Chime by Franny Billingsley

If Tender Morsels had a love child with Madapple, and My Sweet Audrina was the midwife, it might turn out looking like Franny Billingsley’s crazy good new fantasy, CHIME. It’s sometime in the nineteen aughts, and seventeen-year-old Briony, daughter of a rural clergyman, is convinced she’s a witch. How does she know? Well, there’s the little matter of the time she called up a wind to dump her twin sister Rose out of a swing when they were little, resulting in Rose’s peculiar behavior ever since. Then there was the afternoon she got mad at Stepmother, and spirited up a water being that nearly drowned her when it flooded the parsonage and ruined all the books in the library. And if that’s not enough, consider the fact that she can talk to all the brownies, sprites and fairies that only she can see in the swamp behind her home, and you’ve got a bona fide broom rider on your hands. Briony knows she’s nothing but bad news, and hopes that by punishing herself by staying away from the swamp she can avoid being found out. Witches are still hanged in her neck of the woods, and Briony prays to never be looked at twice by the Chime Child, a village woman born at the stroke of midnight who uses her gift of second sight to identify potential spell-casters. Then dashing Eldric comes to town, a college drop-out with a silver tongue who falls hard for Briony and refuses to let her go on tormenting herself. He starts asking questions, and soon Briony begins to realize that everything she thought to be true about herself and her family may be a colossal lie. But if she’s not a witch, then what is she? And what is the secret that the swamp spirits and Eldric have been trying to tell her that she refuses to believe? A magical amalgamation of fantasy, religion, turn of the century technology, horror and hot romance, this at times claustrophobic first person narration of a girl trying to find out who she is in a world turned upside down by secrets and lies is absolutely spellbinding. Billingsley uses the symbols of Briony’s changing world to make subtle statements about the strict societal roles of men and women, the questionable advantages of technological progress, and the loss civilization suffers when we begin to forget our myths and legends. But don’t expect a fast paced adventure–secrets are revealed slowly here, layer by layer in luscious prose that will make you pause on every page. Delectable!

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Lord of the Flies meets 90210 (the Donna/Kelly classic version) in this hilarious send-up of a beauty pageant gone very wrong. The state contestants of Miss Teen Dream have just crash landed on a deserted island. Their chaperons and camera crew are dead, and most of their lip-gloss and flat irons have floated out to sea. At first they keep practicing their routines under the eagle eyes of Miss Texas, a take-no-prisoners blond glamazon, confident that they will be rescued before their suntan lotion runs out. But as the days go by and no plane or ship appears, the girls begin to form a strong matriarchal tribe, capable of defending itself with stiletto catapults, makeup splat guns and melted jewelry arrowheads. They start to ask each other questions like, why do girls always seem to say “sorry” whenever they happen to express a strong emotion or feeling? And what does “act like a lady” mean anyway? They begin to think, “Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.” But even as they start to understand themselves better emotionally, the beauty queens are in real physical danger. What they don’t know is that they have actually settled on a top-secret government stronghold that is about to become the target of an illegal weapons trade. If the girls aren’t careful, they will become nothing more than pretty collateral damage. But then the reality television pirates show up, and what happens next could only be cooked up by the mad-cap brain of fiendishly clever award-winning author Libba Bray. While the booby/bullets (those are actually cheekily placed lipstick tubes) cover may lead you to believe that this is a fluffy beach read, think again, my teenage friends. This book may look like a cheesy reality-show rom-com on the surface, but under all the hairspray and beaded gowns is a deep read about what it means to be a girl AND a dude in today’s label-crazy society. A fun romp with food for thought–don’t you dare miss it!

The Sweet Life of Stella Madison by Lara M. Zeises

Let’s be very clear–almost eighteen-year-old Stella Madison is NOT a foodie. She prefers Cheez Whiz to aged cheddar and her pastry fried, not puffed, thank you very much. But it’s hard to maintain her junk food standards when she is the offspring of two hardcore gourmands. Her mother is a restaurant owner and her father is a famous French chef, but despite all their best efforts, Stella’s palate stubbornly remains stuck on chicken fingers. “I don’t know why my parents can’t accept the fact that I’m not and never will be a foodie. It doesn’t make me any less their daughter just because I prefer chicken nuggets to squab (which is really just a fancy name for pigeon, by the way).” All that changes when Stella is offered a restaurant review column at the local paper. It pays too well to turn down, but Stella doesn’t know a fig from a fish stick. Good thing her mom’s hunky new cooking intern Jeremy has offered to help her figure it all out. There’s just one little problem, and his name is Max. He’s Stella’s boyfriend, which Stella keeps forgetting every time she gets an eyeful of Jeremy. Soon she’s not sure who she wants more: the dependable boyfriend who already goes so nicely with her beige palate, or the spicy new intern who threatens to turn her taste buds upside down. One thing’s for sure—if this Stella doesn’t get her groove back fast, someone’s going to get hurt. And it just might be her. This fast, flirty romance is full of fun facts about food and restaurant culture for all you Top Chef and Next Food Network Star fans (of which I am one!) while also honestly depicting the difficulty of making the right choices when it comes to relationships. I downed the whole thing in one delicious read, and you will too. For more romantic foodie fun, try Flavor Of The Week by Tucker Shaw.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Vera Dietz would just like everyone to leave her alone. She’s spent most of her life keeping to herself so that no one will ever find out her most terrible secret, the one only her best friend Charlie knows: that her mom left when she was twelve and never came back—and that she supported herself as a stripper when Vera was a baby. She’s learned that playing it safe and turning off your feelings like her formerly alcoholic dad means you never get hurt. But now that Charlie has died, Vera discovers that she can’t hide anymore. Where ever she goes, Charlie’s there. He keeps showing up—at her pizza delivery job, in her car’s glove box, in the woods behind her house. Charlie has secrets too. Charlie needs to tell Vera something important about the night he died, and apologize for how he left things. But Vera doesn’t want to hear. So she stays out all night drinking vodka coolers. She begins making out with a cute college drop-out who’s way too old for her. But nothing drives Charlie’s ghost away. Soon she has no choice but to hear Charlie’s story and finally acknowledge his part in her life–and her part in his death. Author A.S. King uses dark humor to explore themes of alienation, intervention and socio-economic class in a whip-smart story that doesn’t tread over the same old “problem novel” ground. Although the ending wrapped up a bit too neatly for me and I wasn’t a huge fan of the talking pagoda (hard to explain, you’ll just have to read it) Vera (who I picture looking like April from Parks and Recreation) and Charlie’s characters were perfectly executed, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them. And if that’s not enough for you, I think this book trailer gets the mocking, deadpan tone of the book just right. (John Green fans, this is a good in-betweener while you wait for next Alaska.)

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

What if you lived in a world where love was classified as a disease? Known in seventeen-year-old Lena’s futuristic society as “amor deliria nervosa,” it is something to be feared more than anything else. To catch amor deliria is to lose control, to forget to eat, sleep or work. It even drives some people to their death. That’s why Lena can’t wait to have the procedure that is administered to all teenagers on their eighteen birthdays, a simple operation that divorces you from any feelings of fear and pain. Even though it also stifles excitement, joy and causes some to lose their memories of loved ones, Lena doesn’t care. She’d rather feel nothing than end up like her mother, an emotional woman who, after three procedures, still couldn’t stop exhibiting the terrifying symptoms of love. So she committed suicide rather than go through the operation again. Now Lena’s procedure is coming up. And unlike her mother, she can’t wait to feel safe forever. Then she meets Alex, a boy with “crazy golden brown” eyes who challenges everything she’s ever known to be true about her world. She discovers a hidden society of light and warmth below the cold gray existence she’s been living, and a horrible secret that threatens to tear her very identity apart. And worst of all, she catches amor deliria nervosa. But instead of being terrible, it’s the most wonderful thing she’s ever experienced. Now Lena has to decide if she can continue to live in a world without love. While this title didn’t hit me right here *thumps heart with fist* quite as hard as the author’s debut, Oliver’s prose is still lush, the concept is fascinating and the romance is EPIC. Classics fans will also find thematic shades of The Giver and Brave New World within the pages. The climactic end is both heart-pounding and heart breaking, making it a perfect choice for for sweetie reading around February 2011, when it will be making it’s way into libraries and bookstores.

