I have just one question for you, my adolescent friends: How the HELL did I miss reading this cheese-tastic gem when it first came out?! Part Buffy, part Supernatural and all kinds of awesome, PDFH is the first volume in the Maggie Quinn chronicles (Girl vs. Evil), the story of a reluctant high school seer and her propensity for attracting demons and their cloven-hoofed ilk. Maggie is an almost-graduated senior who enjoys a bit of amateur sleuthing when she’s not behind the camera in her role as girl-reporter on the school paper. Her nose begins to twitch with the smell of brimstone when one by one, the ruling senior clique begins to suffer a series of near-fatal accidents. Now, Maggie’s always had a little precognition going on, but seeing as she prefers logic over lunacy, she tends to downplay her telepathic talent. This time she has no choice but to heed what her third eye is showing her, especially when it becomes apparent that a certain something summoned from the PIT OF HELL is stalking Avalon High’s Barbie & Ken set. But don’t worry, Maggie’s got plenty of help on her side, namely in the form of college hottie Justin, one of her dad’s research assistants who is practically a certified ghost hunter himself; and bo-hunk Brian, a muscle-y Ken doll who’s defected from the football crowd because he’s decided that quirky Mags is more his six pack of beer. What makes things even more complicated is that not only does Maggie have to banish demons, finish her English paper and decide which boy toy to snog, she also has to find a decent prom dress. Because what demon in his right mind could resist the levels of “grief and terror and angst and woe” that can only occur on prom night? Maggie will have to meet the demon on Prom Ground Zero if she wants to vanquish it, and the results are NOT gonna be pretty! I just loved this outrageous supernatural romp. Among the sheer number of Buffy rip-offs and Twi-wannabes that crowd the book and DVD shelves these days, Rosemary C-M’s mystical offering manages to stand out, mainly because of Maggie’s snarly, sassy voice. The teen psychic’s one-liners are to die for, and how’s about those wicked, kick-ass covers? Although I’ve only read the first episode of Maggie’s eerie adventures, I look forward to tearing through the rest soon some dark and stormy night. Fun with a capital “F”!
When Octavia thinks about her grandma Mare, the first word that comes to mind is “embarrassing.” Instead of being the cozy type of grandmother who bakes cookies and does the Sunday paper crossword puzzle, Mare “has long fake nails and a croaky hoarse drawl, and she’s always holding a long, skinny cigarette…She’s loud and bossy and she drinks bourbon with lemon juice at dinner. She has a low-slung, two door red coupe…and walks everywhere else on strappy high-heeled sandals.” As far as ‘Tavia’s concerned, the less time she spends with outspoken Mare the better! But now her parents have volunteered Octavia and her snooty older sister Tali to accompany Mare on a summer road trip South to a mysterious family reunion, and neither of them is very happy about it. Octavia stopped getting along as sisters with Tali a long time ago, and the prospect of having to deal with her in the close quarters of Mare’s car seems not only uncomfortable but practically impossible. But soon Octavia sees a whole new side of her outrageous grandma as Mare starts spinning tales of her time in the WAC (Women’s Army Corp.) during WWII to pass the time in the car. Almost against their will, the sisters are drawn into Mare’s sweeping story of bravery, sacrifice, prejudice and pain. As the journey continues, both girls begin to soften towards each other and Mare as they begin to understand the role the past has played in shaping their present. There’s nothing I like better than a good inter-generational story—as long as the oldster on the scene isn’t some sappy, wise Yoda-type figure dispensing advice. And Mare couldn’t be less like that. She’s smart, sassy and utterly cool. But she also admits her mistakes, never sets herself up as a role model, and allows her granddaughters to see her weaknesses and insecurities. I loved how Tanita Davis wove together the contemporary with the historical and showed how they connect through two generations of strong African American women. And if you want to read another great story about the contributions of African American women during WWII, check out Sherri L. Smith’s Flygirl.
