Beige by Cecil Castellucci

beigeKaty is so safe, so closed up and locked down, that when punk Goth-girl Lake meets her for the first time, she dubs Katy “Beige.” But how else is Katy supposed to act? As the product of a punk-rock love affair between Rat, the recovering drug addict-drummer of the infamous band Suck, and her mom, a reformed groupie who is now a buttoned up archeologist, Katy is terrified to let her true self out in case she ends up repeating her parents’ mistakes. So she smiles sweetly and does what she’s told, even when her mom tells her she’s going on an archelogical dig to Peru, which means Katy’s gonna have to spend the whole summer with her dad, who she barely knows. Talk about SUCK! Now Katy’s steady-eddie temperament is being sorely tested by her chatty, tattooed dad, who never seems to know when to shut up, his loud music, and his best friend’s teenage daughter Lake, who’s been bribed into hanging out with Katy. As I said before, Lake thinks Katy’s beige. Will Katy be able to prove that underneath her unruffled manner she’s really fuchsia? This rockin’ read from Plain Jane Cecil Castellucci is all about not being afraid to show your true colors. And even though it’s a book, it’s got a sweet soundtrack—just download the song titles that start each chapter to get an audio idea of Katy’s state of mind as she moves from beige to brilliant! Want more Cecil? The check out her other anti-chick-lit, Boy Proof.

Tyrell by Coe Booth

tyrellTyrell’s life is in the trash—literally. Everything he owns fits in two black garbage bags. His dad’s doing time, his moms makes endless excuses about why she can’t get a job, and he and his little brother are living in one of the rattiest, roachiest family shelters around. But even though he’s down, don’t count Tyrell out. He’s still got his girlfriend Novisha on his side, and if he can only get ahold of his dad’s DJ equipment, he just might be able to throw down the party of the century, and make enough dough to get outta the shelter and back into the projects. Will Tyrell make it? Only God knows, but He sure ain’t been doing Tyrell any favors lately, so the only person Tyrell can count on is himself. Coe Booth’s debut novel for older teens reminds me of the work of my fav author E.R. Frank. (Both Booth and Frank are social workers who have worked with at risk teens) Tyrell is so real you won’t be able to believe he’s fiction. And his desire to do good in the face of overwhelming odds cuts through the tired stereotype of the fast-talking street thug who’s just trying to get over. Walk a few blocks of the Bronx in Tyrell’s kicks, and see what it’s really like living on the streets.

Another Kind of Cowboy by Susan Juby

another kind of cowboyAlex Ford wanted a horse so bad when he was little that he named his black bike “Del Magnifico le Noir” and fed it hay after he tied it up in the garage at night. Now that he’s a teenager and owns sweet, swaybacked Turnip, he tries to be grateful for the old cow horse. But what Alex really yearns for is dressage, the English tradition of riding, and poor old Turnip just doesn’t cut it when it comes to performing the fancy steps dressage demands. But Turnip isn’t the only one standing in Alex’s way. There’s also his macho alcoholic dad who thinks that dressage is for pretty boys and pansies, and the infuriating Cleo O’Shea, a spoiled rich girl who boards her horse at the stable where Alex works, and doesn’t half appreciate how lucky she is to have everything Alex wants. Adding insult to injury, Cleo develops a crush on him, not realizing that if Alex ever found time for a relationship outside the stable, it would be with a boy, NOT a girl. Will this reluctant cowboy ever be able to trade in his spurs for jodhpurs? Will he ever be able to find both the horse and the boy of his dreams? And if he does, how will he convince his dad that dressage didn’t make him gay, he was always that way? Mixing laughter with heartbreak in equal measure, Canadian queen of funny Susan Juby has penned an original story about being true to yourself and learning how to trot to your own beat. Experience more of Juby’s snort-inducing, offbeat humor online at

