Thursday, March 4, 2010


I got a freakin' dot com! So hold onto your hats and head on over to!

Appropriately enough, one of the first posts over there is going to be about the EPIC giveaway I'm having for UNSUNG YA. So, seriously, don't miss that. Tell your friends, update your RSS feeds and your Google Reader. Eat vegetables. (That last part only if you want to. I'm currently eating a whoopie pie for breakfast.)



Tuesday, March 2, 2010

There will be a giveaway on this blog!

Yes, you read that right. I will soon be doing a giveaway on this blog, based on the fabbity fab Unsung YA Heroes Project! I am looking to feature some authors here, so if you or a friend are one of the authors featured in my previous post and want to help me out, leave me a comment and I'll send you an email!

If you're a reader of this blog who just wants in on the giveaway action (duh, that's what I'd be interested in), keep watching The Tart. IT WILL COME. In the mean time, check out these videos, as I am now addicted to video blogging:

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Vlogging is still not a word. I swear.

So. I decided to pick video blogging back up, mostly inspired by my friends K.A. Holt and P.J. Hoover (the latter of which is a CAMCORDER NINJA) who do fabulous vlogs. Here's my first, it's long-winded, but James assures me it's "funny." We'll see how this goes.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Distractions are my friend. That's what I'll keep telling myself.

Okay. So I've been neglecting this blog again and I 'm going to tell myself that it's because I've been in my revisions cave. Funny how my revisions cave looks EXACTLY like my living room. And who put these cats here? Jeez.

But you know, it's hard to stay in the revisions cave. Sometimes really shiny things come up. Today I spent a good amount of time working on the playlist for the main character in MYSELF BEHIND MYSELF (formerly called HISTORY) so that I could revise when I was done. But what did I do when I was done? I IMed my friend James to tell him what I was doing and then when he said he wanted to see my awesome playlist (it is awesome) I told him I would put it up on And when I finished putting that one up, I put all my project playlists up. And uploaded art. Fun!

Oh yes, it is super fun to procrastinate by making pretend cover art for your books. I shared some for previous projects in a past blog post, but here is my mock cover for 1999. Look! It's so colorful and cute! I used free stock art from sites like and

I also counted all the swear words in MYSELF BEHIND MYSELF. Why? Because I can. Scrivener -- a writing program that, incidentally, changed my life -- has a text statistics option that lets you count how many times you use certain words. MYSELF BEHIND MYSELF drops 28 F bombs in it's third draft. There are 31 variations of shit and 7 instances of taking Jesus' name in vain, including 3 where Christ is included. I am sad to say, right this second, there are no douches. I will work on that.

This option also allowed me to tell my mother, upon sending her the first draft for 1999, that this book has much more swearing than my previous manuscript and that I didn't want to hear about how offensive it is. She claims she can handle it. But you'll be happy to know it has 3 creative uses of douche/douchebag. My characters, apparently, have potty mouths. Unlike ANYONE I know...

I've been watching Olympic hockey games and telling myself that I can totally watch and revise at the same time but OH NO WE ARE SLAUGHTERING RUSSIA GO TEAM USA. Right. Women's hockey rules, and instead of actually getting any work done, I'm generating ideas for new books while screaming at the television. Also, this week my buddy Kyle explained curling to me in such a comprehensive manner that I mostly understand it and can now watch the sport with interest. Crap.

And of course there's one of the best excuses in the world: my cat is sitting on my manuscript. I know, this is right up there with "my dog ate my homework." But, you know, sometimes the truth is the truth. I mean, look. Turkleton is a very needy cat. He spends a lot of time vying for my attention, always in contention with this strange laptop machine that I'm always staring at and clicking on. When he can actually, physically PWN his rival, he's going to do it. (Telemachus, for those of you wondering, doesn't care if I'm writing, as long as I give him his own pen to chew on. Much easier to deal with.) Let's also take the time to note that, in his spare time, Turkleton also likes to sit on my phone, my keys, books I have open and am trying to read, and my arms while I'm trying to type.

Naturally there's also this classic distraction, the internet. Between micro-blogging on Twitter and this long and rambling post I'm writing right now, the web is a fun distraction that sucks up a lot of time. Of course, it is useful procrastination, right? Twitter is a great resource for meeting and chatting with other authors and industry professionals. And this insight into the glamorous life of being a yet-unpublished-YA-author is sure to, uh, help someone else along, right? And sometimes I even research things like chupacabras and 1990s pop culture items that have escaped my memory.

Hey, at least I haven't turned on my TV yet today. And it's not like YOU'RE writing right this second, are you? That's what I thought.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Writing for Young People is NOT a Lesser Art Form

This evening I have been participating in a hashtag conversation on Twitter: #whyYArocks. This was tarted by the illustrious Ellen Hopkins in response to a review of BEAUTIFUL CREATURES by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. (Psst, here's Margaret's take on the whole fandangle.) The review is generally lovely and positive. However, the reviewer implies what a lot of our society echoes: readers of young adult literature are lonely people, that they aren't as discerning as adult readers, and that young adult books aren't so much literature as they are something fluffy we give to teens to tide them over until they can read "the big books."

It's a trend I've seen in a lot of other articles over the past few years, and it saddens me as both a writer and a reader of young adult books. For one thing, teenagers are some of the least casual readers I've met. They can tell me exactly what plot point an author forgot to follow through on, what sort of continuity errors are in the third book of series X, and specific reasons they'd vote for a character for president. They read in many different genres, whereas many adult readers limit themselves to one type of book, or even just one author.

This trend, looking down upon books for young readers, is also disturbing because it implies that a writer of young adult or kids' books is less of an artist than a writer of adult books. It is a different, art, yes. In some ways, it could be argued that writing for young adults is even more important than writing for adults. But, nonetheless, young adult (and kids') books run the literary gamut just as much as adult writing. There may be "fluffy" romances and "generic" thrillers, but there are also thoughtful dystopian novels, hearty historical fictions that many adults wouldn't tackle reading, hard-hitting books about real issues and mind-bending high fantasies that give Tolkein a run for his money. We have vampire fiction that touches on everything from Romanian mythology to social class and elitism to classic literature. We have novels that cross political lines and address social taboos and don't apologize. I've included an example of each of these types of YA literature in this post.

YA writers are not writing with a handicap. Our work does not need to be judged on a different scale.

YA books can be as sophisticated or as light as any adult novel, yet adult reviewers and the literary elite look at the books (and their readers) as second class citizens. I have talked to countless authors who claim that they have been asked by friends and family "Yes, it's great that you sold your children's book. Now when are you going to write a real novel?" That breaks my heart.

As someone who sits on both sides of the fence -- I'm both a "snotty" poet and a "lowly" YA writer -- I just want to see this end. If Rowling and Meyer are any indication, the market for books for young readers has evolved over the last decade in a way that makes juvenile fiction accessible in a whole new way. Not only are children buying books and thinking of authors as other generations have thought of rock stars, but adults of all ages are choosing to include young adult and children's fiction as part of their literary diet. It's not going away. And it's about time this huge section of your local library is given the props it deserves.

I challenge you, whomever you are stumbling across this blog, to go to your local library or bookstore and ask the staff for a literary YA novel. They won't laugh or sneer or even puzzle over it, if they're worth their salt. They'll give you a whole stack of options. And when you've somehow managed to choose which to read first, when you've taken the plunge and devoured this novel, I guarantee you this: If you weren't on board to begin with, you'll be ready to join the YA Revolution.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Things I've been reading, plus whacky dreams of David D.

