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Spotlight: Alice McKinley series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

November 15th, 2013 (07:19 am)

Current Mood: pleased
Current Song: Bell, Book and Candle score music

Here's a special post spotlighting the Alice McKinley series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has combined the frankness of Judy Blume's writing with the fun of L.M. Montgomery's stories, creating a likable protagonist that would be pals with Anne Shirley, were they contemporaries. Alice McKinley is, at times, awkward, uncertain, and shy; in other instances, she is bold, brave, and determined. She lives a good, clean life and makes good decisions most of the time, but is not afraid to ask questions and make her own decisions.

Alice lost her mother at a young age and barely remembers her. She adores her father, who works at a music store, and her older brother Lester. She has two best friends, one mama's girl and one slightly wild child.

Readers can grow with Alice. As the series progresses, Alice gets older, and the reading level (due to content) goes up too. The series tackles everything - name-calling, dating, religion, school, death of a parent, remarriage and stepparents, peer pressure, and more - without ever being preachy or saccharine. Alice discusses life issues and questions taboos with her father, brother and friends without shame, without fear - just openness and honesty. In turn, readers should feel encouraged to discuss these books with their families.

I recommend reading the books in order of publication:

The Agony of Alice - PG - ****
Alice in Rapture, Sort of - PG - ***
Reluctantly Alice - PG - ***
All but Alice - PG - ***
Alice in April - PG - ****
Alice In-Between - PG - ***
Alice the Brave - PG - ***
Alice in Lace - PG - ***
Outrageously Alice - PG - ***
Achingly Alice - PG - ***
Alice on the Outside - PG-13 - ***

The Grooming of Alice - PG-13 - ****

Alice Alone - PG-13 - ***
Simply Alice - PG-13 - ****
Patiently Alice - PG-13 - ****
Including Alice - PG-13 - ****
Alice On Her Way - PG-13 - ****
Alice in the Know - PG-13 - ****
Dangerously Alice - PG-13 - ***
Almost Alice - PG-13 - ****
Intensely Alice - PG-13 - ***
Alice in Charge - PG-13 - ***
Incredibly Alice - PG-13 - ***
Alice On Board - PG-13 - ***

Now I'll Tell You Everything (formerly known as Always Alice), the final volume in the series, follows Alice from her first day at college through much of her adult life.

Some of the books have been released omnibus-style, with three full novels bound in one super-thick oversized paperback. So if you pick up Please Don't Be True; I Like Him, He Likes Her; It’s Not Like I Planned It This Way; and You and Me and the Space In Between, make sure you check the table of contents and find out which books are inside. For example, Please Don't Be True is a collection of Dangerously Alice, Almost Alice, and Intensely Alice.

They have also released boxed sets of the books.

Naylor also wrote three prequels which feature Alice in elementary school. These are for kids who enjoy characters like Ramona Quimby, Judy Moody, and Anastasia Krupnik.

Starting With Alice - 3rd Grade - G - ****
Alice in Blunderland - 4th Grade - G - ***
Lovingly Alice - 5th Grade - G - ***

The official website offers book excerpts, reading group guides, and more.

Little Willow [userpic]

Author Spotlight: Rachel Cohn

December 15th, 2010 (06:00 pm)

Current Mood: okay
Current Song: A Few Small Bruises by Maria Mena

Author Rachel Cohn populates her novels with realistic teenagers dealing with complicated families. She crafts characters with just the right mix of sincerity and snarkiness. I've read all of her books to date and look forward to future releases.

The Gingerbread Trilogy

Her award-winning trilogy for teens features a bold and brassy young woman named after movie star Cyd Charisse. The books ought to be read in the proper order: Gingerbread, Shrimp, and Cupcake.

CC was very young when her parents got divorced. She has only one memory of her father: meeting him in an airport, where he gave her gingerbread and bough her a doll. She promptly named the doll Gingerbread and carried it everywhere.

