Three compelling new books for teens written by popular adult authors offer the perfect opportunity to get your kids started on summer reading. But don't be surprised if you find them staying up late to finish these stories, just as you did on long-ago summer nights.
In Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez, author of the adult novels In the Time of the Butterflies and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, has crafted a poignant, suspenseful tale based on her childhood in the Dominican Republic. As the story opens in 1960, 12-year-old Anita de la Torre's world is starting to fall apart. Her cousin's family leaves suddenly for the United States, her favorite uncle has disappeared and her parents, who oppose the country's dictator, seem nervous and fearful. While the political situation and life in the Dominican Republic are both portrayed with authenticity by Alvarez, they never overwhelm the vibrant characters. Anita emerges as a girl with the normal concerns of other pre-teens: a crush on a neighborhood boy and confused feelings about her changing body. Yet as the situation around her worsens, and her family becomes directly involved in an attempt to overthrow the ruler, Anita must summon resources and courage she didn't know she had.
A different kind of courage is explored in Big Mouth & Ugly Girl, a fascinating and provocative novel by the well-known writer Joyce Carol Oates. A National Book Award-winning author, Oates has tried her hand at every genre, from gothic fiction to journalism. Big Mouth & Ugly Girl is sure to endear her to a whole new generation of readers. Set in an affluent New York suburb called Rocky River, the story opens as Matt Donaghy is suspended for allegedly making threatening remarks about blowing up his high school. Matt, an aspiring playwright, is shocked that his joking remarks have been taken out of context. Worse still is the isolation he experiences from family and friends. As the controversy swirls around Matt, the only person to come to his defense is the "Ugly Girl" of the title, Ursula Riggs, an intense, sometimes bitter young woman with problems of her own. Oates explores the complexities of this situation and its effect not only on Ursula and Matt, but also on their parents and classmates. At the same time, as Ursula and Matt are drawn together, they find that even the worst circumstances offer opportunities for growth and change. Big Mouth & Ugly Girl is a rich, deftly crafted story that offers a myriad of opportunities for late night discussion.
If vacation plans take you to the beach or lake, Alice Hoffman's Indigo is the perfect book to bring along. This small, handsome volume tells the story of three friends in the town of Oak Grove, a place where everyone dreads water. Well, almost everyone. Thirteen-year-old Martha Glimmer's two best friends, Trevor and Eli McGill, seem to long for water and anything to do with the ocean. They love a diet of fish and even drink salted water. Strangest of all, the boys sport a thin webbing of skin between their fingers and toes. Readers of Hoffman's earlier book for young readers, Aquamarine, will enjoy the mysterious, magical story of the McGill boys.
Deborah Hopkinson's latest books for children are Pioneer Summer and Cabin in the Snow, part of Aladdin Paperbacks' Prairie Skies Series.