I just finished reading Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass. I'm a BIG fan of Wendy Mass. Her books have THE MOST AMAZING plot twists that I never see coming. They make me laugh and usually cry and Jeremy Fink is no exception. The book starts at the end and then flashes back to the start of the story. Jeremy Fink is almost 13. His dad died when he was 8 in a terrible accident. Jeremy has a few issues (he has a very limited choice of things he will eat and most of them are candy, he doesn't like to use public transportation (in New York City?), he only has one real friend) but has a loving, supportive group of people around him. He gets a package a month before his birthday that has a wooden box in it. The box came from his dad and it says it contains the meaning of life. The box requires 4 keys to open it but the keys are not there. So the quest begins. Jeremy learns a lot in his quest. This was one of my favorite quotes: Before an apple seed is planted, no one will know how many apples will one day sprout from it. It's all about potential, and potential is hidden from all of us until we embrace it, find our purpose, plant ourselves so we can grow. Awesome! This one would be great for kids third grade and up although there isn't really anything that would be scary or inappropriate for little kids... I just think the conversation about death and dying would probably be too big for under third grade. Here's a book trailer about it.
Another one in sort of the same vein is called "Counting by 7s" by Holly Sloan. It's about a girl named Willow who is going into middle school. She worries a bit about finding friends and fitting because she's really different in a lot of ways. You come to understand that she is scary smart (like when she meets a girl and learns to speak Vietnamese in a week) and sometimes not great at communicating but has the best possible intentions. When her parents are killed in a car accident (it's not a spoiler, it happens on like the 10th page in), she has to figure out how things are going to proceed and it's not exactly easy but it is hopeful and full of wonderful connections and plot twists. This one you'd want for at least fourth grade, maybe 5th grade and up. The story teller seems to be either so gifted that it's sometimes hard to figure out where she's going or on the autistic spectrum. It's totally worth figuring out, but sometimes the inferences are big enough that you might have to point them out to the kids.
Lastly, there's Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. This one is definitely for high school students. It's about a boy and girl who both feel isolated and yet find each other inspire of their best intentions to stay isolated. They each have their own reasons for wanting to isolate themselves (Eleanor's are related to her home life which is horrible) and Park's is mostly teen angst but their coming together and falling in love is lovely and lyrical and special. Definitely NOT for elementary school students, but it is wonderful. Here's a book trailer about it.