The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater
First in a projected series of four installments, The Raven Boys centers around young Blue Sargent, whose mother is the local psychic (she gives readings) in the town of Henritta, Virginia. Blue's always been told since childhood that if she ever kisses her true love, he'll die. That just gives her one more reason to avoid the preppy rich kids -AKA "the Raven Boys"- at the local Aglionby Academy. But one night, while with her "half aunt" Neeve (also a psychic, with her own TV show) in a graveyard, Blue discovers she has the same power as Neeve to "see" the spirits of people who are fated to die soon. The spirit she sees is that of Gansey, who with his fellow classmates Ronan and Adam, is trying to track down the spirit of a dead king. A search that one of their instructors is also bent on. To say more would spoil the surprises (like who was Blue's father and Neeve's secret agenda, for example). The Raven Boys is a terrific, spellbinding (in more ways than one) thriller that builds slowly, emphasizing character motivations while setting up a mystery that'll span the rest of the series. Maggie Stiefvater has a brisk, punchy style that holds the reader's interest. The Raven Boys will keep you glued from start to finish and leave you wanting to read the first sequel, The Dream Thieves, that just came out. Recommended.
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The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
Grandpa Portman led an exciting life. He told his grandson Jacob stories about his adventures as a young man; of escaping from Poland before World War II; of exploring the world hunting monsters. But the best stories were of the years his grandfather spent living in a Welsh children's home. The children there were what Grandpa Portman described as "peculiar", and many of them had magical powers. He even showed Jacob photos as proof of the fantastic things the children could do. As Jacob grows older, he becomes more skeptical of his grandfather's stories and of the authenticity of his photos. Then a sudden, tragic event changes Jake's life forever and sends him in search of the secrets of his grandfather's childhood.
The Glass Maker's Daughter, by V. (Vance) Briceland
This charming fantasy takes place in the medieval city of Cassaforte where 7 noble families are each involved in their own special craft. All children of the seven noble families are tested every six years to determine which school they will attend to learn the enchantments that are needed to help their families with their crafts. Risa Devetri, who is 16 and the youngest daughter of one of the noble families, thinks that the gods have abandoned her when she is the only one not chosen to attend a school for the nobility.
When the king disappears and the prince stages a coup and imprisons the heads of the noble families and their heirs, Risa remains at the family caza (home) under guard of young Milo and his sister, who become her close allies and friends. When Risa is able to perform the nightly loyalty rite to the king, she realizes that the gods must have another plan for her. She is now the head of the family with special responsibilities and powers. With Milo's help they rescue a beggar, deal with a treacherous uncle, and are involved with other dangerous attempts to save Risa's family. The plot is full of suspense, has an intriguing cast of characters and an ending that won't disappoint.
Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
Clay Jenson can't understand why he receives a box of cassette tapes on his doorstep. As he begins listening to them, he realizes that they were recorded by a high school classmate who recently committed suicide. In the tapes, Hannah Baker addresses the thirteen people that impacted her decision to end her own life, and since Clay received the tapes, he knows he is one of them. Suspenseful and authentic, this book can't be put down.
Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchett
In this third novel of his Tiffany Aching series, Terry Pratchett has outdone himself. The book has much more of the Nac Mac Feegles, or Wee Free Men, who give the story much of its humor, and for Feegle fans, most of the fun! Their trip to the Underworld is worth the price of the book alone. The usual suspects are also present in the form of Granny Weatherwax, Miss Tick, Annagramma Hawkins and Roland, the Baron's son.
As the story begins, Tiffany is living with an ancient witch named Miss Treason, who is blind but uses other beings eyes to see. Miss Treason takes Tiffany to see "The Dance" which is where she inadvertently interferes with the transition between summer and winter. This is also where she comes to the attention of the Wintersmith and the story really takes off.
Tiffany again finds herself at odds with a supernatural being and learns a great deal more "witching" and much more about herself in the process.
