Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen & Faith Erin Hicks

Revenge of the Nerds meets Mean Girls in this high-sterically funny GN drawn by the author of The Adventures of Superhero Girl and Friends with Boys. Charlie is a basketball jock. Nate is a robotics nerd. But somehow they manage to be best friends–until Charlie’s ex-girlfriend Holly proposes using school funds earmarked for the robotics team to instead finance her cheerleading squad’s new uniforms. Furious, Nate decides to try and take over the student council by any means necessary so he can have some say in how the funds are allocated. This incites an all out war between the nerds and the cheerleaders that involves everything from a hijacked scoreboard to copious amounts of weed killer and places Charlie unhappily in the middle. And while it’s not fun being pulled between the two factions, at least it helps distract Charlie from the fact that his divorced parents are making him miserable. But when Nate discovers an original way to solve both funding problems (two words: Robot Rumble) Charlie finds himself in the unlikely role of peacemaker between his best friend and his ex-best girl. Can he find a way to broker peace between his parents as well? This story of high school high jinks crackles with energy fueled by Faith Erin Hicks‘ bold, blocky artwork and Prudence Shen’s chuckle making dialogue. The trash-talking alone at the Robot Rumble had me snorting in my subway seat. You’ll want to throw this in your beach bag pronto. (Want a sneak peek at the panels? Read the webcomic version here.)

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Do you remember the first time you realized you were no longer a kid? Maybe it was when your best friend started “going out” with someone and never had time for you anymore.  Maybe it was at your middle school “moving up” ceremony when your principal shook your hand instead of hugging you and your parents asked if you would rather get a job instead of going to camp this summer. It’s tricky, that moment. One foot is still on the playground, while the other hovers uncertainly over adulthood. For twelve year old Zach, that moment comes when his father decides the time has come for Zach to retire his “action figures” and throws them away while Zach is at school. Devastated but determined not to show it, Zach tells his two best friends Poppy and Alice that he simply doesn’t have time anymore for the elaborate fantasy game they’ve played for years using dolls and their imaginations. But Poppy can’t let go. She insists that the creepy doll locked in her mom’s china cabinet that has loomed large in their imaginations as the evil Queen of their fantasy land is possessed by the ghost of a girl who needs them to return her to her grave site. Zach and Alice are skeptical until Poppy tells them, “Did you know that bone china has real bones in it?…She’s made from human bones. Little-girl bones.” And the doll does seem to have sack of what looks like ashes inside her. So the three friends go on a quest to return the Queen to her grave, encountering spooky circumstances that may or may not be the result of the dead girl’s ghost. Is there really a ghost, or is this just Poppy’s attempt to keep them believing in magic just a little longer? And what are these new feelings brewing between Alice and Zach? Secrets are revealed between the three that begin to tip the balance from believing that everything is possible to understanding that life isn’t always fair. “I hate that everyone calls it growing up but it feels like dying.” says Poppy passionately, sounding exactly like you, me and any other person who’s been twelve, thirteen, thirty, sixty five or eighty. The feeling that sometimes growing up sucks is universal, and it doesn’t necessarily get any easier as you start hitting the numbers that stop ending in “teen.” Holly Black so gets that in this beautifully melancholy book about endings and beginnings that will speak to readers of all ages. Without a doubt, one of the best books of the year.

45 Pounds (More or Less) by K.A. Barson

The teenage veteran of a million crash diets, Ann has always been overweight. It’s hard not to feed her insecurity with more Mondo Burgers when her mom is a size 6 and her ex-best friend is a sculpted tennis pro. But when her Aunt Jackie announces that she wants Ann to be a bridesmaid in her upcoming wedding, Ann decides that she needs to lose 45 pounds (more or less) in the next few months to fit into a halfway decent dress. Deciding is one thing, doing is another. At first Ann tries another infomercial diet plan, but the prepackaged food is foul and expensive. And when she hears her four year old sister mimicking her slender mother’s refrain, “I’m too fat, I can’t eat another bite,” Ann knows that she needs to model better eating habits. So she ditches the diet and goes the way of good old portion control and exercise. But will it be enough to get her weight down to where she wants it to be for the wedding? And what about that cute boy who flirted with her at the mall? Does he like like her for herself or would his flirting go a little further if she was thinner? Will losing weight really stop her divorced dad from taking her granted or make her distant older brother pay attention to her again?  Ann very much seems like an updated version of Marcy Lewis from one of my favorite middle school reads, The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, as she also eats to deal with complicated family matters that have nothing to do with food. Funny and frank, 45 Pounds is a good reminder that body weight that is either too high or too low is often a symptom of a more serious problem, and that if we address those problems, weight suddenly becomes more of a manageable issue.  Want more books that deal honestly and realistically with issues of body weight/image and/or family problems? Try Fat Cat by Robin Brande or The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler.