Seventeen & In-Between By Barthe DeClements

At seventeen, things aren’t so simple anymore…

I got a number of requests for the final book in DeClements’s series featuring Elsie Edwards, as she evolves from gross 5th grade pariah to a beautiful but emotionally scarred high school student while dealing with a neglectful mother, bratty younger sister, absentee father, and newfound popularity with her male classmates picks up halfway through Elsie’s junior year of high school.

While the middle-reader Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade pretty much solved all of Elsie’s problems by putting her on a starvation diet (and successfully escaping from a kidnapping attempt….), DeClements added more nuance when telling the story from Elsie’s point of view in its YA sequel How Do You Lose Those Ninth Grade Blues? And like its predecessor, this one benefits greatly from Elsie’s point of view, as an imperfect heroine with no easy answers.

The Plot: While Elsie had successfully overcome some of her insecurities and established a relationship with hunky senior football player Craddoc Shaw, the astute reader might have already been thinking that Craddoc wasn’t all he was cracked up to be. Continue reading

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My Darling, My Hamburger By Paul Zindel

Senior year isn’t the end of high school- it’s the beginning of Life!

This week’s reader request comes from literally my oldest friend, who sent me an Instragam  screen shot with the caption HAVE YOU SEEN THIS????


(Also I am counting that as a “request”)

Background: I have a vague impression of Paul Zindel as an author whose YA work became extremely dated in the 20+ years between its publication and my becoming a YA myself: too aggressively zany, too much casual drinking, too many parents threatening to make you join the Army, too much wrestling with too many vague existential questions. There is also the fact that by the time I had gotten to my freshman year of high school, teachers of a certain age were embracing the fact that standards had relaxed enough that COOL and EDGY novels such as Zindel’s The Pigman were now allowed as part of the curriculum (Catcher in the Rye was another), without considering that anything being taught as part of the curriculum was automatically deeply uncool, and also I already read The Pigman when I was like 11, so I really lacked enthusiasm about Making A Poster To Illustrate The Themes…

Sorry, slipped into Annoying Autobiographical Pause-mode for a second.

(…but are we really cultivating and love and appreciation for literature by making us all pretend to have a TV talk show about Alienation?)

The Plot: Which despite all that, I actually do love Zindel’s work and his disaffected 1970s Staten Island teens- I still think about John and Lorraine every time I’m headed for the Goethals bridge and see the exit for Victory Boulevard. Continue reading

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Give And Take By Tricia Springstubb

New loves… old friends… Does growing up mean choosing between them?

gave and take

This is a recent reader-request, but also a book that I’ve picked up probably 20 times in the past two years, before rejecting it and throwing it back on the pile. Dell’s Young Love imprint doesn’t have the best track record, including both some of the best and worst titles reviewed here…

And this is yet another one where the cover art and jacket-copy doesn’t do justice to the actual content. In fact, this is on my short list for “most misrepresented”.

The Plot: While it does nominally have to do with the changing relationship between long-time friends (one popular, one dowdy) because of BOYS, the changing points of view manages to empathize with every single one of its characters, including douchey boyfriends, Bitter Divorced Moms, and even ex-middle school bullies, all in prose that is constantly colorful and occasionally poetic. Continue reading

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Teenage Marriage: Coping With Reality By Jeanne Warren Lindsay

If you know a married teenager, you will know someone who will read Teenage Marriage: Coping With Reality

Did you overdose on Valentine’s candy? Well, no fear, I am here with the antidote!

Although, to be honest, this book isn’t the trainwreck the title and some of the chapters (“5. People Are Not For Hitting”, “11. Sex Starts In The Kitchen”) would have you hope.

I suspect the publisher really didn’t believe that this tome was going to stop and make teens seriously consider running off and getting married; nor was it going actually help those high school marriages that were already in trouble. This seems more like a cynical sell to schools and libraries to fill out their social-problems quota, a book of cited statistics for 10th graders doing their English class debating unit or 12th grade policy papers (“Pro: The Age of Marriage Should Be Raised to 21”).

Despite this, I can’t really find much fault with the very generic advice in the book. It tells you to talk about finances and division of household labor, which is a good idea for couples of any age. It isn’t even very dated, taking a modestly progressive viewpoint that husbands doing their share of cleaning and childcare should be a given.

Some Highlights: 

One young wife was shocked to find her husband ‘s mother cooked beans in a different way than her mother did. To make it worse, her husband thought his mother’s beans tasted the best. His wife did not agree.

So, yeah, your basic bean-drama. The whole thing is pretty much on this level. Continue reading

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High Trail By Vivian Breck

Her father lay helpless, his leg broken. No other campers for miles around. How would she get help in time?

This is a reader-request from so long ago I can’t find who requested it or in what context, but I am glad to have finally found a copy to oblige them!

This book was originally published in hardcover by Doubleday in 1948, but the Scholastic reissue from 1966 is the one pictured above… and it (at least initially) fits into the publisher’s format of the era, in which the reader suspects authors were paid by the word

The Plot:  The first couple of chapters are kind of a slog, as Chloe Cassidy uses way too many words inside her head to ruminate upon how happy she is to finally be able to join her father on his annual camping trip into the Sierra Nevadas. Chloe has been waiting since she was four years old for the opportunity, when her 10 year old brother was allowed to accompany their father (who has the extremely annoying nickname of The Old Sourdough, which he is prone to referring to himself in the third person) (SIGH, SCHOLASTIC); while Chloe had been promised that when she turned 10 she would be allowed to attend as well, childhood diseases and World War II intervened, so Chloe is only just now making her first trip at the age of…. well, we don’t know, exactly. Chloe’s age becomes a central mystery of the story and (spoilers) one that doesn’t get resolved! We learn that her brother has graduated from college, so I was initially thinking she was about 16, but by end I was starting to suspect that she was actually in her early 20s. Continue reading

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That Certain Girl By Dorothea J. Snow

It had been common knowledge for several months that the Taylors were moving away from their home on Colfax Street to a big new mansion on Holly Tree Hill…

Another title suggested by a couple of readers during last fall’s run of Whitman-published hardcover novels!

The Plot: This one reminded me both of Beverly Cleary’s YA work (low on the external drama, high on the internal conflict of the heroine) and Julie Campbell’s Trixie Belden series (poor little rich girls rescued by vivacious country-folk; warnings of the dangers of putting on airs). Continue reading

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Baby Island By Carol Ryrie Brink

What would you do if you were shipwrecked with four lively babies in the middle of the ocean?

Continuing with Reader Requests this week, this title comes courtesy of my friend Carrie (author, bird enthusiast, endlessly patient soul in the face of my many philosophies regarding Cold War teenage werewolves…), and she reports:

It’s a grave mystery to me why I liked this so much as a kid. I hated babies then and I hate them now. I did love stories about children alone in the wilderness though, but there are plenty of those that don’t involve unnecessary babies.

I mean, juvenile readers love the very idea of being stranded on a desert island, The Swiss Family Robinson, The Cay, The Black Stallion… uh… Lord of the Flies….

The Plot: Carol Ryrie Brink (best known for Caddie Woodlawn) was the daughter of Scottish immigrants, which adds some helpful context to the excessive pride Mary and Jean Wallace take in their Scottish heritage on every page of the book. Continue reading

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