After a summer spent hiking and becoming one with nature in the mountains of Tennessee, fifteen-year-old Carly has discovered she’s more turned on by Neil Young and peasant skirts than Ne-Yo and Coach bags. So she tries to trade the materialistic trappings of her privileged life in the blinged-out Buckhead suburb of Atlanta for a hefty dose of sincere spirituality and altruistic activism. Easier said than done, especially when she returns home to discover that her sweet lil’ sis Anna has sprouted some serious breasts and a smokin’ hot bod. Suddenly, newly noble Carly finds herself in the painful position of being jealous of her own sister, an icky feeling that lingers no matter how much she tries to rationalize it away. It doesn’t help than Anna is also questioning Carly’s god-given big-sister authority and becoming a serious boy magnet while the boy Carly’s crushing on doesn’t even know she’s alive. Meanwhile, Carly’s also struggling with how to get her ultra-slick dad to take her seriously, to assure her new BFF, who happens to be black, that she’s not just a part of Carly’s do-gooder, hippie make-over, and to convince herself that she’s definitely NOT in love with the boy next door who she’s known forever. Contrary to its’ super-cute cover and title, Baby Ducks has some serious meat on it’s pink-n-paisley bones. This surprisingly deep read covers everything from relationships and racism to socioeconomic class and spirituality, and contains lots of those interesting, uncomfortable moments that make you think. Fans of Sarah Dessen and Justina Chen Headley will want to snatch up this sister act asap. And just for fun, check out this video of Myracle chatting about friends, coffee, and Baby Ducks.
In 1943 Louisiana, nineteen-year-old Ida Mae Jones wants nothing more than to contribute to the war effort like her big brother Thomas. She’s tired of serving on the home front, where all women can do is save bacon fat for machine grease or donate their silk nylons for parachutes. Like her father before her, Ida Mae has the flying bug and won’t be happy until she’s piloting a plane for Uncle Sam. There’s just one lil’ problem: Ida Mae is an African American woman, and although black men are allowed to enlist and serve in segregated units, women are not welcome as pilots or soldiers in the United States Army. But just when Ida Mae has given up all hope of realizing her dream, she hears about the WASP, or Women Airforce Service Pilots program. Due to the shortage of able-bodied men, the Army needs female pilots to ferry planes across the US to drop-off points where they can then be flown overseas to the battlefields and Ida Mae is determined to become one of those women. To the horror and dismay of her friends and family, armed with just her father’s forged pilot’s license and her light skin, she enters the WASP training program as a white female pilot. Her fear of being found out is quickly eclipsed by the thrill of flight and the close friends she makes at the training center. But her family and her roots are never far from her mind. Exposure as a black woman would mean expulsion from the program, criminal arrest, or worse. Can Ida Mae make it as a black woman in a white man’s Army? Will she even want to after facing discrimination, ridicule and the death of a dear friend? Sherri L. Smith’s fourth novel is a high flying historical adventure, full of thrills and spills, but also jam packed with fascinating historical facts about the amazing WASP and their unique brand of heroism.
It’s 1947 and fifteen-year-old Evie is in a big hurry to grow up. She’s sick of her gorgeous mom Bev always stuffing her into little-girl dresses and making her wipe off her lipstick. So when her stepfather Joe proposes a family holiday to swanky Palm Beach, Evie jumps at the chance to recreate herself on vacation. Her opportunity to do so arises when she meets Peter, a dishy ex-G.I. friend of her stepfather’s who’s also staying in Palm Beach. Peter is a twenty-three-year-old Hottie McHotster and a total flirt. Though Evie’s mother seems to enjoy Peter’s company, Joe seems sullen and resentful anytime he’s around. Slowly it becomes clear to Evie that Peter wants something from her family—but what? Does he really like Evie, or is he just using her to get closer to beautiful Bev? Or maybe his true target is Joe, and Evie is just an afterthought in his pursuit of a business deal with her stepfather. The answer is revealed when a tragic accident forces Evie to choose between Peter and her parents, and the decision she makes surprises even Evie herself. Though it takes place almost fifteen years earlier than the 1960’s cable sensation, this slick hist. mystery reminded me of the glamorous yet repressed world of Mad Men, where no one shares their real feelings and family secrets are swept neatly under the rug. Judy Blundell’s sophisticated teen noir is not only one of the few true mysteries in YA Lit. Land, it’s also one of the best. But don’t just take my word for it—Blundell’s book was also crowned the winner of the 2008 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, despite some very tough competition.
