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Children's books

Fun reads for ages 12-15

This companion novel to Keeping the Castle (2012) offers a lighthearted and literate Regency romance for today’s Jane Austen fans. The young ladies of Winthrop Hopkins Female Academy in Lesser Hoo, Yorkshire, aspire to become acceptable wives for eligible gentlemen, but there are none such in the neighborhood. That sorry state of affairs ends when Mr. George Arbuthnot, galloping through Lesser Hoo, takes a nasty fall from his horse that requires a lengthy convalescence at the academy. Eligible male friends visit; problem solved! But complications ensue, including a shady governess, a missing jewel, and a possible betrayal. Little depth here, but no harm.

The Hired Girl

Joan Skaggs flees her miserable role as drudge on her father’s Pennsylvania farm to become a housemaid for a wealthy Jewish family in Baltimore. Over the summer of 1911, she confides all her fears, hopes, challenges, triumphs, and disasters to her faithful diary. Joan is a gifted observer with insight beyond her 14 years, but also a naïve soul prone to the misperceptions and misplaced hopes of young teenhood. Certain romantic elements seem more appropriate to 16 than 14, but Joan’s voice is engaging and her journey to the Catholic faith, while relativistic about Judaism, is touching and believable.

Fallout (Lois Lane) 

Lois, daughter of the famous Gen. Sam Lane, arrives at East Metropolis High with a reputation as a troublemaker. On her very first day she becomes involved with a possible bullying scandal, but also catches the eye of editor Perry White, who recruits her to a team of teen reporters for his online newspaper, The Daily Buzz. During her investigation of black-clad gamers accused of high-tech mind control, Lois relies on her best online buddy (known only as SmallvilleGuy) for tips and encouragement. Although Lois bends some rules, her selfless, crusading spirit is a relief from the typical angst-ridden YA protagonist.

Randoms

Why was Zeke Reynolds recruited to the four-member team of Earthlings applying for membership in the Confederation of United Planets? Official explanation: He’s a “random,” a youth of no particular attainment added to provide balance to three overachievers. But in a dustup with a hostile cruiser, which he accidentally blows to smithereens, Zeke acquires more notoriety than he needs. With no friends except two randoms of other species, he uncovers a scheme of crossed loyalties and purposes that threatens the Confederation. Great fun for sci-fi fans, but the solid characterization, witty narrative, and comprehensive world-building make an absorbing read for anyone. 

Spotlight

Tonke (Antonia) Dragt, now 84, was already a successful illustrator in the Netherlands when she published The Letter for the King (De brief voor de Koning) in 1962. The book was an international bestseller, with over 1 million copies sold, before it was finally translated into English in 2013. In September, Scholastic published the U.S. edition.

The story takes place in a medieval kingdom with a legendary “King Arthur” feel. Young Tiuri is keeping vigil on the eve of his knighthood when he hears a knock at the chapel door. Opening the door leads to an epic adventure involving treachery and heroism, as the 16-year-old risks everything to carry a vital message to the ruler of a neighboring kingdom. The novel, for all its 500-page length, is not especially rich in detail, and it lacks some dramatic tension. But the action seldom flags, and its Christian subtext will remind readers of The Pilgrim’s Progress. —J.C.