It's a gross, cold, rainy day here in Austin so I thought maybe I'd finally come through on some promised reviews for my blog readers. I've mostly been reading contemporary YA lately, while taking breaks to read ten or so pages each night from CRYPTOZOOLOGY A-Z by Loren Coleman (from Maine!) and Jerome Clarke. Yes, it's research for a book I want to write, but, let's be honest -- the book was on my Amaz*n wishlist for like two years before my novel idea gave me an excuse to buy it. Let me just tell you: it's fascinating.

The first book I want to tell you about is GIRL FROM MARS (Groundwood Books 2008) by Tamara Bach, translated from the German by Shelley Tanaka. This book has garnered multiple awards and much praise in its native Germany, but the only reason I even know about it is that in my past job as a bookseller I saw it in a catalog. Only 29 people on LibraryThing have it, and to me, that's a travesty. It's a beautiful story of first love, told in the quirky voice of Miriam, a self-described plain fifteen-year-old girl in a small town who dreams, like many of us, of getting out and living a fabulous big-city life. She wishes she were beautiful and popular and spends every morning commiserating in the girls' restroom with her two best friends, Ines and Suse. Then enters Laura, with her wild black hair and carefree attitude, who rolls her own cigarettes and goes to clubs. Miriam is instantly enchanted, and begins to feel something she's never felt before, especially for a girl. GIRL FROM MARS is beautifully written, and rife with genuine emotion. This is a book that should not be ignored, and I urge anyone who can to track down a copy. It will make your heart ache in all the right ways.

I also recently read LEFTOVERS (Orca Books, 2009) by Heather Waldorf, which is also with a small publisher. This one wasn't quite as intense as I'd expected -- one of its core themes is sexual abuse -- and I found the author's treatment of this theme a little too light. However, the story was compelling. Taking place on a small island in the St. Lawrence River (close to Ottowa, Ontario), this is the story of Sarah Greene, who, after stealing and crashing her mom's boyfriend's car, is sentenced to community service at Camp Dog Gone Fun, a charity that treats misfit dogs to a summer of leisure. What her the judge, her fellow campers, and even her mother and her boyfriend, Tanner, don't know is that the reason she freaked out was that having her picture taken freaks her out. So when Tanner got out his brand new digital camera and asked Sarah to smile, all she could think of was the "secret" nude photos her dad had been taking of her up until he choked on a piece of steak and died. At the camp, though, Sarah throws herself into the work, cooking meals for her fellow delinquents and fin ding companionship not only in her special project -- a wild, enormous pup named Judy -- but also in Sullivan, the director's stepson. If she lets herself, this could be the summer that allows Sarah to heal, and her unexpected friendships with everyone at Camp Dog Gone Fun -- four-legged and biped alike, might just get her through. While I would have liked to see more grit in the story, LEFTOVERS ultimately makes a painful story of sexual abuse more accessible for readers who might not otherwise pick it up. Dog lovers will appreciate the canine hijinx and stories of rehabilitation, and Sarah's wacky sense of humor and conversational narrative shine a light at the end of the tunnel. This is a lovely, fast read that will find a place in the hearts of many young readers.

I'll admit it -- I'm obsessed with the show Hoarders. I think part of me is always afraid that my pack-ratty-ness make me susceptible to that extreme. But shows like Hoarders don't always show the human side of this serious, clinical illness, and DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS (Walker Books for Young Readers, 2010) by C.J. Omololu gave me a real look at what it's like to grow up in a hoarding home. Lucy is a typical teen in most ways -- she goes to school, she has a best friend, she likes music and coffee and has a crush on a boy. But what her friends don't know is that her house is full of stuff -- stuff that her mom has collected over years and years and refuses to throw away. Her older brother and sister have both grown up and gone away, leaving Lucy alone with her mom, who has let the house get so bad that there is no longer hot water, let alone the smells coming from the kitchen. When Lucy comes home one day to find that the unthinkable has happened, she begins a mad dash to try and clean up the mess that her mother has spent years building before anyone can see what her life is really like. DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS brilliantly takes place in a period of about 24 hours, utilizing carefully-placed memories to fill in the blanks of Lucy's difficult life in a family that has ceased to function. While I felt the ending came to quickly (sequel, please!) I absolutely could not put this book down and I highly recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed YA books by Laurie Halse Anderson, Elizabeth Scott, or Judy Blume. (Yes, I just invoked The Judy.) Go find your local indie and pick up a copy ASAP.

Right now I'm reading THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner, which I'm finding a bit slow to start -- does anyone who read this already want to weigh in? I also would like to state, for the record, that I had a sexy dream about David Duchovny last night, but it was ruined by his MULLET. What?! Also, I've had "Thinking of You" by Hanson (yes, really) stuck in my head since I woke up morning. Mostly it just makes me want to call my sister and reminisce, but I think she's blocked out most of 1998 pretty well.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Austin SCBWI recap. Whoa, longest most awesome day ever!

So on Saturday I attended my first ever SCBWI conference. IT WAS AWESOME! No one made fun of my pimples or roots and I even made new friends and learned things! It was so fun to catch up with a lot of my writer buds, whom I haven't seen in a while, not to mention meeting some of my friends who live in my computer for the first time!

Here are some exclamation points! For good measure!

The whole event, as usual, started with TRAVEL DRAMA. I am still a pedestrian, and getting to remote, busless places like Cedar Park is difficult for me. Fortunately, my amazing friend Jessica Lee Anderson offered up the idea of having a sleepover at her house (okay, it was more of a stay-up-all-night-because-we're-too-excited-to-sleep-over, but whatever) where I presented her with A DOG SNUGGIE. Jess is more than an amazing critique partner, but someone I'm lucky to call a BFF. She gave me great advice on what to expect at the conference and a jillion reasons I shouldn't be nervous. PS, if you haven't read her latest book, BORDER CROSSING, get the eff on that. It rocks. Jess recently gave an interview here, btw, which is a must-read.

We got there at the butt-crack of dawn, and it was COLD out! Not Texas cold, but normal people cold. Luckily, the Austin SCBWI croud is WARM and welcoming, so the second we arrived the chill melted away. The muffins helped. One of the first people I saw at breakfast was Shelli Cornelison who I know from YALITCHAT on twitter. She introduced me to Nikki Loftin and a group of lovely ladies at breakfast. Here is a picture of breakfast that I lovingly stole from Jo.

Former editor and current agent Mark McVeigh gave an opening presentation, in which he explained that the publishing industry is not in collapse, but in transition. He gave several arguments for accepting the digital revolution. "There will always be people who want hardcover books," he said, comparing these people to today's vinyl aficionados. He made the point that most people were no longer buying CDs, especially young people. Whenever people talk about ebooks and the digitizing of the publishing industry, my brain goes right to that scene from UGLIES, where Tally discovers the old library in the Smoke and all the paper books and magazines that are unrecognizable relics to her and her peers. I find it terrifying. But, McVeigh is right. "We are all running scared," he said. "Use that fear." He also suggested writing outside our comfort zones as a cure for writer's block: "Rub your muse the wrong way."