Death Cloud, by Andrew Lane
It's 1868 and fourteen-year-old Sherlock Holmes has been sent off to live with his Uncle and Aunt in far-off Hampshire during his summer vacation from school, while the rest of his family, including older brother Mycroft, are scattered elsewhere. Sherlock strikes up a friendship with a homeless boy, Matty Arnatt, who has seen someone murdered by a strange black cloud. With the aid of Matty, mysterious American tutor Amyus Crowe, and Crowe's daughter Virginia, Sherlock uncovers a diabolical plan to undermine the British Empire by the sinister Baron Maupertuis. But can a boy Sherlock's age, mostly ignored by the authority figures around him, be able to foil the Baron's plan?
Andrew Lane's Death Cloud is an exciting Young Adult mystery/adventure that moves along at a fast pace. Sherlock and the other characters are well delineated with believable traits and motivations (even Maupertuis has a backstory that explains his actions) and there are many stand out moments, like Sherlock and Matty battling an intruder on their boat and Sherlock's later encounter with the Baron's henchmen under London Bridge. Lane also evokes a very real portrait of Victorian England, with nice attention to period detail.
The only trouble is that we discover the "Death Cloud" that the Baron plans to use to destroy England is revealed as an ultimately far-fetched plot element that would've been right at home on 1960s TV shows like The Avengers and The Wild Wild West (or even more recent series like The X-Files and Fringe) but not in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic Holmes stories. (Although Holmes fans will pick up the in-joke reference concerning what's really inside the cloud and a certain hobby -no, not drugs- Holmes takes up late in his adult life. Still...) But that slightly off-putting story device aside, Death Cloud, the first in a new series on Holmes' adventures as a teen-age sleuth (and authorized by the Doyle Estate), is a thrilling adventure tale and lots of fun!
Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld
Set in the early part of the 20th century, right before the beginning of World War I, Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan spotlights a world where Europe is divided into two nations. There's the "Darwinist" countries (England, France, Russia) who have broken the DNA code and can now create or clone hybrid creatures as weapons and transport vehicles. Meanwhile, there's also the "Clanker" countries such as the Germany and Austria-Hungary who use steam driven iron machines (like tanks with mechanical stilt "legs" instead of wheels called "Stormwalkers").
When the Archduke and Princess of Hapsburg are murdered one night, their son Alek must flee for his life. At the same time in England, a young girl named Deryn, who poses as a teen-aged boy in order to join the British Air Service, is assigned aboard the Leviathan, a massive whale-like creature used as an aerial warship. After many adventures, and with the onset of Europe on the brink of war, Alek and Deryn find themselves working together.
Westerfeld's story, solidly supported by Keith Thompson's illustrations, is a terrific, fast moving adventure with thrilling situations and believable characterization. But don't take my word for it. Read it yourself! And check out the sequel Behemoth afterwards!
Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me, by Kristen Chandler
This novel is set in Montana shortly after wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Sixteen-year-old KJ Carson, a bit of a loner, lives with her widowed father just outside the park. She helps her dad run his fishing supply store and is his assistant guide in the park. As part of her journalism class she works on the school newspaper, and when dashing Virgil moves to town with his biologist mother, who studies wolves and their packs, KJ teams up with Virgil, a photographer, to launch a "Wolf Notes" column. The column triggers outrage among local ranching families who are sure that wolves are a menace to their sheep and cattle. Relations with town members turn ugly when Virgil is shot at in the Christmas parade, and soon after someone starts a fire at KJ's father's store. There is a lot going on here with romance, politics, father-daughter issues and conservation/ecology issues. The plot moves quickly to a suspenseful finish and should appeal to conservationists of all kinds.
I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett
This fourth and final book about young Tiffany Aching has her settling into her role as the witch of the Chalk. Tiffany spends her days looking after the elderly and the sick of her community. When hateful thoughts begin to permeate the heads of her villagers, she tracks its source to an evil spirit known as the Cunning Man. To help her focus her magical powers against this terrifying force, Tiffany seeks the advice of elder witches as well as the support of friends both old and new. Of course the ever-present band of Nac Mac Feegles provides a bit of comic relief from the intensity of this gripping story. Author Sir Terry Pratchett was recognized with the 2011 Margaret A . Edwards Award for his contribution to young adult literature, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2009.
