A wide-ranging author—who has proved herself adept at fantasy, the teen-age novel, humor, and historical fiction—writes a funny, perceptive story about the summer before junior high: 12-year-old Alice's Dad calls it "The Summer of the First Boyfriend." Alice and Patrick were good friends all through sixth grade, but now their friendship is blossoming into something more. Alice, yearning for the advice she would have had from her mother (who died seven years ago), does her best to figure out how she should behave: Is is essential to have a boyfriend when entering seventh grade? What if she hasn't just brushed her teeth when Patrick wants to kiss her? She has several sources of contradictory advice—Aunt Sally in Chicago (Alice lives in Maryland) is willing but often out of date; her two closest friends are as concerned about the minutiae of "rules" as Alice; Dad and older brother Lester, while nice, have a definitely male point of view—though they are known to come through with sensible help when needed. Naylor affectionately captures the angst and humor of this turning-point age without a trace of condescension. A lively, authentic story, with refreshingly pleasant characters—one that may help readers to realize (as Alice does at summer's end) that adapting to everyone else's prescriptions is less important than being oneself.
Vicious and violent mob cruelty in a boy's prep school is not a new theme but Cormier makes it compellingly immediate in this novel of Trinity High, a boys' day school with the close, concentrated, self-contained atmosphere of a boarding school, temporarily headed by the venomous, manipulating Brother Leon and unofficially run by power-obsessed senior Archie Costello, the ingeniously audacious "assigner" for a secret organization called the Vigils.
A typical Vigils assignment, which no student would consider refusing, is to spend the night undoing the screws of all the desks and chairs in one classroom, so that they collapse on touch next morning. More serious though is the assignment given to freshman Jerry Renault, who must refuse for 10 days to participate in the chocolate sale on which Brother Leon has staked his position. In strong, staccato scenes that shift from one boy to another Cormier tells about Jerry's persecution when he decides spontaneously to go on saying no after his ten days are up and Brother Leon induces Archie to see this as defiance of the Vigils. No underworld gang closing in on a victim is more menacing than this teenage army led by a Leon-Archie alliance against one boy whose locker poster reads "Do I Dare Disturb the Universe."
Mature young readers will respect the uncompromising ending that dares disturb the upbeat universe of juvenile books.
Told entirely in instant messages, this modern epistolary tale prompts both tears and LOL (laughing out loud). Best buds SnowAngel (Angela), zoegirl (Zoe), and mad maddie (Maddie) IM with one another constantly when not in school. Tenth grade is tough, with obnoxious trendy classmates, unfair parents, and sex. Friends can help each other get through the year, but only if they manage to stay together. Angela flits through a series of rotten boyfriends, Zoe discovers Christianity while becoming disturbingly close to her English teacher, and Maddie befriends the class bad girl. Since cynical Maddie can’t cope with Zoe’s emerging faith, and trusting Zoe won’t see anything wrong in her growing relationship with Mr. H., the trio might not survive. But best friends are always there for each other, and a series of emergencies pushes them further apart and then brings them back together, closer than ever. After a slow start due to the unusual format (a glossary would probably help), this develops into a surprisingly poignant tale of friendship, change, and growth. Perfectly contemporary. ROTFL. (Fiction. YA)
Aspiring filmmaker/first-novelist Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angst—the right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists, though some might object to the sexuality, drinking, and dope-smoking. More sophisticated readers might object to the rip-off of Salinger, though Chbosky pays homage by having his protagonist read Catcher in the Rye. Like Holden, Charlie oozes sincerity, rails against celebrity phoniness, and feels an extraliterary bond with his favorite writers (Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Ayn Rand, etc.). But Charlie’s no rich kid: the third child in a middle-class family, he attends public school in western Pennsylvania, has an older brother who plays football at Penn State, and an older sister who worries about boys a lot. An epistolary novel addressed to an anonymous “friend,” Charlie’s letters cover his first year in high school, a time haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend. Always quick to shed tears, Charlie also feels guilty about the death of his Aunt Helen, a troubled woman who lived with Charlie’s family at the time of her fatal car wreck. Though he begins as a friendless observer, Charlie is soon pals with seniors Patrick and Sam (for Samantha), stepsiblings who include Charlie in their circle, where he smokes pot for the first time, drops acid, and falls madly in love with the inaccessible Sam. His first relationship ends miserably because Charlie remains compulsively honest, though he proves a loyal friend (to Patrick when he’s gay-bashed) and brother (when his sister needs an abortion). Depressed when all his friends prepare for college, Charlie has a catatonic breakdown, which resolves itself neatly and reveals a long-repressed truth about Aunt Helen. A plain-written narrative suggesting that passivity, and thinking too much, lead to confusion and anxiety. Perhaps the folks at (co-publisher) MTV see the synergy here with Daria or any number of videos by the sensitive singer-songwriters they feature.
