Sex. Have I gotten your attention? Just one little word, but it has the power to drive our hormone-ridden bodies crazy at the most inopportune moments! It seems like we spend a great deal of time as teenagers thinking about the things we could, would and sometimes shouldn’t do with our bodies. And that’s not anyone’s fault, that’s just the way it is for teens. Your body is changing and shooting off hormones like fireworks on a daily basis. During this time in your life, it’s pretty normal to think about love and sex more than the average human being does. Falling in love for the first time, and the physical, feel-good things that go along with it like kissing, touching, and sometimes more, can be wonderful and exciting, but also a little scary. That’s why it’s beneficial to arm yourself with knowledge about your body and feelings. Books like Lynda Madaras’s What’s Happing to My Body?, the Underground Guide to Teenage Sexuality or Changing Bodies, Changing Lives: a book for teens on sex and relationships can really help you understand what’s going on both inside and outside your bod. You can also relieve some of that emotional stress by reading stories about teens who have gone through these experiences. The books listed below are fiction stories about both girls and guys dealing with love and sex, often for the first time in their lives. The authors have done a pretty good job explaining how these teens handled their desires and what the consequences of their decisions were. And even though it feels like a century until your sixteenth birthday, keep in mind that childhood and adolescence go by fast! Sex and love are just two of the many first time experiences you may have as a teen, so don’t be in too big of a hurry to experience them. Take the time to learn and grow so that your first time happens at the right time for you.
Sib is sweet, funny and completely under the thumb of her best frenemy, Holly. Lou is smart, sarcastic and so sad over the loss of her beloved boyfriend Fred she’s gone mostly silent. The two of them have been thrown together in a dorm with four other girls at a wilderness education program in the Australian outback. There they will hike, learn basic survival skills, gossip, sneak off with boys and try not to kill each other over who’s going to clean the hair out of the shower drain. At first, Sib is too busy managing her crush on hottie Ben and Holly’s subsequent jealousy to notice Lou. And Lou is too busy managing her grief and ignoring everyone and everything else to notice Sib. But as Sib begins to finally understand that Holly isn’t just a mean girl, she’s cruel and Lou begins to pull out of her depression, they discover that friendships can bloom anywhere–even in the middle of the wilderness. Author Fiona Wood tackles first kisses, first loves and THE First Time with a confidence and finesse that reminds me of one of my all time favorite reads, Saving Francesca. And since Fiona Wood thanks Francesca author Melina Marchetta in the acknowledgements, I think it has something to do with their shared Aussie author awesomeness. The dialogue is sparkly, the characterizations spot-on and the relationships complicated and real. You’re going to want to hike on over to your nearest library or bookstore and pack up a copy for yourself.
Isla has been crushing HARD on cartoon-artist hottie Josh since freshman year at their French boarding school in Paris. So when he finally asks her out senior year after they meet cute over the summer in a cafe in New York, she can’t believe her luck. Is it possible to have a happily ever after with the boy she’s been dreaming about for four years? At first, YES! They explore Paris like they’re seeing it for the first time and make out like mad in every dark nook and cranny they can find. But then they get caught while sneaking away to Barcelona for the weekend, and are pulled apart by angry school administrators and their pissed-off parents. Isla has to stay in France while Josh’s parents whisk him back to the States. What’s worse is that Josh is the son of a US senator who is running for re-election. His face is popping up everywhere on the news, and Isla can’t help but notice that the way the press portrays the senator’s son seems a lot different from the quiet artist she fell in love with. Who is Josh Wasserstein, really? And who is Isla without him? The longer they’re apart, the more insecure Isla feels. Can their true love go the distance? Or will time and multiple misunderstandings break their magical bond? Master of the Swoon Stephanie Perkins gets better with each book, and while I have never been a huge fan of the romance genre, I happily admit to adoring all of her novels–although this one just might be my favorite. She nails the obsessive, all-encompassing nature of adolescent passion with fresh dialogue and deliciously sexy descriptions that will bring a little blush to your cheeks. Anyone who’s ever been in love will recognize Isla and Josh’s merry-go-round of emotions and root for them every rocky step of the way. How does it end? Well, what do you think? (Cue title) Whimsical, witty, seductive and definitely worth the wait!