The Janes are back, and this time love is in the air. It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, and Main Jane Beckless is torn between two boys—Miroslaw, the man she helped save on the day of the Metro City café bombing, and Damon, the cutie McCutester who took the fall for her when the P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art in Neighborhoods) Janes were caught at the end of their first adventure. Theater Jane is in love with an actor who doesn’t know she’s alive, science Jane is trying to concoct a pheromone scent that will cause boys to ask her out, while sporty Jane simply takes matters into her own hands by informing the boy she likes that he’s now her boyfriend—and he cheerfully complies. But affairs of the heart aren’t the only troubles plaguing the Janes. The girl-art gang (plus James) is also struggling with low funds and high aspirations when it comes to planning future P.L.A.I.N. projects. To make matters worse, Main Jane’s mom refuses to leave the house after an old friend is killed by an anthrax terrorist attack. Can Main Jane solve her romantic woes, find a way to keep funding P.L.A.I.N., and get her mom to hit the sidewalk, all while dodging the apoplectic Officer Sanchez, who’s determined to shut down P.L.A.I.N. forever? This spirited sequel to The Plain Janes will bliss out any teen crusader of public art, free speech, or love. Have no idea what I’m talking about? Then you better run out to your nearest library or bookstore and snag the first Castellucci & Rugg graphic novel collaboration and get up to date with the Janes!
Emi is an Everyteen on a hunt for some artistic inspiration to pull her out of her summer-job doldrums. When she sees performance artist Poppy make a scene at the mall while advertising the “Factory,” a local open mic venue, she knows she’s found her muse. Poppy, with her multi-colored dreads and multiple piercings, is everything Emi is not—loud, brash, beautiful and totally uninhibited. With Poppy as her motivation, Emi finds the dubious courage to do things she never thought she’d do—even stealing the journal of a woman she baby sits for, and using her private thoughts as a spoken word act. Soon “Emiko Superstar” is the belle of the Warhol-esque Factory. Deep down, Emiko feels guilty for using someone else’s life as fodder for her performance. But if she drops her act, will she be forced to give up all her fabulous Factory friends and go back to being just boring Emi again? It will take a kind stranger, a timely 911 call, and a torn paper heart to make a-MAH-zing Emiko realize that good old Emi wasn’t so bad after all. This thoughtful, smart story about finding yourself after your fifteen minutes of fame has passed reminds me of Cecil Castellucci’s groovy Plain Janes (another arts-full MINX title) and the work of Derek Kirk Kim. And though it looks like Emiko may be one of short-lived DC imprint MINX’s swan songs, hopefully artists and authors will continue to produce and promote more girl-rrific graphic novels for us fangirls who still need an occasional rriot grrl fix!
