Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

Story of a Girl When Deanna Lambert is thirteen, her dad catches her making out and more with seventeen year old Tommy Webber, in Tommy’s car. The story quickly got out in her small town, mostly due to Tommy’s big mouth. Now it’s three years later and she and Tommy are ancient history, but Deanna still can’t shake the hateful label of “school slut.” No matter what she does or where she goes, she sees the smirks and hears the whispers of people who just won’t let the story die. But at least those people are strangers. What’s worse is that Deanna’s own father still can’t seem to forgive her. It will be up to Deanna to force her father to see that she’s not that naive girl anymore, but a young woman who’s sick of being punished and ready to take back her reputation. Like Laura Ruby’s Good Girls, Story of a Girl is an insightful, though terrifying look at how quickly we punish girls in our society for acting on sexual urges, or falling for an older boy’s persuasive line. Make sure to share this Story with as many girl (and boy!) friends as possible!

The Wish House by Celia Rees

The Wish HouseRichard is a shy, lonely boy just looking for a friend to spend the long summer days with while his family camps in the hills of Wales. He finds that friend in Clio, a beautiful, precocious girl whose artistic family and bohemian ways are at odds with the conventional life Richard leads. Still, Richard is bewitched by Clio’s beauty and gets caught up in her elaborate game of make-believe, which starts out with them acting out ancient mythological stories, but always ends with them making love in some secluded area of the woods. Soon, Richard is completely smitten with Clio, visiting everyday at her family’s ramshackle summer cottage that Richard has dubbed The Wish House. But then he discovers a dark secret about her family that causes him to commit a terrible act of destruction. Will Clio ever forgive him? Can Richard forgive himself? This sensuous, psychological read manages to be seriously steamy without getting gratuitously graphic. While this ripping good romance doesn’t exactly have a happy ending, older teen readers will appreciate Rees’s unflinching portrayal of the perils of first love, and her thorough examination of betrayal, consequence and redemption through the lives of these two passionate and completely real characters.

Good Girls by Laura Ruby

Good Girls Audrey is a straight-A student who lives to study, run the stage crew for all her school theatrical productions, and please her parents. So when a nasty someone uses their picture phone to snap a photo of Laura doing something with hot boy Luke DeSalvio that good girls just don’t do (or at least, don’t admit to) and then sends the photo to EVERYONE, including Audrey’s PARENTS, Audrey’s good-girl-world crumbles into a thousand little pixels that form and re-form on computer screens and cell phones all over town. Audrey has two choices—accept her new “bad girl” reputation, or use her experience to make her peers understand that underneath all the labels, she is just A GIRL, making the same decisions about her life and her body as everyone else. Who decides who’s a good girl and who isn’t? Audrey will soon find out as she journeys from good girl, sad girl, angry girl, to finally, REAL GIRL. Laura Ruby’s wonderfully nuanced book thoughtfully deconstructs the teenage mythology of good girls, bad boys, “sluts” and “players”, providing readers with a clear understanding of the difference between following your heart and falling prey to your hormones.

A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl by Tanya Lee Stone

A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a GirlJosie’s a smart girl. She knows the score—how some senior boys try to “get some” off of “freshmeat” girls, how some freshmen girls measure their worth by whether or they have a upperclassman boyfriend. But Josie’s not like that. Neither is Nicollete or Aviva. So how is it that they all end up dating the same hot shot senior and falling for his sweet line of bullsh*t? After Josie learns the hard way just how bad this boy is, she jots down a warning about him to other girls on the back pages of the school library’s copy of Forever, and word begins to get around. Soon, other girls are adding their stories to her warning, and Josie, Nic, and Viv find that they are not alone—this boy’s been busy! Can some good actually come from getting your heart broken by a bad boy? 3 smart girls + 1 slick senior boy = 1 sharply observed novel about sex, sisterhood, and self-knowledge.

Forever by Judy Blume

ForeverConsidered the first young adult novel to discuss teenage sexuality in a way that didn’t “punish” the characters for having sex (nobody gets pregnant or sick from STDs) Forever is the story of Katherine and Michael, two teens who fall in love and embark on a sexual relationship together. For Katherine, it’s her first time, and she spends a lot of novel deciding if sex is right for her at this point in her life. She asks her friends, subtly brings it up to her parents, and researches birth control methods. After looking at all the factors, Katherine and Michael decide bring sex into their tender, romantic, and often funny relationship. Forever was written in 1975, but because Judy Blume deals so realistically with the issue of teen sexuality, it never seems to age. The author has added a forward to the latest re-printings of the book where she discusses the danger of HIV and AIDS, a serious problem that Katherine and Michael didn’t have to worry about in 1975. I’ll say no more except that some of the adults in your life who were teens in the 80’s may have a story about passing Forever around at school and giggling over the part about “Ralph.” After reading Forever, you’ll never be able to hear that name without chuckling, just a little, too!