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The ArrivalImagine being far from home, in a new city where you don’t speak the language and nothing is familiar. Boat-shaped flying machines ferry people to and from work beneath flights of origami birds. Oddly shaped fruits and vegetables are sold from compartments in a giant market wall, and every person you meet has a small animal guide to accompany them, each looking like it sprang fully formed from a Hieronymus Bosch painting. You miss your home. You miss your family. But your job is to work hard and fit in here so that you can eventually make a new life for yourself and those who depend on you. Living as I do in a city of immigrants, I’ve seen & heard the “coming to America” story a million times before. But never like this. There is a magically real gloss on Shaun Tan’s sepia-toned wordless graphic novel that raises the classic “stranger in a strange land” plot to a fresh new height. As the story begins, it would be easy to mistake it for an Ellis Island epic. But it soon becomes abundantly clear that Tan is taking us on a trip to a land none of us has ever seen before, giving us a chance to truly understand the immigrant experience, as we the readers flounder right alongside the weary protagonist, trying to make sense of the beautiful, dizzying landscape Tan has created. So gorgeously illustrated and imagined, you’ll want to own your own copy so you can look at it again and again.

Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb

cures for heartbreak“If she dies, I’ll die. But here we were.” Mia’s mom dies suddenly of a fast moving cancer after just twelve short days in the hospital. And even though Mia can’t imagine life without her, the rest of the world just keeps movin’ on, forcing Mia to cope whether she wants to or not. And it’s not easy. First, there’s the funeral to get through, officiated by Rabbi Elvis, who arrives in Ray-Bans and sporting a very hairy chest. Then there’s dealing with her crabby, sarcastic sister, her moping, depressed dad, and the nightmare that is school, where no one seems to understand that World History is meaningless when her own history has been altered forever. Not to mention the condoms she finds in her dad’s shaving kit less than a year after her mother’s death. He couldn’t possibly be…? Oh, gross! Mia keeps looking for the self-help book, What to Do When Your Mother Dies from Melanoma, Which They Thought Was a Stomachache at First, but it doesn’t seem to exist. To make it through this bleak time, Mia is going to have to learn how to help herself, and how to accept help from others. Margo Rabb, whose own mother died when she was a teen, manages to effectively capture the moments of both absurdity and pain that accompany the loss of someone close. This book moved me to both laughter and tears, and I especially enjoyed Mia’s description of her Queens neighborhood–between the 46th and 52nd Street stops on the 7 train–which was also my neighborhood when I first moved to NYC! And if you want another sad story of parental passing, try Grief Girl: My True Story by Erin Vincent. 1 weepie.

Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You by Peter Cameron

Eighteen-year-old New Yorker James Sveck is happiest by himself. “People, at least in my experience, rarely say anything interesting to each other. They always talk about their lives and they don’t have very interesting lives. So I get impatient.” Now it’s his last summer before college, and James isn’t even sure he WANTS to go to college. He may just chuck it all and use his tuition money to buy a house in Kansas where he can be completely and utterly ALONE. But his divorced parents, worried about his strange love for the Mid-West and the fact that he may be gay (even though it supposedly “wouldn’t bother them one bit!”) send him to a shrink to in order to clear up his issues and go off to Brown like a good boy. Though James is skeptical about therapy at first, Dr. Adler manages to get him talking about all the things he never thought he’d share: his disastrous school trip to Washington D.C., his unacknowledged attraction to his mother’s sophisticated male gallery employee, and what he might have seen from the windows of his downtown Manhattan high school on 9/11. Suddenly, James realizes he is completely and utterly SAD, and has been for a long time. What he decides to do in order to change his depressed status forms the basis of this neurotic, funny, Woody-Allen-film of a YA novel. Its’ twin sister in the world of YA lit. is Garret Freymann-Weyr’s brilliant My Heartbeat, also featuring a smart, confused New York teen with issues. So if you’re finally sick of the vapid world of Gossip Girl, come visit a whole other New York within the pages of adult author Peter Cameron’s first title for older teens