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Bee should feel like the luckiest girl in the world: She’s a first-year student at Columbia University, pre-med; she lives in New York City; and she’s got a handsome, older, politically active boyfriend who seems really into her. Until . . . he’s not. Suddenly, Bee’s book smarts don’t mean a thing, and in traditional broken-hearted fashion, she’s stuffing her face when she’s not crying her eyes out.

Turns out, though, that gaining the Freshman Fifteen (plus some) is exactly what Bee needs to break into a whole new career. She’s always been a pretty girl, but the newly curvalicious young woman is getting a lot more attention—even from a modeling scout. Virtually overnight, Bee not only has a modeling contract; she’s also being featured as one of the faces (and voluptuous bodies) of an ad campaign for a new clothing line, with her own billboard in Times Square.

But will fame turn Bee’s head? In her new jet-setting lifestyle, will she forget about her best friend, not to mention the very cute and talented guy she tutors, with whom she has a seriously confusing relationship? And what about the cutthroat world of modeling? Does Bee have what it takes to make a name for herself?

Thanks to popular television shows like America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway, the glamorous but grueling world of modeling has never been so in the spotlight. Author Veronica Chambers cleverly capitalizes on the Cinderella-story potential of an overnight discovery while also using Bee’s plus-sized physique to comment on industry and societal standards of beauty.

At times Plus goes over the top in its depictions of Bee’s glamorous new life, especially her ongoing feud with a crazily jealous model and her klutzy on-set mishaps. It’s also hard to believe that Bee could remain on the dean’s list at an Ivy League school while jetting to international photo shoots several days a week. But Bee’s story is, after all, a fantasy, and readers looking for a frothy beach read about wish-fulfillment, self-discovery and really fierce shoes will be more than happy to suspend disbelief.

Bee should feel like the luckiest girl in the world: She’s a first-year student at Columbia University, pre-med; she lives in New York City; and she’s got a handsome, older, politically active boyfriend who seems really into her. Until . . . he’s not. Suddenly, Bee’s book smarts don’t mean a thing, and in traditional […]
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Lesley Hauge’s debut dystopian novel Nomansland is made for a sequel—no, more like a series. There’s got to be more of Keller, the brave heroine of Nomansland.

Barely 15, Keller lives only among women in Foundland, a rocky and barren island nation. Her people have been here for hundreds of years, ever since the Tribulation, a cataclysmic event brought about by the “sins” of the Old People (that’d be us, readers). The earth was wrecked and its people decimated, an entire civilization’s technology, televisions and even indoor plumbing lost. When Keller comes across one artifact from that time she’s mystified by what it is: a bicycle.

In the agrarian society in which Keller lives, everyone has a job—seamstress, blacksmith, wheelwright. She is a Tracker, trained to be an archer and an equestrian, able to survive on her own in the wild. “There are no men in our territory,” says Keller, and it is she who will protect Foundland from the “mutants” and “deviants” living outside their borders. They are the men who survived the Tribulation, and though they can try, they will never be allowed in.

Foundland is a totalitarian society where hair must be cut to regulation length and to be “useful” is deemed the highest of virtues. Reflection, Decoration, Vivacity—these are three of the “Seven Pitfalls.” Even friendships are outlawed. But for Keller, cracks in the social order begin to show. First, there’s Laing, a fellow Tracker with a dangerous streak of independence and free will, who offers small glimpses into the Time Before: beauty queens, fashion magazines, fathers? Then Keller discovers one sister’s long-held secret; what she learns—and how the all-knowing, all-seeing Committee Members react—drives the plot and keeps the reader avidly turning the pages.

Hauge has written a winning debut. Let’s hope she’s turning in that sequel real soon.

