In Rainbow Rowell’s latest young adult novel, Fangirl, Cather is a huge fan of Simon Snow, a fictional Harry Potter-like book and movie series. Cath isn’t a casual fan, she’s the definition of a fangirl — she doesn’t just read the books and watch the movies, she goes to midnight release parties, writes well-known fanfiction and interacts with other Simon Snow fans online. The Simon Snow fandom has been Cath’s escape from the problems in her life for years. As Fangirl begins and Cath heads off to her first year of college at the University of Nebraska, she falls further into fandom.
Cath expected to room with her twin sister Wren, as they have all their lives, until Wren tells Cath that she doesn’t want to be roommates anymore. Cath is surprised and understandably upset. When Wren begins partying heavily at school, Cath becomes increasingly worried and feels isolated. Meanwhile, Cath has to deal with her standoffish roommate Reagan and Reagan’s potential boyfriend, Levi, who is in their room constantly and has definitely captured Cath’s attention. Cath also has to deal with the typical college adjustments — the dining hall, classes, meeting new people and romance, all the while maintaining her fangirl status.
Fangirl is a coming-of-age story about a girl enraptured in fandom who has to figure out how to deal with her changing life and how her life as a fangirl fits into it. The novel has excerpts from Cath’s fanfiction, which is an added bonus for anyone who has ever been a super fan. Others will be able to identify with Cath’s adjustment to campus life and her attempts to find her place in the world. Fans of Rowell’s earlier young adult novel Eleanor & Park will find Fangirl lives up to their expectations.
National Book Award-finalist Sara Zarr is known for her spot-on portrayals of contemporary American teens. In The Lucy Variations, Zarr once again writes teen characters with pitch-perfect voices and concerns. While in her previous work she dealt mostly with middle-class families, this novel is a bit of a departure, looking at the rarefied world of a family of classical music prodigies. As a child and young teen, Lucy was a top concert pianist who was known among this elite group of musicians. But suddenly everything changed, and Lucy stopped playing altogether. Now, will her younger brother Augustus (“Gus”), a pianist prodigy himself, take up the family mantle?
Zarr is a master of plotting and examining family dynamics. Lucy’s grandfather, the patriarch of this musical family, shows utter disappointment and disbelief that his granddaughter with so much promise throws it all away when faced with adversity. Meanwhile, Lucy’s father has to recalibrate his life after having been her de facto manager for so many years. And Lucy and Gus have a supportive, intelligent sibling relationship, a nice change from the often-adversarial portrayal of siblings in books for teens.
Glamorous whirlwind tours of European concert halls, backstage intrigue and grand parties contrast with Lucy's desire to simply be a normal teen. Her friendship with down-to-earth Reyna provides grounding. The possibility of reclaiming her former glory comes in the appearance of Gus’ new piano teacher, who encourages Lucy to sit behind the keys again. Readers will be drawn in to the often unfamiliar world of a teen whose love of classical music is lost and regained.
At its heart, Sara Farizan's contemporary coming of age novel If You Could Be Mine is a love story about the romantic relationship between two teenage girls from Iran and the complex decisions they face. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, there are no public displays of affection between the sexes, no Facebook, no women in football stadiums. But for best friends Sahar and Nasrin, it never mattered. They had their stolen kisses and untested promises. They had each other. Since they were small, Sahar never doubted she wanted to marry her best friend, Nasrin.
Unfortunately, relationships like Sahar and Nasrin’s must be kept secret in a country where any one gay is an enemy of the state. So, when 18-year-old Nasrin decides to do what society expects and marry a young male doctor because "he makes sense," Sahar can hardly breathe. She searches for a way they can be together openly. She believes she has found it with sexual reassignment surgery, a legal option in Iran. The problem is that Sahar is not even sure she wants to be a man. "She needs to know this isn't a game. It isn't something you just try on," a transgender acquaintance she meets through her cousin explains.
Farizan, an Iranian American who was born in the U.S., exposes in her simple writing style the absence of choices for young women while weaving in historical perspective. She does not condemn Iranian culture. "I respect a woman's decision to cover up as long as it is the woman's decision," Sahar says. It shows the naïveté, impulsiveness and self-deprecating humor that define youths who are still defining themselves. Mature teens and adults alike will find a tender yet compelling read in this fresh debut.
