Beneath, by Roland Smith ( Scholastic, middle grade, January 27, 2015)
Pat has always been there to help his older brother, Coop, wheel-barrowing tons of dirt, for instance, from the massive tunnel Coop excavated under their neighborhood (it ended badly when they hit a gas line and the FBI got involved). Then Coop, always a strange kid at odds with their parents, took off when he was 14. A year later, the recordings begin to arrive, chronicling Coop's explorations of New York. For a kid like Coop, obsessed with things underground, New York, with its miles of tunnels, was an obvious destination.
Then the recordings stop coming. Pat decides he too must head up to New York, to find his brother, and indeed, Coop is in deep trouble (pun intended) down below. But there is more going on beneath New York than Pat could have dreamt, and soon he realizes that there is more at stake than just his brother's life. Fortunately Pat is found down in the dark by a girl named Kate--the one person with both the will and the means to help him and Coop escape....if they are lucky.
The bad guys under New York are not your fantasy trolls or fairies. They aren't strange mutants with special powers. And that makes them even more scary.
Pat's journey is a harrowing one, with the levels of tension going up and up the further he goes down. A solid storyline is further bolstered by interesting supporting characters, a nice emphasis on sibling loyalty, and a surprisingly believable dystopia beneath the city streets. The result is a fine thriller for readers 11-13ish.
Give this one to the young reader who leans more to gritty excitement with guns, Tasers, and savage dogs than to sword fights. Don't give it to a kid who's afraid of the dark....or tight spaces....unless they want to be scared!
bonus--the reader sees through Pat's eyes (as he finds his way below with the help of a dumpster- diving companion) the staggering amount of waste our society generates, and though it is not emphasized or moralized at all, it's a good thing, in my opinion, to bring to the attention of younger readers.
(I'm labeling this one science fiction, because it takes a possible but really really unlikely (I hope) reality and makes it plausible but still fantastical. Realistic fiction doesn't describe it well).
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher