Jersey Angel by Beth Ann Bauman

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.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

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.

Guyaholic by Carolyn Mackler

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.

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.