Daisy Whitney’s When You Were Here is a realistic teen novel that takes place during one particular summer of Danny’s life. All Danny’s mother wanted was to see him graduate from high school, but she succumbed to cancer two months before the momentous day. As he faces graduation, and college after, Danny is all alone in the world; the only exception is his loyal dog, Sandy Koufax. His only human comfort since his mother's passing has been his ex-girlfriend, Holland, whom he still loves. This only causes him more trouble and heartbreak. A few days after graduation, a letter from the caretaker of the family’s apartment in Japan convinces Danny that he needs to travel to Tokyo to learn more about his mother’s life and cancer treatments.
When Danny arrives in Tokyo, he meets Kana, the caretaker’s daughter, who was friends with his mother. Kana shows Danny what his mother did during her last months in Japan, taking him to his mother’s favorite places, and eventually to her doctor. Meanwhile, the two become friends, with Kana becoming someone Danny can confide in about his love for Holland and his grief from losing his beloved mother. As the story progresses, Danny learns that his mother wasn’t entirely truthful with him, and that there are secrets he needs to fully uncover.
When You Were Here is a coming-of-age novel dealing with the changes that most teenagers go through after high school. In this case there is the added drama of Danny’s loss, which adds another layer to the story. Older teens that are fans of realistic fiction will enjoy Whitney’s latest novel.
Hilary T. Smith’s debut teen novel Wild Awake is a powerful story exploring loss, mental illness and family. Kiri Byrd, the 17-year-old narrator of the novel, is spending a few weeks home alone while her parents are on a cruise, when she receives a phone call from a stranger named Doug. Doug claims to have the rest of her beloved dead sister Sukey’s belongings, and tells Kiri she can come pick them up from Sukey’s old apartment. Sukey died when Kiri was 12, in what her parents told her was a car accident. Kiri is suspicious of Doug’s motives, but meets him because she misses her sister.
When she arrives at the address, she’s dismayed to find that her sister had been living in a rundown apartment in a dangerous area of town, not with the other up-and-coming artists that Sukey had described. As she discovers that Sukey’s life wasn’t at all what she had imagined, she finds that her sister didn’t die the way her parents told her. This revelation turns Kiri’s life upside down. As she struggles to accept this news, she spirals out of control—she drinks, takes drugs, stays up all night practicing for a piano recital, and makes rash, dangerous decisions—making her friends and family scared for her. Her only bright spot during the ordeal is Skunk, a boy she meets near Sukey’s apartment who becomes increasingly important in her life.
Wild Awake takes readers along on Kiri’s search for the truth amidst the grief she still feels from losing her sister and discovering the secrets her family has kept from her. Smith has written a moving novel that older teens and even adults will enjoy.
Astrid Krieger is not your average teenager. For starters, she lives in a rocket ship prototype in the backyard of her parents' mansion. Then there's the fact that her family is rich, and she's been kicked out of multiple fancy, private schools for various pranks and other school code infractions. When David Iserson’s teen novel Firecracker begins, Astrid has just been kicked out of her latest school, Bristol Academy, after she’s caught in a cheating scandal. As punishment, her parents inform her that she’s being sent to public school, not another ritzy boarding school. Astrid, who has been raised thinking she’ll always get what she wants, is shocked when they follow through on their plan and she ends up going to the local high school.
Once she’s at the public school, she ends up begrudgingly making friends, and demands their help in her grand quest for revenge. Astrid knows that someone turned her in for cheating at Bristol Academy, so she becomes determined to find out who did it and seek vengeance. Her scheming nature, which she learned from her grandfather (the head of the family company and the only person Astrid really likes), keeps her going even when things don’t go according to her plan. David Iserson, who writes for the television show New Girl, delivers a snarky new comedy with Firecracker, which older teens will enjoy. Astrid may seem like a shallow character at first, but she ends up learning a lot about herself throughout the novel, and keeps readers laughing until the very last page.
Fourteen-year-old Carey Blackburn can shoot a rabbit and cook it for dinner, raise her baby sister by herself, and survive freezing winters in an old camper without electricity, but can she handle attending high school? From the first page of If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch, it is obvious that this is not your typical teen coming of age story. Carey has spent the last ten years living in a secluded part of a national forest with her methamphetamine addicted mother. Raised on the story they had fled her abusive father and needed to hide to stay safe, her life in the woods have made her independent and strong. Her little sister Jenessa is the most important thing in her world and Carey’s every thought is about how to care for and educate her. Their mother leaves them alone for weeks at a time, until she ultimately abandons them altogether. The girls have endured countless difficulties, but can they manage in the civilized world once their camp is discovered by their father and a social worker.