Now a teenager, she still has the doll, as well as the yearning to see her father. Her mother has remarried, and though she gets along well enough with her stepfather and adores her younger half-siblings, she feels out of place - and feels the need to get out of that place.

She finally gets the chance to visit her father, going across the continent to the other coast, only to find that she doesn't quite fit there either. Her father is distant and their relationship is awkward. She has half-siblings on her father's side, but they are older, grown, pushing her into the unfamiliar role of the younger sister. Luckily, she hits it off with her extremely lovable half-brother Danny, who is easily my favorite supporting character in the series.

While in NYC, CC becomes homesick. She misses her family and friends in San Francisco, especially her boyfriend, Shrimp. On top of all that, something heavy is weighing on her mind - something she hasn't told many people - something she shouldn't have to deal with alone.

Shrimp, the sequel to Gingerbread, was released in 2005. As the title implies, the focus is on CC's love for surfer boy Shrimp. Now that she's back in San Francisco, their on-again, off-again relationship is on-again. Like the waves he loves, things can be smooth sailing one moment, then crash down the next.

Love isn't the only thing on her mind. So is school, what with it being her senior year. CC's mom wants her to go to college, but CC doesn't know where she wants to go or what she wants to do just yet. When CC's mom leaves her college brochures, CC tosses them in the recycling bin. The two headstrong women crash more than once, but their arguments are born of frustration, of differences, of love, never of hate.

Then Shrimp's hippie parents decide to move to New Zealand. What will CC do if Shrimp decides to go with them?

The third and final CC book, Cupcake, was released in February 2007. Now eighteen and a high school graduate, Cyd Charisse is ready to move on - or at least pretend that she is. Though she loves her family and her home in San Francisco, CC can't wait to live it up in New York with her fantastic older half-brother Danny. She just knows life in the city will be great. After all, what could be better to distract her from Shrimp-missage than the larger-than-life Big Apple?

I enjoyed Cupcake so much that I wrote a separate entry dedicated solely to it.

The Steps

Cohn's novels for younger readers, The Steps and Two Steps Forward, also deal with extended and estranged families. I noted The Steps book in an earlier column for The Edge of the Forest and have included it on many of my booklists.

The person who connects all of The Steps is Annabel, twelve "going on thirteen with a vengeance." Like CC, she is the feisty child of divorced parents. Unlike CC, Annabel spent the first nine years of her life with both parents. When her dad remarries and moves from New York to Australia, the distance seems incredible. Luckily, they reconnect when she visits him Down Under. Her stepmother and step-siblings grow on her, especially her stepsister Lucy.

Two Steps Forward splits the narration between Annabel and three of her peers: Lucy, her stepsister from her father's second marriage; Wheaties, Annabel's stepbrother from her mother's second marriage, and Ben, Annabel's Australian crush. The story brings the stepfamilies to Los Angeles, where nearly everyone feels like fish out of water. With so many kids and adults on one shared trip, personalities are bound to clash. Even when Annabel fights to change her appearance and sulks at the dinner table, she's still likable.

More Novels for Teens

For readers older than Annabel but slightly younger than CC, there's Wonder, the star of Pop Princess. Pretty young thing Lucky strikes it big as a pop singer. She becomes America's little darling, and the eyes of the world watch her star rise. One day, she is accidentally killed by a car while crossing the street. A freak accident. A fallen star.

Two years later, her manager hears Lucky's younger sister Wonder singing while slaving away at a Dairy Queen and offers her a record deal. The novel follows Wonder's ride up and down the fame rollercoaster. At first, Wonder does not particularly want to be famous, but she goes along for the ride. When Wonder's Pop Princess tiara becomes too heavy to wear, she realize what she does (and doesn't) want to do with her life and her talent. No matter what she decides to do, even if she doesn't fill her sister's shoes, she can be herself.

This book is featured on my But I Don't Want to Be Famous! booklist.

