Breathtaking originality is rare in most genres. The bulk of mainstream culture workers are just rearranging familiar tropes with reinvigorating flair. Every boarding school caper bears the mark of JK Rowling; sparky heroines channel their more famous fore-sisters, and so on.
First appearances suggest that Brightstorm, a debut by Vashti Hardy (Scholastic £6.99), is a solid orphan adventure narrative. Siblings Arthur and Maudie are sold into a slum, then flung into a perilous scheme after their explorer father fails to return from a mission to South Polaris, disgraced and presumed dead.
With its retro-futurist engineering and icy horizons, this pacy tale of lies and greed versus loyalty and derring-do is a little bit steam-punk and a lot Northern Lights. Here, though, are flashes of fresh verve: a house that unfolds into an eco-friendly skyship, women in leadership roles and, perhaps best of all, psychic wolves.
Adult and teen novelist Natasha Farrant turns her hands to year seven with The Children of Castle Rock (Faber & Faber £6.99). Stormy Loch, a boarding school in Scotland, mixes Hogwarts with Bedales, taking in characterful types who need to recover their mojo through farming and orienteering.
Story-writing introvert Alice Mistlethwaite is one of those: bereaved of her mother, Alice misses her father, an actor permanently on tour. The arrival of a mysterious package from Mistlethwaite Sr, however, sets off a chain of events in which Alice’s tentative friendships are tested to the limits. It’s a bit like the Secret Seven on steroids, in a good way.
Different voices, though, can rewrite familiar tunes substantially. So the protagonist of Jewell Parker Rhodes’s tender, timely Ghost Boys (Orion £6.99) – 12-year-old Jerome – dies on page one. Unmoored from life, he switches between the events that led to his death (borrowed toy gun, trigger-happy white police officer) and its surprising and hopeful aftermath. Some of the living can still see Jerome and the ghost army of African-American boys like him, their lives violently cut short. There’s a cameo for Emmett Till, whose lynching in 1955 stoked the civil rights movement.
Kwame Alexander’s Rebound (Andersen £7.99) by contrast, is written vertically more than horizontally, often with vintage hip-hop cadences and graphic panels. Alexander won the Newbery medal for his basketball-themed The Crossover. Rebound is a prequel, but this coming-of-age tale stands alone. Designed to appeal to reluctant readers, little prevents the rest of us being caught up by the comic-mad Charlie Bell, whose behaviour heads south after the loss of his father. Banishment to his grandparents finds him unexpectedly dribbling a basketball and craving a pair of Air Jordans (it’s the 80s), but unable to dodge trouble when it comes his way.
The financially straitened Flowerpetal family fetch up in a small town beset by alarming subsidence. Soon, 12-year-old Gran (Dad: working away; Mum: in a wheelchair) will meet the mysterious Catalina and follow her into a hidden world where the Hollows make everything solid melt into sinkholes. Brilliantly rendering the bewildering stupidity of the adult world as seen by children, Eggers’s middle-grade debut is, if you will, a heart-gladdening work of allegorical genius.