Matched, by Allyson Condie
The story of Matched begins on Cassia Maria Reyes' seventeenth birthday, which also happens to be the day of her Match Banquet. At the banquet, she will learn the name of the boy the Society has chosen for her to marry. The Society makes most decisions in the lives of its citizens; who they will marry, where they will live and which jobs they will hold, even the day they will die. At first this conformity seems a fair price to pay to live in a safe world where hunger and disease have been eliminated. Eventually Cassie learns that the rules of the Society can be sinister as well as protective and must decide if she is brave enough to make her own choices. This book is the first of a trilogy, but the story stands on its own. This book was included on YALSA's list for Best Fiction for Young Adults 2011 as well as Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers 2011.
Superman Earth One, written by J. Michael Straczynski ; pencils by Shane Davis ; inks by Sandra Hope ; colors by Barbara Ciardo ; lettered by Rob Leigh
The latest updating of Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster's classic Superman character, as handled by writer J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5), artist Shane Davis and company, can be found in the YA-friendly graphic novel Superman Earth One. Straczynski, with considerable help from Davis, retells the origin story of Superman, keeping to the already established backstory of the character Kal-El, sole survivor of the planet Krypton, raised by the Kents, meets Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White and works at the Daily Planet newspaper as reporter Clark Kent when not in costume, but adds more shading and motivation to the Man of Steel and his supporting cast. The book focuses on Clark arriving in Metropolis looking for work that he can use his super skills for (we discover Clark's very adept in both the sciences and, obviously due to his powers, sports). Meanwhile, via flashbacks to his growing up on the Kents' farm, Clark's also struggling with how he can use his powers while not violating the moral values his foster parents instilled in him. Subsequent encounters with the greedy head of a scientific research firm, Perry, Lois and Jimmy at the Planet office, and a frightening worldwide alien invasion that may be linked to the earlier destruction of his home planet, all provide Clark with more than enough incentive to put on the familiar (though slightly tweaked by Davis) red-and-blue costume and cape.
Straczynski and company do a lot of updating/rebooting with Superman and his cast. Besides acknowledging today's current scientific advances and social atmosphere (the military's had an ongoing secret investigation on alien technology that began over two decades ago the night baby Kal-El first arrived on Earth; Perry worries that the Internet will put the Daily Planet out of business), Straczynski and his collaborators take a more mature approach than previous writers and artists had. For example, one reason Clark decides to join the Planet is seeing the selfless bravery shown by Lois and Jimmy during the invasion. (In a previous reboot during the 80s, a more immature Clark only became a reporter because he went ga-ga over Lois.) Also, US Military Intelligence wants to learn more about--and possibly capture/experiment on--this mysterious Superman. The general public is depicted being divided over whether to trust Superman or not. And even better, Straczynski avoids, on this outing at least, bringing in the overused and frankly more-annoying-than-interesting Lex Luthor, instead giving our hero foes more worthy of his abilities.
The story's pacing never flags, and Davis' art complements the script, although there are one or two flaws. For example, did Tyrell, the leader of the alien invasion force, really have to resemble Heath Ledger's Joker from The Dark Knight? Toppling skyscrapers and threatening to destroy the Earth wasn't enough to show how evil he was? Otherwise, Superman Earth One is a terrific and sensible updating of a classic American icon for modern audiences. Can't wait for the sequel.
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
A solid, compelling YA science fiction novel, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games (the first of a trilogy) keeps the reader's interest from start to finish. Set in an unspecified future where the United States has been replaced by the ruthless tyrannical nation of Panem, with the country divided into twelve "districts", Each year, as punishment for a failed revolt, the Capitol of Panem puts on the "Hunger Games", a competition between one boy and one girl ("tribunes") from each district between the ages of 12 -18, where they must fight to the death. Forced to substitute for her younger, less equipped sister, young sixteen year old Katniss, along with fellow District 12 tribune Peeta, must take part in the brutal contest, which is televised throughout the nation. But Katniss, who's a natural hunter, quickly proves to be a much smarter and formidable opponent, not just to her fellow contestants but also to Panem's rulers as well. Despite the fact that the "Games" plot device is an old science fiction standby (Frederic Brown's short story, Arena; various Star Trek episodes), author Collins manages to get a lot of mileage out of it. The resemblance to reality TV programs isn't a coincidence and Collins gets to both satirize and skewer the way citizens are made insensitive by such programming where kids not young enough to vote are forced to kill one another. Katniss has several tense episodes throughout the book, but thanks to the way Collins draws her character and background, we never once lose interest in her plight.