Lesley Hauge’s debut dystopian novel Nomansland is made for a sequel—no, more like a series. There’s got to be more of Keller, the brave heroine of Nomansland. Barely 15, Keller lives only among women in Foundland, a rocky and barren island nation. Her people have been here for hundreds of years, ever since the Tribulation, […]
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Hank and Liana meet cute when he bursts in on her in a hospital ladies room, the crotch of his pants soaked with . . . energy drink. From the first page, The Half-Life of Planets doesn’t augur well for their romantic future. Things are further complicated by Liana’s vow not to kiss anyone all summer; instead, trying to reclaim her reputation, she has thrown herself into her planetary science studies. And Hank is more than a little awkward; Asperger’s syndrome has given him a music obsession Nick Hornby would envy, and no “off” switch once he starts talking about it. The perfect couple? Hardly.

But this odd pair connect and develop a friendship that lets each of them see past the labels they’ve been branded with to the real people inside. Authors Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin alternate between each character’s perspective from chapter to chapter, and when something new happens, or information is hinted at, we are eager to follow the clues and find out how each side perceives things. Both Hank and Liana have complicated home lives (they did meet in a hospital, after all, and neither was a patient), and Liana’s reluctance to emotionally expose herself runs headlong into Hank’s difficulty processing the emotional content of any message. Again, oil and water. Can this romance be saved?

The answer shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I’m no spoiler. The Half-Life of Planets is frequently funny, and occasionally poignant. Hank is the more vividly drawn character, and it’s interesting to see the world from inside his head; he knows and understands his differences, but can’t control them as well as he’d like. In a wry moment, he comments on the oft-cited “wonderful difference” common to those with autism spectrum disorders: “My reaction upon reading this in the past has always been that anyone who thinks this, or for that matter any, difference is wonderful has obviously never attended an American middle school.” Half-Life is the whole package, a love story with a wonderful difference all its own.

Hank and Liana meet cute when he bursts in on her in a hospital ladies room, the crotch of his pants soaked with . . . energy drink. From the first page, The Half-Life of Planets doesn’t augur well for their romantic future. Things are further complicated by Liana’s vow not to kiss anyone all […]
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Because of his hulking size and antisocial behavior, Brewster Rawlins, voted “Most Likely to Receive the Death Penalty,” has been nicknamed Bruiser by his high school peers in this unique story by Neal Shusterman. When lacrosse star Tennyson Sternberger hears that his twin sister Brontë is going on a date with Brewster, he follows the boy home. He softens, however, after observing Brewster covered in bruises and the possibly abusive uncle who has cared for him and his brother since their mother’s death.

As Tennyson and Brontë befriend Brewster, they begin to notice that their aches and pains disappear quickly, while Brewster develops new injuries at an alarming rate. Alternating points of view reflect each sibling’s discovery of Brewster’s strange healing powers and Brewster’s own constant struggle between wanting friends—and Brontë—and knowing the hurt it will eventually bring him. Sailing through rough lacrosse matches, relationship woes and their parents’ potential divorce with ease, Tennyson and Brontë wonder if their new, less painful lives are fair to Brewster.

In usual Shusterman style, Bruiser is a gripping novel full of exquisite language that explores the boundaries of love, happiness, pain, secrets and responsibility. The author balances these moral dilemmas with dark humor and chapter titles that incorporate “power words” from Tennyson and Brontë’s parents, who work as professors of literature. Only Brewster’s chapters are written in poetic forms, further emphasizing the duality between his inner beauty and the façade he presents to the outside world. The thought-provoking ending will haunt readers as they consider the characters’ futures and wonder what they would do as givers or receivers of enduring pain.

Related content:
Check out our interview with Neal Shusterman for Bruiser.

Because of his hulking size and antisocial behavior, Brewster Rawlins, voted “Most Likely to Receive the Death Penalty,” has been nicknamed Bruiser by his high school peers in this unique story by Neal Shusterman. When lacrosse star Tennyson Sternberger hears that his twin sister Brontë is going on a date with Brewster, he follows the […]

A few years ago, Baz was a normal boy living with his family in England—until a cataclysmic event drowned the world. Now just about everything, including food, is submerged below inky, polluted water. Like many of the survivors, Baz and his father are starving.

