In "Blind" (Viking, $17.99, ages 12 and up), Rachel DeWoskin weaves a beautifully observed story of a teen who loses her sight with a penetrating look at the complexities of growing up. A year after the dreadful accident that blinds her, Emma returns to high school, still experiencing daily terror at waking up unable to open her eyes and still mastering the challenges of navigating her world unsighted.
At school, Emma finds her drama has been upstaged by the apparent suicide of a classmate, Claire. In an effort to address the turmoil among her friends, Emma starts a discussion group that soon takes on a life of its own. In her first young-adult novel, DeWoskin captures the human hope essential to growing up and, indeed, to living at all. As Emma comes to terms with her new blind self, she realizes that when Claire gave up, she forgot, or couldn't hold in mind, the important truth that "she would be a million other Claires over the course of the rest of her life, and some of them would have been happy."
Books about sports are a tried and true way to entice reluctant readers, as well as a popular way for celebrity athletes to exert their influence as role models off the field. "The Contract" by future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter (written with Paul Mantell, Simon & Schuster, $16.99, ages 8-12), about a Little Leaguer with big dreams, aims to communicate the values of the Yankees' hardworking (and now retiring) team captain to young readers. It is the first title from a new venture, Jeter Publishing.
Kate Milford brings together various story traditions in "The Greenglass House" (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, ages 10-14) to tell a satisfying winter's tale with overtones of Harry Potter's "Deathly Hallows," the children's mystery classic "The Westing Game" and, for more sophisticated readers, "The Canterbury Tales." Milo's family runs an old inn that is known as a haven for smugglers in the colorful fictional town of Nagspeake on the Skidwrack River. Just as they are settling in for a quiet Christmas, the inn's bell rings, announcing the unseasonable arrival of a guest. He is shortly joined by several more. To the observant Milo, the guests all appear odd in some way, and several seem to be pretending not to know each other. Using role-playing games, local folk tales and the late introduction of a surprising supernatural element, Milford constructs her mystery like an intricate clock. The setting is one of the story's charms, as is the subplot of Milo's secret thoughts about being adopted.
Addressing the issue of adoption more directly is Cynthia Kadohata's "Half a World Away" (Atheneum/ Simon & Schuster, $16.99, ages 10-14), in which an adopted boy, Jaden, accompanies his family to Kazakhstan to adopt a second child. Jaden loves electricity ("for sure it was the most amazing thing about America"), and it's a perfect metaphor on which to build a story about family -- "a system of vibrations," Edison called it.
Coe Booth, author of a set of intertwined teen novels ("Tyrell," "Kendra" and "Bronxwood") writes for younger readers in "Kinda Like Brothers" (Scholastic, $17.99, ages 8-12). Eleven-year-old Jarrett's mother takes in foster kids in their Newark apartment. Usually they are babies, but this time she has accepted a boy a year older than Jarrett to keep him from being separated from his baby sister. Readers who decry the lack of diversity in children's books often note that African-Americans are disproportionately portrayed as poor. Booth's characters, although residents of the inner city, are never stereotypes. The author grew up in the Bronx and has worked with families in crisis, and she writes about inner-city life with an intimacy that makes it soar as fiction. These are characters the reader feels and loves.
"Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle" by George Hagen (Schwartz & Wade/Random House: $16.99, ages 9-12) establishes a wonderful mythology in which ravens and humans have a magical connection. While 12-year-old Gabriel learns secrets from a diary left behind by his mysteriously vanished father, a fledgling raven who lives in a nest near their Brooklyn brownstone is learning his race's history. Their adventures together prove both riddle-filled and thrilling, not least because Hagen gives one of the best-ever descriptions of that universal dream of flying.