Now I'm ready to read the next book in the trilogy, Catching Fire, and I can't wait to see what happens next in the world of Panem.
Heist Society, by Ally Carter
Katarina Bishop is fifteen years old and has grown up in the "family business", which happens to be stealing priceless art. Kat thought she could start a normal life by enrolling at an exclusive boarding school. Unfortunately, some old friends have other ideas. Kat is reluctantly drawn back into "the game" when she finds out that a dangerous mobster suspects her father of stealing his priceless paintings and has given her two weeks to return them.
Along with her team of accomplished teenage thieves, Kat rounds the globe to track down the paintings and pull off an impossible heist. The plot is filled with lavish settings, slick characters, and a good deal of suspense. This fast-paced and appealing book is nominated for a Teens' Top Ten.
Grades 7 - 10
The Reformed Vampire Support Group, by Catherine Jinks
If you're looking for powerful, sexy vampires that stare longingly into each others' eyes, look elsewhere because you won't find them here. Apparently being a vampire isn't fun and games, especially when much of your immortal life is spent feeling tired and ill; living on the blood of guinea pigs and vitamins to keep you from "fanging" humans. Fifteen year-old Nina Harrison is part of the ragtag Reformed Vampire Support Group. Since becoming infected thirty years ago, Nina has led a pretty boring life until a vampire is murdered and the Support Group attempts to solve the mystery of his death.
The humans they encounter along the way are unscrupulous, violent and dangerous - all of the qualities humans typically associate with vampires. Since the behavior of the vamps and humans is unpredictable, the plot contains some witty moments, as well as a few twists and turns. Nina learns that humans are capable of change while she comes to terms with her own life as a vampire.
Despite the "sparkly" criticisms of the vampires of the Twilight series, they do have a certain amount of power and mystery that surrounds them. In contrast, Support Group vampires are anemic and introspective. While this initially put me off a bit, the story does have something to say about the danger of stereotypes and value of cooperation.
Age 12 and up
Gym Candy, by Carl Deuker
Young Mick Johnson wants nothing more than to please his ex pro football father and make the high school varsity team. But when faced with the possibility of being benched for the season and losing the fame he gained as the team's star player, Mick resorts to pumping up his performance with steroids, leading to unexpected consequences. Mick's plight, told in the first person, is recounted in Carl Deuker's perceptive and straightforward novel Gym Candy. Through Mick's eyes, we see his need to succeed overcome his common sense, resulting in a shocking and surprising (I was surprised!) turn of events, with a final chapter development that leaves the reader very unsettled.
Deuker's accurate ear for dialogue and his vivid description of the football game scenes and other moments, like the ones between Mick and his father, never strike a false note. The anti-drug message is implicit but never heavy-handed. Gym Candy is a compelling and powerful novel that holds the reader's attention from start to finish. Just don't expect a tidy happy ending.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan
Equal parts zombie thriller and teenage romance, this book is set in a tense post apocalyptic world infected decades earlier by a mysterious virus. Now life contains two absolutes: the women of the Sisterhood dictate the rules of society and the Guardians provide protection from the undead.
Mary has lived all of her young life in a village surrounded by fences built to keep out the Unconsecrated, half-dead creatures that roam the forest craving human flesh. Generations ago villagers lost faith that any part of the world remains beyond their rigid society. A single photo keeps that faith alive in Mary; a photo of a young girl standing in the ocean.
Mary has reached the age to marry, but can she marry out of duty rather than love? Can anything make her forget the stories her mother told her of a vast ocean that may still exist beyond the forest? The appearance of a mysterious girl and the chaos that follows motivates Mary to seek out her answers.