This touching and powerful story is told from Carey’s perspective, with a backwoods dialect she tries desperately to lose. Her life experience means that she behaves much older than a typical 14-year-old; however these skills are of little value when it comes to fitting in at high school. She doesn’t know what a locker is, can’t understand teen fashion or cell phones, and has never spoken to a boy. Carey needs every bit of the willpower that ensured her survival to adapt to the new situations she encounters in the outside world. The reader cares deeply for the characters and gets invested in trying to learn what the secret of the “white star night” that has led to Jenessa’s inability to speak. If You Find Me explores the healing power of family and ultimately the definition of home.
Jennifer Smith’s new teen novel This is What Happy Looks Like is an inventive romance that will make a great beach read. The novel begins when teen celebrity Graham Larkin mistakenly sends an email to Ellie O’Neill, a girl from a small coastal town in Maine. Ellie replies to the email letting Graham know about his mistake. The two immediately feel a connection and continue emailing for months. Graham is a young Hollywood star, constantly followed by the paparazzi, and he enjoys having regular conversations with Ellie, which is only possible since they have never exchanged names. Ellie, on the other hand, feels a deeper connection with Graham than she does with any of her Maine friends.
As their virtual friendship grows, Graham begins to fall for Ellie, and he convinces his latest movie crew that Ellie’s small beach town is the perfect place to film. Graham hatches this elaborate plan so that he can meet Ellie: the only problem? Ellie still doesn’t know that she’s emailing the one and only Graham Larkin. When he shows up in Maine, Ellie is frustrated that her wonderful town is infiltrated by film crews and his followers, and that everyone seems to have gone crazy over Graham’s arrival in town. Graham knows where Ellie works, and goes looking for her, and while another case of mistaken identity delays their first encounter, they eventually meet, and their relationship grows beyond email.
Ellie and Graham face unique challenges as their relationship moves out of the digital world and into a world filled with Graham’s fame, the paparazzi, and secrets Ellie’s not prepared to share with anyone. Told through a mix of emails between the two teens, and traditional prose, This is What Happy Looks Like is a fun summer read.
Appearances can be deceiving. Author David Levithan has explored identity before in such highly-praised books as Every Day and Will Grayson, Will Grayson. He has teamed up with another celebrated author, Andrea Cremer, for Invisibility, a fantastical tale of those intangible somethings that make people attracted to one another. Sixteen-year-old Stephen is alone in the world. His father abandoned him long ago, and his mother died nearly a year ago. He is also invisible, the victim of a mysterious curse at his birth. He makes his way, day by day, on the very edges of existence. One day he meets Elizabeth and is astonished to discover that she can see him. As she attempts to help him find a "cure", they grow closer, inevitably since she is the first person who has ever been able to truly see Stephen. Will they be able to lift the curse, and will they still love each other when nothing is hidden?
Invisibility is a mash-up of two dissimilar styles that works because of these talented authors. Levithan and Cremer have created an extremely likeable and sympathetic character in Stephen, and readers will root for him in his quest to find his identity and reveal himself to the world. A magical urban fantasy masquerading as realistic fiction, Invisibility will appeal to fans of both genres.
Take the Cinderella story, stuff it into the bottle with the genie, add a healthy helping of absurd humor, and shake well. The result is the twistedly funny Gorgeous by screenwriter/playwright Paul Rudnick. Eighteen-year-old Becky, the literal embodiment of the term "trailer trash", is a pop culture junkie. She devours tabloids and news of all things Hollywood with near reverence. When her mother dies, she receives a mysterious offer that lands her in front of the world’s top designer, who will create three dresses that will change her life. All she has to do is say yes. Soon she is gracing magazine covers and mingling with the rich and famous. But deep inside, who is real -- "trailer trash" Becky, or "Hollywood It-girl" Rebecca?
Rudnick’s visual style plays heavily into Gorgeous, and the descriptions of the lavish and decadent celebrity lifestyle bring it to life in the mind’s eye. He discusses the transformative powers of fashion in an interview with NPR: "I love the idea of endowing clothing, or high fashion, with the power that we almost wish it had. I love taking that final step, of saying, 'OK, you're gonna put on this dress, and it's gonna do everything you could ever hope for and beyond.'" The true magic of Gorgeous is not in the fabric of these gowns, but rather in Rudnick’s ability to cut through this superficial world and find the true inner beauty in us all. Recommended for fans of Meg Cabot, though it does include some content for mature teen readers.