Freakling, by Lana Krumwiede (Candlewick, middle grade, October 2012)
Psi powers are something that twelve-year old Taemon takes for granted--everyone in his city can move and manipulate the physical world with their minds--until the day he looses his powers. His parents hope this affliction is only temporary, and do their best to help him pretend to be normal in a world where no one does anything with their hands that they can do with their minds....because if his secret were discovered, it would mean exile.
Though the charade is successful for a while, at last Taemon's secret comes out, and he must leave his family for the uncertain fate of the powerless colony outside the city. And it's actually not so bad. The powerless are kind and welcoming, and the community is less caught up in rigid protocol and heirophantic social strictures than the city (which has a belief system that Taemon's older brother, the power-hungry bad guy of the story, is determined to take advantage of). But before Taemon can become truly part of the normal colony, he finds that it has secrets of its own...valuable knowledge that must be kept from the psi users, or else their rather morally suspect society would become dangerously powerful.
When Taemon is unwittingly responsible for leaking one of these secrets, he must return to his city to try to repair the damage...but the city he's going back to is a much scarier, more dystopian place, than the one he left...
Plot-wise, this is fine reading--the story moves briskly, the conflict is very real, and younger readers may well empathize with the young protagonist's conflicts between family, society, and being true to himself. Those readers will probably find the whole concept of lives dependent on mental powers fascinating, and, in as much as Taemon enjoys the mechanics of things, it has appeal for kids who like tinkering with devices themselves. On the abstract side of things, Krumwiede raises interesting philosophical points concerning such things as the responsibilities of power, and on the quotidian side, she makes sure that her portrayal of both ways of life, psi and normal, are detailed and thorough.
Perhaps too much so for older readers (at least for me)--though I was very intrigued by the premise, I felt that the world- and plot-building elements of the book were underlined a tad too much, and there was something of a flatness to the narration. I never was able to feel any particular emotional connection to Taemon. So it wasn't a book that I personally embraced, but I think that it has much more appeal for its target audience!
Freakling works just fine as a stand-alone, but its sequel, Archon, comes out in October.
Other reviews at Semicolon, The Diary of a Bookworm, January Magazine, and My Precious.
Viz labeling: mental powers sometimes feel like fantasy to me, sometimes like sci-fi--I'm going with sci-fi on this one, because it seems real world possible (if you allow for the possibility of psi!)
Viz the cover--isn't it utterly gorgeous? I think it's my favorite mg sff cover of the year.
Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher for Cybils review purposes.