Everything in fifteen-year-old Rowan’s life has felt broken since the death of her older brother Jack two years ago. After Jack’s fatal accident, her father left, her mother sank into a sleeping pill stupor and her little sister Stroma came to depend on Rowan utterly. Now Rowan’s days are an endless round of school, caring for Stroma and pretending that she’s got everything under control. Then gentle drifter Harper comes into her life. Touring around Europe in an old ambulance-turned-RV, Harper meets Rowan when he hands her a photo negative he says she dropped outside a grocery in her London suburb. Rowan’s never seen the negative before, but it seems easier to accept it than argue with a stranger. Then Bee, a pretty, friendly girl a few years ahead of Rowan in school, offers to develop the film–which astonishingly turns out to be a picture of Jack. Grieving Rowan is shocked and confused. Where did the negative come from? And if she didn’t drop it, then who did? Rowan needs answers, and the logical person to ask is Harper. Though he isn’t much help with the photo, their chance encounter begins to blossom into a romance. Meanwhile, Rowan has found a soul mate in Bee, who also has a younger sib and helps Rowan take care of Stroma. Still, the mystery of the photo nags at Rowan and as her new relationships deepen, she uncovers a hidden interconnectedness between herself, Harper, Bee and Jack that gives her hope—just as her life takes another unexpected turn. I love everything about this little gem of a book, from the evocative title and the articulate writing, to the air of romantic mystery and the riveting and incredibly satisfying conclusion. Some of Valentine’s statements about grieving just floored me with their brutal honesty. Like this one about Rowan’s parents: “After Jack died, they protected themselves by refusing to love us, the kids who still had dying to do.” Ouch! And whoa! For as quiet as this book is sometimes, Valentine knows how to get and keep your attention with sentences like that, and with the slow revealing of clues about Jack’s photo that keep you guessing. If you liked Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer or Marthe Jocelyn’s Would You, you’re gonna want to serve yourself an extra big helping of Jenny Valentine’s delicious, devastating Broken Soup. (1 weepie)
Fifteen-year-old Isabel, aka “Belly” has spent almost every summer of her life with her mom, her older brother Steven, her mom’s best friend Susannah, and Susannah’s two sons Conrad and Jeremiah. Susannah has always been like a second mom to Belly, and Conrad and Jeremiah like another set of brothers. Belly loves the weathered old beach house, all the silly traditions she and the boys have maintained over the years, and the fact that nothing ever changes. Until this summer. This is the summer when things get confusing. This is the summer when divorce, sickness, and hurt feelings turn sunny days dark. This is the summer of first loves, second kisses and Belly finally admitting to herself which boy she loves more than just as a family friend. Because this is the summer Belly turns pretty and the whole world turns upside down. “Every summer up to this one, I believed it’d be different. Life would be different. And that summer, it finally was. I was.” It’s good to know I still retain my tender teenage heart, which ached terribly upon finishing Belly’s story, a bittersweetly familiar one for any girl who ever fell in love between June, July or August. More than just a cute candy beach book (although Han’s prose is as compulsively readable as the bag of Skittles one of her characters can’t stop popping), it has more in common with the multifaceted brand of chick lit penned by authors like Sarah Dessen, Justina Chen Headley and up and comer Sarah Ockler.
Catherine Locke is determined to crush the competition in Mr. Fizer’s torturous A.P. Special Topics in Research Sciences class, especially smug Matt McKinney, her ex-best friend and science fair rival since 6th grade. Each student must randomly choose a picture from Fizer’s dreaded Stack of science photos and devise a secret year long research project around it, culminating in a science fair presentation that could make or break their college apps. When Cat pulls a picture of naked Neanderthals from the Stack, at first her mind draws a blank. Cave people couldn’t be further from her previous studies of insect evolution. Then it dawns on her: Cat, overweight since she gave up swimming for Snickers, will study the eating habits of ancient hominids, with herself as the test subject! By dropping all “processed, manufactured, chemically altered, or preserved” foods from her menu, she hopes to prove that conforming to a “Cave Girl Café” diet will help return the body to it’s original, pre-junk-food-and-artificial-sweetner state. Cat’s prepared for how physically difficult it’s going to be giving up her six-pack-a-day Diet Coke habit and beloved candy bars. But what she never saw coming was how boys would react to her newly svelte bod, now shed of it’s protective layers. Suddenly Cat’s drawing appreciative stares and longing glances from all sorts of male hominids—except smug Matt McKinney, of course. Good thing she isn’t secretly in love with him or she just might care! This funny take on love, food, biology and gender differences is one of the freshest chick lit. titles I’ve read in awhile. Like another recent favorite of mine, Brande weaves lots of interesting scientific facts into a story that is both about our societal battle with food and the battle between the sexes. Cat and Matt’s stormy relationship humorously illustrates how girls and boys are wired differently when it comes to dealing with emotions and handling competition. Clearly influenced by food origin books like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Fat Cat is a happy meld of romaine and romance, tofu and tenacity, that will appeal to even the most picky of eaters and readers. Oh, and one last thing: If Brande sounds familiar, it’s because she is the author of RR 2007 Top Ten Title, Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature.