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, her 2006 collaboration with David Levithan, was a hit with older teens and adults. It takes the typical boy meets girl storyline and makes it anything but typical. Over the course of one night, two perfect strangers fall in and out of love with life, music, friends, cars, food, the city, and maybe - just maybe - each other. Read my full-length review of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist.

Prior to the release of Playlist, I had the opportunity to interview Cohn and Levithan together. They were friendly and forthcoming while discussing their books and their careers.

I interviewed them again the following year about their next collaborative effort, Naomi & Ely's No Kiss List. Also set in New York City, this No Kiss List isn't a boy meets girl story, nor a boy vs. girl story. It's just about a boy and a girl, two close friends who keep falling in and out of love with other people. Naomi's a little bit in love with Ely. Ely just might have kissed Naomi's boyfriend. Needless to say, Naomi & Ely have a complicated relationship, but it makes for a good read.

2010 brought us another Cohn & Levithan collaboration. I enjoyed Dash & Lily's Book of Dares just as much as I enjoyed Nick & Norah. When Dash discovers a red Moleskine notebook on the shelf of The Strand bookstore, he opens it and finds questions and challenges inside. Lily, the girl who left the notebook, wants to liven up her holiday break. The two teenagers start a lively game of dares, each writing in the notebook and leaving it in designated locations for the other person to discover. Along the way, they challenge themselves just as much as they challenge each other. Will they ever dare to meet in person? You have to read the book to find out!

You Know Where to Find Me, Cohn's stand-alone novel of March 2008, is intense, to say the least. Two cousins grew up like sisters, and though their life wasn't ideal, it was bearable because they were together. Then Laura commits suicide, and Miles, the girl left behind, falters.

With this novel, Cohn definitely challenges readers. If she gets just one person to reevaluate what could be the ultimate decision . . . wow. While detailing Laura's death and Miles' downward spiral, Cohn doesn't soft-pedal anything. The fallout is intense without being overwhelming.

One of the many things I enjoyed about Find Me was the search. I didn't know exactly what Miles would do next or where she would end up. I didn't predict the ending. I didn't need to. And with this, with her, I wished for peace and hope. Also, for something she could call her own.

Very LeFreak, published in February 2010, follows the title character through her tumultuous freshman year at Columbia University. Very (short for Veronica) loves life. She flings herself head-first into everything, including romantic flings. However, don't let her enthusiastic organizations of parties and flash mobs fool you: she's far more than a party girl, and there's an intelligent brain in that head of wild red hair.

Very was raised by her single mother, a carefree woman who moved her daughter all over the world for much of her young life. Her mother's sudden (but not completely unexpected) death landed Very with her great-aunt Esther, who has a fondess for knitting odd sweaters and a distain for swearing. After being homeschooled (or worldschooled) by her mom for much of her life, Very did very well in high school and scored a scholarship to Columbia, but during her first year at college, her addiction to all things technological - she is rarely without her laptop, her iPod, and her iPhone - has gotten in the way of real-life relationships and harmed her academic record.

Few YA books currently tackle the transition between high school and college; Very LeFreak does, and does it well. Populated by a cast of contrastive and often eccentric characters and led by the very memorable Very herself, Rachel Cohn's newest novel is one to recommend to older teens and twentysomethings, who will find both humor and reflection in its pages. Read my full-length review of Very LeFreak.

In 2012, Beta, the first volume in Rachel Cohn's Annex trilogy, was released. The second volume, Emergent, is expected to be released in 2013; the third and final volume, currently untitled, may be released in 2014. In this series, Cohn has created a futuristic, luxurious island called Demesne where the wealthy, the shops, and so on employ clones to do jobs ranging from construction to household duties. We meet Elysia, who is a Beta, meaning she is one of the first to be cloned from a dead teenager. As Elysia begins to experience sensations (the taste of chocolate, for example) and emotions, she also relives memories of the girl who came before her and realizes not everything is as perfect as the island folk are pretending it is.

Whether writing for ten year olds or twenty year olds, whether setting her tale on the West Coast, East Coast, or Gold Coast, Rachel Cohn has a knack for telling stories that make readers find hope.

