I finally made it through the stack of books I chose to keep from the pile I collected at ALA Mid-Winter in Seattle. I gave a few away to other YA Librarians and even more to the moms of Teenie Boppers.
But I kept a few.
And they were sadly and suspiciously all far too much alike. I believe that I fell back into the tastes I had as a teenager, and I think I've made myself sick on chic-lit in the past several weeks. That said, some were better than others. Here are six titles with brief summaries. If you've read them too, let me know what you thought!
Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande
Mena Reece believes that high school might provide a fresh start. After all, it wouldn't be possible for her friends to still hate her, would it? Mena's Christian Right friends have turned against her for defending a possibly gay teen against their attacks the previous year. Now, she's starting all over with no friends, until she meets Casey, her fabulously geeky lab partner, their passionate science teacher Ms. Shepherd, Casey's mom, sister and a group of lab puppies. Just as life seems to have some positive life for Mena, Ms. Shepherd begins teaching about evolution, and the Christian group in the class begins to protest.
This was one of the better of the six novels. Mena's problems don't overwhelm her. She feels them like a typical young teen would, but she still goes to school, still gets good grades and doesn't turn to negative behavior a result of her friends' betrayal and her parents' anger.
Polly by Amy Bryant
More of an Adult book for teens, Polly examines eight significant sexual/romantic entanglements in the life of Polly Clark, a teen in 1980's Virginia/Washington D.C. The musical mentions bring to mind an old-school Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, but the specific romantic involvements may ring true more for those who grew up during the time period. References to roller rinks and the punk lifestyle are amusing and add a sense of place to the story. Polly is neither an over-achiever nor completely foolish. She is an average teen deeply involved in her own time.
The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Probably a novelization of her real teen experiences, Ms. Hyde's descriptions of thirteen-year-old Cynnie's descent into alcoholism at once hard to believe and difficult to swallow. I want her story to be hard to believe, because Cynnie is too young to be dealing with everything on her own. Her older sister refuses to come around, because there alcoholic mother is more than she can stand. Her grandparents take away her brother, who has Downs Syndrome, but believe that Cynnie must stick it out with her unemployed, drunk all the time, mother. Her mother's boyfriends leave as the drinking gets to be too much. At 13, Cynnie turns to alcohol for comfort. The book details her descent and her recovery, which is realistic and certainly far from easy.
I would be okay with younger teens reading this book for the sole reason that Cynnie doesn't turn to sex for the attention she needs. Certainly she has her crushes, including one on her mother's young ex-boyfriend, but she doesn't use her body for comfort, only a bottle. Teens looking for a real story, instead of one with formulaic problems, should consider The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance.
Brothers, Boyfriends & Other Criminal Minds by April Lurie
A light-hearted romp through Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. April, the tall, blonde Nordic, main character deals with the ramificiations of her brother's love affair with the beautiful daughter of a neighborhood mafia don, her own feelings of affection for Dom, a n'er do-well musical type who likes to skip school and smoke pot, her passion for tennis and her desire to simply make sure her family is safe, happy and alive. Of the "soft" teen lit out there, this is a quality read. It reads like a romantic comedy, with many misunderstandings and heartfelt speeches. Brothers is also funny and makes for a nice summer read.
We Are So Crashing Your Bar Mitzvah by Fiona Rosenbloom
Another book that works as a light-hearted teen comedy, Crashing deals with the upcoming party of the season, the Bar Mitzvah of has-more-money-than-he-knows-what-to-do-with Eben and Stacy and Lydia, best friends who are dying to be popular this year. Away at camp for the entire summer, they didn't know that Kelly, the third member of their band of buddies had been adopted as a popular girl by the Chicas, the queens of Jefferson Junior High. Now Kelly's in, and Stacy and Lydia are more out than they've ever been in the past. Of course, Lydia and Stacy need to find a way into Eben's over the top party, and comic chaos ensues.
Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr
In 8th grade, Deanna Lambert's father caught her having sex with her older brother's friend...in the friend's car. Living in small-town-ish Pacifica, CA, Deanna is granted the reputation of school slut. Her father won't speak to her, the boys won't date her, and her reputation is as low as it can get. Of course, no one blames the boy, only noticing that Deanna was a mere 13 when her father found her. Deanna is now a junior in high school, working at the town's worst pizza place to save some money to move into an apartment with her brother, her brother's girlfriend and their baby. Her life has not turned out how she expected, but she is truly trying to turn it all around. Of course, she has to go fall in love with her male best friend, who is already dating her female best friend. Deanna's problems are far from trivial, and she must face them in the most realistic way possible. Of all of the "issue" novels I've read in the past year or so, this is probably the best. Deanna made one bad choice, and not one that truly hurt anyone but herself, and has had to deal with the consequences for years. The portrayal of the length of memory in a small town is true to life.