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Best Middle-Grade Science Fiction, Fantasy & Adventure of 2014

The classic fantasy elements are all there, richly reimagined, with a vivid setting, a page-turning adventure of a plot, and...

THE WITCH'S BOY

Nine enormous boulders are awakened from their long sleep by the actions of a seemingly powerless boy and the daughter of the Bandit King.

Since his identical twin’s death and his own near-drowning, Ned has spoken with a stutter, and villagers believe that “the wrong boy” survived. Ned doesn’t know that his mother, Sister Witch, in desperation, used the magic she holds and protects to join his brother’s soul to his, despite the fact that “[i]t was a dangerous thing, her magic. With consequences.” Áine, meanwhile, is growing up with a father whose behavior increasingly worries her, especially the way he fondles a pendant he’s begun wearing and the fact that he has been bringing home a frightening group of bandits. In fact, the Bandit King is after Sister Witch’s magic, and when she leaves town, he tries to force Ned to surrender it to him. Instead, Ned takes the magic upon himself, at a cost of great physical pain as the words burn into him and the magic keeps talking to him, and he is kidnapped. Barnhill skillfully interweaves the stories of Ned, Áine, Sister Witch and the stones, along with an intriguing group of secondary characters. The third-person narration switches perspective smoothly, and it’s all related in a precise, flowing prose that easily places readers into the fantastic setting and catches them up in the story.

The classic fantasy elements are all there, richly reimagined, with a vivid setting, a page-turning adventure of a plot, and compelling, timeless themes. (Fantasy. 10-15)

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61620-351-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

A rousing page-turner with one fault: It ends. (Mystery. 10-14)

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KNIGHTLEY AND SON

From the Knightley & Son series , Vol. 1

Heaps of mystery, dry humor and tweed abound in this exemplar of crime fiction à la Doyle. 

Since 13-year-old Darkus Knightley’s parents split, he sees his father, Alan—a detective of obsessive professional dedication—once a week. Darkus’ sponge of a brain has absorbed the details of every former case of his father’s, which fuel conversation during their visits. The conversations tend to be one-sided, though, as Alan has been comatose for four years. One evening, Alan miraculously wakes from his coma, ready to investigate a series of bizarre crimes. Alan is convinced that a powerful organization called the Combination is behind these and subsequent sprees. His records destroyed, Alan’s only chance to prove his case is to tap the brain of his son. And Darkus’ only chance to heal the relationship with his father (whose paternal nurturing was absent long before his hospitalization) is to solve a mammoth mystery. Even if Gavin didn’t disclaim his affinity for Sherlock Holmes, it would be abundantly evident; Darkus’ skill at deduction, perpetual observation and sang-froid are spot-on Holmes-ian. Don’t expect a puttering Watson, though. Darkus’ sidekick and stepsister, Tilly, is wrought with sass, intelligence and a never-ending supply of hair dye. Heroes, villains and settings are all fully realized through proficient description, and contemporary technology gives way to sheer brainpower.

A rousing page-turner with one fault: It ends. (Mystery. 10-14)

Pub Date: March 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61963-153-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

Wholly original and marvelous beyond compare.

THE GLASS SENTENCE

From the Mapmakers series , Vol. 1

In this opening volume of the Mapmakers trilogy, 13-year-old Sophia Tims travels into mysterious and uncharted lands in search of her kidnapped uncle and must save the world while she’s at it.

In the Great Disruption of 1799, the world came apart. Continents were unfastened from time and flung into different Ages. Europe plunged into a remote century, the Spanish Empire fragmented, and the United States became an uneasy mix of adjoining Ages: the Baldlands in the West, Prehistoric Snows to the north, New Patagonia to the south—and Sophia’s Boston is now in New Occident. Sophia’s parents are missing in a different Age, and politicians are about to close New Occident’s borders, forever trapping them on the outside. When Sophia’s uncle, master cartologer Shadrack Elli, is kidnapped, her search for him sets her on an adventure with the fate of the whole world at stake. Grove’s intelligent and challenging debut is brilliant in concept, breathtaking in scale and stellar in its worldbuilding; this is a world never before seen in fiction. Sophia is a likable heroine, a girl with no sense of time who must use her wits and her uncle’s maps to save the world before time runs out.