This book was chosen as one of YALSAs Best Books for Young Adults in 2010.
Grades 9 and up
The Alchemyst - Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, by Michael Scott
This is the first book in the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott and is an excellent read. It is an adventure that has humor and car chases, as well as magic, immortal humans and an Elder race. Beginning in a bookshop in modern day San Francisco the teenage twins, Sophie and Josh Newman are dragged into a world they never knew existed, a world they believed to be only legend and myth. They are accompanied by bookshop owners Nick and Pere Fleming, whom they soon discover are actually the immortal humans Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel. The plot revolves around a book written thousands of years ago by Abraham the Mage known simply as the Codex. The Codex includes many spells and prophecies. It also includes alchemical recipes, notably for the Philosopher's Stone and the immortality potion which keeps Nicholas and Perenelle alive. However, what makes the book so pivotal is the Final Summoning spell, that if performed would allow the Dark Elders to return to the world and enslave the human race. The adventure begins from the first page when Flamel's former apprentice and ancient adversary, Dr. John Dee arrives to steal the Codex from Nicholas, its guardian. A brief magical battle ensues which ends with Dee capturing Perenelle and the Codex. Only later does Dee realize that Josh ripped out the last two pages containing the Final Summoning ritual just before he grabbed the Codex from him. Dee needs those pages above all else, so the chase is on. The book is very well written and the characters are fleshed out nicely. This is not a high fantasy novel in the Tolkien vein, but rather a terrific story brought to life in the manner of David Eddings or Piers Anthony. By the expert weaving of fictional explanations around actual historical facts and events, Michael Scott has created a believable and fun story. You won't be able to put it down.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, by Alan Moore
Originally published as a six-issue serial in 1999-2001, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Volume One) is a compelling and exciting graphic novel, centering on a "Justice League"-like super group of classic literary heroes from the 19th century. Written by Alan Moore (Watchmen; V For Vendetta) and illustrated by Kevin O'Neill, League focuses on the formation of the title group and their first mission to protect England from horrible disaster. In 1898, on orders from British Intelligence, now-elderly adventurer Allan Quartermain (H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines & other novels), Mina Harker (Bram Stoker's Dracula), Captain Nemo (Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea), Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Henry Jekyll (and friend), and H. G. Wells' "The Invisible Man", band together to retrieve a rare element (discovered in Wells' novel The First Men in the Moon) from a mysterious Asian crime lord (unnamed due to legal reasons, but clearly Sax Rohmer's "Dr. Fu Manchu"). But the League quickly discovers that another infamous evil mastermind (readers of Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Final Problem" will know who) has plans to use this element to destroy the Asian criminal and his organization, as well as most of London in the process. Will the League be able to overcome their differences and prevent a potential tragedy? At time dark and grim, but with generous bits of black humor, League is a thrill ride from beginning to end. Moore and O'Neill convey a creepy atmosphere while deftly juggling various characters and concepts along the way, they expand the individual back stories of the protagonists. The Invisible Man is now even more depraved than he had been in Wells' original novel; Dr. Jekyll's alter ego Mr. Hyde has become as big and strong as The Incredible Hulk; and Mina Harker must overcome nasty slurs from the various male characters regarding her sex and situation (things ended badly after the events with Count Dracula) to lead the team in reaching their objective. Add to this mix some great anachronisms like "airships" and cameos by other famous 19th century literary figures (Pollyanna?!?), and the result is a terrific adventure thriller that pays tribute to its sources while presenting them in a more contemporary shade.
What I Saw and How I Lied, by Judy Blundell
In 1947 Evie Spooner is fifteen years old, living in Queens with her mother Beverly and her stepfather Joe. After returning from the war in Europe, Joe has become a successful owner of a chain of appliance stores. Joe and Beverly make a glamorous couple; he is charming and handsome and Beverly is a sophisticated beauty who turns heads wherever she goes. Having a beautiful mother makes the teen years especially hard for Evie, who "takes after her father" and is struggling to find her identity as a young woman.
