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SparkNotes: Summer Teen Fiction Musts

This piece was a feature article for SparkNotes Literature online. For additional information on the books I've featured in this article, click each title for a full-length review!

In the summer of 2008, YA readers found themselves marked by supernatural tattoos, chasing dreams, scarred by tragedies while on vacation, and tangled up in mysteries involving detectives, angels, and vampires. Here are some summertime releases that should not be missed.

Poison Ink by Christopher Golden is a killer thriller. Five best friends who feel as though they fit in no place except with each other decide to get matching tattoos -- but only four go through with it. Sammi, the girl who backs out, thinks that her pals will understand her decision to remain tat-free. Not the case. After the other girls are branded with a spoke-like tattoo, their personalities change overnight. They become cruel, unpredictable, and violent, their personalities and attitudes completely out of character. Though her friends shun and stun her, Sammi takes it upon herself to save them before they destroy themselves. This dark story of friendship is like a twisted, Twilight Zone version of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, with girls wearing tattoos instead of jeans. Golden, a master of the horror genre, has once again penned a suspenseful, action-packed story populated with unique, realistic characters. Poison Ink is filled with horrors both familiar (fighting with your best friends, getting crushed by your crush) and imaginative. Readers will find this Poison Ink to be indelible, clearly etched, and drawn in strokes both dark and delicate.

Looks by Madeleine George also features teenaged characters perceived to be outsiders. Two girls, diametrically opposite in looks, bond together over a common enemy. Meghan is an overweight sophomore who, despite her size, feels as though she is invisible - and likes it that way. Rail-thin Amy is a freshman who wants to be heard but does not want to speak up. Megan gets her work ripped off by popular Cara, a classmate that hurt Amy in the past, and is constantly humiliated by J-Bar, the big man on campus. When the girls are given the opportunity to confront their bullies, their actions prove who really is the bigger person in all of this. The peripheral players and mentor figures, including one remarkable teacher, unknowingly inspire and assist Meghan and Amy. George's debut novel says a lot about school status, and it says it well. With writing as thoughtful as Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and as poetic as Laura Kasischke's Feathered, Looks rises above the pack of stories about popularity and proves that true beauty comes from within.

As John Lennon sang, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Chloe learns this - and more - in What Happens Here by Tara Altebrando. Chloe and Lindsay were the best of friends, thicker than thieves, almost like sisters - really, for though Chloe loves her older sister Zoe, she is much closer to Lindsay. The girls want to go to college together, to leave their hometown of Las Vegas far behind and travel around the world together. That is what they had planned. This is what happened instead. While Chloe is on vacation with her family in Europe, she receives a cryptic message from Lindsay. Shortly thereafter, their lives are changed forever. Shock ushers the first part of the story into the second, into things they had never dreamt, harsh realities no one wants to face. The coming-of-age novel, the concept itself, is tried and true, but it can be difficult to find one that is truly done well. What Happens Here does it very, very well. This is Altebrando's second novel for teens, following her impressive YA debut, The Pursuit of Happiness. Swollen by Melissa Lion, Many Stones by Carolyn Coman, and, again, Feathered by Laura Kasischke will evoke similar emotional responses and should be considered as well.

For a story with heart, check into the Hopewell Hotel, the main setting of Maureen Johnson's newest novel, Suite Scarlett. Generations of the Martin family have lived and worked at the hotel, struggling to keep the Hopewell alive. The current Martin brood is made up of two parents and four kids. On her fifteenth birthday, Scarlett Martin is assigned to take care of a suite occupied by Mrs. Amberson, an aging, opinionated actress. Scarlett's closest confidante is her older brother. Spencer. An aspiring actor, he auditions for a local production of Hamlet and throws himself heavily (and often literally) into a supporting role. Soon, Scarlett's summer schedule is packed. This sweet Suite story is filled with Johnson's trademark wit and heart.

If you missed any of these titles this summer, pick them up at your local bookstore or library. Treat yourself to a little something before the back-to-school rush!
Tags: articles, books, christopher golden, mtv, reviews, sparknotes

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