HiLo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick

Published by Random House

Summary: At the beginning of this graphic novel, D.J. hears a loud boom and sees a huge flash of light. Rushing to investigate, he discovers a boy wearing silver underpants who remembers nothing about himself.  He’s pretty cheerful about his situation, though, and quickly acclimates by absorbing all of D.J.’s vocabulary when they touch hands. As the story unfolds, the boy, who eventually remembers his name is HiLo, turns out to have fallen to earth from another planet and has a powerful enemy chasing him. Subplots involve D.J. feeling like an underachiever in a family of superstars and his reunion with his old friend Gina who has moved back to town after a three-year absence. D.J., HiLo, and Gina manage to save the planet…for now. Grades 3-6.

Pros: A funny, action-packed first entry in a new series. The cliffhanger ending promises more installments to come. A good choice for reluctant readers.

Cons: A few too many suspenseful situations were resolved with the appearance of a new superpower HiLo didn’t know he had.

Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar

Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers 

Summary: Fifth-grader Tamaya and her seventh-grade neighbor Marshall always walk home from school together. One day Marshall, fearing he is about to be beat up by classroom bully Chad, tells Tamaya he knows a shortcut through the woods. Chad finds them anyway, and when he attacks Marshall, Tamaya scoops up some mud and throws it in Chad’s face. Unbeknownst to any of them, it’s “fuzzy mud” crawling with ergonyms created by an eccentric inventor looking to create a biofuel to replace gasoline for cars. The microscopic creatures multiply, slowly eating away the flesh on Tamaya’s hand and Chad’s face, and before long, an epidemic threatens their town. Sachar inserts Senate testimony on the disaster to give a larger perspective on the issue. Grades 4-8.

Pros: Michael Crichton for kids.  A real page-turning adventure, with several different layers, including questions about overpopulation, dangerous science, and doing the right thing. Readers will enjoy the fast-paced story and also find plenty to discuss.

Cons: While I love a happy ending, the denouement felt a little too quick and easy. On the plus side, I  got to use the word “denouement”.

Masterminds by Gordon Korman

Published by Balzer + Bray

Summary:  (323 pages)  The kids of Serenity, New Mexico know they are lucky to live there.  There’s no crime, subjects like meditation and contentment are taught at school, and everyone in town has their own swimming pool.  But one day Eli and his best friend Randy ride their bikes to the outskirts of town.  Eli, who’s never left town, becomes violently ill, and is immediately picked up by Serenity security guards.  Two days later, Randy is sent away, barely being allowed to say good bye to Eli.  Gradually, Eli and four of his classmates uncover a horrifying conspiracy carried out by all the adults in town, including their own parents.  Told in alternating voices by the five kids, Mastermind ends with a cliffhanger that promises at least one sequel.

Pros:  The kids go from “ignorance is bliss” to “trust no one” in 322 action-packed, plot-twisting pages.  The alternating points of view approach works well, as each character is flawed but immensely likeable.   There’s no one moment of revelation; instead, the kids individually and together uncover one clue at a time to put together the whole awful truth.

Cons:  Eli learns to drive on a stick shift truck with the whole town pursuing him?  You’ll have to suspend your disbelief once in a while to get through some of the narrow escapes.