Adventure-Song-Lioness/dp/0689878559

    2) Has she read Lucy Maud Montgomery's Emily books? They're slightly darker & more adult, and in my opinion even better than the Anne books.
    http://www.amazon.com/Emily-Moon-Climbs-Emilys-Quest/dp/0770427715/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1354723153&sr=1-3&keywords=emily+of+new+moon

    3) John Marsden's Tomorrow series. A bunch of Australian teenagers return from a camping trip to find out their town has been invaded by mysterious (human) enemies, and they become guerrilla warriors. So exciting, and the narrator is a great girl character (the group is both boys + girls).
    http://www.amazon.com/Tomorrow-When-War-Began/dp/0439829100/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1354723205&sr=1-1&keywords=john+marsden

  • Nicki says:

    For the first letter: Seconding (or thirding?) the recommendations for Tamora Pierce, and the Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett (or Nation, which might also appeal to the nephew). The Artemis Fowl books by Eoin Colfer are good fun, and should appeal to both.

    For the second letter: I'm not a big horror reader, but I'll definitely second the rec for Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking books, starting with The Knife of Never Letting Go.

  • ebstarr says:

    Actually, I think my third suggestion (John Marsden's Tomorrow series) might be too violent. So maybe scratch that one? It's much less violent than the Hunger Games, but still involves (spoiler, sorry!) teenagers dying once in awhile.

  • Linda says:

    Stanley–
    Sarah Dessen writes great books about real world girls. I think "Keeping the Moon" would be the best one to start with for your niece, as it does not have as many adult themes as some of the others. If she like's Sarah's books then there are many great ones that do deal with harder issues (teen pregnancy, eating disorders, etc.) (Although compared to Hunger Games they are all pretty calm…I'm with you, twelve seems young for those!) One of the wonderful things about Sarah's books is that even though they cover different issues, they are not 'issue' books, they are great books about characters, with great dialogue and humor.

    And, Judy Blume is not outdated! I think she would be great.

    Lastly, maybe for both niece and nephew, what about the Dark is Rising series? They have some scary bits but deal with good and evil in an interesting and compelling way.

    Good luck! Yay for books.

  • M. Nightingale says:

    For Stanley:

    I'd second (or third, or whatever we're on by the time this posts) The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper.

    For graphic novels, try Castle Waiting by Linda Medley.

    At 13, I was just discovering Robin McKinley. The Hero and the Crown or The Blue Sword are good ones, Beauty was my favorite comfort read for many years, but stay away from Deerskin for now.

  • Anne says:

    For LW#2 I'd recommend Cormier, especially The Chocolate War, The Bumblebee Flies Anyway, or I Am The Cheese.

    Another good option might be Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief. I teach it every year to tenth graders (all 14-15-6 year olds) and it is a huge hit. It's dark and might not seem interesting by reading the back cover, but it often sucks in boys who are resistant. I hear a lot of "That's the best and longest book I've ever read" when we're done.

  • Ashley says:

    Seconding Robin McKinley for the niece, especially The Blue Sword and The Hero and The Crown. I basically imprinted on Aerin when I was 12 and I can't wait for my own niece to be old enough to read them!

    And nthing Susan Cooper for both nieces and nephews.

  • Kizz says:

    For the first letter I just want to make sure the kids have read Wrinkle in Time series. Seems like it might work.

    For the second letter, how about Cory Doctorow's Little Brother? Maybe anything by Doctorow but that's the one I've read that seems to fit.

  • Megan says:

    I'm slightly obsessed with the Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter. Think Harry Potter, but instead it's spy school for girls.

  • Another Amy says:

    Stanley — I second The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks; it's a fun book, but one that will make your niece think a little, too. I'd also like to recommend Jellicoe Road (a.k.a. On the Jellicoe Road), which is awesome. I'm 30 and I loved it; it's one of the many YA books that appeals to all ages. It won the Printz in 2009. The book kind of defies explanation, but it's set at a boarding school, partly in current times and partly in the '80s, and it has an interesting mystery thread running through it.

  • Maggie says:

    Letter 1, you have great taste. Lucky niece! I think His Dark Materials would be perfect, personally. Here are a few more that I love.

    -Fantasy: Anything by Shannon Hale, particularly GOOSE GIRL and PRINCESS ACADEMY (which is older than it sounds).
    -Graphic novel: PAGE BY PAIGE by Laura Lee Gulledge. Really sweet and thoughtful and creative.

    This one's for letter 2:

    -If he's willing to try something a little more on the fantasy/sci-fi side, the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness is well-written and has a boy protagonist. There is violence, to be sure, and tons of action, but it's also got a few Ideas. There are three in the series.

  • Gene says:

    Same author for both, but different books; Terry Pratchett

    For the youg female, the Tiffany Aching books, starting with "The Wee Free Men".

    For the young male, Dodger, a retelling of the story of the Artful Dodger in Victorian London.