The powerful story of an introspective Harlem youth who is sent to fight in Vietnam. With dreams of college fading, Ritchie Perry (17) enlists, buying time to consider his future. By mistake, he's ordered to Southeast Asia and into a bloody, violent nightmare where he sees his fellows gunned down (sometimes by their own side), women and children mutilated and killed, desperate heroism and equally desperate cowardice; his articulate, dispassionate telling only accentuates his story's horror. Myers masterfully re-creates the combat zone with its "hours of boredom, seconds of terror," its crushing tension and the distortion of values brought on by the relentless proximity of death—Ritchie says, "We were in the middle of it, and it was deeply within us." He survives racist officers, pitched battles, guerrilla raids, and multiple wounds, not all of them physical; whether his numbed spirit will eventually thaw is a question the author leaves open. War-story fans will find enough action here, though it isn't glorified; thoughtful readers will be haunted by this tribute to a ravaged generation.
Increasingly Judy Blume's books center on single topics and the topic here, as pronounced in the first sentence, is getting laid. Cath and Michael fall in love when both are high school seniors, and Blume leads up to It date by date and almost inch by inch (hand over sweater, hand under skirt...) and then, after the breakthrough, describes each session until the kinks in timing and such are straightened out. (There's also a word-for-word transcript of her Planned Parenthood interview and a letter from Grandma, who's heard she is "going steady," advising birth control.) For Cath though forever lasts only until her parents send her off to a summer camp job and she finds herself unwillingly attracted to the tennis counselor she's assisting; Michael takes it without much grace but Cath will never regret one single thing because it was all very special. "I think it's just that I'm not ready for forever." As usual with this immensely popular author, Forever... has a lot of easy, empathic verity and very little heft. Cath like Blume's other heroines is deliberately ordinary, which means here (despite friends, nice family, etc.) that outside of the love affair she's pretty much a blank. In fact this could be a real magnet for all those girls who took to Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret just a few years ago and haven't changed all that much since. Another way of looking at Forever... is as an updated Seventeenth Summer.
A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.
"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….
This year’s umpteenth novel in verse begs the question, if the narrative were told in conventional prose, would it be worth reading? The answer in this instance is, maybe not, as it does little more than chronicle one ninth-grade girl’s progression through boyfriends until she arrives at last at an unlikely Mr. Right. Laid out in a series of mostly free-verse poems, however, the text gets at the emotional state of this girl so completely and with such intensity that a conventional narrative framework would simply dilute the effect. Sophie’s romantic travails take her from sexy Dylan (“ . . . when he kisses me / all I feel is / the overwhelming / overness of it”) through cyberdude Chaz (“If I could marry a font / I would definitely marry his”) and friend-from-preschool Zak (“I hope I didn’t embarrass him / when I laughed. / It’s just that I thought he was kidding”) to class dork Murphy (“I mean, / we’re talking about Murphy here. / He’s not exactly boyfriend material. / Is he?”). Along the way she must contend with casual anti-Semitism, her parents’ failing marriage, and her mother’s depression, but she is also bolstered by her friendship with Rachel and Grace. The verse format allows Sophie to interrogate and explore her feelings and relationships with quintessentially teenage ferocity: “I guess it wasn’t how [his eyes] looked / that got to me. / It was how it felt / when they connected with mine— / like this door / was opening up inside of me / that had never been opened before, / and his soul was walking right in.” If the threads involving Sophie’s parents are left hanging somewhat, readers will forgive this oversight. Romantic and sexy, with a happy ending that leaves Sophie together with Mr. Right, Sones (Stop Pretending: What Happened when My Big Sister Went Crazy, 1999) has crafted a verse experience that will leave teenage readers sighing with recognition and satisfaction. (Fiction/poetry. YA)
“Froggy Welsh the Fourth is trying to get up my shirt,” begins this eminently accessible journey from self-hatred to confidence. Virginia is 15 and likes fooling around with Froggy, but she’s mortified by her fatness, a shame fueled continually by her emotionally distant and pressuring family. Has she been switched at birth? Why isn’t she perfect like her adored, overachieving older brother? But her brother isn’t perfect after all, and he commits a horrifying act that rocks her world—and prompts her to begin questioning her family’s values. Readers will be rooting for Virginia all the way as she moves from isolated TV-watcher to Website-creator with purple hair and an eyebrow ring. Sexuality, refreshingly, is treated as a good thing. Virginia’s emotions progress from despondence to anger, joy, and strong independence, all portrayed with clarity. An easy read with substance and spirit. (Fiction. YA)
