Catherine Egan. Knopf, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-30640-6

In this friendship-focused puzzle novel, Egan (the Witch’s Child trilogy) centers a trio of unlikely heroes fighting masquerading aliens while avoiding detention. With his best friend in Paris for the year, implied-white sixth grader Ben Harp feels like the odd one out at Livingston Middle School. When directed to partner up for a history project, he’s grouped with two fellow outcasts: new girl Akemi Hanamura, cued by her surname as of Japanese descent, and Charlotte Moss, “who had a face like wobbly rice pudding.” While conducting their project—interviewing a lifelong resident of their small town and reporting on a local monument—they’re inadvertently caught up in bizarre occurrences, witnessing animate objects, such as a teacher’s watch moving of its own volition. Inadvertently engaged by the Gateway Society as liaisons for the interdimensional weak spot that is their town, the trio must save the world from an invasion of Sneaks, “evolving mischief-makers” that feed on fear and pose as everyday items. Combining the whimsically written Sneaks with an underlying threat of invasion, Egan places a strong emphasis on camaraderie and forgiveness as the protagonists learn to trust and support one another. Ages 8–12. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Jan.)