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Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail

Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail. February 27, 2017. Viking Books for Young Readers, 320 p. ISBN: 9780670013081.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.3;l Lexile: 620.

Gracie has never felt like this before. One day, she suddenly can’t breathe, can’t walk, can’t anything and the reason is standing right there in front of her, all tall and weirdly good-looking: A.J.

It turns out A.J. likes not Gracie but Gracie’s beautiful best friend, Sienna. Obviously Gracie is happy for Sienna. Super happy! She helps Sienna compose the best texts, responding to A.J. s surprisingly funny and appealing texts, just as if she were Sienna. Because Gracie is fine. Always! She’s had lots of practice being the sidekick, second-best.

It s all good. Well, almost all. She’s trying

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2017 (Online))
Grades 5-8. Eighth-grader Gracie is certain that she likes A.J., but when she learns he likes her best friend, Sienna, she goes all out to help the two get together. She texts him on Sienna’s phone for her as if she were Sienna, and she consults with Emmett, A.J.’s best friend and her neighbor. Emmett and Gracie have been best buds since they were little, and there’s nothing they won’t do for each other. But when Gracie turns 14, she’s not certain if she can handle some of the shifts and changes that begin to take place. This modern, middle-school retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac is heartwarming, funny, and tender, offering a story of young love and loyalty, friendship and family. Characters are pitch-perfect for middle-school musings and milieu: a whirlwind of activity and emotional confusion that is the bane and fuel of any early teen’s existence. Call it cute, call it clever—Vail fluently captures the spirit of today’s American middle-schoolers. See Kristina Springer’s Cici Reno (2016) for another tween take on Cyrano.

Horn Book Magazine (January/February, 2017)
As eighth grade comes to a close and her fourteenth birthday approaches, Gracie Grant discovers she has a problem. Out of the blue, Gracie realizes she like-likes longtime and suddenly very attractive classmate AJ Rojanasopondist. But that’s not the problem. AJ like-likes someone, as well–Gracie’s best friend, Sienna. Despite nursing a mild heartache, Gracie sincerely tries to be happy for her bestie, so much so that when Sienna panics about what to say to AJ in a text, Gracie helps compose it for her. Then she writes anotherâç¦and another, until eventually Sienna hands over her phone, and all texting of AJ, to Gracie. As their correspondence unfolds, Gracie is surprised by AJ’s sense of humor, which feels oddly familiar–kind of like Gracie’s close friend Emmett. Guilt over playing Cyrano to Sienna’s Christian, exacerbated by complex family dynamics (Gracie’s sister died as a young child) and Gracie’s tendency to overthink things, makes her prone to brief but intense emotional outbursts and moments of painful awkwardness in nearly all of her relationships. Gracie’s breakneck narration is presented in and out of text messages, folding in an effortlessly diverse cast, including Latina Sienna and Filipino-Israeli Emmett. Through her protagonist’s rollicking commentary, Vail captures the anguish and hilarity at the heart of middle school. anastasia m. collins

About the Author

Rachel Vail is the author of children’s books including Justin Case, Sometimes I’m Bombaloo, and Righty and Lefty. She is also the author of several books for teens and middle grade readers, including If We Kiss, You Maybe, Gorgeous, Wonder, and Never Mind, which she wrote with Avi. Vail was born in New York City and grew up in New Rochelle, NY, just down the street from her future husband, though she didn’t know that until much later. She attended Georgetown University, where she earned her B.A. in English and Theater. She lives in New York City with her husband and two sons.

Her website is www.rachelvail.com.

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Confessions of a High School Disaster by Emma Chastain

Confessions of a High School Disaster by Emma Chastain. March7, 2017. Simon Pulse, 352 p. ISBN: 9781481488754.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

In the tradition of Bridget Jones’s Diary, a lovably flawed high school student chronicles her life as she navigates the highs and lows of family, friendship, school, and love in a diary that sparkles with humor and warmth.

I’m Chloe Snow, and my life is kiiiiind of a disaster.

1. I’m a kissing virgin (so so so embarrassing).
2. My best friend, Hannah, is driving me insane.
3. I think I’m in love with Mac Brody, senior football star, whose girlfriend is so beautiful she doesn’t even need eyeliner.
4. My dad won’t stop asking me if I’m okay.
5. Oh, and my mom moved to Mexico to work on her novel. But it’s fine—she’ll be back soon. She said so.

Mom says the only thing sadder than remembering is forgetting, so I’m going to write down everything that happens to me in this diary. That way, even when I’m ninety, I’ll remember how awkward and horrible and exciting it is to be in high school.

