Kids’ and teens’ books are full of characters with talents and abilities that don’t quite fit in. The difficulty of accepting these differences adds weight to the burden of growing up, but it also offers a point of familiarity for readers who feel out of place in life. This week’s Ten looks at the experience of otherness from various angles, with particular interest in the common secondary theme of recognising the power bestowed by that otherness and the importance of learning to use said power responsibly.
Dreamcatcher by Monica Hughes
In the midst of a community of gifted people, Ruth’s gifts mostly just cause trouble. When she starts receiving messages from outside of the city’s dome, however, Ruth and her gifts are proven valuable not only to her own community, but also to another community in need of help that Ruth is particularly suited to offer. Be sure to read Devil on my Back, first.
Messenger by Lois Lowry
Lowry’s Giver series focuses its attention on a string of specially-gifted individuals who find themselves with opportunities to make a difference at important turning points in their respective communities. Matty’s community has been infected by a deep selfishness that is gradually closing off any connection to the outside world. Matty can help, but it will cost him everything.
Ingathering by Zenna Henderson
Henderson’s People are immigrants from a recently-destroyed planet seeking a new home on Earth. Each individual has multiple powers that more often alienate than attract the humans they encounter. However, both within their own communities and, gradually, in their interactions with humans as well, these powers offer hope of both healing and belonging.
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
The four children Mr. Benedict recruits for his project — to infiltrate a secret school in which children are being used in a massive brainwashing scheme — have some unusual gifts. One can remember anything, another was raised in the circus, and one…well, he seems to have an unusually large portion of common sense. Watching them learn how to use their gifts together in this book and its sequels is a treat.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
That Charles Wallace is incredibly gifted has never been questioned — at least not in the Murry family. Meg’s gifting, though, has always been a bit more obscure. When the two are called upon to rescue their father on another planet, both children learn not only the strength provided by their respective gifts, but also the ways in which those gifts leave them vulnerable.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Jacob grew up listening to his grandfather’s incredible stories about the gifted children at the boarding school he attended as a child. In time, he learned to interpret those stories in light of what he learns about his grandfather’s true experiences during the war. When the most terrifying element of those stories appears in his own neighbourhood, though, Jacob decides that he must find out the whole of the story for himself.
Scumble by Ingrid Law
Ledge comes from a family with a long history of unusual gifts, or savvies. When Ledge’s gift arrives as he approaches his thirteenth birthday, it turns out to be a total disappointment. But the savvy is only raw talent. It’s Ledge’s job to learn to scumble it: to bring it under control and figure out how to put it to good use.
Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card
Bean is brilliant, but difficult to like. While that’s okay with Bean — he doesn’t really trust anyone else, anyway — it’s not good news for those hoping his leadership will play an important role in winning the next Bugger War and saving Earth.
Bruiser by Neal Shusterman
Brewster Rawlins keeps to himself, and the kids at school have come up with plenty of rumours to explain his strange behaviour. A new friendship with twins Brontë and Tennyson challenges all three to reconsider their preconceptions about the value of pain and the limits of what one should do for, or accept from, another person.
No Coins, Please by Gordon Korman
Artie Geller’s gift is perfectly prosaic — he can make money. Lots of it. On a cross-country tour with his Juniortours counselors and a handful of other preteen campers, Artie manages to turn every stop into a profitable, if not necessarily legal, opportunity. The story is mostly just goofy fun, but does raise questions about ethical use of power and influence.
Do you have favourite “kids with powers” novels? What do you think they offer readers?