Okay, you’ve graduated past teen romances and Anne of Green Gables is so over with! So what’s next? How about some books that show girls standing up for themselves, kicking butt and taking no prisoners? It’s time to fight the power with these girls-rule reads!
You know when sometimes you discover that amazing book that is ALL THE THINGS? Mystery? Check. Romance? Check. Family DRA-mah? Check. Unexpectedly awesome, never-saw-it-coming ending? Check, check! I wish I could tell you more about this book about a girl, her two cousins and the love of her life. But to say too much about this story of a family slowly rotting from the inside out because of greed and fear would be a great disservice. You should get the chance to savor this delicious narrative of privilege, love and madness on a private island for yourself. Suffice it to say that it contains shades of King Lear, Wuthering Heights and The Virgin Suicides. That the small, perfect characterizations: “Bounce, effort, and snark.” “Sugar, curiosity, and rain.” “Ambition and strong coffee” will have pulling out your own writer’s notebook to follow the pattern. That not only people but HOUSES in this story have their own personalities and strange little quirks. That the plot rug is pulled out from under you the minute you think you understand what is going on. And try not to scream when I tell you this terrific little tension filled package is coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you May 2014.
Mila is an exceptionally observant person. The intuitive only child of academics, she uses her keen sensory powers to discover what it is that people aren’t saying through their body language, facial expressions and clothing choice. That’s why her father agrees to bring her along on a trip to visit his best friend Matthew’s family, even though Matthew himself has gone missing. Maybe Mila can uncover the reason he abruptly left his wife, small baby and loyal dog. Mila interviews Matthew’s wife, plays with Matthew’s baby, walks Matthew’s dog and visits Matthew’s summer cabin. But as Mila carefully collects clues, she is drawn deeper and deeper into a mystery that perhaps only exists to her. While the ending of the book didn’t work for me for all sorts of reasons that will give away important plot points, I found Mila’s voice and the construction of the story unusual and intriguing. If you follow The Mentalist or enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, you’ll dig Mila’s cerebral adventures as well. Also, not for nothing, Picture Me Gone was nominated for a National Book Award.
World-weary traveler Willem is lost. But not in a GPS sort of way. He knows exactly where he is geographically. But ever since his father’s sudden death and his mother’s consequent withdrawal, he’s been wandering lonely as a cloud, drifting from one European destination to the next, trying to find an emotional anchor. And then for one day in Paris, he does. He meets the charming Lulu, an American girl on vacation who needs a distraction from her life as much as he needs one from his. They spend an amazing twenty four hours together. And then he wakes up in an emergency room, battered, bruised and barely able to remember the girl of his dreams. All he knows is that he wants her back, and he will do anything to find her. Except where does he start when he realizes that Lulu isn’t even her real name? Told in Willem’s brave, tender, tragic voice, this extremely satisfying sequel to the beautifully wrought Just One Day will satiate salivating fans who have been dying to find out what happened to Lulu’s mysterious Dutch crush. If you haven’t encountered Willem and Lulu before, you’ll want to read their twinned accounts back-to-back to get the full experience of their long distance love story. A Just Wonderful romantic adventure for the lucky-in-love and brokenhearted alike.
Tina’s tired of everyone constantly asking her what she IS, when she’s still figuring it out herself. It’s annoying that just because she’s Indian, people think she’s going to end up in an arranged marriage meditating on sacred cows with a dot on her forehead. She happens to BE a lot of things, and not all of them have to do with where her family is from. So she’s pretty excited when her English teacher Mr. Moosewood creates an elective called Existential Philosophy, which is all about learning how to BE. And not anything in particular, either–just yourself. Tina thinks she can handle that, especially after her best friend dumps her and she develops a crush on the cutest boy at her private school. Her world is suddenly shifting. If she can learn to answer the big life questions posed by her existential philosopher hero Jean-Paul Sartre, maybe everything will fall back into place. Including her first kiss, which is the big life question Tina is most interested in answering. Forget the meaning of her existence! What actually matters most is if she ever plants a juicy one on skater boy Neil Strumminger, will he kiss her back? And if so, will they be boyfriend/girlfriend? Mari Araki‘s sketchy black and white drawings that look like they would be right at home on the cover of your favorite notebook perfectly compliment Keshni Kashap’s angsty text. This witty graphic novel about a smart, funny Indian girl seeking the meaning of life in high school hallways and family dance parties will ring true for anyone who’s ever tried to peel off society’s slapped on labels.