Only the Eck brothers and their sinister father, Preacher John, manage to profit off the desperate. Living on X Isle, they dredge up canned food from submerged supermarkets. The Eck family lures young, male workers to the island by promising three meals a day in exchange for labor. When Baz and another boy are selected to go to X Isle, they cannot believe their good fortune, until they meet a battered group of boys led by two abusive captains. The work is hard, but the treatment is worse. News of the harsh conditions has never reached the mainland, and Baz knows why: Those selected to come to X Isle never leave alive.

X Isle is a dark and harrowing dystopia reminiscent of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games or William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Steve Augarde, who is also an acclaimed illustrator, uses his artistic insight to skillfully detail Baz’s new and dangerous world, and then heightens the boys’ urgency for escape when Preacher John suddenly forces them to construct an altar for religious sacrifices. When the Eck brothers bring two teenage girls to the island, Baz wonders if they will be next to die.

The violence, which is never excessive, is crucial to understanding the desperation that pushes the boys to make a harrowing decision, even as Baz struggles to cope with the impending consequences. With the death toll rising and the balance of humanity shifting, Augarde’s compelling novel begs the question: Is it ever okay to kill?

A few years ago, Baz was a normal boy living with his family in England—until a cataclysmic event drowned the world. Now just about everything, including food, is submerged below inky, polluted water. Like many of the survivors, Baz and his father are starving. Only the Eck brothers and their sinister father, Preacher John, manage […]
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A wealthy American teenager, a Chinese adolescent intent on freeing himself from a lifetime of slave labor, an economic genius, a daring union organizer and a gifted 15-year-old girl from rural India all meet, go to war with, challenge or champion each other in Cory Doctorow’s brilliant new young adult novel, For the Win. Set in a near future dominated by multiplayer online games—and real-life criminals and corporations who use the games to turn a frighteningly real profit—the novel is as fast-moving, intense and thrilling as any struggle between virtual warriors, monsters, elves or trolls. Relationships shift, friendships end, victims become predators and predators prey. Soon all the widely flung characters are drawn into a global conflict that could change the world.

Fifteen-year-old Mala, known as General Robotwallah to her “army” of friends, uses her talent for navigating magical online battlefields to provide her family with decent clothes, food and an apartment. She works in an electronic sweatshop, where she steals virtual gold—gold her boss sells to wealthy Western players for actual money. Mala and her contemporaries in India, China and the U.S. swiftly find themselves at the center of real-life evils darker and more lethal than anything they faced online.

For the Win addresses urgent global issues shaping Earth today. In an international economy, decisions made in one country cause devastation in individual lives and communities elsewhere. Doctorow skillfully uses gaming as a metaphor for suffering, loss and transformation, an emblem of how desire, pleasure, envy and greed can motivate or destroy human beings. The strongly drawn characters remain individual throughout. Even readers who care little for gaming will care deeply for Mala, Big Sister Nor and the rest. Compelling and believable, For the Win deserves to be savored by teens and adults alike.

A wealthy American teenager, a Chinese adolescent intent on freeing himself from a lifetime of slave labor, an economic genius, a daring union organizer and a gifted 15-year-old girl from rural India all meet, go to war with, challenge or champion each other in Cory Doctorow’s brilliant new young adult novel, For the Win. Set […]
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With anticipation for the third film in the Twilight Saga franchise at a fever pitch, author Stephenie Meyer gives readers a look at an intriguing side character in The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner.

Created by a vamp called Riley, Bree is one of the "newborns" who will fight alongside Victoria against the Cullens—but Bree, who was not quite 16 when Riley changed her, and has been a vampire for just three months, doesn't know that. She also doesn't know that her skin sparkles in the sun, that stakes don't actually kill or that her creator is using her and her cohorts as cannon fodder. Though she and another vampire, Diego, uncover some of these truths over the course of the novella, understanding doesn't come in time to avoid her sad fate—which is known to every reader of Eclipse (and if you are reading The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, you have read Eclipse).