Part of Series: Chloe Snow’s Diary

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Underage drinking

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 9))
Grades 8-10. As if starting high school wasn’t daunting enough, Chloe Snow has to do it without her free-spirited writer mother—who bolted to Mexico to find her “muse”—and alongside her religious best friend, Hannah, and Hannah’s judgmental, picture-perfect family. Fortunately, Chloe has a caring dad; a new best friend, Tristan; and the lead in the school’s musical! In the spirit of Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries series, Chloe’s daily diary serves as the book’s format. Encompassing an overwhelming majority of Chloe’s record is her obsession with Mac, a senior boy with a girlfriend and Chloe’s secret hookup. Chloe, Hannah, and Tristan all have intense relationships with senior boys, which, aside from seeming a little improbable, starts to become how they define themselves. But despite Chloe’s dominating obsession with Mac, and the book’s abrupt ending, Chloe is refreshingly honest and unfiltered about very real issues facing high-school students: unsteady family dynamics, drinking at parties, balancing old and new friends, and the stigma of slut shaming.

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2017)
The chronicles of Chloe Snow’s journey from self-absorbed high school freshman to slightly less self-absorbed sophomore.Fourteen-year-old Chloe is technology-addicted and obsessed with getting her first kiss. Her mom has trotted off to Mexico for four months to write, leaving Chloe and her dad behind, which she first presents with nonchalance in her diary. Many of Chloe’s relationships begin to change around the time she unexpectedly gets the lead in the school musical. It becomes clear that her mom is not coming back as promised. She becomes increasingly distant from her best friend in favor of a new one, and she develops a naively close relationship with a senior boy who has a girlfriend, which ultimately brings on a painful barrage of cyberbullying. When Chloe is forced to acknowledge some uncomfortable truths about her parents’ relationship, she is startled into seeing her own behavior more clearly as well. The narrative is told through Chloe’s diary, immersing readers in her singular perspective, though a few long passages are much too detailed to be credible as diary entries. What feels like token diversity among minor characters and Chloe’s passing acknowledgment of her own privilege as a straight, white, middle-class girl come across as superficial, though accurately reflective of life in many mostly white communities like hers. Awkwardness, drama, and a pinch of burgeoning self-awareness. (Fiction. 12-15)

About the Author

Emma Chastain is a graduate of Barnard College and the creative writing MFA program at Boston University. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and children.

 

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Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik

Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik. March 28, 2017. HMH Books for Young Readers, 320 p. ISBN: 9780544829695.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 690.

An unforgettable story about autism, sisterhood, and first love that’s perfect for fans of Jenny Han, Sophie Kinsella, and Sarah Dessen.

Meet Chloe Mitchell, a popular Los Angeles girl who’s decided that her older sister, Ivy, who’s on the autism spectrum, could use a boyfriend. Chloe already has someone in mind: Ethan Fields, a sweet, movie-obsessed boy from Ivy’s special needs class.

Chloe would like to ignore Ethan’s brother, David, but she can’t—Ivy and Ethan aren’t comfortable going out on their own so Chloe and David have to tag along. Soon Chloe, Ivy, David, and Ethan form a quirky and wholly lovable circle. And as the group bonds over frozen yogurt dates and movie nights, Chloe is forced to confront her own romantic choices—and the realization that it’s okay to be a different kind of normal.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 11))
Grades 9-12. LaZebnik hits it out of the park with her story about pretty, popular Chloe and her loving relationship with her older, autistic sister, Ivy. On the surface, Chloe has it together—handsome boyfriend James; best friend Sarah; and an effortless, sunny disposition. At home, however, there’s her stepfather, Ron, whose first experience at parenting is marked by micromanagement. When Chloe goes out without her sister, Ivy lets her know that she’s lonely, which gives Chloe an idea: she’s going to find Ivy a boyfriend. There’s a young man in Ivy’s class, named Ethan, whom she seems to like, so Chloe starts working on getting them on a date. Then she finds out that Ethan’s brother, David, someone she knows and despises, will be coming along, too. They start to get along as they get to know each other and realize that they have more in common than they knew. With perceptiveness and ample skill, LaZebnik paints a vivid picture of what the sibling of a person with high-functioning autism might go through. Never resorting to stereotype, she depicts appealing, three-­dimensional characters who flesh out a narrative that is compassionate, tender, funny, and wise all at once. This insightful, well-­written story will entertain readers while inspiring meaningful empathy.