Wholly original and marvelous beyond compare. (Fantasy. 10 & up)

Pub Date: June 12, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-670-78502-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

Both cinematic and pleasingly literary, this will keep readers entranced.

DAPPLED ANNIE AND THE TIGRISH

In this exceptional debut novel for middle graders, Annie’s quest to retrieve a blown-away birds’ nest becomes more magical, dangerous and urgent than she ever anticipated.

This magical adventure is set on the coast of New Zealand, where Annie lives with her mother, little brother and father—a lighthouse keeper whose unexpected absence has just begun to concern his family. The story begins on the cusp of Annie’s 10th birthday, when Annie’s usual visit to her unusual friends—a row of hedges—turns into a grand adventure that has hints of The Neverending Story and A Wrinkle in Time. By the time her birthday has arrived, Annie has learned that being “dappled” is a good thing, and she has proven to herself that she is capable of good decision-making and heroic bravery. Elements of magical realism fold beautifully into the story, as do the moments when Annie is testing a young person’s version of situational ethics. The warm family relationships add to the story’s charm: “On one hand, her brother was loud and sticky and annoying, but on the other hand, he knew interesting things about animals and snuggled up when she read to him.” Nature facts mingle easily with the supernatural, and gentle humor is omnipresent.

Both cinematic and pleasingly literary, this will keep readers entranced. (Fantasy. 7-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-877579-95-0

Page Count: 138

Publisher: Gecko Press

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

An abundantly diverting mystery seasoned with mild fantasy and just a little steampunk.

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GREENGLASS HOUSE

When his parents’ hotel fills up with a variety of unexpected guests just days before Christmas, Milo is caught up in mysterious goings-on.

The inn, hospitable to smugglers and named for its colored glass windows, sits on cliffs above the river Skidwrack. With the holiday interrupted by the demands of guests iced in by wintry weather, Milo finds both purpose and distraction in a role-playing game introduced by his new young friend, Meddy, and in a book of folklore given to him by a guest. A ghost story, a love story, a story of fabled relics and the tale of a legendary smuggler intertwine while Milo, in his game persona, finds longed-for skills and strengths. Each guest seeks a secret treasure in the old house, while Milo, out of loyalty to his adoptive parents, hardly dares name his own secret quest: to know more about his Chinese heritage. Milford’s storytelling is splendid. Stories within the story are rich and layered; clues are generously offered; even the badly behaved visitors seem fairly good-humored until the worst reveals true perfidy at the last; the many threads of the tale all tie up. Milo’s world seems comfortably contemporary; the current history of his parallel world is mostly background that’s revealed at the close.

An abundantly diverting mystery seasoned with mild fantasy and just a little steampunk. (Mystery/fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-05270-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

Layered, beautiful, smart and achingly funny. In a word, brilliant.

HE LAUGHED WITH HIS OTHER MOUTHS

From the Pals in Peril series , Vol. 6

The thrills continue as Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut, goes into the deepest regions of space in search of his long-lost father.

Jasper is joined by Katie Mulligan and Lily Gefelty for another absurd adventure through time and space. This time, Jasper’s teleporter takes them deep within the Horsehead Nebula, the area of space that contains the secret of Jasper’s origins. Mysterious extraterrestrials travel the globe, abducting random civilians to ask them one question: “Where is Jasper Dash?” Meanwhile, in the footnotes, young Busby Spence reads classic Jasper Dash adventure novels and longs for the return of his own father, fighting in the Pacific theater during World War II. Anderson’s creative mixture of otherworldly adventure and heartfelt emotion is flawless. Nostalgic, hopeful and most importantly playful, the author has crafted a work that expresses all the pleasures of being young and getting lost in the realms of a great book. The novel doesn’t transcend the wacky sci-fi of old that inspired it but rather embraces it and dissects it, celebrating it and exploring why so many people fell in love with these silly worlds and gee-whiz heroes in the first place. Above all, this is a testament to the art of reading, a book that reminds you why you love reading in the first place.

Layered, beautiful, smart and achingly funny. In a word, brilliant. (Science fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4424-5110-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

Lots of creepiness, memorable characters, a worthy message, Arrasmith’s atmospheric drawings and touches of humor amid the...