Something’s rotten in the halls of Nighshade High, and to junior sleuth Daisy Giordano, it smells suspiciously like the undead! For Daisy, fighting the powers of darkness is nothing new—after all, her mother works for the police as a psychic investigator, and her big sisters Poppy and Rose employ their abilities of telekinesis and mind-reading respectively whenever mom needs some assistance. The only “normal” in the family is Daisy, who’s determined to show her sibs that she has crime-fighting talents, too—even if they are just your average surveillance-and-stakeout skills. Members of the Nightshade High cheerleading team are suddenly falling prey to a mysterious illness that leaves them wasted and, well, CHEERLESS. Prime suspect is head cheerleader Samantha Devereaux, who seems to have caught a serious case of O-My-Goth over the summer, trading her pink & green prepster duds and Jansport backpack for black fishnets and a tiny, made to order wheelie coffin. Has Samantha turned into a jealous vampire draining the cheerleaders of their vital peppiness? Or is there a more sinister force at work? To find out, Daisy will have to join the squad and date football hottie (and son of the police chief) Ryan Mendez—all in the name of solving the case, of course. And if she happens to fall in love on the way? Well, that’s just one of the unexpected bonuses of being “dead”icated to your job! This lil’ bit of fuschia-colored fluff was an enormously satisfactory way to wile away a Sunday afternoon, and chock-full of entertaining lines like these: “She was a soul-sucking vampire and I was a sixteen-year-old cheerleader, but I was damned if she was going to suck the life out of my friends. High school is hard enough!” It is indeed, but fun stories like this make infinitely more bearable. Follow the further adventures of Daisy and Co. in Dead Is a State of Mind and Dead is So Last Year.
“I was chained between two nations.” When Isabel Finch’s mistress dies, she is sold to a New York Loyalist family instead of being granted her freedom as was promised in the old lady’s will. Bound to a cruel new Tory mistress who delights in tormenting her, Isabel is initially tempted to join forces with Curzon, the enslaved message boy of a rebel leader who believes in the patriots’ cause. However, it isn’t long before Isabel discovers that neither Tory nor Patriot is interested in granting slaves their freedom, and if she wants her independence, she’ll have to take it for herself. Armed with only her wits and the memories of her lost family, Isabel learns to play both sides against each other for the highest of stakes: her future. Giving readers an intimate portrait of the sights, sounds and smells of New York in the tense six months leading up to George Washington’s famous Delaware crossing, this suspenseful hist. fic. had me turning pages with breathless anticipation to see how Isabel was going to engineer her escape. Friends, this prose MOVES—would you expect anything less of rock star YA author Laurie Halse Anderson of Speak and Fever 1793 fame? But this isn’t just an adventure story. It is also a tale of bravery, passion and fear featuring a smart, courageous heroine who is impossible to forget. (I just knew it would be good, especially with that cover that looks like it’s straight out of a Kara Walker exhibit!) This novel pairs perfectly with another of my fav titles that kicks it Revolutionary War-style: Octavian Nothing, vols. 1 & 2. Read ‘em all together for the total AmRev experience!
In a world where everyone gets his or her own special talent, courtesy of an invisible fairy, fourteen-year-old Charlie is pretty bummed to have scored a parking fairy. I mean, she doesn’t even drive. As a freshman at an elite sports school, she really could have used a no foul, shooting or throwing fairy instead. Determined to discourage her parking fairy, Charlie starts walking everywhere. And I do mean, everywhere. Which is making her late. Which is causing her to collect demerits at her punctually obsessed school. Charlie is so busy slaving away at community service jobs to work off her late demerits that she has very little time to flirt with new cutie Stefan. But its not like he would notice her anyway, because Stefan seems to be under the sway of Charlie’s most hated classmate Fiorenza, she of the “all-the-boys-like you” fairy. What do you do when the fairy you have isn’t the fairy you want? Why, ditch it of course! Even if Charlie is able to shake the parking fairy, there’s no guarantee that her new fairy will be any better. But that’s the risk she’s willing to take for a chance at Stefan’s love and an end to being thrown into the nearest back seat anytime someone needs a good parking spot! I’ll admit, it took me some time to get used to Larbalestier’s odd slang (“doos?” “pulchy?” “spoffs?” ) but since she was kind enough to tuck a glossary in the back, I soon got into the swing of things. Funny and whimsical, this isn’t just a fantasy, but a romance, sports, and even bit of a mystery novel. Larbalestier threads sly pokes at celebrity obsession and adolescent self-centeredness throughout Charlie’s snarky narrative, which will delight close readers and us “older” teens who fancy ourselves above all that☺ Personally, I could use a “no one ever sits too close to me on the subway” fairy, or a “write brilliant book reviews in no time at all” fairy. But one thing’s for sure–Labalestier certainly has a “good book writing” fairy! Or maybe not—read her blog post about the roles of muses in the writing process.