Up in Seth’s Room by Norma Fox Mazer

Fifteen year old Finn has gone against all the rules and her own common sense falling for hunkie high school dropout Seth. Seth is four years older than Finn and experienced–way more experienced than Finn, who’s still a virgin and plans to stay that way. Her parents and her best friend are against the odd couple, making Finn want to be with Seth even more. Matters are complicated by the fact that her parents aren’t speaking to her older sister who is “living in sin” with her boyfriend, and that Finn seems to be the last virgin on earth–or at least at school. But when Seth starts to pressure Finn to have sex, she begins to wonder if her friends and family were right–that all older guys care about is scoring in the sexual sense. Then Finn begins to wonder why sex has to mean intercourse, and she and Seth begin the monumental task of defining what sex means to them. A mature, thoughtful book that that suggests just because teens think they’re ready for sex doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready for intercourse. Look for this one at your local library or used bookstore–it’s been out of print for awhile and not likely to be found at the nearest Barnes and Noble.

The Beet Fields: Memories of a Sixteenth Summer by Gary Paulsen

The Beet FieldsIn this about-face to Hatchet, Gary Paulsen has penned a steamy, seamy autobiographical fiction about a boy learning to be a man as he works his way through his sixteenth summer. The tortured protagonist runs away from his drunken mother, does a short stint as a sugar beet migrant worker, and ends up working in a traveling carnival where he partners up with the chicken-head-biting-geek-guy. It’s while putting in time at the carnival that he meets older woman Ruby, a hard but pretty stripper who seduces him in her trailer. Full of first times of every kind, what makes The Beet Fields more than just a sensationalized look at the underbelly of a runaway teen’s life is Paulsen’s luminous writing–and the fact that you get the distinct feeling that this has all happened to the author himself. But be warned folks–this is no Hatchet. Teens with weak stomachs or squeamish natures should stay with Brian in the Canadian wilderness.

Love and Sex : Ten Stories of Truth edited by Michael Cart

Love and SexCart leaves no stone of teenage sexuality unturned in this remarkable collection of short stories about, well, love and sex. There’s great stuff here about virginity, infatuation, first times, obsession, abstinence, sexual identity and transgender issues by such YA writer-greats like Joan Bauer, Laurie Halse Anderson, Chris Lynch and Shelley Stoehr. (Special aside to Shelley Stoehr: Hell-o, Shelley, where you been? Fab story, but when’s that next novel coming out?) I especially loved Irish import Emma Donoghue’s story, “The Welcome” about a young lesbian who falls for a girl who’s not quite “himself.” Plus, the cool purple and silver cover art of teens at a rave will wow you before you even get to the first page. An excellent effort all around–just read it all before lending it to friends, because I guarantee you probably won’t see it again until its been passed around to everyone and their brother, and their brother’s cousin Marcus who lives in New Jersey!

The Year of Sweet Senior Insanity by Sonia Levitin

The last thing Leni needs to worry about is how to make her first time with college boyfriend Blake romantic. After all, she’s got prom to plan, the senior show to host, and her little brother to keep quiet. Oh, did I mention her parents were out of town? And that she asked Blake to stay with her on the sly? And that it’s almost senior prom night, and as “Kewpie” (her high school’s equivalent to head cheerleader, mascot and homecoming queen all rolled into one) she has to plan out ALL the senior activities and host most of them? Leni’s in over her head, with both her social and sex life. It’s only when push literally comes to shove that she realizes what’s important, and what can be kicked to the curb–namely, useless boy-toy Blake. Leni wises up in a hundred humorous and realistic ways as she attempts to make it through all of those bittersweet first and last times of senior year. Another oldie but a goodie that’s out of print, you’ll have to hunt for Senior Insanity at the library or a used bookshop.

Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

Annie on my Mind
Liza’s first love was Annie. But it ended all too soon. Now away at college, safe from the harsh critics and gossiping tongues that tore them apart, Liza looks back on her first romance. She and Annie were so naive that they didn’t even know what to call their relationship. Were they…lesbians? What did that word mean, exactly? And how could you label something so wonderfully right with a name they had learned was shameful? With dreamy prose, Garden sensitively chronicles the first awakenings of sexual awareness and identity between two young women. A beautiful love story that, gay or straight, you will hold in your heart long after the last page is turned.

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

DreamlandCaitlin has finally gotten out from under her older sister’s shadow. So why does she still feel so alone? Ever since her older sib ran off with her b-friend instead of fulfilling their parents’ dream of college, Caitlin has felt at loose ends with her family. And she still can’t get her mom’s attention, even after she wins a coveted spot on the cheerleading squad. Mom and Pop just can’t stop obsessing over lost sis, and Caitlin’s sick of it. So she hooks up with local hottie and resident bad boy Rogerson. Rogerson introduces Caitlin to a whole new world of drugs, sex and rock-n-roll. Everything is great…until he starts hitting her. How will Caitlin escape from this smoke and sex laden dreamland of abuse? Lesson #1, first-timers: love and fists don’t go together. If your first time love is turning hateful, get out and don’t look back. Hands are meant for holding, not hitting. Just ask Caitlin.