Visit her official website and MySpace page.

The original version of this piece was published in the February 2007 issue of The Edge of the Forest.

Little Willow [userpic]

In the Cards: Life by Mariah Fredericks

November 30th, 2008 (08:33 pm)

Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: Tinker Bell score music

When an elderly woman passes away, she leaves her three cats and her deck of tarot cards to her young neighbor Anna and her two best friends, Eve and Syd. Each girl narrates one book of the In the Cards trilogy, which is best read in order:

#1 Love (Read my mini-review)
#2 Fame (Read my full-length review)
#3 Life (You are here!)

In the Cards: Life

You can't control what life is going to throw at you, but you can control how you catch it and how you deal with it.

The quietest of the three friends takes the reins in the third and final volume. Syd likes to play piano, but is reluctant to play in front of other people. She used to love practicing with her father, who is also a pianist, but they haven't played together in a little while. Her dad isn't acting like himself lately. He's had trouble at work and seems sad almost all of the time now. Syd thinks he's drinking when she and her mother are gone or asleep.

Meanwhile, Syd has become like a mother to her elderly cat, Beesley. He has special medication that he must take regularly, so Syd takes extra special care of him. When Eve gets the chance to audition for a televised talent program, Syd wants to go, but she also wants to stay home to be with Beesley. Her father swears he'll give Bees his medicine, and her mother tells her to trust her dad and that everything will be okay. Syd almost cancels her plans, but ends up taking the trip. When she comes back home . . . it's horrible.

This is a great conclusion to the trilogy, which I highly recommend to ages 10 and up. I really wish this were an ongoing series! Each girl has a strong voice and sense of self, and they acknowledge the fact that their relationships with each other are different (Eve and Sydney are friends by association, because they are both Anna's friends, but they aren't really that close) and evolving (Anna and Syd are neighbors, but Syd doesn't go to private school with Eve and Anna; they each worry about how things will be when they go to high school). Kudos to author Mariah Fredericks for continuing to deliver insightful and realistic books for kids and teens.

My favorite quotes and passages from the book include:

Here, there be spoilers!Collapse )

Related Booklists:
But I DO Want to Be Famous!
But I Don't Want to Be Famous!
Cats Cats Cats

Little Willow [userpic]

In the Cards: Fame by Mariah Fredericks

October 4th, 2008 (06:25 pm)

Current Mood: tired
Current Song: Shine by Joanna

When an elderly woman passes away, she leaves her three cats and her deck of tarot cards to her young neighbor Anna and her two best friends, Eve and Syd. Each girl narrates one book of the In the Cards trilogy, which is best read in order:

#1 Love (Read my mini-review)
#2 Fame (You are here!)
#3 Life (Read my full-length review)

In the Cards: Fame

Eve wants to be famous. She wants to be seen and heard, not just by adoring fans, but also by her parents. She also really wants the lead role in her middle school production of Cabaret. When she doesn't get the part, she learns a lesson or two in humility.

Eve can be confident and self-assured one moment only to pull back the next. She is easily distracted from her studies and would rather be on stage than sitting at her desk. She doesn't feel as though her father supports her dream to be an actress. She also thinks her parents favor her older brother, who gets good grades and is more of the model child.

At first, Eve doesn't want to try out for Cabaret, thinking it's beneath her: "A pathetic school play where Mommy and Daddy go clap-clap for their h*** spawn? How is that what I've been waiting for?" - but her best friend Anna talks her into it. Eve considers the competition, which includes Alexa, a classmate that has done television commercials, and Francesca, a girl has everything you need to succeed - looks, money, a dad famous for being a judge on a televised talent show - but is quiet and doesn't participate in class or clubs. Though she gets the part of a Kit Kat Girl, one of the three backup dancers, Eve is initially disappointed because she's not the star. The role of Sally Bowles goes to shy Francesca, which shocks everyone involved - until they hear her sing.