Three very different girls + three contrasting points of view = one compelling day-in-the-life novel. Leticia is the kind of girl who doesn’t mind doing just enough work to get by and wants nothing more than to keep her “silk-wrapped, hand-painted, custom-designed, three-quarter-inch, square-cut nails with the sparkling faux diamonds” intact. Dominique is a serious, hard-driving basketball player who maintains her grades only to avoid being benched. Trina is a gifted painter and a fashionista who may shake her booty at the boys passing by but has big plans when it comes to pursuing her artistic dreams. One morning at school, Trina accidentally brushes too close to Dominique, who’s just found out she’s been benched due to a low grade in Mr. Hershheiser’s class. Wild with misdirected rage, Dominique swears to her girls that she will beat the unsuspecting Trina to a bloody pulp after school, even as Trina, who barely knows Dominique and has no idea what she’s done, sashays innocently on down the hall. Gossip girl Leticia views the whole thing from a safe corner and can’t wait to spread the word to everyone (except Trina) about the girl fight that’s gonna go down at 2:45 today. Tensions build as the school day progresses. Will Leticia tell Trina and risk being branded a snitch? Will Dominique cool down before the after school showdown? Will Trina catch wind of the fight and high tail it her Juicy pink booty out of there? Only time will tell and the minutes are ticking away…this slim novella packs more lyrical language and edge-of-your-seat suspense in its 170 pages than most books do in twice that page count. RW-G is a poet of the real, and she manages to be both wonderfully expressive and deeply street smart using an economy of words. I particularly dug Leticia’s sarcastic analysis of A Separate Peace: “I see how it all relates to my life because every other day I’m up a tree pushing some loser to his eventual death, then breaking out into a soliloquy about it. Don’t you just love the classics?” A tiny, terrifically written tome whose outcome is both disturbing and disturbingly real.
Sixteen-year-old Maybelline Chestnut has a big problem (bigger than the fact that she’s been named after a brand of mascara) and that problem is spelled M-O-M. “You’ve heard of serial murderers? My mother’s a serial marryer. It’s a disease. The husbands get blinded by the big blonde hair and the big boobs and big personality. There’s so much big stuff that they never notice the little cracks in the marriage until it’s too late.” Maybe’s former pageant-winning mother has been married six times, and when lucky #7 tries to give Maybe a grope, she knows it’s time to strike out on her own. She takes off to Los Angeles to find her biological father, her only clue a blurry photograph scammed from one of her mother’s dusty hatboxes. Accompanied by her best friends Ted (a short statured baby-mogul-in-training) and Hollywood (a tall, gangly aspiring filmmaker), Maybe at first finds California as intoxicating as she imagined it being back in boring old Florida. But as her money runs out and her friends establish lives of their own, L.A. seems meaner and colder, and Maybe despairs of ever completing her DNA mission. She is granted a reprieve from sleeping in the back of Hollywood’s car when she scores a job on taco truck and is supplied with a bed and three squares a day by an unlikely guardian angel. However, her bio-dad is still at large, and an inevitable confrontation with her confused and angry mom looms large. Will Maybe solve the mystery of where she comes from? Or will she be forced to return to Kissimmee broke and unsatisfied? This fast, fun read reminded me of Sonya Sones’ One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies,another Hollywood-themed family drama that is also shot through with laughter and tears. Pair them together for an inexpensive trip to La La Land, courtesy of your imagination!
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.