Dinah is a worrywart with a big heart who just wants everyone to get along and everything to be okay. She can’t bear hearing bad news and tries to stay positive even though sometimes she is just so sad about her best friend Skint she can’t take it. Skint is teenage cynic who is angry most of the time about all the bad things that happen to good people, but mostly about the bad thing that has happened to his good family: his smart, generous father is suffering from dementia, and Skint can’t do anything to stop it. When Dinah and Skint befriend a little boy who’s suffering in a way they both recognize all too well, their act of kindness towards him turns out to be a bomb that nearly detonates their friendship. The greatest strength of this character-driven book about real teenagers and real adults with real problems are its long, smart riffs of rich dialogue that just zip off the page, reminding me of some of my favorite titles, like this one, this one and oh, yeah, this one too. The Whole Stupid Way We Are is a sometimes sad, sometimes funny and always moving story about doing the best you can with what you have.
Since she was a little girl, Laura has been captivated by the colorful and bloody history and literature of Russia. But when she finally gets her chance to spend a college semester abroad in Soviet Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1982, she is disappointed by the dreary weather, bad food and suspicious locals. Then she meets Alyosha, a handsome young artist who adores all things American, including Laura. Soon they are caught up in a passionate love affair that is made all the more romantic by the fact that they must keep it secret because American students are discouraged from fraternizing with anyone outside the university. Alyosha gives Laura the keys to his apartment and she finds herself skipping class and lying to her chaperones in order to spend more time with him. She willfully ignores all the warnings from her friends that native Russians “fall in love” with Americans all the time in order to secure a visa to the United States. But as the semester comes to a close, and Alyosha talks more and more about how much he longs to visit San Francisco, Laura can’t help but wonder if the all the warnings are true. Is Alyosha really in love with her? Or is he just using her as a way to escape the close-minded culture of Soviet Russia? While not as offbeat and funny as the author’s smashing debut, this solidly written and deeply felt love story set in a time and place that will seem totally bizarre to those of you born in the 1990s is made even more fascinating by the fact that it is most likely based on this. This bittersweet romance is the perfect way to end your summer.
Cath is the shy “Clark Kent” half of Cath and Wren, a pair of twins who used to share everything, including their love of writing and reading fan fiction. But now that they’re headed to college, Wren isn’t as interested in their online stories anymore and wants to go off on her own, while Cath just longs for everything to stay the same. At first Cath is as miserable on campus as she thought she’d be. She desperately misses her twin and worries about her single advertising exec dad, who is prone to fits of extreme mania that leave him exhausted and unstable. The only thing that makes school even bearable is keeping up with her fan fiction about Simon Snow (a very thinly concealed version of Harry Potter). But bit by bit, almost against her will, she is coaxed away from her computer screen by her smart, sarcastic roommate Reagan and new creative writing partner Nick. Then there’s flirty Levi, Reagan’s Starbucks barista boyfriend. No matter how much she tries to ignore him, he just refuses to let Cath slip away into her shell. Cath can’t decide if Levi is charming or annoying, but he’s certainly entertaining. Suddenly college isn’t so awful after all. But then Nick starts acting weird, her dad goes off the deep end and her long lost mom, who deserted Cath and Wren when they were little, decides she wants to be a part of their lives again. And if all that weren’t enough, Cath thinks she might be falling for the worst possible person in the universe, and her sister is too busy with her new life to help her decide what to do. Cath is so overwhelmed that the only thing that helps is immersing herself in all things Simon. But how will she ever learn to solve her real life problems when the first sign of trouble sends her running to the safety of her fictional world? This delightful and poignant story by the beloved author of the beyond amazing Eleanor and Park does not disappoint. Rainbow Rowell uses realistic, absurdly funny dialogue like a BOSS, exploring in spirited conversations between her quirky, flawed characters everything from plagiarism and identity to divorce and mental illness. It’s a book about being an artist, being in love and being true to your self. Just read it and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
