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Summer reads for teens and tweens

"We Were Liars" by E. Lockhart (Delacorte, May 2014). Credit: Delacorte Press

No book on this summer's reading list will have readers immobilized in their hammocks more than E. Lockhart's "We Were Liars" (Delacorte, $17.99, ages 14 and older), a novel about one of those old New England families who produce only healthy towheaded children, sail and play tennis like champions, have impeccable manners and never apologize for anything.

Lockhart opens the story with a cozy map of the Sinclairs' private island off Martha's Vineyard. In this class-conscious society, there is a class system particular to summer: There are the liars (the older cousins), the littles (the younger cousins), the aunts (the middle generation), the sons-in-law (marginal players), the grandparents (central, not to be crossed) and, invisible behind the scenes, the staff. Divorces are never spoken of ("Mummy and I tilted our square chins high as Dad drove down the hill"), but the gene pool is varied enough that romance is possible, if frowned upon. Here is Lockhart's description of falling in love with someone you've seen every summer since childhood: "One day I looked at Gat, lying in the Clairmont hammock with a book, and he seemed, well, like he was mine. Like he was my particular person."

It's not a spoiler to say that "We Were Liars" is a love story that becomes something darker; the threat is there from the first lines. But this book has that surprise quality -- like Elizabeth Wein's "Code Name Verity" -- that makes readers scramble back through hungrily devoured chapters and wonder in admiration: Could I have see this coming? Did I miss any clues?

Fantasy has become such a staple of children's literature that it's rare to be wowed by the premise of a newly imagined world. S.E. Grove's "The Glass Sentence" (Viking, $17.99, ages 10 and older) begins with a stunningly simple idea, an event called The Great Disruption, in which "the various parts of the world had come apart. They were unfastened in time. Spinning freely in different directions, each piece of the world had been flung into a different Age." Mapmaking in the new reality becomes an art of great mystery and refinement. The borders between lands become volatile, and exploration dangerous, with time running at different rates in different places. Sophia, niece of a great "cartologer," lives in Boston in 1891 (with 20-hour days!), but the continent she lives on contains territory plunged in a primitive past as well as cities of futuristic grandeur. When Sophia's uncle disappears, she and Theo, a refugee adrift in this politically complex society, go in search of him. This is the first volume in the projected Mapmakers Trilogy.

Blake Nelson ("Paranoid Park," "Girl") offers his take on noir in "The Prince of Venice Beach" (Little, Brown; $18; ages 12 and older). Teen runaway Robert "Cali" Callahan is a great observer of people, and his keen knowledge of his new environment in Venice, California, makes him the obvious go-to guy when the police are looking for missing teenagers. The cops easily pressure him: Runaways aren't exactly solid citizens. Cali dreams of setting up shop as a legitimate private eye, and although there's no promise of a series, a reader can always hope.

What better mental relaxation than a juicy con story? This summer brings not one, but two, good caper novels. "The Great Greene Heist" by Varian Johnson (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $16.99, ages 10-14) has a group of kids, led by a prankster, rigging a student council election. Social diversity in this highly entertaining novel is just a natural feature of school life, a lamentable rarity in children's literature. In "Loot" by Jude Watson (Scholastic, $16.99, ages 8-12), March, the son of a jewel thief, is proud of his unorthodox upbringing. He thinks himself unique until he discovers his father left him a secret message in the event a job goes wrong: He has a twin sister. Is she friend or foe? Only a final con job will tell.

There are few novels told from the bully's point of view, which made R.J. Palacio's short e-book this spring, "The Julian Chapter," a much-talked-about companion to her celebrated "Wonder." The narrator of Amanda Maciel's "Tease" (Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, $17.99, ages 14 and older) tells her story to help her lawyers prepare her defense against a harassment charge brought by the parents of a classmate who committed suicide. The novel enters fearsome territory honestly and will give teenagers a great deal to think about.

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