Fly on the Wall: how one girl saw EVERYTHING by e. lockhart

fly on the wallWhen sixteen year old Gretchen Yee casually wishes to be a fly on the wall of the boys’ locker room in order to see if they really are as moronic as they seem, she never expects the powers that be to take her up on it. But lo and behold, suddenly Gretchen (who loves Spiderman and has been reading The Metamorphasis by Kafka) has sprouted multiple legs, wings, and antennae. She has become exactly what she wished for, and in the week she calls the boys’ locker room home, when she’s not fighting the overwhelming fear that she may never be human again, she learns some very interesting facts about the opposite sex. Gretchen sees all their faults, flaws, and surprising strengths; sees her crush Titus stand up to bully Shane, sees boys get beat up as they shower up, and finds out first hand that they are as obsessed with their “gerkins” as girls are with their “biscuits.” Speaking of which, will Gretchen ever get her own “biscuits” back, and finally be able to tell Titus how much she digs him? It’s great to watch life from the wall, but when it’s time to come down, you have to act on what you’ve learned. Jewish/Chinese-American Gretchen, compulsive cartooner and artificial redhead, is a breath of fresh punk air in a pinky blush world of chickety-chick lit. I would totally love this bad-ass little pink book, even if it wasn’t lovingly set in my adopted hometown of NYC, and didn’t mention one of my favorite places of all time, The Angelika Film Center.

This Is What I Did by Ann Dee Ellis

this is what i did
Forget bad day, Logan’s having a bad year. It all started when he saw something at his best friend Zyler’s house. What he saw was so terrifying that he couldn’t do anything but run. Now Zyler’s gone, and Logan has moved, but the memory of that night still makes his head ache and his stomach churn. What’s worse is that rumors of what happened that night have spread everywhere–even the kids at Logan’s new school have heard about it. Hardly anyone will even speak to him, and the guys in his Scout troop call him a pervert or worse. Only Logan knows the truth about what really happened that night. But it will take a therapist’s patient questions, the kindness of a girl named Laurel who loves palindromes and the safety of becoming someone else in the school play that will finally allow Logan to stand up and say to himself and everyone else, “This is what I did.” Powerful beyond words, this debut novel from Ann Dee Ellis reminded me of the equally amazing Perks of Being a Wallflower. Part screenplay and part verse novel, this compelling read will keep you turning pages to find out the secret of Logan’s private pain and the steps he takes to heal.

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

Angela is just your everyday, average teenager. She enjoys hanging out with her BFF Eve, taking care of her aunt Gail’s newborn baby, and shooting videos for the school’s closed circuit cable network. Except Angela’s known forever that the body she was born with isn’t the body she was meant to have. And the time has come to let everyone know that she’s not a lesbian, but a trans-gendered person, a boy named Grady who just happens to be wearing a girl’s body. Angela’s sudden transformation into Grady turns out to be difficult for everyone except Grady. He just can’t understand why his mother is so upset, why his friend Eve can barely stand to say his new name, why all the kids at school, except for the odd but funny Sebastian, make fun of him. Why should they care if he wants his outside to match his inside? What does it have to do with them? It’s only after Grady falls for Kita, one of the coolest girls at school that he understands just how difficult it is for a parrot to change its feathers. Or rather, a parrotfish. Named after the fish that can switch genders, Parrotfish is the kind of novel I have been waiting for since Luna (which, in all honesty, was not my favorite, although I know a lot of my teenage peeps loved it). Ellen Wittlinger, author of the now classic Hard Love has penned a revolutionary novel about what it really means to be a transgendered teen, and folks, I have to tell you, it ROCKS! Especially the hilarious subplot concerning Grady’s dad, an old school kind of guy who just can’t let go of his out of control Christmas decorations.

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady: an Enola Holmes Mystery by Nancy Springer

Even though fourteen-year-old Enola Holmes has grown up in Victorian England, where submission to the male patriachy and painful whalebone corsets are the norm, she is not your typical Victorian shrinking violet. For one thing, her older brother is the famed sleuth Sherlock Holmes, and Enola is determined to follow in his footsteps, even if she has to run away from home to do it! Using secret funds left to her by her eccentric mother, Enola starts her own detective agency in London, which she operates using a combination of subterfuge, a variety of disguises, and her own good common sense. Her first official case comes courtesy of a grieving upper-class mother, who’s well-heeled daughter seems to have run away with a scheming merchant’s son. But nothing is quite what it seems to be, and soon Enola is knee-deep in a conspiracy that includes brainwashing, kidnapping, and a garrote-(a nasty weapon made of wire and wood, used to strangle unsuspecting victims from behind) wielding villain who makes Jack the Ripper seem like a pussycat! She’s also busy staying one step ahead of her relentless brother, who won’t be happy until Enola has been found and safely ensconced in a respectable, if incredibly tedious, boarding school. This second volume in the highly entertaining Enola Holmes series is one of the best mysteries I’ve read in a good long while. Enola is plucky and smart, and though she sometimes seems like a twenty-first century girl tooling around in a nineteenth century world, her ocassional bouts of insecurity keep her all-too real. Don’t be fooled by the small format and somewhat young cover–this is one read that is grittier than it looks. If you end up loving Enola as much as I do, make sure you investigate her first adventure, The Case of the Missing Marquess.

