Even though you know you’re not supposed to watch it because it deals with lots of, a-hem, “mature” topics, I’m guessing many of the female teens (and probably lots of dudes as well) who read this blog have followed, or at the very least caught an episode of the uber-popular HBO cable show Sex and the City. It would be hard not to. From 1998-2004, it seemed that Sarah Jessica Parker’s face as fictional sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw was on the side of every building, bus and subway here in NYC. But what some of you might not know is that the idea for Carrie’s character originally came from a book of REAL collected advice columns by Candace Bushnell, also called Sex and the City that the TV show was based on. Now Bushnell has imagined Carrie’s humble beginnings as a small town high school senior in The Carrie Diaries—a book you can assure your mom that, unlike the show, is TOTALLY appropriate for you! What’s most fun about The Carrie Diaries is discovering the origins of all of grown-up Carrie’s personality quirks. (Because SJP IS CB to me, I couldn’t help picturing the teenage Carrie as SJP from her Square Pegs days) Her penchant for one-of-kind shoes is shown through the vintage white leather go-go boots she sports on the first day of school. When her bratty little sis trashes one of her favorite bags, she makes it over into a fashionable showstopper, clearly foreshadowing all the fabulous future bags and outfits to come. She has three other best friends who play significant roles in her life, and of course, she’s torn between two boys, playa and Mr. Big-in-training Sebastian and sweet but boring George. She’s also dying to become a writer, any kind of writer, and gets her big break through penning a naughty but oh-so-true anonymous advice column in the school paper. Sound familiar? But my absolute favorite part of The Carrie Diaries has got to be the very last line of the book, which lays the groundwork for one of the grown-up Carrie’s most seminal relationships. I was beaming so broadly when I closed the cover that everyone on the subway must have thought I was nuts. Some critics have already said that the book, set in the 1980’s, is too dated for modern teen readers. But c’mon. You all know this show. Even if you didn’t live through the 80’s, current pop culture is still saturated with 80’s references. So if you’re a fan of the show, the original book, or the movie (and soon to be released sequel) you’ll definitely want to pick this up. And if you’ve never even seen the show and just want to read some intelligent, funny, solid chick lit, then you’ll want to pick it up, too! Seriously, when it comes to The Carrie Diaries, it’s a win-win situation.
Master creepologist Holly Black has collected some of her greatest short story hits (and a few new tunes) into a gleefully gruesome mix tape for your reading pleasure. Here you will meet Matilda, “The Coldest Girl in Cold Town,” who runs towards vampires instead of away from them. But when she tries to save her lover from a horrible fate, he betrays her in the coldest way possible. Nikki finds herself in an eating competition with Satan in “Reversal of Fortune,” while Tomasa tries to bargain with an evil elf for her sister’s life in “The Night Market.” There’s a nice ode to librarians and the Dewey Decimal system in “Paper Cuts Scissors” while tailors get props in “The Coat of Stars,” about an NYC costume designer who whips up gorgeous wraps in order to tempt a reluctant faery Queen into returning his kidnapped boyfriend. But my favorites were the ones featuring clever lads fighting their animal natures. In a totally Twilight Zone turn, Black’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” will warn you not to believe everything you read when Alex becomes convinced after reading it in a book that smelling a certain posy will cause his canines to grow. And “The Dog King” is a marvelous medieval tale about a monarch who should’ve kept a tighter rein on his beloved tamed wolf, as the natural predator ends up being much smarter than his scruffy nature would suggest. Then there was the story that brought me to tears—“Virgin” about a lonely homeless boy and his pet unicorn—and the one that left me snickering on the subway—“In Vodka Veritas,” about an “accidental” boarding school orgy. Good stuff, all. Black doesn’t strike a sour note in the bunch. Plus, the small, detailed pen and ink illustrations by Black’s hub Theo add a distinctly melancholic touch. So go ahead drink some Poison—it’s good for you!
