“The little woods” McCormick Templeman

ARC (Advanced Reading Copy). Published July 10. 2012. Random House Children’s Books. 324 pp.

Cally’s sister disappeared over 10 years ago, while on a visit to a friend’s house. Both of their bodies were never found…

Cally is now a junior in high school, and has decided to transfer to St. Bede’s. Her sister had disappeared in the woods adjoining the school, and Cally feels if she’s near the area she can figure out what happened that fateful night. Upon arrival, another mystery is presented when she discovers Iris, a fellow student, had disappeared from the school just a few months before her arrival. Cally wonders if the three disappearances are related, and searches for clues.

While trying to investigate this new disappearance, Cally finds romance where she least expected to find it. However, with her fellow students and teachers acting strange and secretive, love has to take a back seat to the craziness in her life. Cally knows something is going on at St. Bede’s, but can’t seem to put her finger on what it could be. It seems that someone, or something, is going to great lengths to make sure its secrets stay hidden forever.

High schoolers will enjoy the strangeness of this mystery interwoven with romance and forbidden activities that only elite high school boarding schools seem to generate.

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“Red heart tattoo” Lurlene McDaniel

ARC (Advanced Reading Copy). On sale July 24, 2012. Delacorte Press (Random House Children’s Books). 216 pp.

Morgan has been elected Senior Class President and, along with her star soccer and football boyfriend Trent, reside as the untouchable Queen and King Bees of Edison High. Rough and tough Roth is barely making it through high school, but knows a good thing when he sees it – Morgan. He’s had a crush on her for years, and doesn’t care what Trent thinks about it. Kelli, Morgan’s best friend, is supposed to be riding high. She has been dating Mark, star football player, for awhile now and has plans for their future together. Unfortunately, Mark doesn’t see their future in the same way she does.

All of these seemingly important aspects of high school life become trivial on a typically normal day right before Thanksgiving. When someone sets off a bomb in school, nothing is normal anymore. Nine students are killed instantly, scores injured, and one blinded.

McDaniel takes the extraordinary event of this horrific day to explore emotions felt by the victims, their families and the town. Survivors struggle to understand why such an event would happen to them, managing to find ways to go on and live their lives anew. These struggles are contrasted with the mindset of those who caused the explosion.

Red heart tattoo” is a powerful read for students in grades 9-12, and will offer them much food for thought.

“Choke” Diana Lopez

ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) published July 1, 2012. Scholastic. 230 pp.

Windy hates the way she looks, and she hates 8th grade. She desperately wants to be part of the in-crowd but, in all her years in middle school, has only managed to keep herself out of the out-crowd and in GP (General Public) land. Things seem to change for the better when she meets Nina, the beautiful, fun, popular new girl. When Nina takes her under her wing, Windy’s stock soars. Suddenly, she gets to hang with the popular girls, even getting to sit with them at lunch, hang out in the mall, and walk with them in the halls! Life couldn’t be better, and Windy feels like 8th grade has suddenly begun to improve.

That’s what Windy thought, except things soon started to get weird. Nina always wears a scarf around her neck and has invited Windy to take part in the Choking Game in order to be her best friend, or Breath Sister. Afraid of destroying the social status she’s managed to gain, Windy agrees to play – especially when others in the in-crowd are suddenly sporting scarves of their own. Nina explains that no one will be harmed in the game, and all she has to do is let someone choke her until she passes out. The “rush” she will get upon regaining consciousness is what makes the game so much fun.

Despite her misgivings, Windy plays the game, gets her own scarf, and soon finds herself embroiled in a web of lies and fear. In order to find popularity through her association with Nina, she finds herself losing not only her best friend Elena, but her own sense of what is right and wrong.

I had never heard of the Choke Game, and “Choke” does a good job explaining why someone would want to play it, as well as the consequences of playing it. Lopez includes an Online Resources page to help readers find more information, as well as support material for anyone playing the “game.”

Despite the inside cover indicating Scholastic has decided “Choke” is appropriate for grades 3-7, I completely disagree. The mature subject matter of kids dying and getting permanent brain damage by choking themselves for fun is not one I would like to sit down and discuss with a group of 8, 9 and 10 year olds. I think mature 6th-8th graders could handle reading “Choke,” including 9th-10th graders. It is also a good Hi-Lo (High Interest-Low Level) book since the vocabulary is very simple, with a very interesting storyline.

“The best night of your (pathetic) life” Tara Altebrando

ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) published July 5, 2012. Dutton Books (Penguin Group, Inc.) 239 pp.

It’s the last few days before the seniors graduate, and Mary plans to change the past 4 years of ridicule and scorn. No more will she be the girl no one notices, including the principal. No more will she and her friends be the brunt of loser jokes from the socially popular. She is determined to form a team with her not-so-social friends to compete in the Unofficial Senior Scavenger Hunt, win the coveted Yeti, and beat out those who’d reigned supreme over them for 4 years.