2006 Top Ten

Please note that there has been absolutely no attempt to balance this list by age, gender or genre. These are just my “from-the-gut” favorites. You can find longer reviews for most of these titles by searching the site. Happy reading!

Anderson, M.T. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party. (8th-12th grade)After a young man slowly realizes that he and his mother, an African queen, are the subjects of an extensive social science experiment in pre-Revolutionary America, he takes drastic steps to save them both from a life of slavery and servitude. Winner of the 2006 National Book Award for Young People.

Gantos, Jack. The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs. (9th-12th grade)
Sixteen-year-old Ivy learns some disturbing family secrets after she discovers a taxidermied body in the basement that could be her paternal grandmother.

Hautman, Pete. Rash. (7th-12th grade)
In an ultra-safe future, where contact sports and name-calling have been outlawed, teenaged Bo breaks the rules and ends up in a penal pizza-making factory, where he ironically learns the true meaning of freedom.

Jenkins, A.M. Beating Heart: A Ghost Story. (8th-12th grade)
Evan begins to realize that he’s not alone in his new room when he begins to have disturbing dreams of a girl from the past who’s in trouble.

Lawrence, Iain. Gemini Summer. (7th-10th grade)
This nostalgic historical fiction of a boy and his devoted dog who manage to stay together against overwhelming odds, will remind teen readers of Stephen King’s Stand By Me, or S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.

Parkinson, Siobhan. Something Invisible. (6th-8th grade)
Eleven-year-old Jake only likes football and fish, until eccentric, outspoken Stella comes into his life and changes it forever.

Pfeffer, Susan Beth. Life As We Knew It. (7th-12th grade)
When an asteroid hits the moon, causing worldwide natural disasters, small-town girl Miranda must give up all the things she used to take for granted, like electricity, clean laundry, and chocolate. My personal favorite book of 2006.

Ruby, Laura. Good Girls. (9th-12th grade)
Good girl Audrey’s life goes into a downward spiral when a vindictive friend mass-emails a cell-phone photo of Audrey doing something not-so-nice with a boy at a party.

Vaughan, Brian K. and Niko Henrichon. Pride of Baghdad. (9th-12th grade)
This disturbing and sad graphic novel for grown-ups about a pride of lions that escaped from the Baghdad zoo during an American bombing raid of Iraq makes a powerful statement the meaning of freedom that will resonate with older teens.

Yang, Gene. American Born Chinese. (7th-12th grade)
This brightly colored, charismatic graphic novel, about a young middle school student’s struggle to become comfortable with his racial identity, is rich in wisdom and folklore, and ripe with humor and pop culture references. Nominated for the 2006 National Book Award for Young People. Winner of the 2006 Michael L. Printz award.

2005 Top Ten

Please note that there has been absolutely no attempt to balance this list by age, gender or genre. These are just my “from-the-gut” favorites. You can find longer reviews for most of these titles by searching the site. Happy reading!

Coburn, Jake. Lovesick. (8-12th grade)
College freshmen Ted and Erica fall in love after discovering each other’s addiction-his to alcohol, hers to bulimia.

Fleming, Candace. Our Eleanor. (7th-12th grade)
Candace Fleming’s chatty scrapbook approach to this American icon makes Eleanor Roosevelt seem more like a wonderful acquaintance you’d love to get to know better as opposed to a distant political figure.

Griffin, Adele. Where I Want to Be. (7-12th grade)
Two sisters, one dead and one alive, struggle to reconcile their feelings for one another as each stands on the brink of a new life.

Halam, Ann. Siberia. (8-12th grade)
In a frozen future, teenage Sloe carries the genetic seeds of long-extinct animals on a quest to save the planet and find her long-lost mother.

Hearn, Julie. The Minister’s Daughter. (8-12th grade)
Happy-go-lucky Nell finds herself suddenly labeled a witch when the spiteful daughter of the minister accuses her of spell-casting in order to draw attention away from her own terrible secret.

