"Berla does an outstanding job of portraying the many issues teenagers grapple with, including first relationships, loss, alienation and low self-esteem."– Kirkus Reviews
A close-knit group of friends can’t leave their high school wrongdoings in the past.
When Grace Templeton’s father has an accident during the family’s latest overseas missionary trip, he decides to move back to California to heal. Grace is nervous about attending a new school, and even Luke, her big brother, can’t help her with what’s most important: fitting in. But Grace eventually finds her footing and her friendship group. Most important to her is Carly Sullivan, a charismatic, manipulative alpha girl. At Carly’s instance, the two of them join deferential Maggie and beautiful Jane to make a friendship pact prioritizing their loyalty to one another above all else. Now, years after graduation, Grace is haunted by memories of what went wrong with the Kitty Committee. As Berla (Going Places, 2018, etc.) reveals in a mix of present-day narration and flashbacks, the committee may have been a platform for bullying and control. At least, that’s the view of whoever’s been sending anonymous letters and emails to Grace, Maggie, and Carly once a year for the past two decades. Although the fallout from whatever happened with the group haunts Grace to this day, Carly is adamant that threatening letters are no big deal, and maybe nothing is a big deal to larger-than-life Carly. As Grace searches her past, she realizes that it’s connected to her present in sometimes predictable ways, and she feels that she can’t help but reveal the group’s secrets. But her reflections on manipulation and teenage-girl dynamics just don’t push the envelope enough to explain the perceived threat in the present.
The stakes never get high enough to build suspense, perhaps because Berla’s intent on walking a line between her usual YA audience and potential adult readers.
A debut YA novel that grapples with a slew of difficult issues, including grief, stepfamilies, loneliness and first love.
Sixteen-year-old Krista is having a hard time. She’s still grieving the recent death of her mother when her father’s girlfriend, Marie, moves into their home, and Krista feels like there’s no one she can talk to about her sadness. To make matters worse, her best friend, Lyla, is heading to Maine to spend time with her grandparents. As the novel unfolds, Krista feels pressure from the people around her to resume a normal life; her father wants her to find an activity to occupy her summer, and her neighbor encourages her to return to therapy. However, Krista doesn’t feel ready to be “normal” again; she’d rather shoplift, spend time in her tent on the roof, and sit in her car watching a mysterious house. Just when things start to feel too hard for her to bear, she meets Jake, the cute sales associate at a store where she shoplifts, and her father informs her that her grandfather, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who lives in Venezuela, is coming to town for a visit. With these new developments, Krista begins to open up and embrace life again, and she gains a greater understanding of her family’s past and what she has to look forward to in life. Berla does an outstanding job of portraying the many issues teenagers grapple with, including first relationships, loss, alienation and low self-esteem. The book’s subject matter is relevant and relatable, and its plot is suspenseful and compelling, with a few important twists and turns at the end. Berla’s prose is beautiful and poignant, with elegant, effective metaphors; for example, Krista’s grandfather tries to explain to her how to rebuild her life after loss by using a metaphor of soup. A mixture of salt and water isn’t good to drink, he says, but when you “add juices from carrots and tomatoes and some other vegetables...the broth of the chicken and maybe some cream,” then “[y]ou can drink a whole bowl of it….Keep adding to your life—a little bit this, a little bit that. The salt is still there, but one day you won’t notice.”
A moving, mysterious coming-of-age story.
In this YA novel, a young man from Earth’s far future visits a present-day teen in her dreams, but soon their connection is threatened.
In a future era in which the Earth is dying, Zat plans a dangerous trip, time traveling to our present by projecting himself into the mind of a teenage girl while she sleeps. That girl, Babe, who’s 17 (roughly Zat’s age), is an adaptable, resourceful person thanks to her father’s job as golf pro, which has caused them to move from state to state—most recently, from California to the Florida Panhandle. Over the summer, Babe learns about another new town, makes some friends, and works in the country club’s tennis shop, and she also begins having recurring dreams of a boy with thick, wavy brown hair and green eyes, who eventually introduces himself as Zat. He seems strangely familiar, and they share a strong bond, making Zat a “dream guy” in every way—except for the crushing headaches Babe has the following day. To herself and on her blog, Babe wonders how Zat can feel “more real and more interesting than anyone…in real life.” But can he achieve corporeality after time travel? And will he have to abandon the trip—and his life—to save Babe from unbearable pain? Berla (12 Hours in Paradise, 2016, etc.) delivers a very entertaining romance with well-thought-out sci-fi elements—one that’s delightfully free of the clichés that so often haunt YA fiction. Both the story’s rich-kid and queen-bee characters defy convention; Babe’s friends have intriguing back stories, and the country-club setting gives the protagonist a chance to make perceptive comments about people and society. For example, while touring a palatial yacht, she remarks, “I knew money didn’t buy happiness, but it was unbelievable what it did buy.” Babe’s blog opens up the story via the sometimes-silly, sometimes-mysterious comments of her readers: one of them wishes she would focus on Florida sightseeing; another, called “DreamMe,” seems strangely knowledgeable about Babe’s situation. The final twist isn’t easy to see coming, and it gives the novel a satisfying, well-earned ending.
