by Amanda Maciel
Mature YA, contemporary, realistic fiction, bullying, teen suicide, ages 14+
With brutal honesty, this book deals with cyber-bullying, suicide, and their consequences--told from the point of view of one of the bullies. Sara Warton is on trial for her role in the death of her classmate, yet she is in complete denial. Her story unfolds the summer before her senior year, while Sara is on trial for murder. How she eventually comes to terms with her part is an unforgettable story (based on true events) that needs to be shared.
by Maxine Kumin, illustrated by Elliott Gilbert
Seven Stories Press, $21.95
Middle-grade, contemporary, realistic, disabilities, accidents, overcoming, family, humor, ages 8+
This book is very special. Not only because it’s written by Maxine Kumin (Pulitzer Prize winner and poet laureate, 1981-1982) and illustrated by renowned artist, Elliott Gilbert, but also because it is a wonderful adventure story about a girl with a disability, where the disability is not the center of the story. A diving accident left 11-year-old Lizzie Peterlinz paralyzed from the waist down, but that never slowed her down or dampened her outlook. But Lizzie’s fearlessness and passion for animals land her in trouble when she uncovers a mystery at a small, roadside zoo near her new home in small-town Florida, where she and her single mother are starting life over.
by Ellen Hopkins
Simon & Schuster, $19.99
YA fiction, contemporary, realistic, for mature readers, ages 14+
Ellen Hopkins’ latest book surprised me with its themes of spiritual searching and Christian faith. I’m a huge fan of Hopkins' Identity, (didn’t see its twisted end coming at all!), and as with all of Hopkins’ books, Rumble’s other hot-topic themes make this a book for mature readers, ages 14 and up—cyber bullying, homosexuality, premarital sex, faith and spiritual searching—with lots of drinking and drug use.
Hopkins is a master of the poetic verse, and her characters stay with you. Her command of sparse, lyrical language conveys a realistic, often gut-wrenching, emotional depth to her characters, so readers connect on an emotional level.
In Rumble, Matt’s younger brother, Luke, was taunted as a homosexual. He wasn’t, but he was still bullied to the point he took his own life. As a result, Matt no longer wants to believe in a God who would allow something like this to happen. The only escape from Matt’s inner turmoil is his girlfriend, Hayden. Hayden has grown up in a Christian home, and she is the only thing keeping Matt going.
Nevertheless, life happens (or plot twists), and even though Matt loves Hayden with all his "heart and soul," he succumbs when his long-time friend Alexis surprises him with an I-want-to-be-more-than-friends moment. Add to the mix a horrible accident, and Matt is forced to confront himself, his beliefs, and the part he played in his brother’s death.
Questions about faith are universal, and the use of faith as a major theme in Rumble reinforces the trend I’m seeing of books with themes of faith and spiritual searching coming from secular publishers.
Though the "biblettes" are a bit much, their extremism shows how religious ideals can be twisted. Ellen Hopkins did a fantastic job of realistically weaving the faith content into the story. The reader understands Hayden’s deep convictions because her motivations are consistent and unfold naturally, and her words and actions are believable without being forced or explained. Matt questions his faith, Hayden questions Matt and her youth group leader, and through it all, Hopkins shows that everyone is on their own personal spiritual journey.
by Ron Koertge
Candlewick Press, $16.99
Middle-grade, contemporary, realistic, faith, war, coming of age, ages 9-12
Two months after the tragic and premature death of his brother, Walker finds Jesus standing in the middle of his bedroom. But Walker's confusion at this is nothing compared to the questions tugging at his heart. A touching but humorous novel in verse.
by Michelle Hurwitz
Wendy Lamb Books $16.99 HC, $10.99 ebook
Middle-grade, contemporary, realistic, ages 11-14
Determined to find out if doing good makes a difference, thirteen-year-old Nina Ross hatches a plan. She will do one remarkably good thing every day of the summer. For sixty-five days, she anonymously sprinkles goodness on the lives of her neighbors and family, uncovering secrets and surprises as she goes.
by Padma Venkatraman
Nancy Paulsen Books, $17.99
YA, dance, India, loss and recovery, overcoming obstacles
Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.
by Amy Zhang
YA, contemporary, realistic fiction, bullying, teen suicide, ages 12+
Couldn’t. Put. It. Down. A moving story about Liz Emerson, the most popular girl in school, a mean girl who hates what she’s become. Flashbacks gradually show Liz’s transformation from a happy child into a bully who hates herself enough to take her own life. A realistic and suspenseful look at how our interactions can affect people, and that it’s never too late to change.
by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Middle grade, contemporary, mystery, ages 8+
Disturbed by the possibility that her late grandfather may be a thief after finding a Renaissance masterpiece hidden under one of his paintings, Theodora Tenpenny embarks on a journey to discover more about the painting and her grandfather. Simultaneously, Theo must support her mother with the paltry legacy her grandfather left behind and hold onto his 200-year-old house. An excellent, literary read and a well-done mystery.
by Laura Wettersten
Simon & Schuster, $17.99
YA, contemporary, romance
When a cheating boyfriend leads to an unexpected summer job, Rowena discovers that the best way to let go of the past might be to dive right into it. “Verily,” this is “fine fare” (Kirkus Reviews).
by Tyler Gregson
Poems from the Typewriter Series
Adult interest, poetry, art, romance, Ages 14+
Since I've reviewed books for Girls' Life magazine for 20 years, I'll admit, I get a lot of great books on a daily basis. (I love my job!) Every once in a while, I'll get the day's mailbag and open a book that will draw me in right away, so I'll sit right there on the floor and read for an hour. Still rarer, some books I'll start and not stop until I finish reading--at 2 am or later. Chasers of the Light, Poems from the Typewriter Series, is such a book. I picked it up and couldn't put it down. The first thing that drew me in was the totally unique presentation of the poems. Using a blackout method on old, printed pages, or typing on found scraps of paper, Tyler Knott wrote these poems without possibility of revision. No cut and paste, no computer files for sharing, only his poems and the photograph's of his creations. Besides being artworks in themselves, I found myself remembering the emotions evoked by each poem more than the words themselves, and the memories of these emotions inspired me to go back and read the poems again. I don't remember being this affected by poetry since I read Karen Hesse's novel in verse, Out of the Dust. This is a must-read for any lover of poetry. However, because of the sensuous nature of these poems, this is more an adult-interest book, or a book for young adults ages 14+.
by Patricia MacLachlan
McElderry Books, $15.99
Middle grade, realistic fiction, family love
From the Newbery Award–winning author of Sarah, Plain and Tall comes a story about one brave girl who saves her family from losing everything. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls this lyrical tale “melodic, poetic, and enchanting.”
by Jess Keating
Middle-grade, contemporary, realistic, humor
Creature File for Ana Wright:
Species Name: Anaphyta Normalis
Kingdom: The Zoo, Junior High
Phylum: Girls Whose Best Friend Just Moved To New Zealand; Girls Who Are Forced To Live In A Zoo With Their Wierdo Parents And Twin Brother
Feeds On: Daydreams about Zackardia Perfecticus and wish cupcakes
Life Span: soon to become extinct due to social awkwardness