Tithe by Holly Black (Simon & Schuster - McElderry)
I was first introduced to Holly Black because she was a guest speaker for an event I helped out with, and so of course I picked up her book Tithe. I thought that this book was trying too hard at the beginning, but then I realized that it was more the characters lived lives I hadn't--that sort of life where no one watches you too closely, even though you live with your relatives. When I first read it, I don't think I had seen anything quite like it, and it shook up my reading habits quite a bit. I'd also really liked her Spiderwick Chronicles, and one of the similar things here is the way that the rough side of fairy tales isn't polished into a sheen. Additionally, this is definitely the book that brought fairies into a modern form that shaped them as not always pretty, sparkly theme park mascots. I think today's urban fantasy owes a lot to fans of this book who went looking for more.
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (Simon & Schuster - Atheneum)
When I read books by Nancy Farmer, I don't go away thinking Oh, I wish I could write like that. I go away thinking I wish I could tell a story like that. This one, centered around a clone living in a future that's also the past, pokes at what we think is life and the will to live. It pokes at the way we don't always think for ourselves, don't question, and don't always realize what we're doing of our own accord and what is being imposed on us. All that sounds pretty heavy, but this is definitely a high-stakes adventure.
I was spoiled by some of the pre-story stuff. A character list gives away what, for me, was a huge plot point. Sure, I would have figured it out, but I like to figure things out! You might want to skip ahead and dive right into the story.
Lord of the Nutcracker Men by Iain Lawrence (Random House - Laurel Leaf)
Lord of the Nutcracker Men is set in WWI England, and told by a boy that's sent out of the city. He ends up with his aunt, a teacher. His mother works in a munitions factory and his father goes off to war, writing letters to his son and sending little carved soldiers. The boy believes, after a time, that the games he plays are having an outcome on the war--and why wouldn't he, when dead men visit him in the back garden?
Especially moving was how the author integrated the 1914 England-Germany Christmas truce in at the end. There are certainly some narrative flaws, places where things are dropped or not really explained for someone who doesn't already know about the time (like the fate of the boy's mother), but it was a good read overall.
Loser by Jerry Spinelli (HarperCollins)
...is such a swift read that I found myself on page 30 before I realized it is written in present tense, which does not jar here, though I'm more of a past tense sort of girl. The protagonist is a loser. He can't catch. He's clumsy. He's unaware that he's a loser--and yet, you feel sorry for the 'winners' long before the end of the book, because they miss out on the best parts of living. Make me a loser any day! Very much recommended for someone feeling out of sorts or out of place.