Itty-bitty blondie Sylvia Mark doesn’t look like much. But piss her off, and she’s liable to go all Hulk on you. Except, not green—just really, really strong. Meangrrl Colleen finds that out when she tries to warn Sylvia off her fine boyfriend, and ends up in a Colleen-shaped locker dent with a broken arm for her trouble. While Sylvia at first chalks up her overnight might to puberty-gone-wild, her disturbing dreams of bio-vats and rivers of blood hint at a dangerously different reason. Meanwhile, in a secret government lab, Dr. Tabitha Carver looks over her collection of super-girls in jars, awaiting the return of the missing four so she can activate her army of baby goddesses. Four girls were kidnapped from the lab at the start of Carver’s precious cloning project. Now one of those girls is beginning to manifest her powers. And due to an instinctive impulse that is leading her closer and closer to her test-tube origins, Sylvia is rounding up the other three for a final violent confrontation with Carver that could end up rocking the entire world. My teenage friends, you have no idea how much serious ass-kicking is contained in this lil’ GN. Suffice it to say that it is on the order of my fav comic girl Fray and her bad-ass cousin Tank Girl, and just as cosmically awesome. And if square-jawed, pouty-lipped Sylvia looks familiar, it may be because Simon & Schuster just recently picked up this independent production that originally debuted on Dark Horse’s website, then was published in a seven issue series by Arcana Studios back in ’04. Now S&S have collected all seven issues of Sylvie in this suh-weet paperback for your uninterrupted viewing pleasure. So get off the couch already, head to your closest library or bookstore and get your own Girl! (Batteries and kung fu superpowers not included.)
It’s 1969, the war (excuse me, “military action”) is raging in Vietnam, Charles Manson is on trial for mass murder, and fourteen-year-old Bliss In-the-Morning-Dew is fresh off the commune. Her hippie parents have fled to Canada to escape the draft and left Bliss high and dry with her prissy southern grandmother in Atlanta. But this is not a tragedy. Bliss discovers that she actually likes real soap, clean sheets and remote-controlled television. She’s even looking forward to making friends at the chi-chi private school her grandmother has enrolled her in. That is, until she steps on campus and hears the otherworldly voice that keeps whispering in her head, speaking of blood, death, and sacrifice. Until she explores the abandoned third floor of the school’s oldest building, once a convent, and discovers the room of the young novice named Liliana who plunged to her death to escape the soul-cleansing whip of a sanctimonious Mother Superior. Until she finds out that one of her new chums actually plans on becoming a vessel for the vengeful Liliana and needs Bliss’s blood to seal the deal! OMG, Lauren Myracle, who knew you were hiding a bloody butcher knife behind that Mayberry smile? Myracle, lately she of the sweet, pastel-covered stories of girlhood has returned to her darker, a la Rhymes with Witches roots with this delicious package of scary goodness all wrapped up in a blood-soaked bow. Lately I have been pissing and moaning about the fact that there is not enough true YA horror to fill the desperate need of teens everywhere for some good old-fashioned thrills and chills. Well, I’m here to tell you that YA horror is BACK because Lauren Myracle has BROUGHT IT with this spine-tingling nightmare that is 1/3 Carrie, 1/3 classic Lois Duncan, and the rest gorgeously gory urban legend. The YA horror gauntlet has been THROWN my adolescent, Stephen-King-reading friends, and I can’t wait to see how many YA writer-peeps start penning their own terrifying tales in order to reach the bar raised by this bloody Myracle!