Lanagan, Margo. Black Juice. (9-12th grade)
Short story master Lanagan drops readers into ten bizarre and original worlds that contain unforgettable images of beauty and horror.

Lynch, Chris. Inexcusable. (8-12th grade)
Self-proclaimed “good guy” Keir tries to explain why the reader should believe his word over that of Gigi Boudakian, who claims he date-raped her.

Westerfeld, Scott. Uglies. (7-12th grade)
In a future where everyone is Pretty, Tally Youngblood must betray her best friend to the government or stay Ugly forever.

Wooding, Chris. Poison. (7th-12th grade)
Cynical teen Posion sets off on a mission to rescue her kidnapped sister, and instead finds a world of treacherous magic that she must learn to control.

Yoo, David. Girls for Breakfast. (8th-12th grade)
Graduating senior Nick Park can’t understand why girls have never liked him as much as he has liked them. Is it because he’s Korean?

2004 Top Ten

Please note that there has been absolutely no attempt to balance this list by age, gender or genre. These are just my “from-the-gut” favorites.

Braff, Joshua. The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green. (9-12th grade, adult)
13 year old Jacob Green tries to establish his identity within his seriously dysfunctional suburban Jewish family during the late 70’s/early 80’s.

Choldenko, Gennifer. Al Capone Does My Shirts. (6-8th)
12 year old Moose Flanagan is first terrified and then intrigued when his dad accepts a prison guard position at the infamous Alcatraz Island in 1935.

Curtis, Christopher Paul. Bucking the Sarge. (8-12th)
15 year old Luther Farrell turns the tables on his scam artist mother in this engaging story of a young man determined not to follow in the footsteps of his morally bankrupt parent.

Marchetta, Melina. Saving Francesca. (8-12th)
High school junior Francesca Spinelli is reluctant to admit how much she loves and needs her vivacious mother Mia until Mia suffers a nervous breakdown and refuses to leave her bed.

Meyer, L.A. Curse of the Blue Tattoo: being an account of the misadventures of Jacky Faber, midshipman and fine lady. (6-12th) Having blown her “Grand Deception,” Jacky Faber, former ship’s “boy,” has been unceremoniously dropped off in Boston to learn the art of becoming a fine lady. Sequel to Bloody Jack.

Nelson, Blake. Rock Star, Superstar. (8-12th)
Pete learns what it takes to make it in a garage band, while stumbling through his first real romantic relationship with Margaret.

Oppel, Kenneth. Airborn. (5-10th)
Young Matt Cruse defends his beloved airship against sky pirates and wild flying cats, while falling for the lovely Kate.

Pratchett, Terry. A Hat Full of Sky. (5-10th)
Tiffany Aching battles the evil Hiver, with the help of other witches and her trusty hat. Sequel to The Wee Free Men.

Provoost, Anne. In the Shadow of the Ark. (8-12th)
Re Jana and her family have doubts that the mighty flood Noach is predicting will really come.

Shepard, Jim. Project X. (9-12th, adult)
8th graders Edwin and Flake concoct a fatal plan to finally end the bullying at their school.

2003 Top Ten

Please note that there has been absolutely no attempt to balance this list by genre, gender, or age designation. These are just my from-the-gut favorites.

Donnelly, Jennifer. A Northern Light (7-12th)
In turn-of-the-century upstate New York, in the midst of a murder investigation, a young woman finds that she must make a choice between becoming a writer or beginning a family.

Frank. E.R.. Friction (8th+)
Alex tries to decide if the sordid tales told to her about her beloved teacher by a sophisticated new classmate, are true.

Jenkins, A.M.. Out of Order (8-12th)
High school sophomore Colt Trammel learns more about himself than he ever wanted to know as he negotiates relationships with three difficult women, one them his long-time girlfriend, who all have a valuable lesson to teach him.

Maynard, Joyce. The Usual Rules (8th+)
13 year old Wendy attempts to come to terms with her mother’s death on September 11, 2001, by moving to California to live with her biological father, whom she barely knows.

Parker, Jeff. The Interman (6-12th)
Van Meach, a globally built genetic “super spy” finds himself under attack when the governments that made him decide that it is too dangerous to allow him to live.

Reeve, Philip. Mortal Engines (7-12th)
In a frightening future where cities move on tracks like tanks and large towns “devour” small suburbs whole, third class history apprentice Tom and scarred orphan Hester try to unravel the mystery of the destructive weapon that is hidden in London’s core.

Rapp, Adam. 33 Snowfish (9-12th)
Three troubled teenagers with violent pasts are on the run from the law and from themselves.