    If either decides they like the author, your gifts for the next many years are decided, as his list of works is long and enjoyable. It helps if you like orangutans. :-)

  • Anne-Cara says:

    For Stanley's niece, I highly recommend E. L. Konigsberg's A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, which was my faaaavorite book when I was 13 and which still retains a place in my top ten.

    I've got nothing for the boys, though, but I'll be watching the comments for gift ideas for my own thirteen-year-old nephew.

  • Anne-Cara says:

    (Whoops – that should be KonigsbUrg, sorry!)

  • Judy says:

    For Stanley, "Playing Beatie Bow" by Ruth Park (http://www.amazon.com/Playing-Beatie-Bow-Ruth-Park/dp/1903015111/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354725059&sr=8-1&keywords=playing+beatie+bow) is about an Australian girl who time-travels back a century or so.

  • Andrea says:

    For both letters: FableHaven by Brandon Mull – has a teenage boy and girl protaganist, fantasy, set more or less in the real world, and age appropriately scary in places.

    I second a Wrinkle in Time and it's sequels, and would add that The Young Unicorns and Dragons in the Waters by L'Engle are also good, mystery-ish choices, and probably would be good for all 3 kids.

    Voigt's Kingdom series should be fine for a 13 year old. Certainly the first two. The third one is a lot darker, although I loved them all when I was about that age. I also liked her Callender Papers a lot.

  • Annie says:

    First LW: Has she read "The Girl with Silver Eyes"? Also, anything by Dianna Wynne Jones (especially the Christopher Chant/Chrestomanci books), who is actually and genuinely my favorite author. John Scalzi's "Zoe's Tale" might be awesome for either your niece or nephew.

  • Stephanie says:

    For Stanley – I loved the Lois Duncan books at that age – a little bit scary, but not too bad – Down a Dark Hall, The Gift of Magic, Stranger with my Face, and Ransom were my favourites. Most have female protagonists. I also adored – ADORED – Strandia by Susan Lynn Reynolds, but it looks like it's out of print. Amazon has used copies for cheap – but also for like $80, so it might be collectible now. And anything by Zilpha Keatley Snyder would work for either kid – my faves were The Egypt Game and the Famous Stanley Kidnapping Case.

    For Book Cred – if I recall correctly, 15 was about when Stephen King became a huge thing for me and my friends. Deliciously scary and not too grown up – at least the early stuff like Firestarter, Misery, The Dead Zone, Carrie…

  • Elizabeth says:

    For Stanley, I'm pretty sure I read Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy when I was in 7th grade. I love most of what she has written. Robin McKinley is also wonderful, as has been noted, but I agree that staying away from Deerskin is a good idea. I loved Tolkien at that age (and this one too), but he's a little challenging for the indifferent reader.

  • goreedgo says:

    LW1- your niece might like Un Lun Dun by China Mieville. Two girls end up in a wacky underground offshoot of London. It's really kickass feminist in a non-preachy way and also laugh out loud funny.

    LW2- I'd recommend the Tommorow When the War Began series. It's about a bunch of Australian teenagers who become guerilla fighters after their country is taken over by a foreign enemy. The books are fast-paced, scary, and immensely fun. And if he likes the first one, it's a long series so you could get through a few birthdays and Christmases with it.

  • cv says:

    I was also wondering about the Wrinkle in Time series for the first question. I read the Wrinkle series around that age and soon devoured everything else Madeleine L'Engle wrote. She has some non-fantasy books that are good, too – they're set in an unspecified present that has a bit of a cold war, everything is going to hell mindset to it (and no computers or cell phones) that makes them feel a little dated, but I love them still.

  • LW #1 — Third/fourth/whatever-ing the Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley suggestions. I also love Sharon Shinn's "Summers at Castle Auburn" for that age group.

    LW #2 — The Miles Vorkosigan novels by Lois McMaster Bujold sound right up your nephew's alley. They are fun and space opera-y, a bit more advanced than "Hunger Games" from a prose standpoint but should still be accessible. I'd start with the "Young Miles" omnibus, which features Miles as a teenager.

  • Karen says:

    Another rec for The Dark is Rising series (Susan Cooper), really for any of the intended readers.

    For the girl, I'd also recommend pretty much all of Madeleine L'Engle's non-Wrinkle in Time books, starting with Meet the Austins. They're not recent publications, obviously, but they depict teenage angst and heartache in a much less aggravating way than a lot of stuff that's been more recently published.

    Finally, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie would also be good for any of the recipients. Not fantasy, but just an incredible read.

  • Holly H. says:

    Mostly for the first LW, I think:

    For graphic novels, I also recommend Gunnerkrigg Court, by Tom Siddell; and Bone, by Jeff Smith. (Massively seconding the rec for Castle Waiting, too!)

    Novel-wise, I'm very much seconding the recs of Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising and Lloyd Alexander's Taran Wanderer series.

