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

Starved

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

CADETS

A tightly written, fast-paced prose supernova.

Budding starship captain Ryan Thompson helps battle an alien invasion in Miller’s (The Kronos Interference, 2012) inventive sci-fi tale.

In 2012, fighter jets scrambled to intercept a UFO above Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base. The rectangular object flew erratically, displaying no hostile behavior, and the jets followed as it crashed. Now, 150 years later, 2162 sees the United Earth Defense Fleet patrolling space, with outposts on Mars and Pluto. Cadet Ryan Thompson is a brash youth whose willingness to break the erules is matched only by his desire to win the Golden Cadet Award. Unfortunately, his brilliant ex-girlfriend Amanda just might win instead. They can’t stand each other since their romance ended the day Ryan’s mother died—a tragedy for which he blames himself. They must attempt to reconcile, however, when Earth’s fleet leaps to action against alien ships approaching from beyond Pluto. The menacing Altarrans, led by Supreme Commander Granthaxe, want something impossible—their wrecked envoys that crashed to Earth 150 years ago, perhaps with survivors. While the fleet dwindles in battle, Ryan, Amanda and their fellow cadets try to save lives with creative defense tactics. Quick thinking reveals that the strange amulet necklace Amanda wears—a family heirloom from her great-great-grandfather—may be more than it appears. With clever ideas and agile prose, Miller builds a world reminiscent of Star Trek: Ryan is a rebellious young Capt. Kirk who knows that “sometimes going by the book [isn’t] the best course to take.” Amid the pop-culture references to Star Wars and comic books, Miller’s believable, motivated characters shine, as Ryan’s brashness conflicts with Amanda’s search for peaceful solutions. In tight spots, they innovate: For instance, they create a solar-flare weapon by “overloading [a ship’s] light-speed generator and shutting it down milliseconds before detonation.” There’s also a secret connection between the Altarrans and Earth that honors the concept of a peaceful, inclusive universe. Nevertheless, right before someone survives a dose of radiation (à la Spider-Man), Ryan thinks they’re “going to need a damn super hero or something.”

A tightly written, fast-paced prose supernova.

Pub Date: June 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-0615805580

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Pop Culture Zoo Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2013

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