Over there is a picture Jo Whittemore took of Brandi November Lyons and, yes, that's me, looking, supposedly "sassy and cute." Okay, Jo. I think it's a little more "half-crazed, early-morning style." But, whatever you say! We were waiting for our critiques in the "holding cell."

I had my first critique of the day with the adorable Sara Lewis Holmes, author of OPERATION YES, which I am so very looking forward to reading. Sara's advice was practical in every way. She had HISTORY, which is my completed YA contemporary, and I have always felt there was something missing in the first few chapters. With Sara's suggestions (and some from Shana Burg, later in the day), I think I know how to make HISTORY a million times stronger than it is now.

Cheryl Klein, editor extraordinaire from Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), was one of my favorite presenters of the day. She gave a lot of wonderful information on picture book writing -- a genre I am just beginning to try. One wonderful bit of advice she gave was that picture books should be centered in a real childhood emotion, like like of power. Delightfully, she added, "You have to get rid of the parents, because parents are like the anti-power." She also introduced us to (Laurie Halse) Anderson's Law: Plot = Compulsion vs. Obstacles.

At this point in the day I had an amazingly helpful critique with local lady P.J. "Tricia" Hoover, author of THE EMERALD TABLET and THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD. It was so nice to sit down with Tricia, as she's someone I often talk to about books and writing, but never really about my books and writing. Since I knew that Tricia loves mythology and sci fi, I sent her pages my unfinished paranormal project, HARKNESS BEACH. The first thing she told me was that she loved the story but the voice felt female. This was so important to hear -- my narrator is a teen guy and I need to make him sound more dudely. Tricia also recommended a few books that she thinks share similar themes and will help me figure out my voice and pacing. Yesterday I started writing some new scenes for HARKNESS BEACH, which I've had a hard time working on lately. This book has a whole new lease on life!

I had a great lunch with Kelly J. Holmes of YAnnabe, founder of the Unsung YA Heroes Project! Funny thing: we found each other twittering during a presentation and made plans to meet up at lunch. Oh, intarnets! I also met the fabulous Tessa Burns, who ended up giving me a ride back into town (thankyouthankyouthankyou) and Lynne Kelly Hoenig, another of my YALITCHAT buds. Guys. Seriously. I cannot express enough how awesome twitter is for connecting with other writers in your community, not to mention writers you wouldn't normally get to talk to. GET ON IT.

Another of my favorite presenters was author Kirby Larson, whose book HATTIE BIG SKY is a Newbery Honor title. She was funny and delightful and full of witty advice. My favorite? She told us we had to "write through the bad stuff." Meaning, life gets in the way of writing. Shit happens, but the only way to get to the other side is to slog through it. She also gave us some great quotes from other folks: "Inspiration is not a gift" from Madeleine L'Engle and "Frustration is a sign of seriousness" from Ralph Keyes.

Around this time I had two more critiques. Chris Barton, Austinite and Sibert Honor author of THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS and the upcoming (can't wait for this!) SHARK VS. TRAIN, took a look at MOON YETI and knew exactly what it needed: a real plot. Ha! Like I said, picture books are new to me. He asked me some import questions about character motives. I have a lot of work to do on MOON YETI, but with Chris' help, it will get there.

Immediately after my critique with Chris, I got to sit down with the amazing Shana Burg, local author of A THOUSAND NEVER EVERS, who always has good writing advice (I loved her presentation at one of the previous SCBWI meetings, during which she shared some marvelous tips on character development). Shana had fabulous advice, and suggested some bold suggestions to the opening of HISTORY. She thinks it should be more spooky, and I totally agree. I'm going to be doing some reworking of this book in the near future before sending out too many more query letters.

Lisa Graff, former editor and author of Texas Bluebonnet List titles THE THING ABOUT GEORGIE and THE UMBRELLA SUMMER (the later of which has been on my TBR list since I first saw it in publisher's catalog) gave a very entertaining talk about how to be a writer and your own editor, and why you shouldn't wear your writer and editor hats at the same time. My favorite tidbit from her presentation? "An author knows what a genius he is, an editor knows you could do better." Basically, as an author, you have to believe that what you are writing as amazing and valuable and world-changing. You have to believe in it, or you'll never get anything done. But when you attack it as an editor, you also have to believe that you have the ability to improve it, and make it the best it can be. At some point Tim's photgrapher caught me furiously scribbling notes and looking out-of-my-mind. I like to call this "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Crazy Person."

At the end of the day we had a short panel with several of the featured local SCBWI authors. My favorite parts? Philip Yates, author of my favorite Christmas picture book, A PIRATE'S NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, wrote a poem about getting an agent by name-dropping all the amazing Austin talent. He also confesses that he likes to print out his manuscripts and read them aloud to his cat. And Shana Burg professed that she approaches revisions "like a to any suggestion." She said you have to make painful changes, and, that is one thing I am going to take seriously in my upcoming revision process.

So I've got a lot to do this week. For now I'm focusing on HARKNESS BEACH, but I've always got my crop rotation process to fall back on. It may be time to start revising 1999 (my Y2Kpocalypse novel) in the near future. And of course I have amazing critiques to work with for MOON YETI and HISTORY. I started reading THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner last night, per P.J. Hoover's suggestion, and I'm super intrigued by it. My next post should have some book reviews. In the mean time, I hope you all have a great week, writing, reading, and otherwise!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Really silly things I'm worrying about right now. Le sigh.

So the SCBWI Austin conference is this weekend and I'm totally excited. All of my Austin writing friends will be there (except for poor Kari, for whom we will be tweeting) and then of course there's the special guests like out-of-town authors and agents and editors.

Oh, wait. VIPs are coming! I am TERRIFIED of VIPs! VIPs en masse could give me a heart attack! I'm all twitchy.

So instead of thinking of important things like how I might pitch my novel if asked or what questions I'll ask other authors I'm meeting for the first time or what I'm supposed to bring I'm worrying about the following:

I have two zits on my forehead and they are getting kind of huge and what if they don't go away before the conference?
(Because obviously someone with zits can't write a decent manuscript and should be shunned.)

I noticed yesterday that I'm getting major rootage and my dye job is fading.
(Because no agent in his right mind would sign a pseudoredhead. If ginger kids have no souls, what on earth is in store for a faker?)

What if someone asks me about my book and I completely forget the plot?
(Because, you know, even though I spent a year and a half of my life having conversations in my head with a made up character this is totally likely.)

What if I fall asleep in the middle of a presentation because the conference starts so early and I don't really like coffee and I can't figure out how to sugar up the coffee provided enough so that I can actually drink it and, BAM, catching z's.
(Because coffee is rocket science. Only rocket scientists can make it. That is why Starbucks is secretly run by NASA.)

In my sleepy stupor my Foot-in-Mouth Syndrome will flare up and I'll either make an inappropriate Freudian slip or say something ridiculous and make someone important hate me.
(Because it's not like I've ever made a good impression on someone. Of course not!)

The list goes on. Does anyone else get the jitters before an event like this? It's a great opportunity, and it will be hugely informative, but I know it's also going to be big-time fun. Clearly, I need to chill out. And that's why the world is blessed with pharmaceuticals.

In the future: I plan to blog about a few books I've read lately. Feel free to tell me what you've been reading down in them there comments. I love reading suggestions. Now I'm off to finish Girl from Mars by Tamara Bach (sososososo good) while listening to Catatonia. Goodnight.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Unsung YA! or The Greatest YA You Haven't Read (plus a few bonuses) = longest blog ever

It's that time of year: "best of" lists are flying around the blogosphere. Everyone's talking about their favorite books of 2009. And we've been seeing a lot of repeats.

Which isn't to say any of these books are undeserving of recognition - there's a reason so many people love GOING BOVINE! It's a fabulous, hysterical, heartbreaking, ridiculous read! BUT, there have been a lot of books in recent years that completely flew under the radar, and that's where this project comes in. Over at YAnnabe, Kelly used LibraryThing to find other YA bloggers and their most loved but least known-about YA books. These is my list, and for everyone else's check out the list at YAnnabe.

BAD GIRLS DON'T DIE by Katie Alender (Hyperion DBG 2009; 116 LT members)
Alexis Warren is part of your average dysfunctional family. Her sister is an obnoxious princess, her parents who just don’t get it. She may be the pink-haired artsy type, but even her photography hobby can’t distract her from her sister’s latest weirdness. Kasey has always collected dolls, but ever since she found a certain specimen she’s been acting crazy -- maybe even possessed. As Alexis finds herself deeper and deeper in the history of her home and her town, she finds she might have to enlist the help of her least-likely co-conspirator: a cheerleader. This intensely creepy, highly insightful book goes beyond the typical haunted house story. Bad Girls Don’t Die is a novel about class, status, and consequences. Still, you don’t want to read it alone in the dark!
RAVEN SUMMER by David Almond (Delacorte Books for Young Readers 2009; 30 LT members)
In the eerie, literary voice David Almond is so well-known for, RAVEN SUMMER chronicles the life of Liam Lynch, a young man living on the English country side. When he and his friend follow a Raven on one lazy summer afternoon, they’re shocked to find an abandoned baby. What unfolds is a chain of events that all lead back to that day. The people Liam meets through saving the baby will change his life, and the life of his family, forever. Touching on current events, the human condition, and coming of age, everyone will see a bit of themselves in these characters. Part adventure, part drama, part contemporary folk tale, RAVEN SUMMER is the kind of book that stays with you long after you’ve read it.
BORDER CROSSING by Jessica Lee Anderson (Milkweed Editions 2009; 12 LT members)
Manz is living on the border, in so many ways. His father was Mexican, his mother is white, and he lives in Texas pretty close to Mexico. Things haven't been right with his Mom since his father died, and since she lost the baby it's gotten even worse. But Manz is starting to worry about things he didn't used to: like Operation Wetback and whether or not his stepdad can be trusted. As we delve further and further into Manz' story, we see that he is not only battling physical and cultural borders, but that he is on another border as well: sanity and delusion. BORDER CROSSING is heartbreaking, real, and impossible to put down.
CANDOR by Pam Bachorz (EgmontUSA 2009; 92 LT members)
Candor is the perfect city where perfect teens live perfect lives and make their perfect parents proud. Oscar knows why -- his father, the founder, developed technology that makes even the most rebellious teens conform. Oscar gets kids out…for a price. Then he meets Nia, an artist and a rebel, and he finds himself smitten. Oscar wants to change -- he wants to save Nia, whether that means getting her out or hiding her in plain sight. But the powers that be are stronger than even Oscar realized, and soon he is asking himself what sacrifices he is willing to make for love. CANDOR is a terrifying, heartbreaking, slightly insane story that clearly resonates a Stepford vibe and keeps the reader guessing through the last page. If you’re looking for a chilling sci-fi, this is your book.
FADE TO BLUE by Sean Beaudoin (Little, Brown Young Readers 2009; 48 LT members)
FADE TO BLUE is easily among the weirdest books I’ve ever read -- and the most engaging. The heroine, Sophie Blue -- or Gothika, as her not-so-friendly classmates call her -- is haunted by visions of a mad popsicle truck driver, and thinks she hears a voice telling her to visit ‘the lab.’ Sophie’s best friend, Lake, an ex-cheerleader-turned-paraplegic, has little advice to offer. Her mother is too depressed and disconnected to help. The school counselor only makes her write essays, and her brother, O.S., is seemingly too caught up in his comic books to do anything but get fatter. But when Kenny Fade, basketball star, starts to question his perfect life, reality begins to unravel, and Sophie is forced to confront something she has been trying to put past her: the disappearance of her father. With its references to pop culture, snarky sense of humor, and a plethora of bizarre characters, FADE TO BLUE will stick with you long after you’ve turned the last page.
JENNY GREEN'S KILLER JUNIOR YEAR by Amy Belasen & Jacob Osborn (Simon Pulse 2008; 13 LT members)
Disappointed by recent social politics at her prep school, self-proclaimed JAP (Jewish American Princess) decides to follow her crush, Josh, to a boarding school in Canada. Away from Long Island and her ex-friends, Jenny is sure she can finally snag her boy. But things don't exactly go her way, and it's not long before Jenny discovers that men are pigs and they must die. This book is not for the weak of heart -- it is a scandalously delicious black comedy that is sure to have the Tipper Gores of the country screaming with rage. But love her or hate her, Jenny will get under your skin. And you'd better hope she's not interested in dating you -- you could, in fact, be next.
PRETTY DEAD by Francesca Lia Block (HarperTeen 2009; 103 LT members)
First and foremost, this is NOT another vampire novel. This is a love story, through a century of fashion, music, architecture, friendships and losses. This is a story of grieving, after the suicide of a young girl -- the story of the vampire girl and the human boy who have survived her. This is a story of fear -- fear of the unknown, of death, and of the people we cannot ever leave. Francesca Lia Block is as elegant and beautiful as ever in writing her take on the current vampire trend. And, you know what? It is ethereal and disorienting and nothing like anything else in the genre. Pick it up. Read it. Fall in love.
THE WATERS & THE WILD by Francesca Lia Block (HarperTeen 2009; 70 LT members)
Francesca Lia Block is one of my favorite writers for a reason -- her smart, poetic prose easily transports you to an alternate reality, layering real issues with surreal context. In her latest, we explore the possibilities of a doppelganger, as thirteen-year-old Bee has begun to see herself at night, claiming to be the real her. Turning to the weird kid at school, Haze (he's rumored to believe he's an alien) she discovers that she might not belong in L.A. -- in more ways than one. Picking up Sarah, a street-singer with a gorgeous voice who believes she's a reincarnated slave girl, the trio embark on a mission to save Bee, and to understand their own realities. Like Block's other works, The Waters and the Wild is tightly written, with an ethereal feeling that leaves you feeling pleasantly disoriented. Don't miss this wonderful opportunity to be enchanted.
WE WERE HERE by Matt de la Peña (Delacorte Books for Young Readers 2009; 32 LT members)
Miguel's life wasn't so bad before what he did. His crime landed him in juvi and then a group home, where he knows he doesn't fit in. Sentenced to write in a journal, Miguel chronicles the events and people surrounding him, including his ex-roommate from Juvi, Darnell and Mong, a kid too crazy to think twice about killing you, if he felt like it. What Miguel never could have expected was that Mong and Darnell would convince him to run away from the group home in an attempt to start over in Mexico. The trip that ensues is an unexpected story of friendship and redemption. WE WERE HERE is one of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching books I've read, and it is not one you want to miss.
DIRTY LAUNDRY by Daniel Ehrenhaft (HarperTeen 2008; 25 LT members)
Carli Gemz (pronounced "games") is a teen actress who has just landed a role in a new TV show: Private Nights. Since she'll be playing a bitchy teen queen and a boarding school, Carli is being enrolled undercover at the Winchester School of the Arts, an East coast boarding school where all the freaks, geeks, and would-be criminals are sent after being kicked out of more prestigious academies. With a reputation for harboring the "dirty laundry" of the social elite, Carli knows that the few weeks she'll be spending as Sheila Smith will be pretty wild, but she never imagined that, together with her boss's son (and her new personal assistant), she'd wind up investigating the disappearance and possible murder of Winchester's favorite student, Darcy Novak. Fun, the aforementioned son of Carli's boss, is only still attending Winchester because of the money the school is getting from his dad for hosting Carli. He and his room-mate, Nails, would usually be up to no good, but with Carli on campus and the disappearance of Darcy, he has better things to do. Especially when it turns out that everyone is a suspect. Ehrenhaft's novel is part mystery part satire, at times dark and at other times sweet. The characters are completely three-dimensional, and while they will surprise you, their motives and methods are realistic within the context of the wacky world of Winchester. This is not the sort of book that one can put down easily.
GIRL IN THE ARENA by Lise Haines (Bloomsbury USA Children's Books 2009; 87 LT members)
After his son died in Vietnam, one man started a back yard gladiator league to honor his memory. With safety gear and rubber-tipped swords, he never imagined that 30 years later gladiators -- who now fight to the death in nationally televised events -- would be celebrated celebrities, followed by the paparazzi. Lynie G. is the daughter of seven gladiators -- her mother Allison likes her to say this, though, really, Tommy G., her current (step)father is the only one who has been a family man. In fact, Allison would love if Lyn would attend the local college for gladiator’s wives -- but Lyn is uninterested in “glad” culture altogether. That is, until the day Tommy’s opponent Uber gets a hold of Lynie’s dowry bracelet, forcing her, by the gladiator bylaws, to marry him. But Lyn has other plans. She wants to fight for her honor. This gripping novel that follows an alternate U.S. history and highlights some of the more gruesome aspects of culture -- both ancient and modern -- is both beautiful and terrifying. With all the Greco-Roman influenced middle grades on the market, GIRL IN THE ARENA is a refreshing new take on the topic for teens.
POSSESSIONS by Nancy Holder (Razorbill 2009; 19 LT members)
Lindsay is a scholarship student at Marlwood Academy. Surrounded by rich girls, Lindsay isn’t sure she’ll survive. Of course, fitting in is the least of her worries once she discovers queen bee, Mandy’s, weird obsession. Marlwood has a secret past, and Mandy and pals are up to no good…in a black arts, raising the dead sort of way. Possessions is the novel Steven King would have written has he been asked to write GOSSIP GIRL -- full of the posh cliques, girlie drama and high school shenanigans, but also scary as Hell. With its creepy, secluded setting, ethereal language, and leanings toward the occult, Possessions is the perfect book to not read alone in the dark.
EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL by Simmone Howell (Bloomsbury USA Children's Books 2008, 53 LT members)
Tricked into attending a week-long Bible camp by her dad and kooky stepmother, Riley Rose feels doomed. For one, she’s an atheist, and she certainly doesn’t play by the rules. She’s a big girl, but she flaunts her figure just to unnerve the people around her. She cuts and dyes her own hair. Her best friend is definitely a bad influence, but Riley likes it that way. She arrives at camp with a plan to go AWOL halfway through the week. But by the time that day comes, Riley’s take-no-prisoners attitude has rubbed off on many of her bunkmates -- and Riley herself has befriended a paraplegic ex-bully who just might have values that rub off on her as well. Howell’s novel is about way more than spirituality -- it’s about growing out of selfishness long enough to understand someone else, about the universal suffering that is teenage awkwardness. Howell’s writing is honest, cheeky, and fun, and her character, Riley Rose, is just the same. She’s an angry kid with a chip on her shoulder, and yet she is completely accessible, hitting the heart of every teen girl that ever longed to love herself -- and isn’t that all of us? Everything Beautiful leaves a truly lasting impression worthy of acclaim.
SISTER WIFE by Shelley Hrdlitschka (Orca Book Publishers 2008; 103 LT members)
While polygamy and religious fundamentalism are hot topics for fiction right now, SISTER WIFE steps outside the box to present the truly compelling story of three different girls from the same polygamist sect.Two sisters and one outsider each speak from their own points of view, and Hrdlitschka weaves their voices seamlessly together for the sort of prose the reader is easily wrapped up in. Celeste will soon be fifteen and assigned a husband, but she has plenty of doubts about the Movement, unlike her sister, Nannette, who is as pure as they come. It is Taviana who is bold enough to speak her mind - a former teen prostitute, taken in by the Movement, only to be thrown out when it is clear her influence is "dangerous." But there are other ways for Celeste to discover the world outside, and as it gets closer and closer to Celeste's birthday, she knows she has a choice to make. This stirring novel may not tell the most original story, but it tells the story well. The characters will stay with you long after you've turned the last pages, making time you've spent with SISTER WIFE time well spent.
FREAKS AND REVELATIONS by Davida Wills Hurwin (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 2009; 27 LT members)
What do a skinhead Neo-Nazi and a homeless gay teen have in common? Not much. FREAKS AND REVELATIONS begins in the seventies, several years before the incident that will impact Doug and Jason for the rest of their lives. The two boys are both growing up in troubled homes, one with an abusive dad and another with an intolerant mother. The fact that the story starts long before the identity of the characters has begun to develop puts an intriguing spin on the characters themselves. FREAKS AND REVELATIONS is a heartbreaking page-turner, and a must read for anyone who’s loved books by Laurie Halse Anderson and Ellen Hopkins.
HANCOCK PARK by Isabel Kaplan (HarperTeen 2009; 15 LT members)
I can't believe this stunning debut novel was written by an eighteen-year-old! Our heroine, Becky Miller, is an average girl with an above-average life. She goes to an elite L.A. high school, and appears to live the dream life. And, aside from her struggles with mental health, Becky is mostly okay with being average. She has her best friend, Amanda, to lean on. But when Amanda moves to New York and Becky's parents split up, it turns out that junior year will be tougher than predicted. To make matters worse, her shrink has just gotten in trouble for prescribing Becky way too much medication. On the bright side, the Trinity -- the school's most elite clique -- have their eye on Becky. Before she knows it, Becky is popular. But of course this comes with strings attached -- Becky can't be the public brainiac she used to be, or hang out with drama-geek Taylor, who might be her only real friend now that Amanda's gone. With her self-worth dwindling, Becky has choices to make. Can she find her old self, or is the new Becky the real Becky after all? In stark contrast to the no-consequences world of GOSSIP GIRL, HANCOCK PARK is a strong, fulfilling addition to teen literature. I can't recommend this enough to girls who want to read about the glam life, but don't want to ditch the real life altogether. I'm looking forward to seeing more novels from Isabel Kaplan.
NOTHING BUT GHOSTS by Beth Kephart (HarperTeen 2009; 67 LT members)
To label this as a novel about loss is a gross misrepresentation that does Beth Kephart's latest no justice at all. To think of it as another grieving daughter story or an issues book takes so much away from this multi-layered narrative. Nothing But Ghosts is as much a mystery about the town in which Katie D'Amore lives, the woman she works for but has never seen nor spoken to, her father's genius and the painting he's restoring, and the blossoming of new relationships as it is a mystery of personal loss. As Katie remembers her mother's final days, their trip to Barcelona before she was diagnosed, her childhood, spending time with friends before she began ignoring them (avoiding their questions about her mother), she is evolving. Where many young adult novels lay aside the adult characters to focus solely on the teens, Kephart has created a father for Katie who is as 3-dimensional as the hand in front of your face. The buildings are characters too -- the library, the D'Amores' home, Miss Martine's estate - they all live and breathe life into a story that cannot be laid to rest even after you've turned the last page. I urge you: pick up this book, enjoy it.
HEADLONG by Kathe Koja Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (BYR) 2008; 38 LT members
Not your typical boarding school tale of hook-ups and hijinx, HEADLONG is the story of Lily Noble, a lifer at Vaughn - a school known for its “Vaughn Virgin” social elite. Lily has always fit in with the girls at school -- the pretty ones with perfect grades and wealthy families. But then Hazel comes to Vaughn on scholarship, bringing her alternative family, her hot cherry licorice, and punk-rock style. Soon Lily is drifting away from her old friends, and as she spends more time with Hazel, she comes to realize she’s never truly known herself. This coming of age story will surprise you, with characters as malleable and honest as real teenagers, and poetic writing perfectly in touch with the experience of finding one’s identity. HEADLONG will stay with you long after you’ve put the book down, and it is an absolutely worthwhile experience.
HOLD STILL by Nina LaCour (Dutton Juvenile 2009; 73 LT members)
After her best friend’s suicide, Caitlin is devastated. She struggles with school, where her photography teacher -- whom she thought would be her greatest supporter -- is ignoring her. Then she finds Ingrid’s diary, filled with heartbreak and desire, and Caitlin is both pleased and terrified to be entrusted with her last thoughts. As she works to rebuild her life and find new friends, you will be moved irrevocably by Caitlin’s vulnerability and her strength. Unlike so many “issues books” we’ve seen in recent years, HOLD STILL transcends the genre to make something beautiful out of the grim.
GOTHIC LOLITA: A MYSTICAL THRILLER by Dakota Lane (Ginee Seo Books 2008; 24 LT members)
Miya and Chelsea, are half a world apart, living in Japan and L.A. But it's been three years since Chelsea's last blog post, and Miya is feeling lost without her friend, even if they didn't really talk much. Chelsea misses the connection with Miya, too, but a tragedy in her life has kept her from communicating, and it seems like she'll never be okay. But there is so much the girls don't know about each other, and as the pieces fall into place, their lives will never be the same. You know you're in for something unconventional the minute you open this book. There isn't a capital letter to be seen -- perhaps emulating the style of many teenage bloggers, since the two girls in Gothic Lolita met through their online journals. Part of the story is also told with black and white photos, and these images are both haunting and ethereal. This, with the poetic voices conjured by Ms. Lane, makes GOTHIC LOLITA a must read.
THE MILES BETWEEN by Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) 2009; 87 LT members)
This story of four friends on a road trip is both heart-breaking and triumphant. When Des decides to disregard her loathing of October 19 -- a day that has always plagued her -- and take charge of her own fate, the coincidences multiply to astounding proportions. For a girl obsessed with coincidences and anomalies, this is both terrifying and exciting. As Des digs to find the truth of her abandonment, however, it is no coincidence that emotions run deep and the friends she told herself not to make surprise her in wonderful ways. A complete departure from THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX -- Pearson’s highly-acclaimed previous novel -- THE MILES BETWEEN is a sweet, enchanting story rife with twists and turns til the very end.
Touch by Francine Prose
STRUTS & FRETS by Jon Skovron (Amulet Books 2009, 21 LT members)
Sammy Bojar is a musician. He plays guitar in a band that, unfortunately, is named Tragedy of Wisdom, since his lead singer, Joe, is the kind of terrifying dude that you just don’t mess with when he tells you Tragedy of Reason sucks. His best friend Rick is the bassist and TJ the drummer is one of the most solid musicians you’ll ever find. When a Battle of the Bands is announced, Sammy worries that it’s too commercial for their band, but once again Joe convinces everyone they’re going to play. Of course, this would require Joe to remember Sammy’s lyrics and Rick to play the right baseline. But priorities go out the window when Sammy’s grandfather starts acting strange. Further complicating matters is Sammy’s other best friend, the super cute but (up until now) one of the guys Jen5, is revealed to be in love with him. This funny, sweet, exciting novel is a sure-fire hit with indie-rock wannabes and veterans, as well as anyone who’s ever had to navigate the complex fields of first love.
THE LUCKY PLACE by Zu Vincent (Front Street 2008; 18 LT members)
Zu Vincent's voice is poetic, her short chapters capturing the moments in Cassie's life from the age of three, when her alcoholic father left her at the racetrack. After her mother's divorce, Ellis comes into the picture. Ellis is everything Old Daddy wasn't -- responsible, affectionate, available. He even buys the family a house - their "lucky place." Cassie's brother, though, refuses to accept New Daddy, creating a rift in the family. And when the unthinkable happens to Ellis, everything lucky seems to fall apart. This story is poignant, unforgettable, and one of the most beautifully written I have ever encountered.
VIOLET ON THE RUNWAY by Melissa Walker (Berkley Trade 2007; 90 LT members)
Violet has always felt like a bit of a freak - too tall, too thin, and too plain to fit in with the queen bees at her high school. But when an agent discovers Violet at her part-time job, she is whisked into the world of New York fashion week, and facing a whole new life. Leaving behind her best friends for her model apartment in Manhattan, Violet has a lot of choices to make. Should she talk to someone about her room mate's drug problem? And should she be drinking and clubbing with the older crowd? And what about the cute boy socialite who seems to have eyes for her? Worst of all, will she leave her BFFs behind for the popularity that fame has given her? Walker's novel is a refreshing look at the modeling world, providing all the scandal girls want to read about through the eyes of a character they can relate to. Violet on the Runway is witty, exciting, and perfect for young fashion aficionados.
BREATHLESS by Jessica Warman (Walker Books for Young Readers 2009; 54 LT members)
This elegantly written story chronicles the high school years of Katie Kitrell, a swimming prodigy who is sent away to boarding school when her schizophrenic brother, Will, becomes violent. At first she resents her parents, but soon she is relieved to be a part of a world that doesn’t know about Will and his outbursts. It’s not long before she is telling people he is dead. Shedding her past and embracing new friends, and even a new boyfriend, Katie finds herself keeping up in the competitive reality that exists in the pool, the classroom, and the social scene. But Katie can’t hide from who she is, and the choices she makes, whatever her reasons, have repercussions. BREATHLESS is a beautiful novel, with so many delicate layers to sift through – it’s the sort of book that stays on your mind.