This raw portrayal of 11 New York City high school students of various ages and races quickly belies its ironic title. Frank’s first novel convincingly portrays seven years in the lives of these kids as they fight, mature, and cope with alcoholic, abusive, even insane parents. Each character’s story eventually intertwines with those of other characters as they all escape their emotional prisons. Eric, a hostile special ed. student whose mother is a hopeless drug addict, frames the narrative. He finds salvation in his love for his little brother Mickey and in a teacher who helps reunite the two into a caring foster home after child-protection authorities separate them. Then there’s Drew, who seems to have everything, but whose wealthy father beats his wife. Or Monique, whose life turns around when Hector comes into it. Divided into years, seven in all, each section is then divided again into narratives by two of the protagonists. Each voice is distinct, but the underlying message is one and the same: underneath the street smarts and the rough talk are real kids, with much more to them than can be seen on the surface. Realistic language, rough and profane, fierce situations that are nearly too much to bear, and a savagely honest portrayal of the nature of the interconnectedness of life make this not a novel for the faint of heart or timid reader. But those who embark upon this intriguing mosaic will come away rewarded and inspired by the strength and fortitude of its characters. An astounding first effort. (Fiction. YA)
High-school senior The Tao (T.J.) Jones has learned to live with his status as the only student of color in his small, rural high school, but he has never learned to accept the school's suffocating reverence for the athletic establishment. When his ultra-cool English teacher approaches T.J. to swim for the school's brand-new team, T.J. looks beyond the negatives—there is no competition-size pool in town, there are no other competitive swimmers in the school, and he absolutely hates organized sports—to one overwhelming positive: this is his way of giving the finger to the school's stultifying sports culture. He assembles a team of out-and-out losers that would make James Watt proud: "we have one swimmer of color, a representative from each end of the educational spectrum, a muscle man, a giant, a chameleon, and a one-legged psychopath. When I envision us walking seven abreast through the halls of Cutter High, decked out in the sacred blue and gold, my heart swells." There is no shortage of raw emotion in this story. The swim-team members indulge in lengthy informal therapy sessions on their bus trips to away meets, and one subplot involves T.J.'s growing attachment to a little biracial girl whose mother cannot protect her from the vicious racist attacks of her own stepfather—who also happens to be the school's biggest athletic booster. In the hands of a lesser storyteller, the tale would fall apart under its own weight, but Crutcher (Ironman, 1995, etc.) juggles the disparate elements of his plot with characteristic energy, crafting a compulsively readable story that rings true with genuine feeling and is propelled by exhilarating swimming action to an ending that is both cataclysmic and triumphant. A welcome return. (Fiction. YA)
The lives of three suburban high school students become dramatically entangled in a manner familiar mostly to high-schoolers and soap-opera fans. Jason has a girlfriend (with whom he has sex), but he thinks a lot about male bodies and increasingly questions his sexuality. Kyle is the star of the swimming team who has known for a long time that he’s gay, but he’s still in the closet. Nelson is openly—and flamboyantly—gay. Jason is going steady with Debra; Kyle has a crush on Jason; Nelson has a crush on Kyle. Two of the boys have loving, concerned parents. One comes from a troubled family with an alcoholic father. And those are not nearly all the plots and subplots, all of which more or less get tied up by the end. The chapters rotate among the viewpoints of the three boys, a narrative technique that provides a crystal picture of each character. It also drives home the homophobia at school and the abuse the guys suffer and provides a lot of information about gay sexuality in the same way that Judy Blume’s Forever did for the heterosexual experience. Unlike some earlier novels about homosexuality, the persecution of the three boys is named plainly for what it is—homophobia—and not the hand of a punishing fate. Although marred by occasional melodramatic turns and some contrivance in the ending, this is a fine first effort, thought-provoking and informative for all young adults. The use of profanity and explicit descriptions of sexual activities call for a mature reader. There is a list of advocacy groups at the end, unusual in a novel, but understandable, perhaps necessary, in this one. (Fiction. YA)
