JILL MACLEAN of Bedford, N.S., has written many young adult books, but her latest, Nix Minus One (Pajama Press, 296 pages, $15 paperback), is an exceptional novel that is not to be missed. Written in free verse, it explores the life and emotions of Newfoundlander Nixon Humbolt (Nix) between his 14th and 16th years.
Nix is quiet and introverted, until a dramatic loss causes him to fight for what he believes in. He admires his outgoing, attractive sister, Roxy, but is scared when she starts travelling with a dangerous crowd.
Should he tell his parents what is happening, or keep loyal to Roxy? When he rescues a maltreated dog, he is also rescuing himself, and solving a hidden family secret.
Maclean's free verse is poetic and evocative, but compelling. Written for ages 13 and up, this is a powerful novel, hitting hard on contemporary life.
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A Dog Called Homeless, a novel by U.K. author Sara Lean (HarperCollins, 202 pages, $19 hardcover), combines themes of love, loss and reconciliation and is perfect for ages 8-12.
Cally Fisher has recently lost her mother in a highway accident. No one believes Cally when she starts to see her again, accompanied by a large silver dog.
So Cally stops talking, but she can still communicate with her new best friend, Sam, who is blind and handicapped. Cally and Sam realize that the dog, whom they name Homeless, is a link to Cally's mother and has an important connection to Cally. Can they convince her father that Homeless needs to come home?
This is a story that will revive your faith in human nature.
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A book that will resonate particularly with young boys is Evil Eye by Toronto author Jeff Szpirglas (Star Crossed Press, 184 pages, US$13 paperback).
When Jake's class is sent to investigate inscriptions on tombstones in the town cemetery, he accidentally scratches his eyeball on one of the stones. That's bad enough, but when the eye starts moving out on its own, Jake knows there's some black magic going on.
Evil Eye is full of preposterous adventures, creepy scenes in a haunted graveyard and evil aliens who are bent on taking over Jake's world. If this sounds unappealing, remember it may be just the thing that will spark the interest of a reluctant reader. Good for ages 8-12.
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David Bouchard is a B.C. Métis writer who has a history of exploring native myths. In Rainbow Crow (Red Deer Press, 32 pages, $25 hardcover), he presents a new version of the discovery of fire.
Written in both English and Ojibwa, and with an accompanying CD by South American musical group Manantial, it would be a fitting addition to any collection of myths or of aboriginal art.
In Bouchard's version, Crow is chosen because he has a beautiful voice and multicoloured feathers to ask Creator to lessen the misery of the animals who are experiencing a bitter winter.
Creator refuses to change the seasons but he gives Crow a burning branch: the gift of fire. But in order to return to Earth before the fire burns out, Crow must pass too close to the sun, which singes his feathers and leaves him with only a hoarse "caw."
Award-winning Canadian artist David Jean's paintings, executed on a background of traditional drums, make this a very special picture book.
Winnipegger Helen Norrie is a children's literature specialist who has taught at the University of Manitoba.