Stroud, Jonathan. Bartimaeus Trilogy Book One: The Amulet of Samarkand (6-12th)
The wickedly funny and sage genie Bartimeaus is humiliated to be bound in service to scrawny, but powerful twelve year old magician-in-training Nathaniel.

Thompson, Craig. Blankets (9-12th)
The angst-ridden tale of one teen’s journey through the pitfalls of adolescence, which include his growing disillusionment with his religion and a passionate first love affair.

Vance, Susanna. Deep (8-12th)
13 year old Birdie Sidwell and 17 year old Morgan Bera become unlikely allies when they find themselves confronting a ruthless modern pirate.

2002 Top Ten (Actually Eleven)

Note that there has been absolutely no attempt to balance this list by genre, gender, or age designation. Just my from-the-heart, gut-reaction favorites.

Anderson, M.T.. Feed (gr. 8-12)
Chronicles the lives of teens in a warped future where corporations rule culture, and most newborn children are implanted with a “feed,” or mini-computer in their heads.

Barker, Clive. Abarat (gr. 7-12)
Teenaged Candy Quakenbush finds herself spirited away to the mystical land of Abarat, where each hour of the day is a different island, and the Lord of Midnight stalks her.

Frank, E.R.. America (gr. 9-12)
Troubled foster child America reveals the sad confusion of his short life to the sympathetic Dr. B., the one adult who might finally be able to help him.

Frank, Hillary. Better Than Running at Night (gr. 9-12)
Ellie Yelinsky’s freshman year at art school turns out to be an unexpectedly strange experience, as Ellie dances with the Devil and learns that painting is more about craft than angst.

Freymann-Weyr, Garrett. My Heartbeat (gr. 8-12)
Their three-way friendship is forever altered when 14 year old Ellen questions whether her older brother and his best friend are more than just locker buddies.

Gaiman, Neil. Coraline (gr. 5-9)
Young Coraline gets more than she bargained for when she discovers a secret passageway in her house that leads right back to her house…only different.

Gantos, Jack. Hole in My Life (gr. 8-10)
The infectiously funny author of the Joey Pigza books switches gears with this serious memoir about his mixed-up youth, and how the time he spent in prison as a young man influenced him as a writer.

Lawrence, Iain. The Lightkeeper’s Daughter (gr. 9-12)
A teenage mother tries to reconcile with her lighthouse-keeping parents, despite feeling that it was their remote and lonely lifestyle that led to her brother’s death.

Powell, Randy. Three Clams and an Oyster (gr. 9-12)
Three members of a flag football team search for a fourth teammate over a weekend in which they confront their attitudes about friendship, girls and their shared past.

Sebold, Alice. The Lovely Bones (gr. 9-12)
Susie Salmon narrates the story of her brutal murder and glowing afterlife as she watches her family and friends try to cope with the gaping hole her death has left in their lives.

Slade, Arthur. Tribes (gr. 8-12)
High school senior Percy Montmount copes with his anthropologist father’s death by keeping a detailed record of the strange and elusive tribe known as Grade Twelve, of which he is a lonely outsider.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale Margaret Lea leads a reading life in her father’s antiquarian bookstore, making a modest living writing short biographies of interesting, if little known, dead people. Then the famously reclusive author, Vida Winter, asks her to write Winter’s own biography. Margaret is puzzled by the invitation. The solitary woman is known for her habit of publishing conflicting accounts of her life, all of which have been proven to be utterly fictitious. Still, Margaret is intrigued, so she accepts the challenge of teasing the truth out of Vida. As Vida begins to spin a Gothic tale of an insane mother, a set of feral twins, a ghostly gardener, and a tragic fire, Margaret begins to question whether or not she’s being told the truth. She wants to believe Vida, but her own deep, dark secret, also having to do with damaged siblings, makes her question the writer’s every word. Can Margaret trust Vida’s story? And as the tale grows more grisly, does she even WANT to? This wonderfully chilling suspense novel, a 2007 Alex Award winner has a slow build and a stunning conclusion. This book reminded me of Jane Eyre, Rebecca, and of course, the now classic Flowers in the Attic. Go ahead, try and put it down after the first chapter–I dare you!

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages

The Green Glass SeaDewey Kerrigan is an eleven-year-old budding Einstein. The other girls in her class, with their giggling and boy talk, don’t interest her half as much as the experiments she reads about in The Boy Mechanic. Now her scientist dad has taken a top-secret job in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Dewey is going to join him. She has no idea what he’s working on, all she knows is that her father and his colleagues are developing a “gadget” that is supposed to end the WWII. No one knows the details, but anything that will end the war has got to be good, right? Even if you think you know how this story goes, Klages’ creative, thought-provoking ending will haunt you. And I wasn’t the only one who was impressed! Klages scored the 2007 Scott O’Dell award for best historical youth fiction.