To make up for the predetermined ending, Meyer ups the ante by throwing in a doomed love affair, more vampire trivia (ever wonder what two vampires locking rock-hard lips sounds like?) and a memorable look at Bella and Edward from an outside perspective.

Tough, strong and resilient, Bree is a heroine who deserves a better end. Poignant and full of Meyer's trademark thwarted love, the short but sweet Second Life of Bree Tanner is a gift for fans—exactly as Meyer intended.

With anticipation for the third film in the Twilight Saga franchise at a fever pitch, author Stephenie Meyer gives readers a look at an intriguing side character in The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner. Created by a vamp called Riley, Bree is one of the "newborns" who will fight alongside Victoria against the Cullens—but […]

Sixteen-year-old Evie is lonely, friendless and adept at lying—so when the dead body of Elizabeth “Zabet” McCabe is found in the woods, Evie manages to insert herself into the tragedy. Even though Evie hasn’t been friends with Zabet in years, she lies to the girl’s father and says they were best friends. She realizes the severity of her lie when Mr. McCabe invites her and Zabet’s real best friend, Hadley, to dinner. But rather than reveal Evie’s fraud, Hadley surprisingly covers for her, and Evie gets drawn into a friendship with Hadley—whose behavior grows increasingly erratic as she becomes obsessive about finding Zabet’s killer.

While the mystery surrounding Zabet’s murder is both haunting and intriguing, it is Evie who is most unforgettable. She has an authentic voice that evokes a sense of sadness and isolation. Unable to get close to people, Evie fabricates stories and embellishes half-truths to make people respond to her, including her own mother. She observes, “This idea that I have friends is so important to Mom that sometimes I help her out, like, I’ll repeat something funny that Angela Harper said in chem, not including the fact that she’d said it to Rachel Birch, not to me.”
 
Katie Williams’ debut novel, The Space Between Trees, offers a deft depiction of a girl coping with the truth, no matter how ugly it is. The haunting premise and honest narration of this poignant coming-of-age story will equally captivate both teen and adult readers.
 

 

Sixteen-year-old Evie is lonely, friendless and adept at lying—so when the dead body of Elizabeth “Zabet” McCabe is found in the woods, Evie manages to insert herself into the tragedy. Even though Evie hasn’t been friends with Zabet in years, she lies to the girl’s father and says they were best friends. She realizes the […]
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Bronwen Oliver is certain she was switched at birth. What else could explain her aversion to ketchup when the rest of her family slathers the condiment on almost anything edible? Or her gift for journalism amid a family that doesn’t write (and she’s not counting her great-uncles’ self-published The Onderdonk Reliable Method for Preventing Most Diseases of the Rectum)? Since her father died in a plane crash when she was six, her mother stopped talking about difficult topics, her brother Peter became equally reticent, and her stepfather dismissed her adoption request, she has dreamed of being rescued one day by her “real” family.

After breaking up with Chad, who only wanted to take their relationship to the next level (i.e., have sex in her basement after prom), Bronwen is surprised to run into Jared Sondervan, one of Peter’s former high school friends. Only this new romantic boyfriend can evenly match Bronwen’s impeccably timed, quirky humor and observations on life. As she enters her senior year of high school and her boyfriend his senior year at a nearby college, their love blossoms (and readers wistfully sigh) until Jared unexpectedly asks Bronwen to marry him. It’s an opportunity not only to be with the guy she loves but to become a member of Jared’s seemingly perfect family and start fresh by forming a family of her own.