While we're at it, here are a few middle grades to consider:

TRUDY by Jessica Lee Anderson (Milkweed Editions 2008; 11 LT members)
Elegantly written, Trudy is the story of a middle-school girl faced with the sort of problem no one her age expects: her father has alzheimers. This just compounds Trudy's list of problems: she's embarrassed that everyone assumes her parents are her grandparents, her best friend has abandoned her, and math is doing her head in. As Trudy and her mother try their best to hold the family together, Trudy finds companionship in a fellow outcast. This is a story of tragedy and hope that truly stays with you long after you've read it.
KALEIDOSCOPE EYES by Jen Bryant (Knopf Books for Young Readers 2009; 52 LT members)
This novel-in-verse is a lovely tale of a treasure hunt, family and friendship, all beginning when thirteen-year-old Lyza finds three maps in her grandfather's house after his death. It appears that her grandfather has left her clues to find the famed pirate William Kid's New Jersey! Taking place in the late 60s, KALEIDOSCOPE EYES has all the vibrancy of the era, and Bryant delves into history -- both 1960s and 1690s -- in all the best ways. With all the sneaking around, Lyza's sister thinks she must be on drugs, but when Lyza and her friend Malcolm confide in her sister's boyfriend, everything just might fall into place. It's a secret treasure hunt, complete with pirates. What's not to love?
I WANNA BE YOUR SHOEBOX by Cristina García (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing (Paperback Edition) 2009; 25 LT members)
Yumi's dad is half Japanese and half Jewish; her mom is Cuban. She is like no one she has ever met. But she fits in fine at school with her musician friends in the orchestra, which is all well and good, until the school announces that there is no longer a budget for the orchestra and it will be disbanded. To make things worse, Yumi's grandfather has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and her mother's boyfriend is cramping her style. Yumi, however, has a few plans. For one thing, if she is going to lose her grandfather, she is going to have her tell him his life story. Secondly, she and her friends will raise money to save the orchestra, but how? In this poignant story of challenge and change Yumi is an eccentric young heroine - a clarinetist who surfs with a punk rock dad and an author mom. Cristina García constructs a powerful story around her, woven together with her grandfather's memories of growing up in Brooklyn. While sad, I Wanna Be Your Shoebox is hopeful, sweet, and truly memorable.
WILD GIRL by Patricia Reilly Giff (Wendy Lamb Books 2009; 55 LT members)
Lidie hasn’t cried since her father and brother left for America when she was seven. She has learned to be patient, living with her aunt and uncle in Brazil, waiting for the day her father would send for her. When he finally does, it’s not the reunion she expected. Her father and brother, who now work training racehorses, don’t know her like they used to. They think her favorite color is still pink and that she loves Snow White even though she’s now in sixth grade. Worst of all, they don’t realize she already knows how to ride a horse. School isn’t much better, since Lidie’s English is still pretty poor. But it is through Lidie’s connection with one special horse -- Wild Girl -- that she might finally find her way. WILD GIRL is a beautifully written novel that transcends the notion of a “horse book” or an “immigrant family story.” It is as compelling as it is heartfelt, and readers will have to work hard not to identify with Lidie and her horses. The spirit of this book will stay with you.
A TASTE FOR RED by Lewis Harris (Clarion Books 2009; 33 LT members)
This new take on gothic kidlit by Lewis Harris is a wonderful, funny read about a girl who thinks she might be a vampire. Svetlana Grimm sleeps under her bed, has a sixth sense, and only likes red food -- it’s the obvious conclusion, right? She’s starting sixth grade after being homeschooled her whole life, and she is NOT happy about it. The new science teacher is interesting, though. She’s absolutely beautiful, but smells like rotting food. And she seems to have it out for Svetlana. Her only hope may be the strange old lady who lives next door, and her new -- if unwanted -- friends from school. This fun, exciting middle grade novel is perfect for girls and guys who want to jump on the teen vampire bandwagon, but aren’t quite ready for some of some of the racier teen books.
PIP: THE STORY OF OLIVE by Kim Kane (David Fickling Books 2009; 22 LT members)
This engaging narrative takes place in suburban Australia, following the unusual Olive Garnaut, who is just entering Year Seven in school. Olive has wide set eyes, pale skin, and white-blonde hair; the girls at school aren’t always very nice. Olive’s mother, Mog, is a rather successful career woman and is rarely at home. This leaves Olive with a lot of responsibilities. She has her own credit card for groceries, and her own mobile phone, which her best friend, Mathilda absolutely adores. Things are mostly fine, but when suddenly Mathilda allies herself with the school Queen Bee, Olive finds herself out of place. It is fortunate that this is when her twin sister, Pip, appears. And Pip is everything Olive is not. Where Olive is polite and shy, Pip is brash and outspoken. Where Olive is reserved, Pip is spontaneous. So when Olive mentions their long-lost father, WilliamPetersMustardseed, it is Pip that insists they embark on a journey to find him. Funny, sweet, devastating, and wicked, PIP: THE STORY OF OLIVE is a book with characters that are so alive, you soon feel that they are your oldest friends. Sprinkling a modern Australian landscape with bits of magic realism, Kim Kane’s first book will enchant you from page one.
THE UNUSUAL MIND OF VINCENT SHADOW by Time Kehoe (Little, Brown Young Readers 2009; 13 LT members)
After Vincent's mother died, he began to lose his inspiration. He'd always been an inventor, and even had a secret lab in his New York apartment, which his mother had helped him to build. Things hadn't been going well, however, and it was getting even worse. His step mother gets her way and Vincent is forced to move across the country and leave his lab behind. On the bright side, though, there is this annual contest run by an eccentric toy-inventor, and Vincent has to be a contender. If only he could get it together. Told with excitement and panache, Kehoe -- a real-life toy inventor -- captures the spirit of childhood creativity and the loneliness of genius in the beautifully illustrated debut. This is a perfect pick for reluctant readers and science geeks of all ages.
THE WITCH'S GUIDE TO COOKING WITH CHILDREN by Keith McGowan (Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) 2009; 43 LT members)
Remember the story of Hansel and Gretel? Well, the witch – one Fay Holadarry – is still alive. The city has been built around her, where the forest used to be. And her house no longer looks like candy, but she has her ways of getting children. Parents, for example, who no longer want their children can drop them off at various locales. Holaderry does not go hungry. When Sol and Connie move in next door to Holaderry, they immediately smell something fishy. It’s not long before these clever kids learn Holaderry’s secret and decide to do something about it. This delightful tale is as quirky as it is heartwarming, with distinct characters that readers young and old will not easily leave behind. Illustrations by Yoko Tanaka fit in perfectly with this retold classic.
THE BOOK OF NONSENSE by David Michael Slater (Children's Brains Are Yummy Books 2008; 29 LT members)
Even though they're twins, Daphna and Dexter don't get along. Their father is a book scout who travels the world looking for rare and interesting tomes, and while Daphna loves to accompany him on his adventures, Dexter hates books and everything to do with them. While their father was gone on their last trip, the ABC, a new used book shop that mostly stocks texts on magic - opened in the twins' hometown. Daphna is excited to show her dad the ABC and takes him there with his latest acquisition: an incredibly old book filled with nonsensical words. But the owner of the shop is a creepy old man who seems to hypnotize their dad, tricking him into giving the book away and signing up Daphna to work in the shop. The twins are soon whisked into a wild world of magic and mischief as they try and steal the book back from the weird old man and the spooky red-eyed boy he keeps in his service. Slater's is a book filled with whimsy and intrigue, with a perfect sibling rivalry and plenty of surprises. This is the first in a series that I predict will be exciting and top notch - one that kids will want to read again and again
THE SECRETS OF THE CHEESE SYNDICATE by Donna St. Cyr (Children's Brains are Yummy Books 2009; 3 LT members)
This delightful and surprising story begins with a brother-sister squabble and an unlikely elixir. Actually, it begins way before that, when a man went in search the mysterious Cheese of Eliki went missing, leaving his wife and two kids behind. These kids -- Robert and Janine Montasio -- are soon confronted with a secret world of cheesemongers, manticores, and other hazards. But Robert is in a bind -- if he doesn't accept the Cheese Syndicate's mission, his obnoxious sister Janine will never stop shrinking...and he may never find out what really happened to his dad. Laugh-out-loud funny and sure to please fans of SPIDERWICK, THE SECRETS OF THE CHEESE SYNDICATE promises to be the start of a fun new mythological series.
CLOVER TWIG AND THE MAGICAL COTTAGE by Kaye Umansky (Roaring Brook Press 2009; 23 LT members)
Ten-year-old Clover Twig is a practical girl. She knows how to cook and clean and likes things neat and tidy. When she sees a classified ad for a housekeeper, she knows she is the girl for the job, even if it means moving in with the local witch, Demelza. Of course Clover Twig did not anticipate the many downsides to this job. Like the fact that this witch might be the most disorganized woman on the planet, or that a clumsy delivery boy would make her life difficult, or that a feud with Demelza’s evil sister -- who has a PLAN -- could put her in a lot of danger. This whimsical, exciting story will easily capture readers both young and old with its lighthearted magic and sense of humor. Johannah Wright’s wonderful illustrations are the icing on the cake. For sure, Clover Twig is a character you will not forget
LEAVING THE BELLWEATHERS by Kristin Clark Venuti (EgmontUSA 2009; 18 LT members)
Absurd, hysterically funny, and impeccably well-written, Leaving the Bellweathers is the story of one butler, Tristan Benway, and the family in the lighthouse on the hill, whom he is bound to serve by an Oath of Fealty sworn by one Benway long deceased. But this oath will soon be expiring, and Benway has decided to write a tell-all book about the strange family: the mother who is constantly painting the walls, the inventor-father who accosts all doorbell-ringers by dropping things from the window, the artistic triplets who only speak VERY LOUDLY LIKE THIS unless they are Up to No Good, the bagpipe-playing daughter who takes up any cause she can find (and often invites them to dinner, and the son whose love for endangered animals that can kill you has recently brought an albino alligator into the house. There simply is nothing like LEAVING THE BELLWEATHERS, and it is easily among the best middle grades of the past few years.

