Bacigalupi, Paolo. Ship Breaker.
In a futuristic, dystopian United States, Nailer works taking apart old oil tankers for copper and other resources. He lives with his abusive, drug addicted father in a hut on the beach. His work is dangerous, and storms often threaten his home. On the heels of nearly drowning in a hidden oil tank in a ship, a storm deposits a boat near his home, and he and his friends prepare to strip it down... but they find a rich girl, Nita, still on the ship. They debate killing her so they can have her boat, but she convinces them that she is worth more alive. They must get her to her father in New Orleans, but travel is fraught with danger. Not only does the group have to fight against people who want Nita dead, they have to fight Nailer's own father, and survive in a world where there are few resources and things are especially difficult for the impoverished.
Strengths: Interesting idea for dystopia, and good way to bring in the devastation of hurricane Katrina and the wisdom of rebuilding on the Gulf Coast. While this is a young adult novel, it would be okay for middle school if you're okay with the level of violence, which is akin to that in The Hunger Games.
Weaknesses: There is not a lot of explanation of why things are the way they are, which is disconcerting. It took a good 80 pages to feel that I had a handle on the world in the book. The characters are not well-developed, and the plot didn't have much originality to it.
Kade, Stacy. The Ghost and the Goth.
I love it when students let me borrow books that they have gotten. Many thanks to Allison for loaning me this one! Alona makes the mistake of not only skipping school, but trying to talk on her cell phone while walking... and accidentally throws herself in front of a bus, getting killed in the process. Killian can hear ghosts talking to him, and there are so many ghosts at school that he has medical permission (from a psychiatrist) to listen to music. When he is late to class, the evil principal takes away his iPod. Now he has to talk to Alona as well, and help her and the other ghosts around the school make peace without losing his mind in the process.
Strengths: This was interesting, going back and forth between the two viewpoints, and students interested in the paranormal would enjoy it.
Weaknesses: A high school book. Not only is there a lot of mention of drinking and sex, we get gratuitous f-bomb dropping on page 152. Drat. Also, I had a nightmare about having to wear my middle school gym suit. One piece, knit, with horizontal maroon and white stripes on the shirt. Yuck!
Hoffman, Nina Kiriki. Thresholds.
From the publisher: "Middle school student Maya, having moved with her family from Idaho to Oregon and anxious over making new friends, meets a fairy who introduces her to children in the apartment building next door who practice magic, and, as she has delightful experiences with her new friends, Maya struggles with keeping everything a secret from her family. "
I didn't get very far in this one. I think even though Maya is in middle school, it would better suit younger students. The beginning is very slow and sad, going on at great length about the death from cancer of Maya's best friend. I'm kind of surprised this one didn't get nominated for the Cybils-- I thought we read every fantasy book published in 2010!