Novels for kids from John Grisham, Candace Bushnell and Rick Riordan

By Mary Quattlebaum
Sunday, June 20, 2010

Candace Bushnell not only crosses over to young adult fiction but travels back to the early 1980s in The Carrie Diaries (Balzar + Bray, $18.99; ages 14 and up) to chronicle the senior year of Connecticut small-town girl Carrie Bradshaw. Yes, that Carrie Bradshaw, of Bushnell's bestselling "Sex and the City." In this YA prequel, Carrie finds her life complicated by a heart-thrumming bad boy, a fickle friend and her own newspaper column, but these developments leave her ready to embrace the Manhattan of Bushnell's adult books. Teens and adults looking for a light summer read will enjoy Carrie's witty reflections on high school and "The Big Love."

Mega-seller John Grisham swelled the ranks of crossover writers last month with his first middle-grade novel, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer (Dutton, $16.99; ages 8-12). The only child of two attorneys, Theo, 13, loves courtrooms, "where lawyers battled like gladiators and judges ruled like kings." Unfortunately, a belabored story set-up and melodramatic whodunit mar this effort. Even young readers curious about legal matters may be put off by Theo's priggish tendency to advise peers and teachers rather than converse in a friendlier style.

A more auspicious debut is How I, Nicky Flynn, Finally Get a Life (and a Dog) (Amulet, $16.95; ages 8-12), in which the title character's slightly sarcastic voice rings tween-true. Angry about his parents' divorce, Nicky, 11, turns for comfort to the shelter dog brought home by his overwhelmed mom. But why is the highly trained Reggie so fearful? Tracking down the dog's previous owner leads to offbeat characters, lies and danger. Art Corriveau follows up a first novel for adults with this fine, fresh mystery that is believable as a kid's experience.

Nuanced characterizations and lyrical writing distinguish Beth Kephart's oeuvre, including this third YA novel, The Heart Is Not a Size (HarperTeen, $16.99; ages 12 and up). Reliable Georgia and her artistic friend Riley volunteer through a GoodWorks building project to help a Mexican village. Being away from their privileged American homes, though, brings out secret issues: Georgia's panic attacks and Riley's eating disorder. How Georgia learns to help herself and Riley goes to the heart of this sensitive exploration of self-acceptance, friendship and teen-galvanized social change.

Rick Riordan catapulted from Edgar-winning detective fiction to international renown with his tween series "Percy Jackson and the Olympians." His new series, "The Kane Chronicles," swaps the bickering, boisterous Greek pantheon for the equally intriguing gods of ancient Egypt. The Red Pyramid (Disney Hyperion, $17.99; ages 9-12) begins with a literal bang in the British Museum. Kane siblings Carter, 14, and Sadie, 12, watch in horror as explosive forces imprison their Egyptologist father in a golden coffin. The two are soon on the run from London to Cairo to Washington, D.C., trying to piece together clues to aid Dad's rescue. The pace never flags as the narrative cuts between cautious Carter and intrepid Sadie. Riordan knows what kids like and delivers it well, including action-packed scenes involving a key obelisk, the Washington Monument.

Mary Quattlebaum is a children's author and writing teacher.

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