Born Blue by Han Nolan

Born Blue Janie is one mixed up kid. She’s been in and out of so many foster homes she doesn’t know which end is up. So it’s no surprise that she’s got some serious misunderstandings when it comes to her background. For example, blond haired, blue eyed Janie is convinced that her real parents must be African American since she identifies so strongly with black soul singers like Aretha and Billie. So she changes her name to Leshaya, and leaves her foster homes behind to pursue her dream of becoming a singer. But it’s hard to follow your dream when you’re trying to make people believe you’re a strong black soul sister instead of an insecure, frightened white girl. Will Leshaya realize her dream before it eats her alive? A gut-wrenching read with a surprising ending.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Esperanza Rising A pampered only child, Esperanza is used to getting her way around her father’s affluent Mexican ranch, Rancho de las Rosas. But when her father is killed by bandits and her greedy uncles swoop in and take the land away from her mother, Esperanza must find her core of inner strength and be brave in the face of great adversity. Because now, she and Mama have nothing and must immigrate to the United States to work. But the Great Depression is going on, and the only work to be found is migrant farm work–hard, back breaking labor that ruins smooth hands and lines faces. Esperanza learns that class, honesty and integrity have nothing to do with how many dresses or servants you have, but how you live your life and treat those around you. Esperanza wants to believe that she can conquer this new way of life, but when Mama gets sick, it’s hard to keep going. But her name means hope–and that has to stand for something. Based on the events that took place in her family, Pam Munoz Ryan’s simple story provides a warm, wise, empowering message for girls everywhere.

Battle Dress by Amy Efaw

battle dressAndi Davis’s dismal home life is already so much like a war zone that she can’t imagine her indoctrination into the famous West Point military academy being much worse. But she’s wrong. During the summer before becoming “plebes” or freshman, new recruits have to undergo a six week hard core training session called “The Beast.” It’s awful, humiliating and bone-tiring. But every time Andi thinks about giving up, she remembers her mother’s shrill, angry voice and her father’s torpid silence and resolves that she will escape their fate no matter what. Even though she spends a better part of each day getting screamed at by her superiors, she also makes some great friends in her unit and learns the true meaning of team work. Andi is determined to best the Beast and make her mark as a strong girl in a big boy’s world. Author Amy Efaw knows first hand what it is to be a West Point plebe, and her depiction of Andi’s painful transition from sitting duck to confident solider is written just right. A real winner of a read.

Harley like a Person by Cat Bauer

How would you like it if everyone made a lame motorcycle joke every time your name was mentioned? Welcome to the world of Harley Columba. She just lost the one adult she could trust (grandma), she is desperately in love with bad boy Johnny Bruno, and convinced that the loud-mouthed drinker in her living room is an android stand-in for her real dad. She knows her real father must be an amazing person who will totally understand her artistic soul. So she sets out to find him with nothing more than a mysterious note and a prayer. Harley does end up getting the answers she’s looking for–they just aren’t the answers she wanted. Grittier than sand in your shorts, Harley like a Person is a in-your-face-girl-read, with a realistic ending that doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that Life isn’t always nice–or fair.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Well people, this love note is long overdue. Let’s have three cheers for Speak, the amazing novel from‘ 99 that told the real deal behind the evil hierarchy of name brands and cheerleader gossip that is high school. The bare bones of the story is this: Melinda was raped at an upperclassman party summer before freshman year and has consequently lost her voice. Her parents don’t really notice her, her classmates think she squealed on them by calling the cops to the party (when she was just trying to report her rape) and only friend is a perky new girl who doesn’t know her history. Even though Melinda doesn’t talk, her thoughts are killer-funny. I have nothing but respect and goddess-like admiration for the author who can pen such lines as:“ My parents didn’t raise me to be religious. The closest we come to worship is the Trinity of Visa, Mastercard and American Express,” and“ If I ever form my own clan, we’ll be the Anti-Cheerleaders. We will not sit in the bleachers. We will wander underneath them and commit mild acts of mayhem.” I just have one question for the astute Anderson–how can she KNOW so well what hell high school can be?? Check out her website at and ask her yourself after you read only one of the best books EVER.