Lucas is a long-haired slacker who breaks into cars for fun. Jenna is a drama geek in a family full of wanna-be doctors and lawyers. Both of them have been rejected from every summer program their parents tried to get them into. So when a tall, dark ugly stranger shows up with an offer to enroll Lucas and Jenna in a special summer camp “guaranteed to prepare any child for the SATs and beyond,” their parents jump at the chance to get their little losers off their hands. But from the minute they set foot in Camp Fielding, Lucas and Jenna know something is wrong with these smug smarty-pants. They seem to swing from deeply dim to blindingly brilliant, they don’t notice how gross the food is, and they are oddly excited by…Euclidean geometry. And what’s with all the dead baby birds on the ground and feathers floating around the cabins? There’s something fishy—or rather, birdy going on at Camp Fielding and Lucas and Jenna are determined to find out what it is—before they end up spouting facts as robotically and unemotionally as their weird bunkmates. I love a good urban legend, and this one has the creepy flavor of every story you’ve ever heard whispered late at night that starts with, “And this story is true, because it happened to my friend’s second cousin’s older brother.” Faith Erin Hicks’ kooky cool art reminds me of Hope Larson’s terrific Chiggers. But Brain Camp is a whole lot darker and deliciously gross. Reminiscent of those scary stories you like to share around the bonfire, you can’t go wrong with this sweetly sadistic summer camp chiller.
Fourteen-year-old Yancy Aparicio is miserable. His big brother Will is a clearly a psycho, but no one seems to notice how dangerous he really is. Will is charming and manipulative to their parents, while being cold and cruel to Yancy, and no matter what Will does, their parents keep giving him more chances. So when Will cuts the tail off Yancy’s horse Shy in a fit of rage, Yancy decides he’s had enough. He packs his bags, saddles up Shy and heads for the hills. He also takes his journal, where he writes and draws about his journey, including small comic panels about Will, his parents, and his cute crush from school, Christi. The journey is hard, made worse by the fact that Yancy has no real plan for his future. He can’t just keep running from Will forever, but how can he convince his well-meaning parents that Will is the one who needs to be sent away, not him? Sometimes it feels like he’s the invisible son, and the only one his parents really see is Will. This modern day Western is full of unexpected accidents, suspenseful near misses and miraculous saves, with the tone and flavor of two of my other fav rodeo-ish reads. I’m also loving this trend of the illustrated novel for dudes, like Wimpy Kid all grown up. Sandra Alonzo‘s words and Nathan Huang‘s crisp, blocky B&W sketches mesh perfectly–I really felt like I was reading Yancy’s personal journal. Know of any other cool illustrated novels you think I should check out? Leave me the titles in the comments.
Fifteen-year-old Kyle Chase knows the score. Just like you, he can almost recite his parents’ and teachers’ lectures as they’re saying them, because he’s heard them so many times before. “Is that all you’re going to do all day, sit in front of that computer?” “Why don’t you wear some clothes that fit for a change?” “Stop mumbling and speak up.” “Because I said so.” It’s funny how it never changes. Funny in a sad way. Kyle can’t find much to laugh about these days. His friends are idiots obsessed with partying, his teachers are robots, his parents don’t listen and the girl he’s secretly in love with doesn’t take him seriously. And he’s starting to suspect that it’s mostly his fault that his life is like this, his fault for letting important decisions slide by until the choices were made for him. Now there’s no going back. Kyle’s just floating through his days—until he meets Zack McDade. Zach is off-the-hook weird, with his strange airs, million dollar vocab and bright colored sports coats. Kyle doesn’t like Zach, but his particular brand of smooth sarcasm and utter confidence does make school a little more interesting, a little more alive. Until he turns his massive powers of manipulation on Kyle. What happens next may be inevitable given what has come before, but Benoit’s explosive ending is not one that YOU will forget anytime soon.
What’s so fantastic about this book isn’t the topic, which will be sadly familiar to many of you. It’s the way Benoit, a former high school English teacher and adult mystery author, tells Kyle’s story, from back to front (like Gail Gile’s amazing Shattering Glass) and in a rarely used second person voice that draws you uncomfortably close to Kyle’s troubled psyche. You may want to pull away from Kyle, or deny what’s happening to him. But you won’t be able to. Because Kyle’s not that different from you. Or one of your friends. Or that quiet guy who sits slumped in the back of your Algebra class. Though this book reminds me of several other outstanding titles, Benoit has also crafted something here that is so original and raw that I couldn’t put down until I finished the entire thing. The bad news: YOU isn’t coming to a library or bookstore near you until September 2010. The good news: YOU have a really amazing read to look forward to this fall.