The cast is rounded out by Alexa, who gets a supporting lead (Fraulein Schneider) but, like Eve, is upset that she didn't get to be Sally; a jock who scores the part of the male lead; a kid who thinks his shtick is funny, even though the director tells him to cut it out; two popular girls who unexpectedly bond with Eve as they rehearse the Kit Kat routines; and overweight, picked-on Kenny, whose shines as the emcee. The play is directed by Mr. Courtney, the choir teacher, Anna oversees things as the stage manager, and Syd ends up playing piano for rehearsals when Courtney can't play and direct simultaneously.

Some parents don't think Cabaret is appropriate for middle school, so the school holds a meeting with these parents, administrators, Mr. Courtney, and the cast in which they openly discuss their concerns about lead character Sally's abortion and supporting character Fraulein Kost's many boyfriends. Courtney defends his choice, saying that nothing is specifically referred to in the play, just suggested. He stands firm, and the kids stand with him. Ultimately, he agrees to cut the number called Two Ladies and promises to focus on the history and lessons of the play. This scene is a great example of how to respond to a challenge related to content and should inspire a similar discussion in classrooms and households. I really hope that parents will talk about this and other portions of the book with their kids.

Eve has always struggled with her studies, and her grades slide even more now that she's busy with rehearsals. She knows that she should figure out how to manage her time more effectively, but she doesn't want to change her schedule. Meanwhile, Francesca - who is a good singer but an unconvincing actress - struggles with her role, so Courtney makes Eve and Alexa her understudies. He swears them (and stage manager Anna) to secrecy because he doesn't want Francesca to feel unappreciated. Eve becomes totally distracted by this news when she's supposed to be studying. After she fails a test, her dad wants her to quit, but she refuses: "It's not fair to the show to quit now. We go on in two weeks." Courtney is disappointed in her as well. They arrange a make-up test, which she passes with a B minus.

Then opening night comes, and Eve sashays across the stage with her fellow Kit Kat Girls. No one from Eve's family is in the audience that night because she forbade them to come. Francesca does an okay job opening night, stronger in some songs and scenes than others. After the show, when Alexa "accidentally" lets it slip that she and Eve are her understudies, ready to go at a moment's notice, Francesca falls apart.

The next day, Francesca doesn't come to school or to the second show. Courtney voices his disappointment in the cast and talks about the way everyone has been treating Francesca like she's inadequate rather than helping her grow into the role. Most of the cast hangs their heads, knowing he's right. When Courtney says that either Alexa or Eve will have to step in, Eve is suddenly confused rather than excited, and as she looks high and low around the school for Francesca, Eve wonders if she's really trying to find the missing girl or if she's simply stalling in an act of self-sabotage. Sure enough, she comes back late, so Alexa gets Sally and Eve is Fraulein Schneider. Eve finds her confidence during the first number, but Alexa's great performance as Sally makes her so jealous and sad that even though she keeps going, Eve knows she's not as good in the remaining scenes and songs as she was in the beginning. After the show, Courtney overhears Alexa's scathing comments about Francesca. He calmly gives everyone their notes, then announces that Eve will be Sally on closing night.

The morning of the last show, Eve is worried, but she doesn't want to complain or whine to her mom after having "banned" her from her life. Instead, she confides in her grandmother Yvonne, a lively soul who volunteers as an usher at local theatres. Yvonne is supportive of Eve's efforts and attentive to her concerns. When Eve says she's not pretty enough to make it as an actress, Yvonne shows her pictures of Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Judy Garland, and encourages her to keep acting, because talent is more important than looks.

Finally, it's time for the closing performance. Eve is nervous and excited and flustered and flattered all at once. She feels as though she's dreaming when she gets into Sally's first costume, a flashy red dress. She stumbles through some parts of the show, but she keeps going. Then she figures out where Francesca's been hiding and sends her onstage, both because and even though Francesca's dad is in the audience. He could 'discover' Eve tonight, or he could watch his daughter's hard work pay off. Francesca says she's not a performer - and she isn't, but again, she has the voice - and Eve knows she couldn't have done this unless others had helped her and encouraged her, while no one other than Courtney has helped Francesca at all.

