The Ability, by M.M. Vaughan (Margaret K. McElderry Books, middle grade, April 23, 2013), isn't the most desperately original book, but it is not without considerable appeal for younger readers.
Young Christopher is having a rather grim time of it. His mother is locked in a deep depression, and his teachers loathe him, through no particular fault of his own. But when he is recruited to be one of six students at a top-secret, government-run boarding school hidden in the heart of London, everything changes. This is no ordinary school--it exists to train kids to use their extrasensory abilities. Here at last Chris can excel (his mind-reading skills are exceptional) and make friends.
But there is a catch. The kids at this school are being trained, benevolently, but still, to work for the government...and their first mission starts sooner than planned. Someone out there is using these same abilities to drive insane everyone who attended the first incarnation of this school, years ago. And the prime minister himself is a target.
The strong kid-appeal part of the book comes from the loving description of the school and its curriculum. It's a wish-fulfillment of interior decoration, tasty food, bonding with quirky kids, and recognition of Special-ness. The adult reader might find the character development somewhat superficial (the brainiest of the group says at one point "I want to finish some extra advanced physics that I'm working on" p. 163), the two girls are a sweet one who likes pink and a tousle-haired tough girl, and the other two boys are an amusing foreigner and a bully who isn't so bad after all). And the same adult might wonder when something will actually start Happening...which, toward the end, it does, when there is a direct confrontation with the villains of the piece.
Because the reader is told right at the beginning who the bad guys are and what their motivation is, and sees them at work during the book, the suspense is somewhat lacking. A violent twist toward the end does up the stakes, but a tad too late....
All this being said, the younger reader of spy/mystery/paranormal ability school stories about special kids (who is new to these various bits of genre) might well enjoy it tremendously. After all, everything is fresh when you read it for the first time.
(Note to grown-ups choosing books for kids--the violent twist at the end involves Chris loosing control of his abilities and actually killing one of the bad guys (which distresses Chris very much, quite understandably). Though of course the bad guys had been using their abilities in twisted ways, and there had been a few disturbing indications that the paranormal abilities of even the good kids weren't all fun and games, I was a little taken aback by this un-glossed-over death, and just wanted to mention it to the gate keepers out there...)
disclaimer: advance review copy received from the publisher