Once kids hit the age of 13, they seem to be stuck between different worlds. They're still children, but they wish they were adults. They want to be trusted, but often act impulsively. Their reading, appropriately enough, is just as unpredictable as they are. One minute, they pick books from the bestseller lists, and the next, they nostalgically curl up with Dr. Seuss. Because teens are such a tough audience, we've rounded up some new books that are sure to keep them entertained during those long June afternoons.
In her new book Keeper of the Night, writer Kimberly Willis Holt takes on a sensitive subject a mother's depression and suicide. Holt addressed the topic of mentally challenged parents in My Louisiana Sky and the treatment of the morbidly obese in When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. Both books have a loyal following and are on summer reading lists across the country. Set in the Guam of her military brat childhood, Holt's newest novel has a shroud of mystery hanging about it, as the child narrator struggles in the months following her mother's suicide. Holt's plain, direct prose belies the deep pain the narrator feels as she tries to understand her mother's life and death. The book opens with the breathtaking sentence, "My mother died praying on her knees." Slowly, almost like the stories that surface during therapy sessions, Isabel's sadness and confusion emerge. The death is terrible enough, but the aftermath threatens to engulf every member of Isabel's family. Tata, her father, sleeps curled on the floor next to his bed. Little sister Olivia's bedwetting and nightmares disrupt her sleep. Older brother Frank uses the long nights to carve words in the wall next to his bed and eventually into his own skin. Isabel's story is both heartbreaking and inspirational, as we watch her sink further into sadness. But, at the breaking point, she and her family are saved by their ability to tell their stories, forgive themselves and begin again.
Walter Dean Myers returns this summer with another powerful story of young men growing up in Harlem. In The Dream Bearer (HarperCollins, $15.99, 240 pages, ISBN 006029521X), David Curry meets mysterious Moses Littlejohn, an African-American man with white hair, a stubbly beard and baggy clothes, who professes to be a 303-year-old dream carrier. Moses is looking for someone to pass his dreams to, and, as it turns out, David could use a few. Caught between his violent, unpredictable father, his dedicated mother and Tyrone, his older brother, who is beginning to succumb to the temptations of gang and drug life, David is a gentle boy who listens to the older man's dreams, which soon become a part of him, adding to his understanding of himself, his family and the larger world of Harlem. Myers' latest is a tale that will linger with readers.
Jennifer Donnelly's first book for young adults, A Northern Light (Harcourt, $17, 396 pages, ISBN 0152167056), is a story as big and bold as the North Woods of New York State where it is set. In the tradition of Gene Stratton Porter, Donnelly delivers a novel filled with the particulars of life at the turn of the century, weaving in details of the local farming and logging cultures, and examining attitudes of racial prejudice and feminism. Narrator Mattie Gokey loves poetry and would like nothing more than to accept the scholarship to Barnard that her teacher, Miss Wilcox, has helped her earn. But her mother recently died of breast cancer, her brother left the family farm after a fight with her dad, and she is desperately needed at home, where her sisters and brothers are too old to be bossed but too young to do farm work. A talented writer with a thirst for books, Mattie tells her own story in a strong but conflicted voice. Her best friend, Weaver Smith, is also hoping to go to college, but as a black boy saving money for Columbia he faces his own challenges. Their unusual but completely believable friendship sustains Mattie through a difficult year and helps her decide on a course for her life. As the novel progresses, she makes two big promises, and these promises frame the narrative. For readers who will eventually graduate to the sweeping books of John Irving and Barbara Kingsolver, A Northern Light is the perfect stepping-stone. Deft foreshadowing and a real-life mystery keep the story moving along.
With Lucas (Chicken House, $16.95, 432 pages, ISBN 0439456983), author Kevin Brooks tells the poignant story of Caitlin McCann and her family, who are also reeling from a death. Caitlin's mother died almost 10 years ago, but the wounds still fester, especially for her father. At his suggestion to "let it all out," to "cry herself a story," Caitlin recounts the events of her 15th summer, from the first time she sees the beautiful outsider, Lucas, to the tragic events on the mudflats. In between, Caitlin spins a dark, suspenseful tale of British life in a small island village not the resort town you might imagine, but a small-minded, inbred community characterized by alcohol abuse, gossip, prejudice and evil. When Lucas, a pale boy with a ghostly presence, suddenly appears on the island nothing is the same for Caitlin. She is bewitched by his manner and his kindness. Lucas seems to have a sixth sense about people, and he warns Caitlin about her companions, whom he sees as dangerous, angry and cruel. Turns out he's right about everything. This taut story, though quite a bit longer than most young adult novels, will keep readers in its web, much like Lucas keeps Cait captivated throughout the narrative. As the tale unwinds, we see Lucas become the object of jealousy and suspicion, as mean Jamie Tait and his cohorts plot to rid their island of this "gyppo." Brooks' wonderful novel, told by an unforgettable protagonist, reminds us of the redemptive power of stories.