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9 Thrilling Adventure Novels Starring Bold, Brave Young Protagonists

Carrie Cabral is a Marketing Associate at Simon & Schuster. When she’s not writing, you can find her either at the gym, kickboxing or rereading Harry Potter for the zillionth time. She’s known in her community for being a #1 dog mom of a handsome young man named Buddy. During her commutes to work from Brooklyn, you can find her with the newest fantasy or literary fiction novel!

Remember those adolescent dreams of setting sail for a distant adventure, whether it be a logical detective story or a fantastical world of lost kings? These books will rekindle those exciting fantasies. In each of these coming-of-age stories, brave kids go on amazing journeys to find love, family, and even themselves. Check out these adventure novels with young, inspiring, and courageous hearts as the protagonist.


When We Were Vikings
by Andrew David MacDonald

Zelda is twenty-one, and about to embark on her first ever Viking quest—sort of. When Zelda’s brother, Gert, delves into some questionable money-making missions, Zelda decides to launch a mission of her own, to find her purpose, to help her brother, and most importantly—be legendary. And what Zelda finds along the way is that sometimes, breaking your own rules leads to the most fulfilling quests. 

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When We Were Vikings
Andrew David MacDonald

Indie Next Pick for February 2020
Book of the Month January 2020
LibraryReads January 2020 Pick
Bookreporter New Release Spotlight
New York Post “Best Books of the Week”
Goodreads “January’s Most Anticipated New Books”
The Saturday Evening Post “10 Books for the New Year”
PopSugar “Best Books in January”
Book Riot Best Winter New Releases

“Zelda is a marvel, a living, breathing three-dimensional character with a voice so distinctive she leaps off the page.” —The New York Times

“Heartwarming and unforgettable.” —People

For Zelda, a twenty-one-year-old Viking enthusiast who lives with her older brother, Gert, life is best lived with some basic rules:

1. A smile means “thank you for doing something small that I liked.”
2. Fist bumps and dabs = respect.
3. Strange people are not appreciated in her home.
4. Tomatoes must go in the middle of the sandwich and not get the bread wet.
5. Sometimes the most important things don’t fit on lists.

But when Zelda finds out that Gert has resorted to some questionable—and dangerous—methods to make enough money to keep them afloat, Zelda decides to launch her own quest. Her mission: to be legendary. It isn’t long before Zelda finds herself in a battle that tests the reach of her heroism, her love for her brother, and the depth of her Viking strength.

“A most welcome and wonderful debut” (Tyrell Johnson, author of The Wolves of Winter), When We Were Vikings is an uplifting debut about an unlikely heroine whose journey will leave you wanting to embark on a quest of your own, because after all...we are all legends of our own making.

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The Institute
by Stephen King

Luke Ellis is asleep when intruders break into his home, murder his parents, and kidnap him; the silent operation takes less than two minutes, and Luke wakes up at The Institute. From the other children, Luke learns that The Institute is a place where the staff ruthlessly attempts to extract the children’s special paranormal gifts—and no one ever leaves. Faced with cruel punishments and impending doom, Luke begins to hatch a plan to do the impossible and escape the Institute before it’s too late

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The Institute
Stephen King

A NEW YORK TIMES 100 NOTABLE BOOKS OF 2019 SELECTION

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Stephen King, the most riveting and unforgettable story of kids confronting evil since It.

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of It, The Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

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This Tender Land
by William Kent Krueger

In 1932, Odie O’Banion flees the Lincoln Indian Training school in a canoe after committing a terrible crime. He is joined by his brother, Albert, their friend Mose, and a schoolmate named Emmy. The four orphans spend the summer drifting down Minnesota’s Gilead River, hoping to make their way to Mississippi and to freedom. Along the way, they meet many other fellow wanderers, displaced people, and lost souls in this coming of age story.  

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This Tender Land
William Kent Krueger

For fans of Before We Were Yours and Where the Crawdads Sing, “a gripping, poignant tale swathed in both mythical and mystical overtones” (Bob Drury, New York Times bestselling author) that follows four orphans on a life-changing odyssey during the Great Depression, from the New York Times bestselling author of Ordinary Grace.

1932, Minnesota—the Lincoln School is a pitiless place where hundreds of Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to an orphan named Odie O’Banion, a lively boy whose exploits earn him the superintendent’s wrath. Forced to flee, he and his brother Albert, their best friend Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own.

Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphans will fly into the unknown and cross paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds. With the feel of a modern classic, This Tender Land is an en­thralling, big-hearted epic that is “more than a simple journey; it is a deeply satisfying odyssey, a quest in search of self and home” (Booklist).

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The Map of Salt and Stars
by Zeyn Joukhadar

This beautiful novel begins in 2011, when a young girl named Nour loses her father to cancer. Nour and her family move from New York City back to Syria, to be close to their family. But Syria is changing, and Nour’s family must choose to flee, or risk watching their home fall apart around them. Meanwhile, Nour takes comfort in one of her favorite stories—one of a twelfth century girl named Rawiya, who disguises herself as a boy to serve as an apprentice to a mapmaker. The two stories are told in alternating timelines and is a magically woven story of bravery and the power of legends. 

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The Map of Salt and Stars
Zeyn Joukhadar

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The Book of Lost Things
by John Connolly

Twelve-year-old David has lost his mother and has never felt more alone. Hiding in his attic bedroom, David’s only comfort are his books, who have, it seems, begun talking to him. As his family continues to fall apart in the real world, David is pulled into a fantastical story about kings and heroes and monsters, and a mysterious book called The Book of Lost Things. David’s journey is a coming of age story that takes place in two realms, and how easily they can meld together. 

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The Book of Lost Things
John Connolly

High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own -- populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, The Book of Lost Things.

Taking readers on a vivid journey through the loss of innocence into adulthood and beyond, New York Times bestselling author John Connolly tells a dark and compelling tale that reminds us of the enduring power of stories in our lives.

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MENTIONED IN:

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Whistling Past the Graveyard
by Susan Crandall

In the summer of 1963, 9-year-old Starla runs away from her grandmother’s strict house in Mississippi and plans to make her way to Nashville to find her mother. Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman traveling with a white baby. As they travel, Starla and Eula learn each other’s stories, and Starla learns about the reality of the world. But she also begins, for the first time, to dream about everything it can be one day.

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Whistling Past the Graveyard
Susan Crandall

In the summer of 1963, nine-year-old Starla runs away from her strict grandmother’s home in Mississippi and embarks on a life-changing road trip.

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Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro

Hailsham seems like the perfect place. The elite boarding school is far from the city, and the students are cared for as they learn about the arts. However, students at Hailsham are intensely sheltered, and learn almost nothing about the outside world. So when three friends, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy leave the safety of their school, they begin to realize the truth about Hailsham—and the truth about themselves. 

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Never Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro

The students of Hailsham are special. That’s what they’ve been told. Isolated from the outside world, they’re raised from birth as “donors,” their bodily organs harvested for wealthy patrons. But this is no schlocky sci-fi; it’s a gently observed drama. Existential, painful, and unforgettable, NEVER LET ME GO explores how even the most disenfranchised and doomed characters find meaning, hope, and love, even as they resign themselves to a life cut horribly short.

Crazy like: You’d be too.

Best crazy moment: The whole damn book.

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The Shadow of the Wind
by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

In Barcelona in 1945, a boy named Daniel mourns the loss of his mother while the city tries to recover from the war. His father, an antique book dealer, brings him to the cemetery of lost books, where Daniel chooses a book by Julian Carax. Daniel innocently begins to research Carax and finds out that someone is trying to make it look like Carax never existed; in fact Daniel may possess the last copy of any of Carax’s books, ever. Daniel dives in further, and is transported to a dark history of murder, madness, and betrayal, all while he aims to preserve art. 

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The Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafón

As Barcelona slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son, finds solace in what he finds in the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books”: a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, his seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets—an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
by Mark Haddon

Christopher is a fifteen-year-old boy with an outstandingly logical brain. Even though Christopher can name every country in the world and every prime number up to 7,057, and relates well to animals, he has no understanding of human emotions, and lives on patterns, rules, and a handy diagram to get by in everyday life. So when his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, is killed, this greatly upsets Christopher’s orderly life. So, he begins a fascinating and funny journey to find the killer in the style of his idol—the highly logical Sherlock Holmes. 

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Mark Haddon

Now adapted into a Tony Award-winning play, this captivating novel is told through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old autistic boy who relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. This powerful story of his quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for a captivating read.

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