The main character of Nancy Werlin’s latest novel, seventeen-year-old Lucy Scarborough, happens to be a pregnant teenager, but this shockingly original hybrid of fantasy and psychological thriller is like no pregnant-teen-story you’ve ever read. Besides dealing with the same problems as any young mother-to-be, Lucy also has to contend with the conditions of an age-old curse that landed her in this situation in the first place. See, in Lucy’s family, all the women get pregnant as teens, give birth to daughters, and then promptly go insane. The daughter grows up and the cycle starts all over again. This is all due to the fact that one of Lucy’s ancestors refused to return the romantic affections of the evil Elfin King, and he in turn cursed her and all her future generations with schizophrenic madness that kicks in during late adolescence. There is only one way to break the curse: perform the three impossible tasks described in the balled Scarborough Fair. For hundreds of years, no Scarborough woman has been able to solve the puzzle. But this is the twenty-first century, and with the help of the Internet, a supportive family and a solid boyfriend who believes in her, Lucy may just be the first Scarborough with a real shot at banishing the Elfin King forever. This perfect blend of contemporary teen angst, romance, and myth had me racing through the pages to find out if Lucy beat the clock on going crazy while simultaneously Googling the lyrics to Scarborough Fair to see if I had any better luck at solving the riddle. And the climax, well, you’ll just have to see for yourself, but it literally gave me goosebumps. (For the record, evil fairies scare me!!) But you shouldn’t be afraid to look for this impossibly good book at your local library or bookstore.
In a world where evil magicians called Danisoba steal away small children who display any hint of mystical talent, orphan pirate girl Kestrel works hard to hide her ability to whistle up the wind. But she may be forced to show her hand when her beloved Captain Binns is arrested by the Royal Navy and sentenced to hang for his dastardly deeds. Kestrel is frantic to save him. But if she allows her talent to show, any sailor worth his salt will sell her out to the nearest Danisoba for top dollar. So instead she relies on more earthly means to orchestrate the save of the century. Hampered by a mutinous crew, a disappearing ship, and a double-dealing jack o’ napes named Philip McAvery, (who may or may not be on her side but is far too good looking to be trusted either way) Kestrel has to decide if she’s willing to risk life and liberty to save the man who has been like a father to her. Shiver me timbers! This thrilling paperback original reminded me of my all-time favorite series, Bloody Jack(except with magic). So if you’re a fan of the nefarious Jack Sparrow, or just partial to spell-casting buccaneers and swashbuckling acts of derring-do, sail out the door to your nearest bookshop and drop some gold doubloons for this high seas fantasy adventure penned by newbie author Misty Massey.
High school senior Ruby finds herself in a precarious position when her alcoholic mom ditches her and she is left to fend for herself in the six months left before her eighteenth birthday. She tries making a go of it on her own, hiding the fact that the water and heat in her rented house have been turned off, but she is eventually found out and sent to live with her uber-successful lawyer sister Cora (who she hasn’t seen in years) and Cora’s technological whiz-kid husband Jamie. Being catapulted from skid row to the equivalent of VH1’s The Fabulous Life of… leaves Ruby suspicious and unwilling to believe that the good times will last. In fact, she still keeps the key to the old house around her neck just in case she needs an escape hatch. But as she begins to collect new friends who gently but insistently begin to demand her attention (bossy, cell-phone obsessed classmate Olivia, OCD-suffering boss Harriet, more-than-just-a neighbor and smokin’ hot Nate) Ruby begins to relax into her suddenly safe and spacious new life. Until she discovers that perfect Nate has some family secrets of his own, secrets that she unfortunately understands all too well. Can these two fiercely independent teens learn to lean on each other? Or will their pride keep them apart? Sarah Dessen maintains her signature deep and introspective style in this, her eighth novel, and fans will recognize some familiar characters from Dessen’s other works embedded in Ruby’s story. If you like Lock and Key, you’ll want to go back and read Dessen’s backlist, especially my favorite title of hers.