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Young readers have a lot of great book choices

In recent weeks an eclectic group of books for middle and young-adult readers have come to a bookstore near you.

Some of the best among them include the story of a teenager who questions her faith, a quirky family that lives in a lighthouse, a boy with mysterious powers and an unusual friendship set during the Civil War.

"ONCE WAS LOST," by Sara Zarr, Little, Brown and Company, $16.99 (young adult)

Sam is the daughter of a pastor, and with that comes a lot of baggage. People are always watching, expecting the perfect family, and congregants aren't afraid to speak up when they don't like what they see.

When Sam's mother is sent to rehab after a DUI arrest, her world begins to crumble. Dad's congregation is at the center of the world, and Sam feels isolated and alone.

The sudden disappearance of a young girl upends any peace that may have been left, and leaves Sam questioning everything she's ever known.

Written by National Book Award finalist and Salt Lake City resident Sara Zarr, "Once Was Lost" is a poignant tale of life, love and forgiveness. Here, Zarr has created a thoughtful character study with faith at its center. Her insightful treatment of this subject matter makes this a worthwhile read.

"LEAVING THE BELLWEATHERS," by Kristin Clark Venuti, Egmont, $15.99 (ages 8-12)

In the village of Eel-Smack-by-the-Bay is a lighthouse on the hill. It should be a calm and peaceful setting, but it's not.

The lighthouse is home to the Bellweathers — the most eccentrically odd family you've ever met. Spider is a lover of dangerous endangered animals, the triplets are always "making art" and Dr. Bellweather is the very picture of a mad scientist.

Tristan Benway, the Bellweathers' butler, is desperate to escape this madhouse and is counting down the days until his departure. "Leaving the Bellweathers" is his tell-all memoir, which he hopes will fund his retirement.

Quirky and offbeat, this debut novel is hilarious. And its relatable characters and witty dialogue will appeal to parents and children alike. Imaginative and full of heart, the Bellweathers' zany exploits will have readers asking for more.

"CANDLE MAN, BOOK ONE: THE SOCIETY OF UNRELENTING VIGILANCE," by Glenn Dakin, Egmont, $15.99 (ages 8-12)

Theo has spent his entire life in three rooms with no TV or radio and only approved books to read. On top of that, a mysterious "illness" requires that Theo wear gloves at all times, and daily medical treatments are prescribed.

When Theo discovers a suspicious package and a note telling him he's in danger and must leave immediately, Theo jumps at the chance.

Finally free, Theo learns of his intended role in a dark and sinister plan. But Theo is having none of that. His illness is really a gift, and with that gift, he's going to bring back a legend — the Candle Man.

The first book in a planned trilogy, "Society of Unrelenting Vigilance" is a page-turning adventure that's unique in a world full of copycats. Full of imaginative characters, both human and mystical, it's a great mix old-fashioned detective work and fantastical magic.

"BLACK ANGELS," by Linda Beatrice Brown, Putnam, $16.99 (ages 12 and up)

The Civil War is raging, and slaves are leaving their masters in droves. Among them is 11-year-old Luke, who wants to join the Union Army. Fate has other plans, though, and Luke finds 9-year-old Daylily, a freed slave, and 7-year-old Caswell, the son of a plantation owner, instead.

Together, the three children struggle to survive as they wander the woods, and in the process, they discover a bond stronger than family.

Honest and tender, this tale of friendship resonates long after completion. This is an engrossing read that many will enjoy. But be aware, the copious use of the N-word, though appropriate for the time period, is a bit jarring and may warrant further discussion with young readers.

Other books for young readers that have recently been released:

"THE HOLE IN THE SKY," by Barbara A. Mahler, Sea Turtle Publishing, $20.95 (ages 8-12)

When 13-year-old Kaela finds an old pendant and her mother's diary, she begins to think magic does exist. And it's proved true when an unusual visitor takes Kaela and her cousin to a cursed land. There, it's up to Kaela to face her deepest fears before time runs out.

"HOW TO DITCH YOUR FAIRY," by Justine Larbalestier, Bloomsbury, $8.99 (young adult)

Everyone in New Avalon has a fairy. Though invisible, a personal fairy is vital to success. But all Charlie can do is find parking spaces. When Charlie unexpectedly gets her heart's desire, she'll have to resort to extraordinary measures to ditch her fairy.

"THE SECRET TO TEEN POWER," by Paul Harrington, Simon Pulse, $17.99 (young adult)

In an attempt to make the knowledge of the law of attraction accessible and relevant to today's teens, this book explains the law of attraction and explains how teens can transform their own lives.

"THE OMNIVORE'S DILEMMA FOR KIDS: THE SECRETS BEHIND WHAT YOU EAT," by Michael Pollan, Dial, $9.99 (ages 10 and up)

From fast food and big organic to small farms and old-fashioned hunting and gathering, this young readers' adaptation of Michael Pollan's famous food-chain exploration encourages kids to consider the implications of their food choices.

"FARWORLD: LAND KEEP," by J. Scott Savage, Shadow Mountain, $18.95 (ages 9-12)

Marcus and Kyja continue their journey through the depths of Farworld in sear of the mythical Land Elementals in this second Farworld book, by Utah author J. Scott Savage.

"ARCHENEMY: THE LOOKING GLASS WARS," by Frank Beddor, Dial, $17.99 (ages 12 and up)

The fate of Wonderland — and imagination itself — is decided in the conclusion to this New York Times best-selling trilogy.

e-mail: jharrison@desnews.com