THE NIGHT GARDENER

Replete with engaging figurative language and literary allusions to works ranging from the Bible to Paradise Lost, Auxier’s creepy Victorian ghost story is an allegory on greed and the power of stories.

Fourteen-year-old Molly and her younger brother, Kip, orphans fleeing the Irish famine, seek work in England. The destitute siblings become servants at the Windsor estate, at the center of which is a decrepit house entwined with a huge and sinister tree. Although warned that this place contains something ominous that changes people, they are unprepared for the evil they encounter. The master, mistress and their two children grow pale and thin; their eyes and hair blacken. Entering the forbidden room at the top of the stairs, Molly finds a knothole in the tree—a knothole that produces whatever one wishes for (money, jewels, sweets). The price is a piece of the petitioner’s soul. Muddy footprints and dead leaves in the house attest to an evil nocturnal visitor, the titular Night Gardener, who wipes the sweat of fear from their nightmare-ridden brows to water the tree. In a heart-stopping climax, Molly and Kip attempt to stop this specter and the ancient curse.

Lots of creepiness, memorable characters, a worthy message, Arrasmith’s atmospheric drawings and touches of humor amid the horror make this cautionary tale one readers will not soon forget. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: May 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4197-1144-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

Part Great Escape, part Hatchet, part Charlotte’s Web, all wonderful.

AUDREY (COW)

Move aside Wilbur and Babe. There’s a new farmyard hero in town, and she has no desire to end up hamburger.

Audrey isn’t like the other cows. They might accept their lot as “food cows,” but she has other ideas. After her mother is taken away to a slaughterhouse, the feisty Charolais concocts an elaborate escape for herself using the expertise and help of her barnyard friends. However, the escape itself proves to be only half the battle, and Audrey’s experiences in the wild forest with its unpredictable denizens put both brains and moxie to the test. In a multiple-perspective, documentary-like format, each animal tells its part of the story with terrific humor and personality. From pompous Charlton the rooster, who considers his role in the story a moment of deus ex machina (“as the Romans would call it”), to a parliament of consensus-minded sheep to a thoroughly prejudiced squirrel, the many voices make the book an ideal read-aloud for a classroom and ideal fodder for readers’ theater. Bar-el is also unafraid to engage in truly lovely descriptive writing (one cow’s grief over losing her son is said to be akin to “a mist like we’d get on gray, foggy mornings that made the farm seem as if it were fading away along its edges”).

Part Great Escape, part Hatchet, part Charlotte’s Web, all wonderful. (Animal fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-77049-602-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Tundra

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

Equal parts edge-of-your-seat suspense and heartfelt coming-of-age.

THE FORBIDDEN STONE

From the Copernicus Legacy series , Vol. 1

Four precocious preteens and a distracted astrophysicist travel to Europe to unravel a mystery that has already claimed several lives.

The arrival of a coded email reveals that 12-year-old Wade Kaplan’s antique star map is not just a beautiful artifact, but a key. Unfortunately, as Wade, his astrophysicist father and his stepbrother, Darrell, discover, the map is only the first of many clues. The three would-be adventurers are joined by Wade’s technophile cousin, Lily, and her bookish friend, Becca. The five follow the clues to Berlin, where Dr. Kaplan discovers that he is the only remaining member of the Asterias, a group run by his murdered mentor. The academic quest quickly becomes deadly as a ruthless group competes for the 12 hidden relics that can save the world and unlock the Copernicus Legacy. Filled with riddles and ciphers, this first of 12 installments will keep readers intellectually stimulated as well as entertained. The stepbrothers’ bond, a budding crush and a mystery that plays off of real historical figures and facts make this more than a pedestrian whodunit. With engaging characters, a globe-trotting plot and dangerous villains, it is hard to find something not to like.

Equal parts edge-of-your-seat suspense and heartfelt coming-of-age. (Mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-219447-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2013

Canadian railway history, fantasy, a flutter of romance—and a thoughtful examination of social injustice—collide in this...

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THE BOUNDLESS

William Everett is proud of his rags-to-riches father, manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway, but he wants to forge his own destiny.