The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman

Meet June and Wes. June’s eyes are a bit too far apart and Wes’s hair is always just this side of scruffy. They are not cheerleader and jock. They are not lead in the spring musical and band geek. Most importantly, they are not fallen angels or pretty vampires. They are just June and just Wes. Regular. And they fall into the kind of love that isn’t love at first sight or like the end of the world. But it’s a love that any of you who have ever been in serious ga-ga with someone will recognize immediately: first love. The love that causes June to feel like: “Wes was planted deep inside her, so deep that no amount of wishing or hoping or parental brainwashing could ever dislodge him.” And Wes to think: “Being in love is hard…—wanting to be perfect for her every second they were together, and trying not to think too much about the scary, murky future when they would be apart…He had never been happier in his life.” A love “like two trains heading toward each other on the same track. It wasn’t like you could swerve to avoid the collision. It wasn’t like you could stop.” A love like that could result in, well, a big crunch. But now that June and Wes have collided and fused together, what will they do when June’s parents decide to pick up and move again? Can the Big Crunch survive the Long Distance? This funny, heartfelt novel is like Harry Met Sally for you millennials, and proves that you don’t need angel wings, vampire fangs or werewolf fur to fall in love.

Pink by Lili Wilkinson

“I never wore pink. Pink wasn’t cool. Pink wasn’t existential. Pink was for princesses and ballet shoes and glittery fairies.” Serious, all-black-wearing Ava has a secret. She longs to be one of those “Girly girls who wore flavored lip gloss and read magazines and talked on the phone…girls who like boys.” Because Ava likes girls. Or, at least, one girl: Chloe, she of the dark vintage clothes and sophisticated literature taste. But now Ava is wondering if maybe she just didn’t give the color pink or boys enough of chance. So she’s transferring to a posh private school in order to try on a different identity, one that her way-left-of-center parents and cynical Chloe definitely wouldn’t approve of. At her new school, she tries fitting in with the Pastels: smart, Brooks Brothers-styled preppies with perfect hair and grades who are all performing in the high school musical. Unfortunately, the best voice-challenged Ava can do is make stage crew, where she meets the anti-Glee gang: the Screws. Like Chloe, they favor dark clothing but have more wider ranging interests than deconstructing Sartre or black and white French films. They’re actually really smart, funny and cool, when they’re not constantly slagging on the actors. Ava warms to the Screws more than she thought she would, but she also still wants to be a pretty Pastel. The deeper undercover she goes, the more confused she gets. Is she gay or straight? Preppy or pouty? Pastel or Screw? Is it possible to have it all and Chloe too? Or is she doomed to have to choose? This refreshing fish-out-of-water story is just what the doctor ordered to spice up the tired old chick lit genre. Ava’s classic adolescent identity crisis is made brand spanking new by the fact that she’s already living the bohemian life most high schoolers dream of, but instead longs for structure, collared shirts and a date to the senior prom. Which just goes to show that the grass is always greener on the other side of the cafeteria…and nobody illustrates that fact better than Aussie author Lili Wilkinson, who also happens to be employed in the incredibly cool profession of teen librarian when she’s not writing super snappy dialogue or creating moments of exquisite fictional teenage embarrassment. All this good, girly, gothy fun can be found at a library or bookstore near you!