But if her wedding day is supposed to be the happiest day ever, why then does Bronwen begin to feel depressed and like she’s losing her freedom already? Maybe she’s not the only one in her house who needs to learn to open up about her feelings. With scenes that prompt both laughter and tears, I Now Pronounce You Someone Else reveals Bronwen’s doubts, healing and discovery that her true family may have been surrounding her all along.

Bronwen Oliver is certain she was switched at birth. What else could explain her aversion to ketchup when the rest of her family slathers the condiment on almost anything edible? Or her gift for journalism amid a family that doesn’t write (and she’s not counting her great-uncles’ self-published The Onderdonk Reliable Method for Preventing Most […]
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Fifteen-year-old Mason has never met his father. His responsibilities at home include picking his mother up from the local tavern when the bouncers set her on the curb, then sobering her up for another shift at the nursing home, and occasionally sneaking in to help her complete a shift. One day when he’s at the nursing home he pops in a DVD—footage of his father, his face obscured, reading a children’s book—and a previously comatose teenage girl wakes up at the sound of his voice. She turns out to be part of an experiment in genetic engineering intended to turn kids into self-sustaining life forms who can survive without food or water. She’s also gorgeous, which motivates Mason to err on the side of running away with her in a valiant but dangerously misguided attempt at saving her. The only thing standing in his way is the faceless man behind this plan, known only as the Gardener.

Author S.A. Bodeen has laced this sci-fi-tinged page-turner with thoughtful commentary on world hunger, sustainability, biology and biomedical ethics, plus several high-speed chases and a believable budding romance, and the whole thing works like a charm. The giant Tro-Dyn Corporation and its generous scholarships that keep local kids indentured—and quiet about what really goes on there—make for high tension, and the notion that these photosynthetic food-and-
water-free teens, originally conceived to combat famine, might make perfect low-budget soldiers is downright eerie to contemplate. I stayed up late to find out how it all ended, and stayed up after that because The Gardener raised so many timely and pointed questions.
 
 

 

Fifteen-year-old Mason has never met his father. His responsibilities at home include picking his mother up from the local tavern when the bouncers set her on the curb, then sobering her up for another shift at the nursing home, and occasionally sneaking in to help her complete a shift. One day when he’s at the […]

Retta Lee Jones is an aspiring country singer from Starling, a small Tennessee town. Everyone in Starling knows Retta is talented, but a beautiful voice cannot fix her parents’ marriage or pay the bills. All she clings to is a dream to make it in Nashville.

Following her high school graduation, and despite her mother’s objections, Retta scrapes together her limited savings to spend the summer working in Music City. Some unfortunate circumstances (a parking ticket, a fender-bender, a mugging) force her to sleep in her car, but they also put her in the path of kind-hearted people. She meets a mechanic who offers her a job answering phones in his auto shop to pay for the repairs, and a bookstore clerk befriends her and lends her books about the country music business. When Retta gets a poor-paying job singing at a shabby hotel, the hotel manager’s young son lets her sleep in a vacant room for free. The hotel bartender, a fellow musician, offers her valuable advice: Quit imitating country legends and sing your own music. Before long, her luck changes when she catches the attention of a well-known local columnist. But the path to fame is often paved with potholes, and Retta must decide if becoming a Nashville star is even possible.

As in her previous book, Artichoke’s Heart, Suzanne Supplee peppers Somebody Everybody Listens To with a lush Southern setting, endearing characters and honest first-person narration. Retta is a hard-working soul who just needs a lucky break, and readers will root for her to rise above her humble circumstances. In addition, Supplee precedes each chapter with a brief biography of a country legend, such as Patsy Cline, Shania Twain and Dolly Parton. These entries highlight the difficult road to stardom and complement Retta’s own struggles and successes. After reading that Dolly Parton was one of 12 children or that Shania’s real name is Eileen Edwards, teen readers might be motivated to do their own research and learn more. And although the country bios add a fun touch to the novel, teens do not need to be fans of country music to be fans of Suzanne Supplee.

