The Bicycle Spy

McDonough, Yona Zeldis. The Bicycle Spy. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016.
Twelve-year-old Marcel – riding his bicycle and dreaming of racing in the Tour de France – discovers that he is delivering more than bread from his family’s bakery. He is delivering secret messages that must be kept hidden from the German soldiers who have invaded France. Set in 1942, this suspenseful novel – with widely spaced lines and relatively large print – will appeal to readers 10 years old and up. 

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Catch You Later, Traitor

Avi. Catch you Later, Traitor. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2015.
Twelve-year-old Pete Collison enjoys reading detective novels and listening to radio dramas. But in 1950s America, the government’s search for communist sympathizers leads to a real-life mystery when the FBI shows up at Pete’s home in Brooklyn, New York. Could there be Communist spies in his family? A note at the end of the story provides more information about this time in American history, describing the author’s connections to his own life growing up in New York City. A fast-moving suspenseful novel highly recommended for readers 11 years old and up.

Stories of controlling societies

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The Day the World Stopped Turning

Morpurgo, Michael. The Day the World Stopped Turning. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2019.
A teenager, tired of his studies in England, travels to France where he discovers a story from the second world war: An autistic boy and a Roma girl had met in a village and become friends. But when German soldiers had invaded, their lives were in danger. All Morpurgo’s novels are competently written, but most are for younger readers. In contrast, this sophisticated coming-of-age novel is highly recommended for thoughtful readers 12 years old and up.

P.S. Any novel by Feiwel and Friends is worth picking up. The topic might not interest you, but the writing will be wonderful.

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Spy Runner

Yelchin, Eugene. Spy Runner. New York: GodwinBooks, Henry Holt and Company, 2019.
In 1953 America, 12-year-old Jake is keeping his eyes open for Russian spies. His father has been missing in action since the end of the war in 1945, so when his mother invites a mysterious boarder into their home, he is suspicious. Why do the stories about his father not make sense? Why is his mother so affectionate toward this new man? Why is his principal so afraid of two strange men who visit the school? What is going on? This dramatic page-turner – evoking all the secrecy and paranoia of the Cold War – will appeal to curious readers 11 years old and up. 

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More novels by Eugene Yelchin:

Yelchin, Eugene. Arcady’s Goal. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2014.

“When twelve-year-old Arcady is sent to a children’s home after his parents are declared enemies of the state in Soviet Russia, soccer becomes a way to secure extra rations, respect, and protection but it may also be his way out if he can believe in and love another person–and himself.” – CIP. Recommended for readers 11-years-old and up. [Communism; Foster children; Russia; Soccer]

Yelchin, Eugene. Breaking Stalin’s Nose. New York: Henry Holt, 2011.
This novel, a Newbery Honor book, tells the story of ten-year-old Sasha who adores his father who works for the secret police in Stalinist Russia. But his perspective changes when he discovers secrets about his deceased mother and his father is unexpectedly arrested, leaving Sasha homeless in the middle of winter.  While easy to read, this powerful story is best suited for brave readers aged eleven and up. [Communism; Fathers and sons; Homelessness; Russia; Secrets] 

Yelchin, Eugene. The Haunting of Falcon House. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2016. 

“In 1891, twelve-year-old Lev Lvov travels to Saint Petersburg, Russia, to assume his duties as Prince, but must first use his special gift to rid the House of Lions of a ghost.” – CIP. Written by Prince Lev Lvov with pictures drawn in his own hand; translated by Eugene Yelchin who writes in the preface, “when I was a schoolboy in St. Petersburg, Russia,…I came upon a bundle of paper held together with frayed twine….Some years passed….Resolved to faithfully restore Lvov’s original narration, I set to work. To carry Prince Lev’s feelings across to the reader, I became inwardly connected to the young prince…” A spell-binding story for readers 11 to 14 years old. [Aunts; Extrasensory perception; Haunted houses; Orphans; Princes]

The Fountains of Silence

Sepetys, Ruta. The Fountains of Silence. New York: Philomel Books, 2019.
In 1957, wealthy eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, an aspiring photographer from Texas who is visiting Madrid with his parents, discovers the quietly dangerous world of Franco’s Spain as he becomes friends with Ana, a hotel maid. Political intrigue, romance, and history all combine in this compelling story by an accomplished author. An extensive bibliography and black-and-white photographs supplement this 472-page novel highly recommended for readers 13 years old and up. [Dictatorships; Franco, Francisco; Photography; Secrets; Spain] 

More young adult novels by Ruta Sepetys:

Salt to the Sea

Sepetys, Ruta. Salt to the Sea. New York: Philomel Books, 2016.

Fleeing the invading Russian army near the end of the war, refugees try to escape aboard a military transport ship transporting German evacuees. Told from alternating points of view and based on the true story of the Wilhelm Gustloff, this award-winning 389-page emotion-laden novel is highly recommended for mature readers 13 years old and up. Includes a map. [Germany; Historical fiction; Poland; Refugees; Survival; WW 2; Young adult fiction] 

Picture 10

Sepetys, Ruta.  Between Shades of Gray. New York: Philomel Books, 2011.
“In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother, and brother are pulled from their Lithuanian home by Soviet guards and sent to Siberia, where her father is sentenced to death in a prison camp while she fights for her life, vowing to honor her family and the thousands like hers by burying her story in a jar on Lithuanian soil. Based on the author’s family, includes a historical note.” – CIP.  Due to the vivid description of some scenes, this novel, while highly recommended, is more suitable for mature readers in grade 8 and up. It may also be appreciated by readers of The Diary of Anne Frank and The Upstairs Room. [Historical fiction; Labor camps; Lithuania; Russia; Siberia; Survival; WW 2; Young adult fiction]  

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Two Roads

Bruchac, Joseph. Two Roads. New York: Puffin Books, 2019.
Twelve-year-old Cal and his father, homeless, travel across America by rail. It’s 1932, in the middle of the Great Depression, and countless poverty-stricken men are clambering onto freight trains, hoping not to be caught by the guards. But Cal is caught – by a surprise. His father tells him that they are Creek Indians. And now he is going to join a demonstration in Washington, D.C. to defend the rights of World War I veterans, so Cal is being dropped off in Oklahoma to stay at a residential school for native Americans.  Joseph Bruchac, author of numerous novels and picture books, skilfully tells a story of grief and hope. Recommended for readers 11 years old and up.

Note: All books published by Puffin are well-written. All stories by Joseph Bruchac are worth reading.

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