Mary thought getting her team to play and finding the weird items on the list would be tough. However, finding out Patrick is in love with her while her best friend, Winter, has been fooling around with Carson, the love of Mary’s life, adds more drama to the night than was intended. As things progress from bad to pathetic, Mary feels as if it’s her destiny to change the course of the evening to something they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Altebrando did a good job detailing the crazy things seniors sometimes do to get attention, along with the not-so-crazy emotions that occur when you get a group of teens together in a car who all have their own ideas of who (and what) is important. It is a humorous read, which students in both middle and high schools will enjoy.

“Lost Girls” Ann Kelley

ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) published July 10, 2012. Little Brown & Company (Hatchett Book Group.) 319 pp. (Originally published in English as Koh Tabu in 2010).

Thailand. Middle of Vietnam War. 1974.

Fourteen-year-old Bonnie likes facts. She wants to know the “why” of things, and enjoys figuring out the best way to approach problems. She and her friends are expecting to have a wonderful time camping for 3 days on one of Thailand’s islands. Unfortunately, from the very beginning, everything goes wrong. Bad weather causes the boatman to miss the island on which they’d originally planned to land and blew them into the Forbidden Island’s shores. The natives are superstitious about the island and the boatman is terrified enough to practically throw them off the boat and leave.

Misfortune soon follows with the death of several of the girls, the discovery of the boatman’s body, near starvation, wild animal attacks and more as the survivors desperately struggle to stay alive and find a way off the island. Bonnie writes the pain she feels through daily diary entries as their lives hang more and more in the balance. Days turn into weeks with no hope of rescue…

“Lost Girls” is a novel of determination and survival, and will appeal to all high school readers.

“Small Damages” Beth Kephart

ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) to be released July 19, 2012. Philomel Books (Penguin Young Readers). 304 pp.

Kaitlin is in her senior year of high school, has a boyfriend she adores, college plans, and a close knit group of friends with whom she can hang out with on a daily basis. Her dad died suddenly and she doesn’t get along with her mother, but Kevin helps her through both the good and the bad. He sings a different song, however, when he gets her pregnant as both he and her mother want her to get rid of “it” so they can live their lives. Early on in her pregnancy, Kaitlin feels the love of motherhood for her unborn child and insists on keeping it. As a result, she is shipped off to Spain to spend 5 months of her life on a ranch with a family she’s never met, with the goal of giving her baby up for adoption to a Spanish family before she can return home.

I had mixed feelings as I read because I felt there were too many characters with complicated stories to tell, while Kephart seemed bound and determined to also infuse every single detail about Spain, its history, and its people into these stories. In addition, Beth’s use of flashbacks to tell most of these stories often took away from a sense of continuity. However, the ending was quite emotional and allowed me to almost forget what I had to “plow through” to get to it.

Thus, I will leave it up to high school readers interested in learning more about Spain, gypsies, flamenco and other aspects of its history to decide if they should read “Small Damages” or not.

“Every Day” David Levithan

ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) to be released August 28, 2012. Alfred A. Knopf (Random House). 336 pp.

This is my first ARC review (picked up at the recent ALA conference) for this blog, and boy was it a good one! David Levithan has written other books for teens like Boy meets Boy,” and collaborated with other authors on Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” and “Will Grayson, Will Grayson.”  However, I think “Every Day” is one of his finest.

I purposely didn’t read the summary on the back cover because I wanted to be surprised and, within the first few pages, I was hooked. A 16 year old boy, who goes by the name of “A,” has never known what it’s like to live as himself. For some unknown reason, he has the ability to switch bodies randomly and does so on a daily basis. This has been going on since he was a young boy and, over the years, A has only been able to figure out that the bodies he inhabits are never older than 16, can be male or female, and can never be inhabited twice.

As I read I thought of the many times teens (myself included) have wondered what it would be like to live in someone else’s life. The caveat is we get to switch back to our own lives if that life seems a bit too much for us. Fortunately for A that works for him too except, if he actually liked that life, he will never get to live it again.

A’s managed to live 16 years of his life existing on a day to day basis, with no emotional pullings towards any of his bodies, until he meets Rhiannon. Suddenly the thought of never seeing her again, and of never being able to have a future with her, is more than A can handle. The life he’d become used to has now become a burden. Despite the unusual circumstances in which he finds himself every day, A is determined to do something to get closer to Rhiannon.

A’s body swaps seem to be made up of bits and pieces from the lives of every teen Levithan has ever met. In “Every Day,” he has placed these lives into a story that seamlessly draws their bodies, personalities, and loves into opportunities for readers to find themselves. A’s thoughts, as well as his caring and acceptance for each life and love, whether male/male, male/female, female/female in which he finds himself, allows readers to think about their own preconceived notions of how they may be viewing others from the outside as A shows us their inside thoughts.

High school readers will empathize tremendously with A, and his every days. RUN to buy it when it’s released in August.