The Julian Game by Adele Griffin

julian game
Raye Archer is a lowly scholarship girl at swank private school Fulton. Her only friend is Star Trek geek Natalya, and Raye’s getting a little tired of spending Saturday nights at Nat’s house watching marathons of Next Generation on the Syfy channel while consuming copious amounts of Duncan Hines instant brownies. So when Ella Parker, one of the ruling members of the uber popular Group, offers Raye a shot at high school stardom by allowing Raye to become her Mandarin tutor, Raye jumps at the chance. But soon she starts losing Ella’s attention, so to keep the Queen Bee interested, Raye offers to help her get back at Julian Kilgarry, the hottest dude in school. Apparently, Julian had the gall to diss Ella at a party, and now Ella wants revenge. Julian’s comeuppance appears in the form of a blue-haired girl named Elizabeth, Raye’s online Facebook creation. Raye and Ella use Elizabeth to gain Julian’s trust in order to lure him places where he’s bound to run into trouble. But Raye’s conscience won’t let her keep up the ruse, so she ends up confessing to Julian, who is not only unexpectedly grateful, but ends up asking Raye out. Raye can’t believe her good luck. But just how long does she have before ruthless Ella discovers that she and Julian are more than just friends and her luck runs out? Ella will stop at nothing to show Raye who’s boss, even if it means using the Internet to cyberbully Raye into submission. What can you do when your frenemy is as elusive as a nasty email that can’t be deleted or website that won’t disappear? In terms of just really good writing, this mean girl thriller is heads and shoulders over those tired old Gossip Girls. Adele Griffin sums up so well how it feels to be drawn into the orbit of a dangerous girl who could kill your rep with a lift of her little finger: “I’d never had a bona fide girl crush, but something about Ella’s physical beauty and the way she was standing so close to me made me understand, with sharp and aching clarity, how you could fall wildly in love with a girl like Ella. She looked perfect as a daffodil. What did it matter if she was rotten at the root, if you could somehow get her to love you back?” Seriously, I’m rolling out “perfect as a daffodil” as my new catch phrase. Love it! Just like you will love this down and dirty story of best friends gone wrong and dudes done over. (And head over here for more information on the dangers of cyberbullying and how to stop it. Online harassment is no joke, be a part of the solution, NOT the problem!)

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford

sullivan sisters
The Sullivan sisters are in big trouble. It seems that one of them has gravely offended their wealthy, fire-breathing  grandmother (helpfully nicknamed “The Almighty”) and until the guilty party confesses, Grandma has threatened to take that person’s share of the family inheritance and donate it to Puppy Ponchos for needy dogs. So responsible eldest sister Norrie, bad girl middle sister Jane and earnest baby sister Sassy sit down and begin to pen their confessions, not knowing which one of them has committed the act that put Almighty over the edge. Was it Norrie, by having a secret romance with a gorgeous but entirely unsuitable boy? Was it Jane with her unrepentant blog titled “My Evil Family”? Or was it Sassy, who thinks it’s possible she might have accidentally killed Almighty’s fifth husband by scaring him to death? Each one of the girls has a secret to share that reveals not only something about herself but also essential truths about their quirky upper crust family that, despite their fancy trappings, have just as many issues as everyone else. It soon becomes apparent that the confessions themselves aren’t nearly as important as what each sister discovers about herself as she writes one. This smart character-driven novel, by the author of my favorite book last year and reminiscent of the equally wonderful Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, humorously explores the burdens of family expectations and how sometimes you hurt the people you love the most on your way to finding out who you are.  A lovely ease-back-into-school read.

Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown

picture the dead
Jennie Lovell is one sad little spinster. Her parents are dead and the Civil War has taken both her brother Toby and her betrothed Will, leaving her at the mercy of her stuffy aunt and uncle’s reluctant charity. Now she has nothing to look forward to except a slow slide into servitude in her cold relatives’ dark house, which feels filled with ghosts. Then Will’s brother Quinn returns from the horrific Andersonville prison camp wounded in more ways than one. He has lost both an eye and the ability to feel anything but anger and contempt. Jennie tries to break through his sullen silence because she can sense he’s hiding a secret about her lost love, but Quinn refuses to speak. When the grieving family poses for a photograph at a spiritualist’s studio to try and commune with Will, Jennie is struck by a feeling so strong it could only be the ghost of her fiancée trying to beak through from the other side. With Will’s spirit as her guide, Jennie unearth clues like a broken locket, a lost letter and a ruined photograph that begin to tell the awful story of Will’s demise. There’s only one piece missing, and that’s Quinn himself. Can Jennie convince Quinn to tell her the truth of what actually happened to his brother? And does she really want to know if it means the memory of her beloved Will is tainted forever? Hugely under the radar author Adele Griffin (whose fab literary fiction I adore) skillfully bakes the brutal history of the Civil War, the creepy Spiritualism movement and America’s fascination with the new science of photography into a tasty gothic treat that is guaranteed to give you welcome chills in the middle of the August heat! Sumptuously illustrated by Lisa Brown, this eerie little ghost story just begs to be read up in your favorite tree or the top of your summer camp bunk.