    Finally, I'm surprised to be the first to bring this up, but: Tolkien? Have they watched the films? Are you and they planning to see The Hobbit? The latter of course is a good gateway, in that book-wise, it's one-and-done. But, I'm just saying — the two fantasy series I imprinted on at age 9 were Anne McCaffrey's Pern series, and Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and if 9-year-olds can handle the latter, then surely a 13-year-old can. Whether or not she clicks with the prose is of course a toss-up; I totally did, and the books have the virtue of being less intense than the films, if that matters.

    For the nephew, by the way, since it appears to be important: Cooper's protagonists are largely boys, and Alexander's main character is a boy, while it's been widely discussed that LOTR is rather boy-heavy. So none of these ought to strike him as "girly books".

  • Leigh says:

    LW#1, your niece sounds a lot like my 14-yr-old daughter (who also has a subscription to American Girl). She really loves anything by Lois Lowry; The Giver is her favorite book of all time. She also likes Nancy Drew (the updated series, not so much the older ones), and there's a series called Beacon Street Girls that she has really enjoyed.

  • Holly H. says:

    Erg, I meant to add: if you are considering Cooper, beware of the movie made out of "The Dark is Rising" (primarily titled "The Seeker" for no apparent reason). Horrible thing.

  • JF says:

    oooooo, a second rec for M L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time series

    also, N Gaiman's The Graveyard Book is an EXCELLENT read — might be a bit too scary for your niece now, Stanley, but def good for your nephew

    for niece, how about To Kill A Mockingbird? A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?

    for something a bit more ambitious — Connie Willis' The Doomsday Book — time-travel, medieval times (the era, not the theme park), wonderful heroine, lots of history, great characters to love

  • Whitney says:

    I was deep in my Louisa May Alcott phase at 12 — if your niece likes Anne of Green Gables she may enjoy those. I also started getting into Agatha Christie at that age — I don't know if she would find murder mysteries too scary, but those are pretty bloodless (except I'd avoid And Then There Were None/Ten Little Indians, at least for starters).

    My younger brothers were not big readers but I remember them loving both Treasure Island and Ender's Game in junior high. (Orson Scott Card seems to have been a childhood favorite of many of the men in my life, actually.)

  • KAT says:

    For LW #1: For your niece, I think Sarah Rees Brennan's recent Unspoken, which is about a high-school-aged girl who sets up her school newspaper and investigates things that turn out to be supernatural and ominous! It's also really funny in places, which I think is harder to find. The end does set up for the second book that isn't yet published, though, I should warn you. You can read a companion piece written in the same universe but from the POV of a different character at the Amazon page I linked to if you scroll down to "Download The Spring Before I Met You".

    Another idea might be Holly Black's Curse Workers series starting with the linked White Cat; it's about a world where magic is outlawed and people who use it are kind of like the Mafia, and a boy who grows up in a family of magic workers but without magic himself. It's really fun!

    Seconding or thirding or whatever the suggestion I believe I saw above about Diana Wynne Jones. Anything by Diana Wynne Jones except that one adult book. Some of hers are more for younger kids I guess so just check out the age recommendations but her stuff is fantastic. Maybe A Tale of Time City? Or the Chrestomanci series? I also really loved Dark Lord of Derkholm. If someone had given me that as a kid/teen I would have stuck my nose in it right after I got it, ignored the family for the rest of the day, and been happy as a clam. And loved whoever gave it to me forever.

    For LW #2, definitely seconding (or whatever) Bacigalupi's Ship-Breakers and then Drowned Cities.

    They might not be quite horror enough, but Scott Westerfeld's series that starts with Leviathan is pretty awesome and has some scary moments as well as giant machines and weird mutants; it's an alternate-history WWI where the British have awesome genetic engineering capabilities and the Austro-Hungarians are steampunk. And the characters are really great.

    It's probably not YA enough for now, but keep Boneshaker by Cherie Priest in mind for a couple years down the road. I don't remember it being too complex but I don't know how to judge reading levels, but I definitely remember the author saying it wasn't written as YA.

  • Lianne says:

    I also HIGHLY recommend Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, and Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books for LW1.

    Alanna: The First Adventure (book one of the Song of the Lioness quartet) is the best place to start for the Pierce books.

    For Robin McKinley, I'd suggest The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. I realize that The Blue Sword is usually intended to be read first, but when I was introduced to these books at age 11 because my language arts teacher made me get a book with a higher reading level for a book report, I read The Hero and the Crown first and think it works just as well that way. I'd actually get them as a pair and give both.

    The Wee Free Men is the first one of the Tiffany Aching books.

  • Elisa says:

    I would like to recommend both of Markus Zusak's excellent books. They can be read by either gender, but "The Book Thief" seems slightly more girl-oriented (really only because the main character is a girl) and "I am the Messenger" is slightly more boy-oriented because it has a little violence in it. They are really great and have great messages.

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