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.
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.
It’s 1986 in Omaha, and sixteen-year-olds Eleanor and Park are about to fall in love. They just don’t know it yet. Park is half Korean, loves to read Watchmen comics and listen to punk music on his Walkman. Eleanor is the whitest red-headed white girl who ever lived, loves to re-read Watership Down and never listens to music because she is too afraid that her evil stepfather will take it away from her. They meet not cute on their shared school bus and all Park can think is how weird Eleanor seems: “With crazy hair, bright red on top of curly. And she was dressed like…like she wanted people to look at her…She reminded Park of a scarecrow or one of the trouble dolls his mom kept on her dresser. Like something that wouldn’t survive in the wild.” Park feels sorry for the strange girl, so he lets her sit next to him and before he knows it, she’s reading his comics over his shoulder and he’s making her mix tapes of The Smiths and Joy Division because this girl—this bizarre girl is funny and cool and smart and she just gets him in a way no one else ever has. And Eleanor can’t believe that slender, steady Park actually likes chubby, klutzy her: “She hadn’t told him that he was prettier than any girl, and that his skin was like sunshine with a suntan. And that’s why she hadn’t said it. Because all her feelings for him—hot and beautiful in her heart—turned to gobbledygook in her mouth.” But even as their oddball love blossoms in the most Some Kind of Wonderful way ever, Eleanor can’t bear to tell Park the whole truth about herself and her mixed up family. And after she meets his Avon saleswoman mom and ex-military dad, she is sure that Park will never be able to understand the chaos that she comes from. But that’s the thing about love. It can save you if you if you trust it. And when Eleanor finds herself with no one else to turn to, she must trust Park’s love to save them both. This story is not new. If you’ve seen this or this, or read this, then you know the score. But what is new here is how the author portrays young love–with a brio and honesty that just took my breath away, it was so fresh and true. My god, I felt sixteen again (and let me tell you friends, that was AWHILE ago.) If you want to experience what a first love feels like or feel your first love all over again, you MUST read this book.
Knockout Angel is a laid back Jersey girl who lives in the moment and isn’t ashamed of the number of guys she’s hooked up with: “From where I stand I count three guys in the bleachers I slept with, another leaning on the fence. Then I count Joey and…two more guys on the field…Then I lose count.” She enjoys the attention she gets from boys for her killer curves and long dark hair. Her mother is a flirtatious serial dater, while her divorced dad is “…basically a nice guy but he’s remarried, with two little girls, and the truth is I don’t quite fit in.” She has a hard time staying in a relationship with her on-again, off-again boyfriend Joey because there are always so many other temptations: “I guess I like my freedom too much…I like possibilities. But after a time-out, I’m always ready to come back.” This time, Joey tells Angel there will be no more time-outs, they’re done for good. Alone and restless during the hot summer months, Angel falls into a dangerous relationship with a boy who is off limits. “Am I bad person? It doesn’t feel bad. Not really. It’s separate…And it doesn’t mean anything.” Now Angel is coasting into senior year. Everyone else is getting ready for college, while she’s trying to keep her increasingly complicated love life under wraps and figure out a plan for her future. Angel just wants to hang out and have fun. But life can’t always be one long summer at the Jersey Shore. I thought this book was divinely different, with a unlikely heroine who owns her sexuality and is frank with herself about her strengths and weaknesses. Not everyone has to or will go to college, and it’s refreshing to have an author acknowledge that through a character who knows she could have done better in school but was too busy enjoying herself to care, and now must honestly assess the other options open to her. Whether you’re a Snookie or a Carrie, I think you’ll enjoy meeting Angel Cassonetti.
