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Secret Heart

A well-constructed but generic foray into the world of high school dating.

A high school musician embarks on a rocky relationship in this debut YA romance.

Avery Jennings, an out lesbian, faces big decisions in her senior year of high school, such as whether to participate in the school’s new Gay-Straight Alliance club, whether to go to the prom, and whether to move to Austin after graduation with her punk band, Detonate the Gazelle. But her biggest worry is her growing attraction to Madison, a popular, apparently straight girl who’s dating one of the school’s biggest bullies, and who also acts as a liaison between the student council and the Lion Pride alliance club. Avery isn’t good at hiding her feelings, but after a few embarrassing missteps, she realizes that Madison is also attracted to her; she’s just not ready to let the secret out yet. The two girls’ relationship is further hampered by Avery’s jealousy and uncertainty about the future and Madison’s fear of what others will think, but if they can overcome their concerns about being together, they could end up uniting the school in a brand-new way. They figure out their feelings to a playlist of rock and punk songs, compiled in a list for readers at the end. Most of the characters in this book are well-rounded and believable, and teenage readers who enjoy romances will likely find it entertaining. But no one who’s ever seen a rom-com, like the ones that Avery and her friend Scott like to watch (including the fictional Arbor Day, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper), will be surprised by any plot points or lines of dialogue here. Aside from the fact that the two main players are both women, the story is often formulaic and clichéd. For example, as always in high school dramas, adults play no part in the events, except for a few scenes in which Avery’s mom shows up to say things such as “Good luck at your show.”

A well-constructed but generic foray into the world of high school dating.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9977659-1-5

Page Count: 264

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2016

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The Sassy Divas

A swift fable about navigating the perils of middle school.

A bossy middle school fashionista feels threatened by the new girl in Saii’s YA novel.

Vanessa Pocker and her friends Chelsea, Adrienne and Katie are the richest of the rich in their Santa Monica, Calif., middle school, and they comprise the Sassy Divas. Vanessa leads the pack and dictates whom the divas are allowed to talk to, what they’re allowed to wear and how they conduct themselves in public. Vanessa is so domineering that it’s a miracle she has any friends at all. Had Saii endowed her with an ounce of kindness, the loyalty of her minions might be more understandable. Vanessa’s militant nature finally alienates Katie, the diva who is too much of a bookworm, according to Vanessa. Katie befriends Flo, who’s on the Sassy Diva “do not speak to” list (Flo had once refused to hold Vanessa’s purse). Excommunicated from the Sassy Divas, Katie befriends the new girl at the school, Quinn. This infuriates Vanessa, and she declares war. A power play ensues among the adversarial lip-glossed sets, with Vanessa, Chelsea and Adrienne on one side and Katie, Quinn and Flo on the other. Vanessa turns to guy friend Ryan, who offers the only voice of reason when he admonishes her for obsessing over trivialities, such as revenge and makeovers, when there are starving children in the world. He seems to be nothing more than Vanessa’s sounding board, and it’s unclear what he gets out of the relationship. At least Vanessa buys clothes and makeup for her divas, on occasion. Mired in trendy youngster lingo, Saii’s tale accurately depicts girls’ power plays and the alienation that can result from simply owning jeans without a designer label. Fashion, gossip, popularity and shopping define these characters, and any threat of competition is cause for war. Vanessa’s parents rarely make appearances, except for a poignant scene when Vanessa’s mother engages her daughter in a heart-to-heart about her selfish behavior. It’s a relief to finally hear the mother speak and lead the story to an ending marked with humor and depth. Saii’s literary chops are inconsistently displayed and improve toward the conclusion. Although the average middle school girl may not wear Jimmy Choos or form private elitist groups, young readers might find themselves curious about these affluent trendsetters. At least Vanessa learns her lesson, which raises the novel a notch above teenybopper fluff.

A swift fable about navigating the perils of middle school.

Pub Date: March 1, 2013

ISBN: 9781937675080

Page Count: 155

Publisher: Lekha Publishers

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2013

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An intriguing, if not always emotionally engaging, story of a serious teen problem.

Somers’ debut young-adult novel follows a teenage boy from sickness to tenuous health as he battles an eating disorder and the problems that helped create it.

Nathan is a typical teen with typical problems, including an unhappy family life and romantic disappointment, but he’s got an unhealthy “solution” for dealing with them: starving and purging himself. His descent into bulimia and anorexia occurs quite quickly; it starts with Nathan taking short bike rides to get away from his domineering father and alcoholic mother, and soon he’s inducing vomiting; not long afterward, he’s admitted to an eating-disorder program, at which point the book seems to find its center. Nathan is the only boy in his unit, a fact that his status-obsessed parents find it hard to understand; in fact, as the book makes clear, boys make up 10 percent of those who suffer from eating disorders. Somers’ novel never falls into “after-school special” territory, but it has a clear message. Nathan is depicted as a smart, cynical teenager, but his trials are sometimes more informative than heart-wrenching. The short chapters, complete with bad teenage poetry, keep the story moving, and Nathan’s dad, mom and nurse all get at least one chance to tell their side of the story. But although these multiple points of view are interesting, they may distract readers from Nathan’s personal trials. Also, the novel sometimes gets bogged down in eating-disorder program protocol; for example, a plan to interrupt Nathan’s family therapy takes two pages of emails, rather than a line or two of dialogue.

An intriguing, if not always emotionally engaging, story of a serious teen problem.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-0988367203

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Rundy Hill Press LLC

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2013

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