I recommend this book for: grade 8 and up
Beka Cooper was raised in the Lower City, the home of thieves and scoundrels of every description. Her crime-solving skills got her and her family out of the poor district and into the household of the Lord Provost when she was 8 years old. Now 16, she is following her dream of becoming one of the guards who patrol the city and keep order - they're called the Provost's Dogs. Although she has a good head on her shoulders and likes a good brawl, being a Puppy (guard in training) is more difficult than she had anticipated. Her partners are among the most respected Dogs, but they seem to resent being saddled with a trainee. She makes beginner's mistakes and is ridiculed for her inability to speak in public. Worst of all, Beka feels drawn to a murder case - that of her friend's little boy - but she could be getting in way over her head trying to solve it.
I suddenly remembered why I like Tamora Pierce's work so much as I read this one. Beka is one tough young lady, but her weak points and the feelings she grudgingly admits to in her journal make her very real. It's easy to relate to her, even though her world is one of magic and she can hear the voices of dead spirits. It has action, mystery, a touch of romance, and magic. I'm so upset that I have to wait until April for the sequel, Bloodhound.
Read some reviews and an excerpt here.
Not much fodder for the tiny print in this one. There are some non-explicit references to body parts (i.e. "my peaches"), and to characters sleeping together. Probably more disturbing is the criminal plot, which involves many dead bodies.