Meet Gabe Johnson, more commonly known by his classmates as Chunk. He is an overweight trombone player in the marching band, a member of a dysfunctional household, a donut shop employee, a rebel and a criminal. He is also the hero of a wonderful new book titled Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach. What begins with a study for health class, cataloging the use of the school soda machine, escalates into what becomes known as the Spunk River War. In a completely covert money grab, the proceeds from the machine originally used to fund the marching band are directed toward the creation of a new dance squad. The band finds out on the last day of school that there will be no summer band camp. With the help of social media, Chunk rallies the geeks to protest this injustice. The jocks become involved and stand up for their girlfriends, the burners join the geeks. The stage is set for an epic clash which is planned to take place during the town’s premier summer tourist event.
Though rife with group classifications and sweeping generalizations, this story is about so much more than the geeks challenging the popular crowd. It is about self-perception, personal pride and seeing beyond stereotypes. Gabe grows to become more than what people expect of him and is an inspirational character as a result.
This entertaining novel is told in the unique manner of a one-sided conversation. After Gabe is arrested for robbing the soda machine, he meets with his lawyer at the police station, and the novel is a transcript of this encounter. It’s a clever device which asks the reader to fill in the question as our protagonist provides the answer. Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders is an endearing coming of age novel. The value of friendship and the importance of self-worth combine to make this teen novel a real winner.
Melissa Kantor’s Maybe One Day is a heartbreaking story that shows the importance of friendship, especially in the light of tragedy. Olivia and Zoe have been friends since they were young children and have trained at the elite New York Ballet Company since they were 9. When they are told that they can no longer train there during their sophomore year of high school, Zoe thinks that it’s the worst thing that could possibly happen to them. A year later, when she finds out Olivia is sick, she realizes how wrong she was.
When Olivia’s doctors discover that she has leukemia, the girls’ lives change forever. Olivia begins missing school, and Zoe must learn to make other friends and exist without her best friend constantly by her side. After Olivia’s diagnosis, Zoe agrees to start teaching her dance class at the local community center, despite having given up ballet after she left the New York Ballet Company. All the while she becomes closer with Calvin, the boy Olivia has always liked. Zoe must deal with the guilt she feels living her life, while Olivia is sick and unable to live hers.
Ultimately a book about best friends and the importance of friendship, Maybe One Day is a touching novel that fans of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars will enjoy. Olivia and Zoe are relatable characters, their problems and dramas going beyond the cancer that comes to affect their friendship.
Emma has always been a good girl—her overprotective father has controlled her every waking moment since her mother overdosed when she was young. After her mother’s death, Emma and her dad moved all over Canada and the United States, never staying very long in one place. Upon arriving in Los Angeles at the start of Ann Redisch Stampler’s new teen novel, Afterparty, Emma quickly finds a new friend in Siobhan. As the two become closer, Emma the Good takes a back seat and Totally Bad Emma takes over.
When Emma starts at the snobby Latimer school she is immediately made fun of by her rich classmates for wearing vintage clothes and not being rich enough to have her own horse. Siobhan rescues her and the two become best friends, and suddenly the opinions of her classmates matter less to Emma, with the exception of Dylan, her new crush. Emma and Siobhan spend hours together drinking, shopping and partying. Siobhan even makes a list of wild things Emma must do in order to stop being Emma the Good. Meanwhile, Emma has to lie to her father at every turn, sneaking out of her window to go out with Siobhan at night. As she becomes less recognizable as Emma the Good, she realizes her friendship with Siobhan might not be as healthy as she once thought.
Afterparty is a book full of scandal, backstabbing and partying, perfect for older teens who are fans of Cecily von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girl series or Lauren Conrad’s L.A. Candy novels. Stampler has written a book full of drama that will keep readers interested until the very last page, determined to find out how bad Emma becomes.
The Impossible Knife of Memory, Laurie Halse Anderson’s latest teen novel, tells the story of Hayley Kincain and her father. Hayley’s mother died when she was a baby, and ever since it’s just been Hayley and her dad. When Hayley’s father returns from war with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, her life gets turned upside down. In order to deal with the memories that haunt him, he becomes a truck driver, driving all over the country trying to outrun his memories. After years of homeschooling Hayley on the road, he decides they should move back to his hometown. Since they set out on the road years before, Hayley has had to be the responsible one, taking care of herself and her father. She hopes that moving home will mean that their life will settle down. Her father isn’t getting better at home either. He continues to self-medicate his PTSD with drugs and alcohol, forcing Hayley to run the house and keep her teachers and friends from noticing.