After he receives a series of mysterious phone calls, Joe impulsively decides to drive the family to Palm Beach resort for a vacation, where they meet the Graysons, a couple with whom Joe quickly begins to make business plans. Evie becomes infatuated with 23-year-old Peter Coleridge, an old army buddy of Joe's who coincidentally shows up at the resort and distracts her from understanding the impact of the tensions that develop between her parents and the other guests.
After a tragic boating accident and the trial that follows, Evie is forced to take an honest look at the events she witnessed and the character of the adults in her life.
This coming of age mystery is a 2008 winner of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
Grades 7 - 12
by Cynthia Leitich
Miranda's life as an ordinary 17 year-old changes after she falls into an open grave and is "saved" from a certain death when bitten by a vampire. But it is not just any vampire that bites her; Miranda is now the daughter of royalty and is adjusting to her new life among the undead as the daughter of the current Count Dracula. Meanwhile, the guardian angel who watched over Miranda, saw her death coming, and broke all the rules in attempt to save her, is ousted to live life among mortals for failing at his job. Zachary is determined to find Miranda, and this story is told from their alternating view points as Zachary aims to get as close to Miranda as possible (without being killed) if there is any chance to save them both. Age 14 and up.
by Aprilynne Pike
Fifteen year-old Laurel only eats fruit and vegetables (anything else makes her sick), has never needed medicine or been to the doctor, and is just starting public high school after being home-schooled up until now. And Laurel is also a faerie---that fact she discovers after sprouting wings. Laurel places her trust in her best friend Sam to help her discover the truth of her life before she was placed on her parent's doorstep in a basket. The faerie world of Avalon and her real world collide, introducing Laurel to evil, to love and to her role in keeping her two worlds safe. Age 13 and up.
by Maggie Stiefvater
As a young girl, Grace is attacked by a pack of wolves, only to be saved by one of them. Over the years, she and that wolf have formed a bond...from a distance. Then her yellow-eyed wolf is seriously injured and in her care transforms back into a human teen. That teen, Sam, was also bitten by a wolf as a child and is one of a pack of werewolves. Grace and Sam find truelove but may not have much time together, since Sam will once again join his pack. The wolves may no longer be safe in the town after the mysterious disappearance of another local teen. Age 13 and up.
Beowulf: adapted and illustrated by Gareth Hinds,
by Gareth Hinds
If you have heard of graphic novels and wondered what all the fuss was about, why not start with Beowulf: adapted and illustrated by Gareth Hinds. This novel is a modern interpretation of the ancient story of Beowulf, a fearless warrior who becomes a hero by saving a Danish village from the terrifying monster Grendel. The illustrations are graphic depictions of the fierce battles and mythic settings while the text, written in modern English, conveys the drama and rhythm that characterizes the original work. Beowulf is believed to be the earliest poem written in the English language, but the story includes the timeless elements of battles, politics, villains, and of course, a hero.
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Wintergirls journeys into the mind of a teenage girl suffering from anorexia. Lia is a high school senior when her former best friend and fellow "skinny girl" is found dead in a hotel room. Although the attempts made by Lia's family to help her through her grief is presented through her own distorted point of view, the reader is given a clear view of Lia's relationship with food and the skill with which she disguises her destructive behavior as her disease progresses. Author Laurie Halse Anderson is the recipient of the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award for her contribution to young adult literature.
Seeker, by William Nicholson
Seeker After Truth at 16 tries to fulfill his lifelong dream of joining his brother as one of the Nomana, the Noble Warriors, whose lives in the monastery are dedicated to protecting the All and Only god and the monastery from destruction. Rejected by the monks, he joins two other rejects - Morning Star who sees people's colors and can interpret what they mean, and The Wildman, a spiker (homeless outlaw) who desperately wants the power and peace he finds in an encounter with a Nomanan. The three find themselves involved in a desperate attempt to thwart the ambitions of the leaders of Radiance to destroy the Nomana. Radiance is a city of greedy people who sacrifice a human each night to ensure that the sun will rise the next day. The plan is to blow up the monastery using a human bomb. In the process the three young people learn much about themselves, good and evil, and their own destinies as they mature through their adventures.