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Originally published Saturday, October 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Spine-tingling tales for tweens and teens

New in tween and teen books: Neil Gaiman scores again with "The Graveyard Book"; Robin McKinley's fantasy "Chalice" tells the story of a simple beekeeper with a daunting assignment; and Rosemary Clement-Moore's "Hell Week" takes on sorority rushes with a supernatural twist.

Special to The Seattle Times

A graveyard, high-school bullies and a demonic sorority will keep tween and teen readers chilled (in a good way) this fall.

A gruesome beginning and a tense conclusion bookend the otherwise mostly fanciful vignettes in Neil Gaiman's "The Graveyard Book" (HarperChildren's, 368 pp., $17.99, ages 11 and up). After his family is murdered, Bod (short for "Nobody") is adopted by ghosts and educated by vampires and werewolves. With the killer still searching for him, Bod is in danger any time he leaves the graveyard, even when he knows tricks that let him fade into invisibility. With illustrations by Dave McKean, Gaiman's ("Coraline") tale of a highly unusual childhood will appeal to readers who enjoy odd characters with a supernatural twist.

"Carlos Is Gonna Get It" (Arthur A. Levine Books, 304 pp., $16.99, ages 11 and up) by Seattle author Kevin Emerson tackles school bullying without falling into the Message Book trap. Trina and her seventh-grade friends decide to scare the weirdness out of Carlos, who is always scratching himself and is convinced aliens visit him. Her gang likes to plan and make lists (such as reasons why they know two teachers "are, like, totally in love": "1. They are both white, and like, thirty, so they're all old and desperate, and they work together"); they set their sights on an upcoming class camping trip to "get Carlos good." Even when she's in the wrong, Trina's authentic voice and good (but fallible) nature keep her endeared to readers.

Fantasy fans can lose themselves in two unique worlds in Robin McKinley's "Chalice" (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 272 pp., $18.99, ages 13 and up) and newcomer Rachel Neumeier's "The City in the Lake" (Alfred A. Knopf, 294 pp., $15.99, ages 13 and up). In "Chalice," Mirasol is a simple beekeeper who finds herself thrust into a powerful, ceremonial position with a new Master, one who was nearly a priest of Fire. The two novices must ward off political intrigue and tame an unsettled country by trusting themselves and each other. McKinley's themes and lyrical style are pleasantly reminiscent of fantasy stalwart Patricia McKillip.

"The City in the Lake" alternates narrative perspectives, just as the world it represents shifts between magical planes. When the Prince goes missing and babies in the land start dying, Timou, a young mage, seeks answers in the City. There, the Prince's brother is struggling to hold the throne. The fates of these three are connected by a trap set years ago by a powerful sorceress. Can Timou unleash powers beyond her own to free the kingdom?

Forget hazing: sorority rush turns supernatural in "Hell Week" (Delacorte Press, 329 pp., $16.99, ages 14 and up) by Rosemary Clement-Moore. Clement-Moore takes on easy feminist targets (sororities here, cheerleaders in her earlier "Prom Dates from Hell") but it's hard to resist first-person narrator Maggie Quinn's sardonic wit, even as she feels the lure of assimilation. Maggie infiltrates sorority rush as an undercover reporter for the school newspaper, ending up in a sorority with more behind it than designer dresses and great hair. With a cute on-off boyfriend, pop-culture references worthy of "Buffy" or "Veronica Mars" and Irish fairies, it's well-written fluff at its best.

The title of Marthe Jocelyn's "Would You" (Wendy Lamb Books, 176 pp., $15.99, ages 13 and up) springs from a game high-school junior Natalie plays with her friends, presenting ridiculous dilemmas like "Would you rather lose all your hair or all your teeth?" The theme of impossible choices turns serious when Natalie's sister, Claire, is hit by a car and left in a coma. "Would You" is never maudlin or overwrought; the sadness feels true and real for a lost loved one. Short, punchy chapters and pitch-perfect dialogue will keep teens reading through their tears.

Former Seattle Times staff reporter Stephanie Dunnewind is a graduate student in library science at the University of Washington.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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