The international arena is also the setting for
(Scholastic, $17.99, age 12 and up), a contemporary novel that begins on a bonobo sanctuary in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. There, Sophie, the 14-year-old daughter of the sanctuary’s owner, bonds with a bonobo orphan named Otto. When the sanctuary is attacked, she flees with him into the surrounding jungle, and together they forage for food, dodge militants and try to survive. Eliot Schrefer grounds this taut, heart-wrenching tale in details gleaned from his work on a similar sanctuary and paints vivid portraits of intelligent, peaceful primates in a land where, on average, “twelve hundred Congolese had been killed every day since 1998.”
Danger threatens the fantasy city of Zombay in
(McElderry, $16.99, ages 8-12), where humans and automatons coexist beside a great river. For years, Rownie, almost 10, and his older brother, Rowan, have dwelled with a clever, chicken-legged witch. When Rowan disappears, Rownie runs away from his vindictive benefactor and searches for his brother by joining a traveling troupe of performing goblins. This plunges the boy into a misty, mysterious world of fugitive actors, magical masks and rising floodwaters. In a bow to the goblins’ profession, William Alexander organizes his atmospheric first novel into acts and scenes, rather than chapters, and he couches it in the beautifully elliptical language of the old fairy tales.
For Arn Chorn-Pond, the narrator of
Never Fall Down
(Balzer+Bray, $17.99, age 14 and up), music in his Cambodian town is “like air, always there.” He starts his story as a mischievous 11-year-old in 1975, just before Khmer Rouge forces sweep in, herd the townsfolk into the countryside and force them to farm with scant food and shelter. With haunting music of his own, Arn relays the horrors that follow — the loss of his family, his duties as a child soldier — in the staccato rhythms and sentence fragments of a non-native speaker of English. To authentically convey the boy’s experience, former journalist Patricia McCormick interviewed Arn, now grown and the founder of Cambodian Living Arts, and fellow survivors over a two-year period. This historical novel is every bit as powerful as McCormick’s “Sold,” a fictional account of human trafficking and an NBA finalist in 2006. Though harrowing, Arn’s chronicle also hits the high notes of his escape to Thailand, his adoption by an American family and his determination to help Cambodia recover the culture all but destroyed by the radical communist group.
A current of tender, believable sadness flows through
Out of Reach
(Simon Pulse, $16.99, age 14 and up), the first novel by Carrie Arcos. It opens with what 16-year-old Rachel Stevens claims is a universal truth: “Everyone lies.” When her beloved older brother, Micah, vanishes, though, Rachel must confront not only his lies about his crystal meth addiction but her own in covering for him. As she and Micah’s best friend, Tyler, hunt for him in the seedy beach town where he was last seen, Rachel finds “bits and pieces” of her lost brother in the homeless teens and drug users she questions, in small, joyful memories of their shared childhood, and in the hopeful lift of her heart every time she glimpses “a guy with brown hair and tattoos.” This is a thought-provoking novel of choices and their effect on who we become.
Quattlebaum is a children’s author and regular reviewer for The Washington Post. She teaches at Vermont College’s MFA Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.