Seventeen-year-old Lennie has felt completely lost since her older sister Bailey, aspiring actress and all around amazing gal, died suddenly from a heart arrhythmia right in the middle of play practice. Always in Bailey’s shadow, now shy Lennie doesn’t know how to be in the sun without her big sis. Further complicating matters is the fact that the sisters were raised by Gram and hippie Uncle Big because their mom left town when they were tots and hasn’t been heard from since. Gram is convinced that one day she’ll return, but Bailey dreads ever seeing her now and having to tell her she is abruptly, horribly one daughter short. Then there’s Lennie’s love life, which shouldn’t matter like a time like this, but is absurdly taking center stage. For a girl who’s barely kissed a boy, she suddenly has two ardent beaus on her hands: French songwriter Joe Fontaine whose long eyelashes and composing skills make her heart sing, and skater boy Toby, whose passionate kisses ease the pain of Baily’s passing—because he also happens to have been Bailey’s boyfriend. “I kiss him back and don’t want to stop because in that moment I feel like Toby and I together have somehow…reached across time, and pulled Bailey back.” Yeah. As you can clearly see, it’s a mess. What do you say to a heartbroken boy who whispers, “I just want to be near you. It’s the only time I don’t die missing her.” ? Full of shame, guilt, lust and fear, Lennie juggles both boys, while trying to discover who she really loves and who she really is without Bailey to lead the way. “How can something this momentous be happening to me without her? And what about all the momentous things to come? How will I go through each and every one of them without her?”
What’s so unusual and super interesting about this debut tearjerker is Jandy Nelson’s fearless acknowledgment and exploration of the presence of sexual feelings in the midst of grief, and how these feelings can come on strong as a reaction against death. Lustful longings during a time of mourning are inconvenient and embarrassing to say the least, and Nelson captures that beautifully in Lennie’s shamefaced voice: “I am totally out of control. I do not think this is how normal people mourn.” These feelings, which come up at the most inappropriate times, also show how Lennie is developing as a person separate from her sister. In many ways, grief and her subsequent sexual awakening are making her over into a whole new being: “..what if somewhere inside I prefer this? What if as much as I fear having death as a shadow, I’m beginning to like how it quickens the pulse, not only mine, but the pulse of the whole world.” While I don’t think Sky has knocked Before I Fall out of the top weepy chick lit spot in my heart, it came pretty darn close. There’s some trailing plot threads that didn’t get tied up to my satisfaction, and some characters I would have liked to have seen more of (like mean Rachel, who I imagined looking like a blonde Lea Michele from Glee) But Nelson has a way with words, and certain phrases caught my attention and tugged at my heart, like this poignant expression about why Lennie has to stop hanging out with Toby, no matter how comfortable it is: “We can’t keep wrapping our arms around a ghost.” If you liked the weeptastic Broken Soup or Would You, you’ll definitely want to laugh and sob your way through Sky.
V is an addict. But not to any of the usual things: food, drugs, alcohol. No, V’s not an alcoholic—she’s a guyaholic. Every time V is reminded of the fact that her mom Aimee dumped V on her grandparents so she could chase yet another romantic interest across the country, V ends up seeking her own hottie to drown her sorrows in. Until she is hit in the head with a hockey puck and comes to in the arms of gentle Sam, the first boy who wants to be more to her than just another make-out partner. But V’s addiction is strong, and she ends up breaking Sam’s heart just when she needs him the most. V decides the only way to purge her feelings of anger and loss towards her mother is to find Aimee and force her to spend time with only daughter. But on her way to her mom, V ends up taking an entirely different journey where she discovers the secret to curing her addiction and the way back into Sam’s arms. This short, sassy companion novel to Mackler’s Vegan Virgin Valentine manages to be caustically funny, while imparting the very important message that you can only run from your feelings for so long before you must deal! V is a train wreck for sure, but a very funny one, and will leave many readers nodding in recognition over her self-destructive but completely understandable behavior.