A middle-school mystery full of spies and intrigue (or is it?); a mash-up of sci-fi/fantasy and realistic family drama; an all-consuming-first-love story; and middle-grade-humor-done-right: these four novels you’ve been waiting for from favorite authors have arrived with a bang.
In Newbery and Boston Globe Horn Book Award–winner Rebecca Stead’s new novel Liar & Spy, Brooklyn seventh-grader Georges’ family has just moved, he’s been ditched by his best friend, and he’s tormented by a bully. So when his new neighbor offers to train him as a spy, Georges figures, why not? Spare and elegant prose, wry humor, deft plotting, and the presentation of complex ideas in an accessible and intriguing way make this smart novel much more than just a mystery-with-a-twist. (Lamb/Random, 11–14 years)
In a notable departure from his realistic stories about troubled-boys-with-hearts-of-gold, Gary D. Schmidt’s latest, What Came from the Stars, brings together heroic science fantasy and realism. Tommy grieves for his dead mother in Massachusetts, and on a distant planet Young Waeglim invests all the Art of his culture into a chain necklace. When the chain falls through worlds and lands in Tommy’s lunchbox, the young mens’ stories intertwine. Gradually, the two alternating prose styles Schmidt employs—Tolkienesque fantasy and down-to-earth contemporary language—merge, underscoring that inner change is itself the stuff of classic heroism. (Clarion, 11–14 years)
The Great Unexpected, Sharon Creech’s latest book, begins when a strange boy falls out of a tree in best friends Naomi and Lizzie’s small town. Narrator Naomi has a crush on the mysterious Finn, but these feelings begin to cloud her judgment and affect her friendship with Lizzie. The girls’ story blends with that of estranged sisters who squabbled over boys. Creech keeps control of the material through her enormously sympathetic protagonist. Through Naomi, the author skillfully presents lessons well worth learning. (Cotler/HarperCollins, 9–12 years)
Primrose Squarp returns in Polly Horvath’s One Year in Coal Harbor, a follow-up to her Newbery Honor Book Everything on a Waffle. Primrose’s previously-lost-at-sea parents are back home, but the residents of Coal Harbor continue to need her varied and unusual talents. Primrose is an unforgettable character—an energetic blend of optimism, smarts, kindness, and a hint of reflective melancholy. This novel is funny from top to bottom, from surprising plot twists to laugh-out-loud comments on the human condition to the edges where humor merges with wisdom and sadness. (Schwartz & Wade/Random, 9–12 years)
From the September 2012 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.