At school, Hayley struggles to deal with her zombie-like classmates and teachers who don’t accept her unorthodox education. Her only friend is Gracie, a friend from elementary school who barely remembers her. Finn, another classmate, has made it his mission to get Hayley to write for the school newspaper in order to become closer to her. As she begins to fall for Finn, her father takes a turn for the worse and her life falls to pieces.
Much like Anderson’s earlier novel Speak, The Impossible Knife of Memory deals with many heavy themes. Hayley’s distinct voice and vibrant personality make her a character readers will identify with and remember long after they finish the book.
When you are harboring a sinister secret, who better to hear the confession than a convicted murderer on death row? In Annabel Pitcher’s new teen novel, Ketchup Clouds, that’s what British teenager Zoe is doing as a cathartic way of telling what happened when she became romantically involved with two brothers and ultimately was responsible for the death of one of them.
To sort out her thoughts and feelings, Zoe begins writing to Mr. Stuart Harris, who killed his wife in a jealous rage and is awaiting execution in Texas. Through a series of letters, Zoe (which is not her real name) chronicles her seemingly typical teen drama of the previous year. There was rising tension at her home, due in part to her father’s unemployment and her mother’s control issues. At a party, she met an amazingly unique guy, Aaron. What she didn’t realize until later was that Aaron was Max’s older brother – Max being the guy she is semi-enthusiastically dating. As the story progresses, her true feelings about Aaron and Max and the series of events leading to Max’s death come to light, as do some missing pieces of her family’s history. Suspense builds as Stuart’s looming execution date coincides with the anniversary of Max’s death.
Pitcher’s first novel, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, was highly acclaimed for its down-to-earth approach to a unique premise, and in Ketchup Clouds she likewise employs engaging, candid writing to solve a compelling mystery: Why does Zoe feel she’s to blame for Max’s death? A refreshingly honest character with a unique outlook on the world, Zoe will resonate with teen and adult readers as someone struggling toward resolution after long internalizing her fear and guilt.
Harrowing and piercingly realistic, Carrie Mesrobian’s Sex & Violence is a tour de force of contemporary teen fiction. Nominated for a 2014 William C. Morris Award for best debut of a book for young adults, this is the story of Evan, a disaffected 17-year-old who has been raised solely by his workaholic father since his mother’s death years earlier. Though clever and handsome, Evan and his father have moved so often that his connection to peers is limited. Evan uses his perpetual new-guy status to bed “left-of-normal” girls, including Collette, a teen who used to date one of Evan’s classmates at the boarding school they attend. When their relationship is discovered, Evan and Collette are brutally assaulted, and his father (at last realizing the seriousness of the situation) moves them to a cottage on a lake in Minnesota, near where Evan’s parents grew up.
After a long physical recuperation, Evan works to pick up the pieces of his shattered psyche. Through a therapist’s help, he slowly confronts the PTSD that he has been experiencing. He meets a group of teens, many of whom are spending their last summer at the lake before heading off to college, and they quickly add him to their group. The summer brings romance, friendship and unexpected turns for Evan, growing into a person his pre-assault version never knew had been inside him. Mesrobian deftly handles a number of themes, among them, the uneasy manner in which Evan approaches sex, the eventual fallout between Evan and his father, the highs and lows of casual drug use and how delicately trust can be won and lost. She weaves these into a concise package that is dark, with no easy answers, but is also not hopeless.
The author does a phenomenal job getting the voices right, most remarkably that of Evan. The teens, all of whom are well-drawn, are written with pitch-perfect dialogue, and there are few wasted words. Mesrobian’s well-crafted debut novel is a brutally honest work for older teens from an author with loads of potential.
Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando is a new teen novel set during the summer between high school and college. Elizabeth and Lauren live on opposite ends of the country, so when they’re paired as roommates for their first year of college at the University of California at Berkeley, they begin emailing to get to know one another and make plans for the fall.
Roomies begins in June, as Elizabeth sends her first email to Lauren immediately after receiving her housing information from Berkeley. Her enthusiasm surprises Lauren, who, after sharing a room at home with multiple younger siblings for most of her life, had been hoping for a single room. The girls continue to email throughout the summer, making plans and sharing personal details. At the same time, Elizabeth feels herself becoming disinterested with her friends at home and caught up in a new relationship with a seemingly perfect yet complicated guy. Meanwhile, Lauren is dealing with the idea of leaving her family behind as she heads off to college, as well as her feelings for her coworker, Keyon. As Elizabeth and Lauren help each other work through their respective problems, the two end up in a fight that puts their relationship as future roommates in jeopardy.
