Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press (2010).
Ten years ago, the royal family of Lumatere was murdered, the throne seized, and a curse placed over the entire country. While most citizens now roam as exiles, Finnikin, his mentor, and Evanjalin, strong young novice, are intent on bringing Lumaterians back to their land. While this is a high fantasy novel, it is the realistic refugee story embedded in the fantasy that gives the novel its' strength. Disease, hunger, and brutality are all realistically portrayed but in the end, the refugees' desire to cling their customs, language, and land, not just the fantastical aid of magic and swords, is what helps them fulfill their quest.
I want to put stars all over this book; It is absolutely brilliant. Note: recommended for ages 14+ due to content.
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
New York, New York: Penguin (2010).
When Sam realizes that she has died in a car crash, she suddenly wakes up on the morning of the day she died. A pretty, popular girl at a preppy Connecticut high school, Sam lives the last day of her life over and over again, each time taking a different approach. The result is the story of a mean girl coming to the realization of how her and her friends' bullying affected those around them. The only fantastical attribute of this decidedly realistic novel is Sam's ability to relive her last day. Though from a fresh point of view, Before I Fall is so full of brand references that it is unlikely to have staying power.
Un Lun Dun by China Mieville
New York, NY: Del Rey (2007).
Below London lies UnLondon, a place where broken umbrellas become moving Unbrellas and smog is a living being. Deeba and her friend are pulled into UnLondon, and even after seeing the destructive power of the Smog, Deeba vows to help destroy the Smog. With the help of many a strange creature, Deeba sets out on her unprophesized quest. This fantasy of parallel worlds is wildly inventive, with overwhelming descriptions of the strange buildings and creatures of UnLondon. However, even Mieville's creative world cannot hide the thinly-veiled and heavy-handed environmental message.