Books by Amy Goldman Koss

FAMILY AND GROWING UP
Released: May 1, 2010

Although her parents are divorced, ninth-grader Jacki has a golden California lifestyle with all the accoutrements—private school, large house with a swimming pool and a mom with a high-powered, high-paying job—the works. She sees classmates' parents losing their jobs and her best friend's family taking in homeless relatives. Then the recession hits home. It's her mom who is jobless, her house that must be sold, her whole way of life turned upside down. School and friendship adventures, sibling relationships and an almost-boyfriend add normalcy to the mix. Jacki narrates her own story as she veers between worry and optimism, childishness and maturity, self-absorption and compassion. Although Koss interjects a recounting of forcible eviction and a visit to a homeless shelter and the topic is current and serious, she keeps the tone generally optimistic and reassuring. In the end, readers get a problem novel with little depth, but it delivers a cast of charming characters and a semi-happy ending. (Fiction. 12 & up)Read full book review >
SIDE EFFECTS by Amy Goldman Koss
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2006

Hilarious and harrowing by turns, Koss tells the story of an artistic 14-year-old girl whose garden-variety life goes bizarre when she's diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Suddenly, she's dealing with the alien world of the hospital, while finding that her cancer has made her a social alien in high school. Not that she has much time for socializing; she's too busy throwing up from the chemotherapy and then too exhausted to care. The secondary characters, such as the heroine's constantly crying, yet there-for-her-daughter mom, her loyal and gallant best friend and her honest and irritated little brother, ring true, as does the gallows humor and dead-on observations about hospital life. And the panoply of reactions from the heroine's classmates as they cope with her cancer is simultaneously funny, anger inducing and astute. The plot is the situation—a girl contracts and is treated for the disease—and the happy ending is somewhat abrupt, but the telling is precisely voiced, funny and genuine, giving the reader a multifaceted look at a devastating experience. (Fiction. 11-15)Read full book review >
POISON IVY by Amy Goldman Koss
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 1, 2006

Ivy hands the perfect crime to a teacher aching to have a mock trial to educate the students about the legal system. Cut and dried, she's been picked on, bullied and emotionally abused for ages by the "Anns." When Ms. Gold sees an opportunity, she makes the most of it and in no time, has attorneys appointed, the judge selected and, after some negotiation, a jury of peers. Well, no one wants to be Ivy's peer, really. Told in a series of transcripts that are the statements of the interested parties, including Ann, Benita and Sophia, also known as the "Evil Three," Koss delivers the crushing and thoughtless cruelty of adolescents with great accuracy. The words of one of the jurors tell it all: "Popularity is the wrong word. Popularity means everyone likes you. But no one likes sour popular girls; it's more about fear. The word for them is powerful more than popular. Think soulless zombies; think living dead, hungry for fresh blood. If anything I bet my fellow jurors were afraid they'd become the Anns' next victim if they got caught sympathizing with Ivy." (Fiction. 11-14)Read full book review >
GOSSIP TIMES THREE by Amy Goldman Koss
CHILDREN'S
Released: July 1, 2003

A trio of best buddies, all seventh-grade girls, almost dissolves their friendship when one of the girls goes after another's crush. Abby, whose two best friends are Bess and Cristy, has been in love with Zack for years. When Bess suddenly becomes Zack's girlfriend, Abby is too distressed to tell her friend how she feels, but later retaliates, causing a rift between them, and putting Cristy in the uncomfortable middle. It's rare to fault a book for too much verisimilitude, but this first-person story penned by veteran scribe Koss doesn't read like it was written in an adolescent voice. Instead, it sounds like an actual teenager, which is to say that it's jumbled, disjointed, and full of irrelevant digressions and self-conscious asides, penned it. Plusses include a clever punch line and observations about the girls' divorced mothers, whose various attitudes on men round out the story. (Fiction. 10-14)Read full book review >
THE CHEAT by Amy Goldman Koss
CHILDREN'S
Released: Feb. 1, 2003

Interlocking stories connect a group of eighth-grade students who get caught cheating on their geography midterm. Using the same narrative technique employed in The Girls, Koss tells this somewhat thinner tale in a medley of first-person voices. Sarah, a pretty, popular eighth grader, accepts the answers to last year's geography midterm from Jake, a smart kid "with a cool factor of zero" as casually as she would have taken "a stick of gum." But the situation has unintended consequences when Sarah and two friends she shared the answers with are sent home for cheating. Sadly, these rudderless adolescents have to cope alone as their parents are seen as being either self-centered, morally corrupt, or physically violent. What's intriguing and distressing about the piece is that while all the kids feel bad that they were caught—"Cheating is confusing, but getting caught is crystal clear"—there is no ethical consensus on cheating itself. Instead, the focus shifts to the morality of ratting out friends. And at the end of the story, Sarah, who refuses to tattle, and Jake, who finally confesses to the principal with the understanding that Sarah and the kids who rallied around her won't be punished, come out as heroes. Although provocative and disturbing, the characters lack richness and their stories don't build on each other to create a deeper whole, which is a shame because this contemporary, relevant topic is one that should invite discussion both in and out of the classroom. (Fiction. 10-14)Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2002