A brilliantly crafted, shocking account, narrated by a teenager, of her mother's chronic incompetence and her own sexual abuse; it will slice readers to the bone less for its tragic details than for the casual, ingenuous tone in which they are revealed. In an indignant response to a social worker's unflattering report, Linda, 13, describes how, after the death of her father, she cared for first one, and then two, brothers as her mother took up with a succession of men, abandoned her for months to a senile widower, and found a job at last, working for a married businessman, Jack Green, who ultimately seduced Linda. Rejecting the social worker's contention that she was raped, Linda claims to have felt only mild impatience with Green the first time, and her childish pleasure at his gifts and toys is clear. She admits to no strong feelings even after Green is murdered, although her sometimes violent actions contradict her reasonable tone; hints that some of her ``facts'' may be imaginary only deepen the contrast. Readers may admire Linda for maintaining even an illusion of control, but will also see that she has inherited her mother's bad judgment, and that neither her story nor her promises can be trusted—a recipe for a troubled future. A raw, powerful character study of someone trying to construct a particular version of reality, and failing, because the ``facts'' tell a different story. Cole shows real literary chops in a book whose aesthetic merits outrun, by far, the ethics police. (Fiction. 13-16)
A brother and sister try in their separate ways to cope with the ultimate family cataclysm. This decidedly unfun novel is a real departure for Lester (The Blues Singers, see above, etc.), who has recently been primarily concerned with lighter themes. Jeremy, 12, and Jenna, 14, alternate first-person accounts of the aftermath of their artist mother’s murder at the hands of their psychologist father, each sorting out his or her relationships with mother, father, and each other. Jeremy, it turns out, was a real mama’s boy, whereas the sexually precocious Jenna has always felt much closer to their father, and their confusion and sorrow further separate—but ultimately unite—the siblings. A number of saintly adults help the children work through their grief and anger, most notably the eternally patient Karen, their father’s ex-wife and mother’s best friend, who is perfectly positioned to present critical revelations that help both children and reader understand what has happened. Jenna’s narrative is frequently foul-mouthed but bravely honest as she struggles with a genuine love for her father and with guilt over her adolescent battles with her mother. Jeremy’s is pleasingly naïve and straightforward, but is weakened by his convenient discovery of his mother’s diary, which describes the dissolution of her marriage in barely credible detail. The last third of the book is a courtroom drama in which all is made clear and the father is once and for all exposed for the stinker he’s always been. Almost ridiculously contrived, it’s nevertheless a compelling story suffused with raw and honest emotion, the heightened nature of which will naturally appeal to teens. (Fiction. 12+)
Klause returns to the steamy sensuality of her first book, The Silver Kiss (1990), for this tale of a hot-blooded teenage werewolf who falls for a human "meat-boy.'' Grieving for her father and unimpressed by the age-mates in her pack, Vivian defies her mother and fellow lycanthropes by setting her sights on suburban poet-schoolmate Aiden Teague. It's an experiment that's doomed from the start. Vivian may look human (when she chooses), but her attitudes, instincts, and expectations are decidedly wolflike; short-tempered, direct in action and emotion, rough in love and play, shapeshifters make dangerous companions, their veneer of rationality as thin as their senses are sharp. Poor Aiden—as a prospective lover he's not so different from prey; to Vivian his smile flashes like heat lightning, and at times he looks so delicious she wants to "bite the buttons off his shirt.'' When, after a series of sultry but frustrating dates, Vivian reveals herself to him, he responds, not with the pleasure and lust she expects, but stark terror. Extrapolating brilliantly from wolf and werewolf lore, Klause creates a complex plot, fueled by politics, insanity, intrigue, sex, blood lust, and adolescent longings, and driven by a set of vividly scary creatures to a blood-curdling climax. The werewolves' taste for risky pranks and the author's knack for double—and even triple—entendres add sly undercurrents to this fierce, suspenseful chiller. (Fiction. 12-14)
Curt MacCrae, a semi-homeless, blond ferret of a boy and guitar genius, saves big Troy Billings from leaping to a splattering demise in front of the F train. The two boys form an unlikely friendship, each offering what the other needs and, ultimately, saving each other’s life. Curt recruits Troy to be the drummer in his band, Rage/Tectonic, and the story gathers momentum as the first gig approaches. The problem is that Troy isn’t much of a drummer. It takes lessons from a scarecrow of a guy with a purple Mohawk to get his skills in shape, thus adding another larger-than-life character to the assemblage. Just as Curt saved Troy’s life, Troy must find a way to help Curt, who is sick, addicted, and malnourished. Newcomer Going’s descriptive writing sometimes goes over the top, but it’s also what makes this offering come alive from the very first page. The strong language and themes make this a raw, yet immensely likable tale for older teens. (Fiction. YA)