This is probably my favorite category, with the imagination and adventure of speculative fiction, but without the angst and romance drama of YA. These kids are here to save the world, or themselves, or their families, and they don't spend a lot of time on their hair or wondering whether their marriage is doomed. There's a nice variety among the selections, some alternate worlds, some set in a different version of this world with magic inserted, and some set in this world and the kids discover some private magic that's all their own.
Jinx, Sage Blackwood. I really enjoyed this story of a boy growing up in an enchanted forest who doesn't know how he is different from other people. To make it more fun, the reader doesn't know if he is different -- we don't know what regular people can do in his forest. I had a great sense of perspective -- what is right and what is wrong is filtered through the people seeing the events, and it can be hard to see through to what needs to be done. Jinx has a interesting habit of underestimating himself, and of being unestimated by both the reader and the other characters. I immediately tracked down the sequel and I can't wait for more from Blackwood.
Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase, Jonathan Stroud. My older son is a huge Bartimeus fan, so it wasn't hard to talk him into trying this one with me. We both had fun with it, enough to pick it for our family book club which ensured my younger son read it as well. We liked the alternate history, with the setting hinting at Victorian times but then surprising the reader with more modern technology. Finding ghosts changed things, which makes sense. We also liked the kid-run business, and the different professional relationship among the company. I have the sequel on hold at the library.
Rose, Holly Webb. This had more depth and nuance than the cover promised. (My cover was much more pink and young looking. I think my boys would have liked it, especially the plucky underclass servant vs spoiled but less capable snooty apprentice dynamic. Unfortunately, they never picked it. I think looked too juvenile, although the pink didn't help.
Sidekicked, John David Anderson. I actually won an ARC for this in a 48 Hour Reading Challenge. The plot was nice and twisty, but I was uncomfortable with the main character. He seemed to feel that his female friend owed him her affections because he was so nice, and he was always trying to be nice so that she would want to date him. Which is actually kind of creepy. I'm probably projecting stuff that was going on elsewhere onto this book a bit, but it left a bit of a bad taste.
The Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson. I liked the chalk adventures and the puzzle about how chalk magicians get chosen. For some reason I've never read anything by Sanderson before but now I want to seek out more of his stuff. I bet my son would have enjoyed this one but he didn't notice it in time and the library called it home.
The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Kathi Appelt. Even though this book gave me a state for my state challenge, I couldn't really warm up to the quaint characters and the plot sliding back and forth between the various people and the animals and the creatures of the swamp. It was clear all along that all the pieces would come together and I didn't have a lot of surprises. I tried to get my boys to read this but they didn't bite.
The Water Castle, Megan Frazer Blakemore. I really like this genre of kids in a regular life dealing with issues and then finding pieces of magic that they can use to help fix things. I wish the magic had come in a bit earlier, although the jumps into historical people helped a bit. I found it a bit too grim for complete enjoyment -- the family situation is dire, the main character's social life is awful, and the family tries to pull together but frequently lets each other down.