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

Mena can’t believe it. In one fell swoop, she’s lost all her friends, been banned for life from her church youth group, and forever grounded by her parents. Why? Because she dared to do the RIGHT THING (more on that later). Only two things are getting her through her miserable days at school: her new hot lab partner, Casey (he of the swoon-y eyes and curly dark hair) and her radical science teacher, Ms. Shepard (she of the rumpled suits and venti Starbucks). Ms. Shepard’s interesting lectures on evolution and Darwin have really got Mena’s brain cells blazing. There’s just one problem—her former church friends. Every time Ms. Shepard mentions the “e” word, they all turn their chairs in protest. Mena is miserable. Just because she believes in God, does that mean she can’t believe in evolution? And if her old friends are such good Christians, why can’t they forgive her for doing the RIGHT THING (sorry, you’re just going to have to read the book to find out what that was—but it involves Mena helping an LGBT kid who refuses to bow to Christian peer pressure to “reform”) In EM & OFN, Robin Brande explores what it means to have faith—in God, in nature, in friendship, but most of all, in yourself. This is one articulate, well-written debut. Bravo to Brande for writing such a balanced, timely tome that humorously and sensitively addresses the current debate between intelligent design and evolution. 4 stars!

Heaven Looks A Lot Like the Mall by Wendy Mass

Heaven Looks A Lot Like the Mall Sixteen-year-old Tessa gets smacked in the head with an orange volleyball during gym class and suddenly she’s airborn, moving toward that bright light in the sky, which bears a striking resemblance to the local mall. It makes sense that Tessa’s heaven would look like the mall, since that’s where she experienced most of the seminal moments of her life: buying her first bra, scoring her lucky red t-shirt, trying on prom dresses. But it’s also where she shoplifted, cheated, and lied to friends. When Tessa takes a trip to the sweet mall hereafter, she is forced to deal with the fact that she hasn’t always been the nicest person. Can this committed mall rat change her wicked ways? Or is she doomed to wander the wide waxed corridors of heaven forever? While Tessa isn’t always a character you can root for, she is always one you can empathize with. Wendy Mass’s sharply observed verse novel looks a lot like a winner. Ride this escalator all the way to the top!

How to Be Popular by Meg Cabot

How to Be Popular When Steph Landry discovers a dusty old self-help book in a friend’s attic called How to be Popular, she believes she’s found the answer to all her problems. Ever since 6th grade, when she accidentally spilled a Big Red Super Big Gulp on Queen Bee Lauren Moffat’s white D&G skirt, Steph has been branded as a loser. Lauren has even gone as far as to make the whole school refer to any mistake made as “pulling a Steph.” Now it’s the beginning of junior year, and Steph is determined to make a new start. With a little help from “the Book,” her kindly (and wealthy) grandpa, who loans her enough money for a new wardrobe, and a winning attitude, Steph manages to create and organize a successful school fundraiser, woo away Lauren’s boyfriend, and collect a new batch of cool friends, all in the first week of school! But when she ends up alienating all her old friends, (especially Jason, her BFF, and possibly more) and her new crowd puts pressure on her to host a kegger on her grandpa’s property, Steph has to decide if being popular is really worth all the hassle! Using her trademark gentle humor and John Hughes-like understanding of teen angst, Meg Cabot has penned yet another enjoyable chick lit that reads quickly and goes down easy.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Just Listen Annabel Greene’s life looks perfect. She has loving parents, a gorgeous house, and two beautiful older sisters who work with her in a local modeling agency. Her best friend Sophie, rules the school as Queen Bee Extreme, and Annabel goes along for the ride to all the best parties with all the coolest people. But looks can be deceiving. Annabel hates modeling and wants to quit, but doesn’t want to upset her depression-prone mom. One of her perfect older sisters has an eating disorder. And Sophie dumped Annabel hard last year after accusing her of trying to hook up with Sophie’s boyfriend. Annabel stuffs it all down, hoping that if she doesn’t acknowledge what her perfect life has become, it will all go away. Enter indie-music outsider Owen Armstrong. Owen gives Annabel a ride home from school after a particularly nasty Sophie attack, and slowly begins to pull Annabel out of her shell with his brassy, opinionated personality. There’s only one problem. Owen is a truth-teller. And the last thing Annabel wants to tell, or hear, is the truth. Slow, thoughtful, and thought-provoking like all of Sarah Dessen’s marvelous chick lit, Just Listen is a quiet story of a girl in crisis who learns that life is about taking charge even when it seems like you have lost all control.