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

Mia already has enough to deal with. She the tallest, most flat-chested person in the ninth grade, her hippie-artist mom is dating Mia’s teacher (“Thanks Mom. Thanks a whole lot”) and she has a hopeless crush on the hottest guy at school who, in typical hottie-fashion, has no idea that she exists. Then her dad, who is amicably divorced from her mom, drops the big one: instead of the foreign diplomat she thought him to be, he’s really the prince of a tiny European country and Mia is the crown heir! Mia couldn’t possibly feel less like a royal, but all of a sudden she’s got to do this Princess Diana-like gig with no experience whatsoever. It totally increases her sympathy for other sudden-celebrity teens:“ If I were Chelsea Clinton, I would change my name and move to Iceland.” A not-so-serious-girl-power read that will keep you giggling long after the last page is turned.

Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen

Keeping the Moon Imagine if your mom were a female Richard Simmons. You would have no choice but to lose weight. Colie does lose the weight, but still hates her body and herself. When her mom, an exercise guru, tours Europe, Colie gets shipped off to her aunt in north Carolina where she becomes friends with two waitresses, Isabel and Morgan. While Colie’s story line of learning to like herself and falling in love with short order cook Norman is good, the really great part of this book is the kick-ass relationship between Isabel and Morgan. They are everything good about being girl friends, and the way Colie looks up to them will be recognizable to every girl who was in 7th grade and had that cool 9th grader show them the ropes with school and boys and make-up. Though it seems quiet on the outside, this story is about the out-loud-proud strength girls’ give to each other. Read it, and then get your best friend a copy for her birthday.

The Skin I’m In by by Sharon G. Flake

skin i'm inEveryday Maleeka Madison dreads going to school. She already knows that the other kids are going to tease her about her home-made clothes, her good grades and her black, black skin. Even though it makes her hate herself, she bows and scrapes to the reigning teen queen, Charlese, because she gives Maleeka her brand-name, cast-off clothes to wear. But Char makes Maleeka pay by turning her into the butt of every joke and forcing Maleeka to give her answers to each day’s homework. When a new teacher with a skin disorder challenges Maleeka to celebrate her blackness instead of hide from from it, Maleeka starts to wonder if she can break away from Charlese’s vicious circle. But Char doesn’t plan on giving up her homework slave without a fight, and Char plans with her last act of defiance against the new teacher who gave Maleeka confidence, to take Maleeka down with her. I guess I’m a little out of it, guys, because I don’t remember high school being this cruel. But this is still a good, good book about learning to like yourself no matter what anyone else says.

Strays like Us by Richard Peck

straysMolly’s mom has cut her loose again because her heroin habit is stronger than her maternal feelings. So Molly is cooling her heels with Great Aunt Fay, a practical nurse who lives in a very small town. Molly thinks the secret of her mom’s drug binges is the worst possible skeleton she could have in her closet. But she finds out that she’s not the only one with something to hide and that her secret is considered small fry when it comes to small town gossip. It turns out that the richest old lady in town is keeping the biggest secret of all–a secret that could change Molly’s life–for better or for worse–forever. If you like Strays, take a trip to your local pound (or public library) and bring home a couple of other really good Peck puppies–Princess Ashley and Unfinished Portrait of Jessica

I Rode A Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Lee Wilson

You want to read about survival? I’ll give you survival! Try survival on the wild steppes of Kubla Khan’s Mongolia in the 13th century when you’re just a girl with a horse, a dream and a whole lotta bad luck doggin’ your heels. THAT’s survival! Tell Gary Paulsen to take his Hatchet and go home! Wilson has written a fantastical historical fiction about a girl named Oyuna who’s not afraid to dress like a guy, ride like a solider and make her own luck. Mulan is just another fairy princess compared to Oyuna. Go ahead and give this Horse a good hard gallop!