Fourteen "mysteries" of science are answered with lighthearted but informative rhyming poems in this upper-level easy reader first published in 1988, but freshened with new illustrations. The title poem explains that fish are still there under the ice in winter, with slower swimming, breathing, and heart rates, "And except for occasional / Lake bottom treats, / The whole winter long / The fish hardly eats." Other poems explain why popcorn pops, how birds fly, how cats purr, why leaves change colors, and why we see a man in the moon, among other mysteries. It's quite a feat to clarify scientific concepts succinctly for young children, but even more difficult to explain things in rhyme with a dash of humor, and Koss (Stolen Words, 2001, etc.) handles the challenge well. Several of the poems present information that will be intriguing to kids (and news to most adults): snakes shed the clear skin over their eyes along with the rest of their skin, and spiders don't stick to their own webs because they know which strands are dry and which are sticky. The illustrations add to the humorous flair of the poetry, with buggy-eyed fish, cuddly cats, and a mysterious man in the moon. This collection will be a welcome addition to any easy-reader collection or to the classroom science shelves, and teachers will find the individual poems useful for adding a literature component to science class. (Easy reader. 6-9)Read full book review >
STRIKE TWO by Amy Goldman Koss
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2001

A bitter strike creates a family split possibly beyond even baseball's power to mend, in this engaging tale from the author of Stranger in Dadland (p. 185). Gwen is eager for a summer of softball with teammate, cousin, and closest friend Jess, but that field of dreams loses its luster when the local newspaper that sponsors their team is hit by a strike. Gwen and Jess learn that their twin dads are on opposite sides of the dispute—a fact that takes on more and more weight as the strike goes on, tensions mount, and ugly incidents begin to occur. At first, Gwen has no idea what it all means, but as a new "us vs. them" attitude polarizes even the children in management and labor families, as she overhears talk of scabs and scare tactics, and as she sees widening rifts develop within her family, even between her own parents, annoyance gives way to confusion, fear, and despondence. Soon even she and Jess are on the outs. So what is there to do but organize a game between the strikers' kids and managements'? Fortunately for the tale's credibility, though news of the strike's settlement happens to come during that game, sparking a jubilant, all-is-forgiven celebration, it's really a coincidence. The real victory here is the convincing way Gwen inches past that feeling of powerlessness to the realization that, while not all problems have simple solutions, there's nothing stopping her from stepping up to the plate and taking some healthy swings. (Fiction. 11-13)Read full book review >
STOLEN WORDS by Amy Goldman Koss
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2001

Five months after a tragic car accident kills an 11-year-old girl's favorite aunt, she and her family travel to Austria to get away from their grief. "I miss Aunt Beth with all my heart, but I miss my mom even more," Robyn confides to her new diary. Her old one, a present from Beth, her mother's sister, was stolen along with the rest of the family's luggage from a parked car in Vienna. But what was really stolen from Robyn is not her suitcase or even the words in her diary, but her happy interaction with her family, especially her mother. Since the loss of Aunt Beth, Robyn's mother, once a lively woman with a bold "crazy-bird laugh," has sunk into a distracted depression. Told with sensitivity and wit in a perfectly pitched preadolescent voice, Robyn's diary chronicles her mother's incremental up-and-down progress and her own increasing frustration and attendant guilt. "Maybe I'm a rotten niece . . . but I feel like shouting, ‘C'mon, Mom, get over it already!' " she confides to her diary. And just when the reader feels like shouting along with her, a minor accident in an ice cave, a popular tourist attraction, causes Robyn's mother to snap out of her lethargy, helping a group of frightened, mostly elderly Japanese visitors climb to safety. Even though the subject is sad, the overriding message of the book—despite crushing loss life does continue—is a hopeful one and Koss leavens the mood with her protagonist's amusing and astute observations. (Fiction. 10-12)Read full book review >
STRANGER IN DADLAND by Amy Goldman Koss
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 2001