Retta Lee Jones is an aspiring country singer from Starling, a small Tennessee town. Everyone in Starling knows Retta is talented, but a beautiful voice cannot fix her parents’ marriage or pay the bills. All she clings to is a dream to make it in Nashville. Following her high school graduation, and despite her mother’s […]

Devi Banks is nearing the end of her senior year in high school, and her boyfriend of three years, Bryan, just broke up with her. She’s hurt, angry and confused about where her life is headed. When she accidentally drops her phone into a wishing well at the mall—right after wishing she could go back in time—the phone is broken, seemingly useless, only able to call her own number. But that number reaches Devi . . . three and a half years ago.

As Senior Devi and Freshman Devi come to the realization that they are indeed talking to themselves, Senior Devi begins to instruct Freshman Devi on what to do to save herself future heartache—starting with never going out with Bryan in the first place. She then realizes she could rescue lost friendships, keep her friends from making decisions that turn out badly, concentrate on school more and get accepted to a better college. But the pressure of fixing the future starts to get to Freshman Devi as she tries new activities, fights her impulses to have fun and gets to know cute and sweet Bryan. Both Devis learn that they should focus on living in the present, and the reader learns a lot about wishing instead of living.

Sarah Mlynowski’s Gimme a Call is chick lit for teens, but the focus on a very pertinent life lesson makes it more than just a fun read. Readers will think about their own past mistakes in a new light as they see what can happen when the present is informed by the future. Mlynowski manages to make the reader root for two heroines in one, and the result is a delightful story that answers the age-old question, “If I knew then what I know now, would I change anything?” It’s up to the reader to decide as Gimme a Call offers a fun new perspective on the classic conundrum.

Devi Banks is nearing the end of her senior year in high school, and her boyfriend of three years, Bryan, just broke up with her. She’s hurt, angry and confused about where her life is headed. When she accidentally drops her phone into a wishing well at the mall—right after wishing she could go back […]
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Ship Breaker, the new novel from highly acclaimed author Paolo Bacigalupi, poses a challenge to critics: How do you explain how good it is without a dozen “spoiler alerts”? One of science fiction’s pleasures is the dislocation it confronts readers with, sometimes from page one. Reading along and finding yourself in outer space, under water or in a future you never envisioned creates the sense of wonder the best sci-fi inspires. To give away too much would be cruel, but here are the basics:

The story follows Nailer, a teenage boy and one of the “ship breakers” of the title, as he scavenges for copper wire inside the ductwork of grounded oil tankers, off the Gulf Coast of an America sometime in our future. He has cruel bosses, difficult quotas and a dangerous job which he’ll soon grow too big to do anymore. So when he stumbles upon a clipper ship washed ashore in a hurricane, it seems as though he’s hit the jackpot. Instead, what he finds inside the ship forces him to reconsider his life so far—and his chances for a better, and happier, future.

The novel has surprises in store, not least among them the juxtaposition of a bleak landscape (including forced labor, grinding poverty and drug addiction) with a nautical adventure story, and ultimately a touching discussion about the families we surround ourselves with for comfort and survival, whose ties run deeper than blood. Bacigalupi’s seeming ease in tying these themes together, and interweaving them with a dark take on the consequences of oil scarcity, is evidence of his talent. He paints a vivid portrait of the scavengers’ culture with perfectly chosen details: Facial tattoos that serve as work permits, glowing LED face paint to illuminate the darkened ducts, the luxury of rat on a stick and the scary amphetamine-like drug “crystal slide” all bring their world to life. Ship Breaker is definitely worth exploring, and offers much for readers to take away.

Heather Seggel reads and writes in Ukiah, California.

Ship Breaker, the new novel from highly acclaimed author Paolo Bacigalupi, poses a challenge to critics: How do you explain how good it is without a dozen “spoiler alerts”? One of science fiction’s pleasures is the dislocation it confronts readers with, sometimes from page one. Reading along and finding yourself in outer space, under water […]

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