Jazmin’s Notebook by Nikki Grimes

jazmin's notebookAfrican American children’s poet Nikki Grimes has tried her hand at prose with this short but sweet novel of 1960’s Harlem. Seen through the pages of 14 year old Jazmin’s journal, the neighborhood comes alive with Jazmin’s descriptions of her older sister CeCe, who’s too young to be so jaded, and Aunt Sarah, a neighbor who shows up with lots of steaming “leftovers” when money is tight for Jazmin and CeCe. Jazmin knows she’s going to be a real writer someday if she can just get past the school counselor who wants to keep her in vocational classes and the mother who abandoned her to foster homes and poverty. Told in a jazzy, lyrical voice, Jazmin’s Notebook just sings with Nikki Grimes’ poetical turn at prose. Make sure to jot down this title in YOUR notebook next time you’re looking for something good to read.

Party Girl by Lynne Ewing

party girlAll Kata really wants to do is dance. Yeah, she enjoys the close comraderie of gang life, but the best part is always dancing in competitions with her best friend, Ana. They call themselves Outrageous Chaos and they never lose because they can practically read each others’ minds. But when Ana is brutally shot and killed in a drive-by, Kata finds herself rethinking the whole gang life style. In the aftermath of Ana’s death, she has to decide if making her own way in L.A.’s gang underworld is courageous, or just foolhardy. An unusual and revealing look at gangs from a girl’s point of view.

The Sacrifice by Diane Matcheck

Weak-One, a young Crow Indian girl, is having more than just a bad day–she’s having a bad life. It all started when her twin brother, who was prophesied to be the Great One, who would lead his tribe to health, wealth and all-around general victory, died. Ever since, her people and even her own father have looked at he with suspicion and distrust. Did she somehow kill her brother so that she could be the Great One? No one knows for sure, but most dislike her just the same. When her father dies, she decides to take off for parts unknown to seek her fate, instead of being just another foster girl at someone else’s fire. Once out on the wild (which geographically gifted readers will recognize as Yellowstone National Park) Weak-One becomes the opposite of her name as she survives on her own, even fighting, killing and skinning a bear. (I was so absorbed in the bear battle that I missed my subway stop) But her adventures aren’t over yet. She is kidnapped by a rival tribe and at first, treated like a queen. Only later she finds out that the tribe intends to use her as a human sacrifice in one of their rituals. Now, don’t get too scared, remeber, this is the girl who fought a bear and won. Find out if Weak-One fulfills her fate or loses it all with the flick of a sacrificial knife.

What Girls Learn by Karin Cook

what girls learn Tilden is a twelve-year old mess. Her free-spirited mom has just uprooted her and her sister Elizabeth AGAIN, this time to go live with this guy on Long Island who owns a chauffeur business. Just as she and her little sis are getting settled, Tilden’s mother discovers she has a lump in her breast. How Tilden and Elizabeth deal with their mother’s cancer makes for a story that is both brave and tearful. This is definitely a three-hankie read.

Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen

Halley’s always been the quiet one, following her best friend Scarlett’s lead in life and love. Wherever Halley’s going, Scarlett’s usually been there first. But now, Scarlett needs Halley in a way she’s never needed her before–because Scarlett is pregnant and now it’s Halley who has to be the stronger friend. But the emotional turmoil of Scarlett’s pregnancy couldn’t have come at a worse time. While trying to deal with her best friend’s problem, Halley is also navigating the rough waters of her first relationship, trying to establish some distance with her controlling psychologist mother, and coming to terms with her grandmother’s slow slide from sanity. It’s going to be a tough junior year for both girls, but as Halley’s learning, its’ the problems that make us stronger. A quiet novel about the strength of friendship.