In this poignant, witty novel, Koss turns her attention away from girls and girl groups (The Girls, 2000) to offer some fresh insights about fathers and sons. Twelve-year-old John is on his way to California for his annual one-week visit with his divorced dad. Although his father has historically kept John at arm's length by refusing to make time in his busy schedule to focus on him, John hopes that this time things will finally change. But after accompanying his father on a date and spending a day cooling his heels in various office lobbies while his dad attends business meetings, John comes to the sad realization that the week he looks forward to every year is, from his father's point of view, "nothing special." Luckily, insight from a delightfully off-center neighbor boy, coupled with a rollerblading accident that leaves John's dad temporarily incapacitated, gives John the much-needed opportunity to begin to connect with his father. It may be true that the death of John's dog seems beside the point, the rollerblading mishap feels dramatically forced and the transformation of John's father from completely closed to, if not warm and fuzzy, at least genuine and fatherly, is a little too sudden to be credible. Still, it is counterbalanced by the deftness of the writing and the humor and charm of the first-person narrative. But it's the fact that the reader so badly wants for John what he wants for himself that makes this book such a winning creation.(Fiction. 10-14)Read full book review >
THE GIRLS by Amy Goldman Koss
Released: June 1, 2000

A perceptive and engrossing story in which the arbitrary expulsion of a girl from her elite clique by its all-powerful leader influences not only the life of the rejected girl, but also the lives the other members of their set in this perceptive and engrossing story. Maya, Darcy, Renee, and Brianna are all enthralled by Candace, a magnetic queen bee who rules their little hive like a capricious despot. Fervent worshippers all, the girls buzz around her, desperate to say and do the forever-shifting right thing to remain in her good graces. And in a discerning touch, the author has Candace insist upon their obedience while simultaneously being bored by it. The plot starts off with a bang when Maya learns that she's been ousted. The girls, who take turns relating the narrative, now have a moral decision to make—do they continue their friendship with Maya and risk expulsion from the crowd or dump her as well? Because no one knows what Maya did to alienate Candace, Koss (The Ashwater Experiment, 1999, etc.) keeps their ethical dilemma pure, as well as pulling off the difficult feat of making their varied positions on the situation sympathetic and understandable. Although the story itself is slender, Koss penetrates deeply into a subject that has great significance to young readers. (Fiction. 10+)Read full book review >
THE ASHWATER EXPERIMENT by Amy Goldman Koss
Released: June 1, 1999

The daughter of happily itinerant parents gets a world-altering taste of settled life in this engagingly cast story. Having spent her entire life on the road, nine months in one place looks like prison to Hillary, but her parents have agreed to house-sit for a family on sabbatical. Treating the experience as a test of character imposed by unseen watchers, she abandons her usual self- imposed isolation and deliberately sets out to make connections in her new (and her 18th) school, agreeing to tutor Brian, a student with Attention Deficit Disorder, in math, joining the circle of class queen Serena, and forming an unexpectedly deep friendship with Cass, a thoughtful loner. Readers will see past her pretense that it's all just role-playing to the lonely, sensitive child within, and will be further attracted by the quiet competence with which she faces each challenge, whether it be managing the family finances for her feckless parents or mending fences with a jealous classmate. The roots this new life strikes in Hillary are deep and quick, but Koss (The Trouble With Zinny Weston, 1998) gives the tale an unpredictable twist when Cass indignantly rejects her grandparents' offer of a permanent home, then pays the price when she and her parents are suddenly forced to pull up stakes. Undercurrents of humor, and characters who seem typecast initially but develop surprising complexities, give this bittersweet tale unusual depth. (Fiction. 10-13) Read full book review >
THE TROUBLE WITH ZINNY WESTON by Amy Goldman Koss
ANIMALS
Released: June 1, 1998

In this fast-paced, entertaining first novel, Ava learns that friendship rises above differing opinions, upbringings, and parents. Ava is thrilled when exciting Zinny moves to town—she's no longer the only new girl. The two bond instantly, but soon discover key differences: Ava keeps a veritable zoo of pets including a rabbit, a rat, a dog, and a lizard, while Zinny is not an animal person. When the rabbit eats Mrs. Weston's petunias, Ava's father, a veterinarian, and Zinny's father, animal-indifferent, exchange words, but the girls' friendship transcends the tiff. When a second misunderstanding—Mrs. Weston drowns a raccoon— tears the girls temporarily apart, their budding maturity enables them to resolve their differences, and makes their friendship stronger. Koss's charming, multilayered story blends childlike issues and feelings with larger questions about animal cruelty; she knows where to draw the line, without forcing judgment. On-target characterizations and the sentiment that friends don't have to be clones put this a cut above most friendship fare. (Fiction. 8-12) Read full book review >