And, for good measure, here are a few of my picks for under-loved adult titles:
(NOTE: most of these will appeal to mature YA readers as well)

UNDISCOVERED GYRL by Allison Burnett (Vintage 2009; 56 LT members)
I was sucked into this voyeuristic mess from page one. Katie Kampenfelt is seventeen, and already everything our mothers warned us about. Her blog chronicles her excessive drinking and drug use, her sexcapades with her boyfriend and the older man she's sleeping with, and fantasies about her boss. The style, while gimmicky, is relevant -- everyone has a blog, everyone thinks their life is newsworthy. And while Katie's blog is indeed different from the rest, what she's writing is nothing you would want for anyone close to you. Like a bad reality show, you can't stop watching. But unlike said reality show, Undiscovered girl is cleverly written, culturally important, and the perfect summer read for young fans of transgressive literature. It's like Bridget Jones, if Bridget were a mal-adjusted, alcoholic, promiscuous teenager. And while most moms of actual seventeen-year-olds would be horrified to find this book in their daughter's room, you can bet the daring teens will be sneaking around to trade it with their friends.
THE SEAS by Samantha Hunt (Picador 2005; 64 LT members)
What I love most about this book is its insane romanticism -- not insane because it's romantic, but romantic because it's insane. Hunt's narrator has a special idealism in the face of imminent tragedy, and has convinced herself that she is a mermaid. Living with her mother and dictionary-writing grandfather in an isolated coastal town, a 19-year old girl is still mourning the loss of her father, who one day walked into the sea never to return. The desolate landscape of the story is spattered with her doomed love affair with a (much older) Gulf War vet and her desire to escape. THE SEAS is unbelievable, and unforgettable.
IN THE HEART OF THE CANYON by Elisabeth Hyde (Knopf 2009; 94 LT members)
It's nearly impossible for me to summarize this book. For a few days, this was my own personal Colorado River adventure. The characters felt like my friends, and as each day passed in the book and the strangers felt closer to each other, I felt closer to them. These people from all different walks of life -- a Harvard professor, a mother and her overweight daughter, a family from Salt Lake City, an elderly couple - may have signed up for this two-week ride, but the relationships that develop and fall apart on the journey are what make this book so authentic. Elisabeth Hyde's writing is smooth and compelling -- she changes voices from one character to the next seamlessly and artfully. This is the sort of book whose multiple angles will find it a wide audience - adventure and wilderness fans, older teens venturing into adult literature, family drama readers. Everyone will be ensconced, everyone will be thankful for the ride.
A MAP OF HOME by Randa Jarrar (Penguin (Paperback Edition) 2009; 83 LT members)
Nidali has an American passport, since she was born in Boston. Her Mama is Egyptian and Greek, her father is Palestinian, making Nidali "half-and-half." Growing up in Kuwait, she never quite feels at home. She is a smart girl, but it's never quite enough for her father, a man who expects her to become a famous professor. On her thirteenth birthday, Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army invades Kuwait, leaving her mixed family with no option but to flee to Egypt where Nidali once again wonders what it means to be at home. A MAP OF HOME is an unusual, poetic book that simply has no equal in contemporary literature to date. Jarrar's language is fluid, honest, and liberating, painting a beautiful picture of the Middle East that one would think impossible during times of turmoil. Nidali's account of growing up -- from school and friends to sex and politics -- transcends culture and unites us all in the struggle that is adolescence. At the same time, this is a novel that shines a new light on coming of age in an Arab family. Jarrar is a storyteller in the truest sense of the word, using charm and humor as much as hardship to bring us close to her characters and her truly musical narrative.
A TALE OF TWO SISTERS by Anna Maxted (Plume 2007; 130 LT members)
This book surprised me. While just as punchy as Maxted's other efforts in chick lit, this is as much a warm, heartfelt book about responsibility and growing up as it is a dry comedy. The story takes turns between the narratives of two sisters, Lizbet and Cassie, as they struggle through their relationships (Lizbet is single but committed, whereas Cassie is married but questioning her vows), their jobs (editor and lawyer, respectively), and their feelings for each other just as a surprise, followed by a tragedy, hit the family. Perhaps it sounds a bit cliche, but trust me when I say that this is Maxted's best book, rife with wit and cynicism, pushing her out of the chick lit pigeonhole.
THE VISIBLES by Sara Shepard (Free Press 2009; 34 LT members)
Sara Shepard is best known for her hit teen series PRETTY LITTLE LIARS. THE VISIBLES is a distinct departure, feeling much closer to the literary world than the world of GOSSIP GIRL. Her protagonist, adolescent Summer Davis, is devastated after her mother abandons the family out of the blue. She becomes obsessed with the concept of DNA, convinced that it is through science that she will one day reconnect with her mother. As Summer grows up, attends college and eventually finds her way to the genetics lab at NYU, it becomes her father that may hold her back, as his battle with mental illness finally reaches a head. THE VISIBLES is an intense, thought-provoking novel, and I look forward to Sara Shepard's next adult venture.