A thoughtful, engaging novel that combines genres well.
A multifaceted coming-of-age story about a teenage boy’s forays into love, lust, and entrepreneurship.
At the start of Berla’s (The House at 758, 2014, etc.) book, 17-year-old aspiring graphic novelist Hudson Wheeler, facing his senior year in high school, formulates a plan. He writes an email to his mother asking if she can home-school him for his final year. Not only has he lost the company of his two best friends (to a school transfer and a new girlfriend), but he has also decided that traditional education is no longer relevant to him. Hudson wants to spend his life writing graphic novels and traveling the world, and he has already started two businesses: a dog-walking enterprise and a company called “Distress Dial,” which handles non–911 emergencies for seniors. His mom agrees to his proposal with three stipulations: he must attend school to take physical education and art classes; pay rent; and “apply to two (2) colleges for which he has a reasonable chance of being accepted.” Happy with his newfound freedom, Hudson chooses a yoga class to fulfill the physical education requirement, and there he meets a beautiful girl named Alana Love, with whom he becomes smitten. The novel follows Hudson as he attempts to navigate the world of an independent-minded, business-owning student who thinks he is in love. The story tracks Hudson’s relationships with Alana (who is dating the quarterback of the school’s football team), his friends Fritzy and Gus, and several of his Distress Dial clients—particularly Mr. Pirkle, a 90-year-old World War II veteran showing signs of dementia. The book’s varied structure—which includes Hudson’s emails, to-do lists, and prose narrated in first person—often feels more like a journal than a novel, but this ultimately makes for a more intimate and revealing account of the day-to-day life of a teenager. Berla’s lively dialogue also enriches the story’s authenticity, and she peppers it with contemporary buzzwords like “selfie” and “texts” throughout to make characters’ conversations feel truer and more relevant. The charming story is mostly heartwarming and light, with convincing portrayals of teenagers attempting to distinguish between lust and a desire for companionship. But the book also deals with more serious topics like grief, aging, illness, and heartbreak—making it both entertaining and poignant.
A delightful, realistic novel about a lovable high school senior dealing with normal—and not-so-normal—teenage issues.
In this subtle reworking of a fairy tale, a teenage boy from a poor family works off a debt to a rich girl nicknamed the Beast.
High schooler Beau LeFrancois lives in California with his large family; his father, a Cajun transplant, picked oranges until a recent fall left him with several broken bones. His mother works as a maid to a rich family, and Beau helps out by ferrying their son, Khalil, home from school. But Beau’s sister is getting married, and money is tight. So when Beau’s mother has an uninsured fender bender involving teenager Bettina “Bett” Diaz of wealthy Diaz Ranch, it’s a problem. Bettina’s father makes a deal: Beau can repay the $1,000 deductible with a month of weekend chores at the ranch. The prospect isn’t made brighter when Khalil, who knows Bettina from his school, explains that everyone calls her “Bett the Beast….Take my advice and stay away from her.” Beau is no stranger to hard work and wants to be a builder after high school, so he can handle the arduous weekend tasks. But Bett keeps him off balance with her lack of filter and fierce gaze. Surprisingly, she shows up to work alongside him; as Beau learns more about Bett, he’s sure she’s no beast. Though their developing relationship is threatened by the consequences of a lie, dramatic events bring healing truths to light. In her YA novel, Berla (The Kitty Committee, 2018, etc.) skillfully blends a fresh retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” with insights from the #MeToo movement in a way that’s engaging, not didactic. When the tide of public opinion shifts in Bett’s favor, it’s genuinely moving. Beau also nicely models good comradeship when, for example, he challenges Khalil’s catcalling: “Okay, well just keep in mind that what’s fun for you I can one hundred percent guarantee wasn’t fun for those girls.” Beau has things to learn as well, like trusting his rich friends not to be embarrassed by his small, crowded house. Humor and drama effectively bounce off each other in Beau’s believable narration.
An entertaining YA romance with multilayered characters—a winner.