I realize that I've officially spoiled the entire book for you, but I hope you'll read it anyway. I apologize for the spoilers - dare I say, the play-by-play - but I think you can tell that I really liked this book and felt compelled to talk about it at length. This is a really good and realistic story about a middle school musical production. Eve makes both good and bad choices and has to deal with what she's done, for better or for worse. She's not a perfect student, and she's not a perfect performer. She is selfish at times, and her stubborn streak is a mile wide. She may have to get her ego in check sometimes, but she's never conceited. Like Mr. Courtney, the play's director, Fredericks pushes her protagonist and lets her yell, scream, cry, get mad, get upset, and get embarrassed. The fights that Eve has with her parents will ring (true) in readers' ears, especially adult who have been on both sides of that battle as both the parent and the kid.

In addition to all of the major events I've already mentioned, I also liked a lot of little moments: I loved the fact that Syd insisted he permit her cat to come to rehearsals, as he is elderly and needed to take pills regularly. I liked that Eve occasionally scarfed down some Chunky Monkey ice cream when she was feeling down, but she did not have an eating disorder - she just did what a lot of people do and reached for comfort food every once in a while. I really liked Mr. Courtney, aka He Who Tells It Like It Is. He brought to mind some other motivational fictional teachers, such as Mr. Handsley in Looks by Madeleine George and Mr. Rush in Major Crush by Jennifer Echols.

Give In the Cards: Fame to the future stars that you know and love.

Note that this is the second book in the In the Cards trilogy. Grab up the other books, In the Cards: Love and In the Cards: Life. Get Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen by Dyan Sheldon and Dramarama by E. Lockhart while you're at it.

I've enjoyed all of Mariah's young adult and juvenile novels to date. The True Meaning of Cleavage is my favorite of her YA novels.

My favorite passages from the book include:

Read more...Collapse )

Related Booklists:
But I DO Want to Be Famous!
But I Don't Want to Be Famous!
Sing Sing Sing
Cats Cats Cats

Little Willow [userpic]

Total Knockout: Tale of an Ex-Class President by Taylor Morris

September 9th, 2008 (09:59 pm)
Tags: , ,

Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: House score music

As thirteen-year-old Lucia prepares to run for class president, she expects to have a landslide victory and a great year. After all, she's already been class president two years in a row. Sure enough, she wins - but after she bends some rules, she gets impeached! She refuses to go down without a fight. As Lucia tries to regain her title and win back her friends, she also struggles with her stubborn streak. It's very hard for her, but she has to face the truth of the matter: she did bend the rules, and she knew it when she did it.

With her second novel, Taylor Morris comes out swinging. Total Knockout: Tale of an Ex-Class President isn't only about Lucia's presidency. It's also about her hobbies (she boxes regularly with her best friend Cooper) and her family (her father is out of work, which affects their family dynamic and his personality). I liked that Lucia had to deal with the consequences of her actions. Even with all of her smarts, she stumbled along the way, and she had to learn a valuable lesson: sometimes, you have to admit what you did was wrong before you can figure out how to make it right.

Read my interview with Taylor Morris.

Swing over to my sports-related booklist.

Visit the author's official website - http://www.TaylorMorris.com

Little Willow [userpic]

Taylor Morris's Website

April 28th, 2008 (06:20 am)
Tags: , , ,

Current Mood: accomplished
Current Song: Halo by Bethany Joy Lenz


I'm pleased to unveil the new website for Taylor Morris, author of books and stuff for tweens and teens.

Taylor's debut novel, Class Favorite, hit the shelves in 2007. Her next novel for tweens, Total Knockout: Tale of an Ex-Class President, will come out swinging on September 16th, 2008.

