If a book targeted toward children and young adults is really good, then it’s a good bet that adults will enjoy it, too. Take, for example, the Harry Potter series or the Hunger Games trilogy, or these three titles.
Cinder by Marissa Meyer is a real WOW-er. It’s exciting, it’s clever, it’s moving. At one point early on, I found myself saying aloud, “Holy cow! This is great!”
The story derives from the fairy tale of “Cinderella,” with the poorly treated girl whose father died, leaving her in the care of a truly evil stepmother and two unkind stepsisters. As in the original, there’s also a handsome (and single) prince.
But this is not the Disney version. Meyer’s tale is set in a dystopian future, where 16-year-old Cinder is a cyborg — part human, part machine — who lives in the Eastern Commonwealth and is the best mechanic in New Beijing. (The original Beijing was destroyed in the wars.) She is embarrassed by her steel left hand and heavy artificial leg, but she also has a computer database in her brain and extra sensors that spell out a text display of news and data and warn her when someone is lying. Her best friend is an android.
Cyborgs are common, but they are treated as a separate, and inferior, race — subhuman. It’s a dangerous time for cyborgs because planet Earth is fighting a worldwide biological scourge. The plague, or blue fever, hits people suddenly and leaves few survivors, and now the emperor is sick, and in the frantic search for a cure, cyborgs are being drafted to test antidotes. (So far, none have survived.)
Meanwhile, Cinder’s stepsisters are excited to be getting ready for the upcoming ball, where they each hope to meet and dance with the prince. But as a cyborg, Cinder will not be allowed to go to the dance.
Then there’s the nasty Lunar queen, who lives on the moon and wants to marry the prince, or else she’ll wage war on Earth. She and the other Lunars have the ability to manipulate the minds of Earth people, like magic. She’s creepy enough to make you shudder.
A fairy tale, a little romance, a little sci-fi, a dash of humor, some truly dastardly characters — this is as good as Hunger Games. One or two plot points are predictable, but who cares? It’s the fairy tale we’ve all known since childhood, yet it’s as fresh as spring rain.
And the audiobook is delightful. Rebecca Soler brings all the characters to life with such distinct voices that it’s like listening to a play. I was riveted. And here’s the best part — the book is absolutely suitable for all ages.
Cinder is the first book of The Lunar Chronicles, which is reportedly a four-book series, and I’m already on tenterhooks, waiting for the next installment. Do not miss it!
Tempest by Julie Cross, for older teens and young adults, tells the story of a time-traveling teenager who may just end up being a hero.
Jackson is a typical 19-year-old college student in 2009, except that he has the unusual ability of jumping back in time. He can’t change anything that’s happened, but he can interact with people and bring back information. He thinks it’s a sort of fun game until his girlfriend, Holly, is put into a life-threatening situation and he must use his unique talents to save her.
When he makes his next time leap, he’s stuck in 2007 and can’t return to the present. What’s going on? He sees his father acting strangely, he relives his sister’s death, his own behavior gets him in trouble with the police, and when he re-meets Holly, he has to charm her into loving him all over again.
While stuck in the past, he encounters sinister people who “know” something about him and who seem to be out to hurt him — and Holly. What do they want with him? And what’s up with his father?
This is a different kind of story, with something for just about everybody — a love story, a bit of science fiction, “spy”-like good guys vs. bad guys action and intrigue, and of course, the time element, which is interestingly presented.
Some things just aren’t explained, but as this is the first entry in a planned trilogy, maybe they will be spelled out later. It’s supposed to be a novel for ages 14 and up, but there’s plenty of adult language and some pretty racy behavior. I’m a sucker for a good time travel story, and I can see this book garnering a cult following.
Brave Irene by the late award-winning author and illustrator William Steig has been printed in a colorful new edition and packed with a CD, on which the story is read by none other than the fabulous Meryl Streep. It’s marketed for children age 4 and up.
Mrs. Bobbin the dressmaker has finally finished working on the beautiful gown for the duchess to wear to tonight’s ball. But she’s taken ill and cannot deliver the gown. Her daughter Irene volunteers to take the dress over the mountain to the duchess, even though there’s a snowstorm and it’s very cold outside. So Irene carefully packs up the dress and bundles herself into her coat and mittens and sets off. She yells back at the shrieking wind as it threatens her, and she fights her way through several challenges before she arrives at last at the mansion, where the duchess and her staff welcome Irene and tell her how brave she is.
The story and illustrations are glorious enough to make you want to read it again and again. But I also love the voice of Meryl Streep — just to hear her as the voice of the malevolent wind, to hear her pronounce “sloosh! thwump!” as Irene falls and is buried in the snow. And it’s so wonderful that a child can listen to the CD over and over by him- or herself and read along in the book.
All three of these titles are available as audiobooks from Macmillan Audio, www.macmillanaudio.com.
Copyright © 2012 by Mary Louise Ruehr.