Will’s first chance comes when real-life 19th-century rail baron Cornelius Van Horne invites him on a train ride to greet his years-absent, track-laying dad at a nearby mountain camp. After surviving an avalanche and a terrifying sasquatch attack, Will gets to hammer in the last spike, a diamond-encrusted gold railway spike worth a fortune. The story resumes three years later, as a taller, more fancified Will embarks with his now–high-ranking father on the maiden voyage of the Boundless, an opulent, 987-car train—a “rolling city” complete with automaton bartender and traveling circus, 7 miles from locomotive to caboose. Untold treasure is locked up in Van Horne’s booby-trapped funeral car, and a motley crew of hungry souls wants to get their hands on it no matter whom they have to kill to get it. The suspenseful shenanigans that follow shape this wild, cinematic ride, but the underlying narrative track is Will’s dogged determination to follow his own bliss—perhaps as an artist—despite his father’s strict opposition.

Canadian railway history, fantasy, a flutter of romance—and a thoughtful examination of social injustice—collide in this entertaining swashbuckler from the author of Printz Honor–winning Airborn (2005). (Historical fantasy. 9-14)

Pub Date: April 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4424-7288-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

Norwegian history, fiction and folklore intertwine seamlessly in this lively, fantastical adventure and moving coming-of-age...

WEST OF THE MOON

Thirteen-year-old Astri is a goat girl, but she’s no Heidi; she’s a sharp, stone-hard girl who hasn’t yet found the goodness inside herself.

In fact, her life is as wretched as the darkest Norwegian fairy tale. Instead of being taken by White Bear King Valemon to his castle, Astri has been sold by her own aunt and uncle for “two silver coins and a haunch of goat” to a nasty old hunchbacked goatman named Svaalberd who lives in squalor. Folk tales from “The Twelve Wild Ducks” to “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” weave through Astri’s often dryly humorous, suspenseful first-person account until one feels like the other…including her riotous escape from the violent man-troll and the rescue of her beloved little sister. The girls’ odyssey over hill and dale, aided by a kind milkmaid and lonely widow, takes them all the way to an America-bound ship—the Columbus. Whether or not their father is still alive in America, the country beckons like the castle in the bear story that “lies east of the sun and west of the moon.” Preus, who won a Newbery Honor for Heart of a Samurai (2010), was inspired by her Norwegian great-great-grandmother, who immigrated to America in 1851, as she explains in an author’s note, even providing reproductions of some of her great-great-grandmother’s papers.

Norwegian history, fiction and folklore intertwine seamlessly in this lively, fantastical adventure and moving coming-of-age story. (glossary, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4197-0896-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

Multifaceted characters, high stakes, imaginative magic, and hints of hidden twists and complexities to come add up to a...

THE MAP TO EVERYWHERE

From the Map to Everywhere series , Vol. 1

Two displaced young adventurers sail streams of raw magic from world to world in this vividly cast series opener.

Convergent plotlines bring together Marrill, who impulsively climbs aboard the four-master that floats into view atop a shimmering mirage in an Arizona parking lot, and Fin, another world’s scruffy orphan/thief who literally passes “out of sight, out of mind” with everyone he meets. Nearly everyone, that is: To his shock, Marrill actually remembers him when he’s not in view. Joining a notably diverse crew aboard the Enterprising Kraken, a ship able to sail the transformative waters of the multiverse-spanning Pirate Stream thanks to a hull made from “dullwood,” the two set out to gather the long-separated parts of a fabled map to Everywhere. The quest becomes a frantic dash thanks to hot pursuit by Serth, a mad wizard who constantly weeps black tears and seeks the map to fulfill a vision of universal apocalypse. Fin’s oddball ability serves him well in tight spots, but it also becomes an amusing running gag. Filling out the cast with sobbing pirates, briskly efficient “pirats” (or “bilge mice”) and like fancies, the authors send their intrepid searchers hither and thither, to a desperate climactic struggle…that is only a beginning.

Multifaceted characters, high stakes, imaginative magic, and hints of hidden twists and complexities to come add up to a memorable start to a projected four-volume voyage. (numerous illustrations, not seen) (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-24077-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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