Taylor earned her stripes as a book reviewer and has also had several short stories published in Girls' Life magazine. Please pay her a visit: http://www.TaylorMorris.com

Little Willow [userpic]

Hershey Herself by Cecilia Galante

April 22nd, 2008 (11:00 am)
Tags: , ,

Current Mood: thankful
Current Song: Goodbye Until Tomorrow from The Last Five Years

Things Hershey Hollenback loves:
Her mom
Her baby sister, Ella
Her cat, Augustus Gloop
Making lists in her journal
Eating junk food (secretly)

Things Hershey does not love:
Her mother's boyfriend Slade

Once, while having an argument with Hershey's mom, Slade threw a glass across the room. It shattered and a piece went into Hershey's eye. She had to have surgery and get glasses. Her mom swore she'd never go back to Slade - a promise she broke quickly when she learned she was having a baby. Now Ella is two years old and Hershey's going into eighth grade. After another big fight with Slade, their mother decides to move them into a women's shelter.

Even though they aren't supposed to tell anyone where they are living, Hershey spills the beans to her best friend. She can't take Augustus to the shelter, so she begs Phoebe to cat-sit. Phoebe, who is a fantastic juggler and a great secret-keeper, is a little wary of cats, but she agrees to take him in - even though she has her own problems at home with her injured and thus currently off-work father.

At the shelter, Hershey meets a wide array of women and families. They don't all get along, but they all chip in to keep the shelter safe and sound. Some of the women are hiding from their spouses or boyfriends. Some of the kids run wild. A few of the adults have hidden talents that they share with Hershey, including an elderly woman named Lupe who otherwise keeps to herself.

As Lupe teaches Hershey how to play the piano, the young girl slowly learns to fill herself with music and with hope instead of with junk food. Because of this, she is able to hold her head up high when performing at the local talent show and when confronted by bullies at school and at home.

Kudos to MiX for mixing it up and creating a line which tackles both serious and comedic but always realistic elements of life for tweens.

Even more kudos to author Cecilia Galante for writing this story and tackling a subject which is often neglected in juvenile fiction. Galante's own experience with relationship abuse as an adult inspired her to write Hershey Herself, as well as this powerful piece.

Hershey Herself is recommended for ages 10 and up.

Read my 2008 interview with author Cecilia Galante.
Read my 2012 interview with Cecilia Galante.

Little Willow [userpic]

Shug by Jenny Han

July 30th, 2006 (02:09 pm)

Current Mood: silly
Current Song: Breakfast at Tiffany's score music by Henry Mancini

Jenny Han's debut novel Shug is as sweet as the title implies. If you are in middle school, or if you have or work with kids in middle school, put this title on your must-read list.

Annemarie (affectionately nicknamed Shug) is twelve years old. Just as she is about to start middle school, she realizes that she is in love with her longtime best friend Mark. She wants to tell him, yet she doesn't. This is the first of many torn moments for Shug, because, as pre-teens, teens and adults all know, middle school is full of them.

She looks up to her sister, who at sixteen seems wonderfully grown-up and self-assured. Celia is older, prettier, more feminine and more popular than Annemarie. She is also shorter, which means the still-growing Shug can't literally look up to her any longer. The sisters are named after characters in The Color Purple by Alice Walker, but Annemarie feels as if their names ought to be reversed.

At times, Annemarie is anxious to grow up; other times, she wishes things - and people - would always stay the same. As Shug grows closer to some friends, she drifts away from others. In addition to the classic friend-turned-crush scenario, she has to deal with plenty of other realizations and revelations: that "best friends forever" might be a myth; that no one, not even her sister, is perfect; that no two families are alike; and that parents are people too. All of this leads up to the school dance, which is equally anticipated and feared.

Shug is told in an honest and refreshing first-person narrative. It was an absolute joy to read. I highly recommend it.

Pick up a copy of Shug for yourself - and for every twelve-year-old girl you know.

Read the first chapter online.

Read my first interview and second interview with Jenny Han.
Vote for this book review and other book reviews I've written.

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