Roomies is a fun, realistic story that deals with many of the issues that arise for teens during the summer between high school and college. The mix of emails and prose makes for an interesting story that teens are sure to enjoy.
Oh, the romanticism of falling in love abroad, even when the city is Soviet-era Leningrad in the 1980s. In Natalie Standiford’s new novel, The Boy on the Bridge, Laura is an eager college student who's had a love affair with Russia since childhood. Studying abroad in Leningrad, despite the hardships of the time, is just another way to immerse herself in the culture and language. During a chance encounter, Laura meets Alyosha, a mysterious young man who defies the profile of the typical Soviet youth. He questions his government, is scornful of the blind devotion Russians have towards their leaders and is fascinated by all things American, including Laura. Unfortunately, all of these qualities make him a target for the KGB, and Laura becomes increasingly afraid for Alyosha’s safety, especially as she falls in love with him. But in a time of strained American-Soviet relations, when many Russians dream of escaping to the West by any means possible, can she really trust Alyosha’s affections?
Beautifully written and peppered with details about Soviet food, culture, manners, housing and customs, The Boy on the Bridge transports readers to frozen Leningrad in all its authenticity. Standiford presents a unique and nuanced love story with realistic characters and an honest look at Soviet Russia with its many complexities and contradictions. Like her main character, she spent a college semester abroad in Leningrad, and photos and information on her website provide context and visuals for what is in the story.
Just One Year, the sequel to Gayle Forman’s teen novel Just One Day is the conclusion to Allyson and Willem’s whirlwind love story, told this time from Willem’s perspective. Picking up from when Allyson and Willem were separated in Paris, Just One Year follows Willem as he wakes up there, alone, confused and missing Allyson. After their day in Paris, Willem only knows Allyson as Lulu, a nickname he gave her based on her resemblance to actress Louise Brooks. Despite the small amount of time they spent together, their feelings for each other are strong. Just as Allyson searched for Willem, tried to get over him and find herself in Just One Day, Willem does much the same in Just One Year.
As Willem travels the world, readers are taken along on his physical and emotional journey. Those who read both books will see the number of close misses Allyson and Willem had during the year following their single day together in Paris. But most of all, readers will enjoy learning who Willem really is. His secretive nature in Just One Day kept readers and Allyson second-guessing his motives. However in Just One Year, Willem’s character and his struggles are shown, and Forman makes him a relatable character.
For those who have read Just One Day and patiently (or not so patiently) waited for the conclusion, Just One Year will not disappoint. Forman writes a heartfelt end to Allyson and Willem’s love story, which romance fans will enjoy. As an added bonus, readers will feel like they have traveled the world with Allyson and Willem by the end of the two books. As she previously did with If I Stay and Where She Went, Forman does a fabulous job telling one story from two perspectives.
Before The Beginning of Everything starts, Ezra Faulkner leads a pretty happy life. He’s the popular star of the tennis team with a beautiful girlfriend. That all changes the day he catches his girlfriend cheating on him at a party. After storming out of the party, he is hit by a car. In an instant, his tennis career ends and he goes from the most popular student at Eastwood High to the most pitied. Robyn Schneider’s new teen novel The Beginning of Everything picks up just after what Ezra calls his “personal tragedy,” as he gives up his tennis racket and joins the debate team, makes new friends, reconnects with old ones and falls in love again.
As Ezra settles in with his new less popular group of friends, he meets Cassidy Thorpe, a former debate champion who dropped out of her old private school, deserting her debate team and leaving a trail of secrets in her wake. Cassidy and Ezra are paired up as debate partners and eventually become friends as they prepare for debate tournaments and participate in flash mobs. It doesn’t take long for Ezra to fall for the mysterious Cassidy, despite his friend Toby’s warnings. Ezra tries to get to know Cassidy despite her reluctance to open up.
Schneider’s story is a funny, realistic teen novel that deals with Ezra’s ability to overcome his “personal tragedy,” and deal with life’s many issues that come after. The Beginning of Everything is perfect for fans of John Green’s novels who are looking for a new book that’s funny, while at times heartbreaking.