Though she is an only child, Amalee is surrounded by adults - her father's best pals. The adults have been close since their days in college. None of them have children with the exception of Amalee's dad, so she alternates between feeling like one of the group or feeling too young around all of them. One woman is a therapist who is always full of advice, another is a chatterbox and the third is an aspiring artist. Cheerful, silly John is a chef who lets Amalee assist with a late-night cooking fest. They rally around Amalee and her father, determined to get them through this rough patch.
In Lights, Camera, Amalee, the title character finally meets her maternal grandmother, who passes away a short time later and leaves her granddaughter a large container filled with coins. Thanks to the cute older boy next door, Amalee is able to bring it to the bank and roll up the coins, which sum up to almost two thousand dollars! Thinking of a film made by her teacher about his autistic son, Amalee decides to invest the money in her own film. With the help of her family, friends, and various scientists, environmentalists, and even tai-chai enthusiasts, she creates a short film about endangered species, filling her summer with frog facts, interviews, filming, editing, and awareness.
Through the ups and downs of her father's illness in Amalee and her filmmaking in Lights, Camera, Amalee, the title character remains thankful for the extended family she has in her father's friends and is happy to find new friends of her own. Amalee thinks about other people and events frankly, but often bites her tongue, keeping these thoughts to herself. For example, in the first book, she does not want her classmates and teachers to know her father is sick. Likewise, she does not want her father and his friends to know that she herself has no friends at school.
Amalee has always been extremely close to her father. She doesn't remember her mother at all, and only knows that Sally left them when Amalee was a baby, then died in an accident. In the second book, Amalee wonders what her mother was like when she was her age, then learns more about the accident which took Sally's life.
Readers will relate to (and should discuss) Amalee's fear of loss and her fear of being a bully-by-association in the first book, and will then be inspired by her creativity and compassion in the second book. These stories are similar in tone and style to the Alice McKinley books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. They are heartwarming - not too sappy, not too cliché - and qualify as clean reads. Recommended for ages 10 and up.
For another filmmaking story, try Notes from the Teenage Underground by Simmone Howell (ages 14 and up).
Additional novels which will inspire activism include That Girl Lucy Moon by Amy Timberlake (ages 10 and up) and How to Build a House by Dana Reinhardt (ages 14 and up).
Also consult my Clean Reads for Early Teens and Tough Issues for Teens booklists.