Kirkus Reviews (December 15, 2016)
The complexities of Chloe’s love life intertwine with her autistic sister’s. White high schooler Chloe has never had trouble fitting in socially. With her father dead of cancer, her mother recently remarried to a know-it-all, and her older sister, Ivy, on the spectrum, Chloe doesn’t have the time or energy to worry about her peers’ perceptions. And she certainly doesn’t care if she’s the object of snarky white classmate David’s insults. But when Ivy begins to question Chloe’s dating rituals, Chloe decides that perhaps Ivy needs a boyfriend of her own. After some investigation, Chloe convinces Ivy to try a date with Ethan from her specialty school. Ever the protective sister, Chloe accompanies Ivy only to discover that Ethan’s assisted by his brother—who is none other than David. As the dates continue, the real sparks form between Chloe and her former nemesis as they both understand the responsibilities of having an autistic family member. Chloe’s realistic narrative never sugarcoats both the challenges and gifts of living with someone with autism. In a twist that provokes more thought, Ivy may be more attracted to classmate Diana than Ethan. While the author expertly handles myriad issues regarding sexuality for those with autism and their families, the pacing does lose speed. An eye-opening look at autism and those it touches. (Fiction. 14 & up)

About the Author

Claire grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, went to Harvard and moved to LA. She’s written five novels for adults and four YA novels.

She lives in the Pacific Palisades with my husband Rob (who writes for “The Simpsons”), her four kids and too many pets to keep track of.

Her website is www.clairelazebnik.com.

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The Sky Between You and Me by Catherine Alene

The Sky Between You and Me by Catherine Alene. February 7, 2017. Sourcebooks Fire, 496 p. ISBN: 9781492638537.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

An emotional and heart wrenching novel about grief and striving for perfection.

Lighter. Leaner. Faster.

Raesha will to do whatever it takes to win Nationals. For her, competing isn’t just about the speed of her horse or the thrill of the win. It’s about honoring her mother’s memory and holding onto a dream they once shared.

Lighter. Leaner. Faster.

For an athlete, every second counts. Raesha knows minus five on the scale will let her sit deeper in her saddle, make her horse lighter on his feet. And lighter, leaner, faster gives her the edge she needs over the new girl on the team, a girl who keeps flirting with Raesha’s boyfriend and making plans with her best friend.

So she focuses on minus five. But if she isn’t careful, she’s going to lose more than just the people she loves, she’s going to lose herself to lighter, leaner, faster…

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (February 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 11))
Grades 9-12. Barrel-racer Raesha keeps her life and her loves small: she has best friend Asia, boyfriend Cody, her dog, and her horse. Home is just Rae and her dad and the memory of her mother, who died a few years back. But there’s a new girl in town, Kierra, and both Cody and Asia are growing close with her. Rae focuses on the one thing she can control: herself. Nationals are approaching, and if Rae can make herself just a little lighter, a little leaner, she won’t be as heavy in the saddle, and her horse will move faster. “Minus five” becomes her mantra as she strives to succeed at the sport her mother loved. The novel in verse approach isn’t always the most effective here; the spare format works best when the focus is on the worsening of Rae’s anorexia. Though there are many teen books about anorexia, few focus on equestrian sports, despite the fact that eating disorders in the equestrian world are common, and this debut provides an intriguing and valuable perspective.

Publishers Weekly Annex (January 30, 2017)
A competitive barrel racer, Raesha knows that a single pound can translate into seconds lost or gained. Determined to win Nationals, like her mother did before dying from cancer, Rae fixates on her weight, sure that losing five pounds will make all the difference. The arrival of Kierra-a new rider who throws a wrench in Rae’s relationships with her boyfriend, Cody, and best friend, Asia-leaves Rae feeling alone, jealous, and frenzied. As her eating disorder develops, Rae becomes less strong and less focused, yet those elusive five pounds remains just out of reach, no matter what the scale says: “Lighter/ Leaner/ Faster, My goal/ Is always/ There.” Writing in free verse, debut author Alene vividly conveys Rae’s spiral into anorexia; as she weakens, the poems fragment and become less fluid, mirroring Rae’s physical deterioration. Alene’s characterization of secondary characters, particularly Rae’s friends, is less successful; Cody’s shallow comments about Rae’s looks are particularly damaging, but this issue is never acknowledged. Even so, Alene presents an illuminating account of a girl struggling for control of her life and body. Ages 14-up.

About the Author

Catherine Alene wrote this story when she was in recovery for her own eating disorder. She has an MA in teaching and an MFA in writing from Vermont College. She spent the last seven years as a language arts teacher at an alternative high school. She lives in Oregon with her daughter.

