The Farwalker's Quest, by Joni Sensel
(Bloomsbury, 2009, 384 pp- released yesterday!)
After the Blind War ended, no person left on Earth could see. Slowly, new skills arose that kept a small population alive --ways of knowing the world through inner powers. By the time sighted children began to be born again, the new ways of being had become firmly set, and Finders, Tree-Singers, Farwalkers and other folk with magical skills were part of life. But that was years ago, and now there are no more Farwalkers to forge ties between distant places, and people have retreated into small settlements with almost no connections between them. The technological wonders of the past are a thing of myth, and the Vault that some say holds these lost treasures is thought by most to be a story for children.
In one small village, a girl named Ariel and her friend Zeke are about to leave school, Zeke to follow his father's path as a tree-singer, Ariel to follow her mother's path as a Healer. But a chance climb into Zeke's tree leads her to a telling dart caught in its branches--a strange relic of the past.
Strangers follow it, Finders who have come to claim it, bringing death to the children's village. And Ariel and Zeke become caught up in a dangerous quest to discover the message that the dart was carrying, journeying farther than they had ever imagined existed, with their lives at risk every step of the way. As they struggle to elude their pursuers and solve the riddle of the telling dart (helped along the way by a friendly ghost), they discover truths about themselves and their world that will make it impossible to ever go home again...
This is a truly riveting story. Plot-wise, it may sound like your basic quest, but Sensel has made her story something fresh and engrossing with her skillful characterizations and able world building. The ending is a tad unsatisfactory, for a variety of reasons that I won't say anything about because I don't want to be spoilerish. But it wasn't so unsatisfactory as to ruin the book. (edited to add--a large part of my vague dissatisfaction came from the fact that it is not clear in the book that there will be a sequel, and I felt left hanging. But this is actually the start of a series, with the next book coming in 2010! Goody!).
Because there's some scary violent bits, this might not be one to give to younger children, but for a sixth grade boy or girl on up, it should work nicely.
other reviews: Becky's Book Reviews, Joelle Anthony's Blog
While looking for other reviews, I came across a post by Sensel at The Spectacle (which is a site I'm going to add to my blog roll right now), where she shares this snippet that I find very amusing:
"First teen reader: Matt, the son of a friend. He was 13 at the time and thought the MC, Ariel, “should have more weapons.” (Sorry, Matt. IMO, it didn’t fit her character.)"
Despite her lack of weaponry, Ariel is a kick-ass heroine...and you can read the first chapter of her adventures here!