Fifteen-year-old Colette is “what your English teacher calls an ‘unreliable narrator.’” Or in other words, a big fat liar. Her therapist says she lies because she’s “got a very bad case of Daughter-of-a-Famous-Movie-Star Disorder.” But Colette disagrees, even though the part about having a blockbuster mom is true. “I say I lie because it’s the most fun I can have with my clothes on.” Even though her lying gets her in trouble with her family and friends, Colette finds the exaggerated storytelling too much fun to stop, especially when her elaborate fibs find such an appreciate audience in her little brother Will. Then Colette meets Connor, the boy of her dreams on the set of her mom’s latest movie, and lies about everything from her age to who her mother really is. But this time she regrets not keeping it real, because she finds herself truly falling for Connor. One thing Colette is honest about is how far she wants to go physically with Connor, and when he storms off after she tells him “no” one time too many, Colette regrets not being more honest about why she doesn’t want to go all the way. When Connor finally returns and shares some shocking truths about himself, Colette has decide if she should come clean or keep her flirty fictions intact. This light and frothy verse novel about truth, lies and relationships is the perfect way to end your summer reading. It has been six long years since we’ve seen a sassy title from the singularly talented Sonya Sones, and this one will not disappoint her masses of fans.
There are two sides to every story, and stupendously talented author/artist Gene Luen Yang elevates that saying to a whole new level with Boxers & Saints. In this double volume, graphic novel masterpiece, two teenagers become caught up in the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1898 on opposite sides, fighting to retain their identity and hold on to their hard won religious values.
Boxers tells the story of Little Bao, the youngest son in a motherless family of farmers from a poor village. When a Catholic missionary priest smashes the statue of one of his village’s gods in front of him, he is devastated, especially since the opera stories he sees during the spring fairs make him feel as though the ancient gods are his close friends and allies. As he grows into adulthood, he begins training with a kung fu master in order to join the rebellion against these foreigners who have their own army and refuse to respect the native Chinese ways. Soon he is heading up his own small army, each member fueled by the angry spirits of the old gods. But as the “Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fist” marches closer and closer to the capital of Peking to “eradicate the foreign devils” once and for all, Little Bao begins to question his rock solid faith as the number of bodies of innocent people build in his violent wake.
Saints tells the story of Four-Girl, a lonely child who is considered a bad luck devil by her family no matter how much she tries to win their approval. The only person who shows her kindness is the village acupuncturist, who is also a Christian. He tells her Bible stories that fire up her imagination, and she begins having recurring visions of Joan of Arc. Soon she decides to become baptized and join the church. She gets a new name, Vibiana, and leaves home to work at a Catholic orphanage, followed by her visions of Joan. When Little Bao’s army comes to her village’s doorstep, Vibiana decides that God is calling on her to be His warrior maiden like Joan of Arc. The tragic, unpredictable result of Little Bao and Vibiana’s final meeting will haunt you long after you close the covers on Saints.
The earthy/monotone palate of both volumes perfectly conveys the rural landscape and hardscrabble life of the peasants, only exploding into vibrant color when Little Bao’s pantheon of Chinese gods arrive on the scene, with their rainbow robes and elaborate masks, or Four-Girl’s golden vision of Joan of Arc shimmers between the trees outside her home. While this exceptional work will no doubt help gazillions of readers understand the complexity behind religious wars and personal freedoms, it can also be appreciated as a swiftly paced adventure peopled with men, women and gods who bring this fascinating period of Chinese history to bloody life. I was blown away by both the richly illustrated package and the timeless message. Read them in the order the title suggests, (first Boxers, then Saints) and then pass them along to everyone you know.