Her website is www.catherinealene.com

 

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Scenes from the Epic Life of a Total Genius by Stacey Matson

Scenes from the Epic Life of a Total Genius by Stacey Matson. November 1, 2016. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 288 p. ISBN: 9781492638025.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.5; Lexile: 800.

Lights! Camera! Action!

Arthur Bean is ready to have the best year any eighth grader has ever had. The awesome zombie movie he’s writing with BFF Robbie Zack is definitely going to be a blockbuster. He even has a girlfriend. Yes, that’s right, a GIRLFRIEND! With everything lined up so nicely, he’s sure his teachers will start to appreciate his true genius this year.

Except for the little problem of the movie camera Arthur and Robbie “borrowed” to film their upcoming blockbuster movie. And then Arthur’s girlfriend gets jealous of his friendship with Kennedy. And there’s the actual co-writing, producing, and directing of their film…Drama is definitely on the menu for this year. Arthur would just prefer it stay confined to his script.

Sequel to: A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius

Part of Series: The Arthur Bean Stories

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Stealing

 

About the Author

Stacey Matson has worked in a theatre program on Parliament Hill and written theatre pieces for the Glenbow Museum and for the All-Nations Theatre in Calgary. She earned her Master of Arts in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia. A debut novelist, Stacey lives in Vancouver, BC.

Her website is www.staceymatson.com.

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Tell Us Something True by Dana Reinhardt

Tell Us Something True by Dana Reinhardt. June 14, 2016. Wendy Lamb Books, 208 p. ISBN: 9780375990663.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 690.

Seventeen-year-old River doesn’t know what to do with himself when Penny, the girl he adores, breaks up with him. He lives in LA, where nobody walks anywhere, and Penny was his ride; he never bothered getting a license. He’s stuck. He’s desperate. Okay . . . he’s got to learn to drive.

But first, he does the unthinkable—he starts walking. He stumbles upon a support group for teens with various addictions. He fakes his way into the meetings, and begins to connect with the other kids, especially an amazing girl. River wants to tell the truth, but he can’t stop lying, and his tangle of deception may unravel before he learns how to handle the most potent drug of all: true love.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Marijuana

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (May 15, 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 18))
Grades 8-11. River is thrown into a tailspin when his girlfriend, Penny, breaks up with him. Life was easy with Penny: he was so madly in love, he just followed Penny’s agenda. He never even learned to drive—why bother when Penny had a car? When Penny decides she needs someone with a little more, well, drive, readers might sympathize with her. But so, too, will they feel charmed by River’s spot-on narration, blunt self-appraisal, and wry commentary on high school and family life. Floundering and heartbroken—and now walking everywhere—River wanders in on a “Second Chance” session, a storefront support group that, it turns out, serves students with addiction issues. But the kids there intrigue him, especially a girl named Daphne, and River makes up a story to justify joining their group. A fairly contrived plot twist ramps up the action later, but this is more than a lively rom-com with smart dialogue. Reinhardt constructs a character who, haltingly, rebuilds himself in believable ways as he confronts family trauma, lost love, and growing up.

Kirkus Reviews (April 1, 2016)
In an ill-advised effort to set his life straight, 17-year-old River Dean fakes a weed addiction and joins a support group for teens. Senior year takes a sour turn for the white teen. Penny Brockaway ends their relationship during a boat trip for his lack of self-reflection. “You just follow along and do what you think you’re supposed to.” Wandering Los Angeles in a post-breakup daze, River stumbles across a sign: A Second Chance. It refers him to a self-help group, where addictions range from shoplifting to Molly. Believing it’ll benefit him in his case with Penny, River feigns an addiction to enlist in the group. “I was taking action. I was doing something.” Readers may often find it hard to accept or even like River. Though an absent-father subplot unearths some pathos, his manipulation of the group, obsession with Penny, and obliviousness to his own privilege crush any goodwill. Aside from the loss of Penny, River attempts to reconcile with his estranged friends, whom he’s previously neglected. On top of that, he must get his driver’s license, since “everybody knows that nobody walks in LA.” As he explores a new relationship with a girl from the support group and remakes his life, he finds it difficult to balance his lies. “Penny was right about me. I didn’t think about things,” he realizes, a valuable epiphany that nevertheless exposes the story’s weakness. The novel ends in a buoyant mood, perhaps not entirely earned. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Dana Reinhardt is originally from Los Angeles but currently lives in San Francisco, California with her husband and two daughters.  Tell Us Something True is her eighth novel.

Her website is www.danareinhardt.net.

 

 

 

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Tell Us Something True on Amazon

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Tell Us Something True Publisher Page