the new york times

march 12, 2006
reading list

what's a girl to read?

by justine henning

if you don't want to read about sex and drugs -- or don't want your kids reading about them -- young adult fiction can look like a minefield. publishers rarely give age guidance on these novels, though online booksellers are sometimes more helpful; be forewarned that if the rating is "young adult" or "14 and up," that often means sexual content. yet it's possible to avoid the thinly imagined characters, as well as the reckless, credit-card-reliant behavior, of teenage chick lit and find many superb novels for girls. below is a selection of 12 notable books of recent years, many of them finalists and winners of major prizes, or books that show up on teenagers' own top 10 lists.

parents and other adults in these novels usually fail to prevent young people from acting out -- with variously comic or tragic consequences. yet their authors recognize the developing moral intelligence of both their characters and their audience, producing stimulating books for young readers (that parents might even enjoy). this is expanded from a list running in the print edition of this week's book review.

angus, thongs and full-frontal snogging: confessions of georgia nicolson, by louise rennison. (avon, $6.99.) the first book in a popular british series. sometimes compared with bridget jones, 14-year-old georgia is very funny in her own right and has problems any teenager could relate to. (ages 12 and up)

be more chill, by ned vizzini. (miramax, $7.99.) ''the corrections'' meets ''fast times at ridgemont high'' in this realistic high school novel that swerves into satiric fantasy when jeremy heere, a nerd, swallows a quantum supercomputer that gives instructions in being cool. (ages 14 and up)

breakout, by paul fleischman. (simon pulse, $6.99.) at 17, del escapes her foster home in a used car, heading for freedom on the l.a. freeway. then an epic traffic jam happens. "the lanes teemed like an arab bazaar. del entered and felt herself disappear into the labyrinth." (ages 14 and up)

the earth, my butt, and other big round things, by carolyn mackler. (candlewick, $8.99.) virginia shreves is tired of being fat, especially compared with her perfect older brother - until she discovers that he's really not perfect at all. a scathing look at the world of selfish manhattan parents and snobbish private schools. (ages 14 and up)

feeling sorry for celia, by jaclyn moriarty. (st. martin's griffin, $12.95.) a story told in sharp, funny and sometimes surreal letters exchanged between elizabeth clarry and her parents, her friend celia and a few organizations that seem to know all about her insecurities - like the society of people who are definitely going to fail high school. (ages 12 and up)

flipped, by wendelin van draanen. (knopf, $8.95.) bryce loski and juli baker, next-door neighbors, have a love-hate relationship that goes back years, and each gets a say in alternating chapters. the tone is light, but both of their families have challenges to overcome. (ages 9 to 12)

the friends, by rosa guy. (laurel leaf, $5.99.) a classic tale of friendship, family struggle and survival at a new school, when phyllisia cathy, 14, has to decide whether to accept the friendship of a tough girl who is barely surviving herself. (ages 9 to 12)

if you come softly, by jacqueline woodson. (speak/penguin, $5.99.) tragedy is hinted at from the first page, when ellie, who is white, begins to recall how she fell in love with jeremiah, who is black. watching them overcome the distance between them is most of the point - but so is discovering the gaps that can't be breached. (ages 10 and up)

life is funny, by e. r. frank. (puffin, $7.99.) a novel about 11 new york city teenagers from whole and broken homes, rich and poor, each speaking in a distinctive language - often harsh, yet eloquent. the action is gritty, and parents rarely help and often hurt. (ages 14 and up)

looking for alaska, by john green. (dutton, $15.99.) when miles halter goes away to boarding school in alabama, he makes his first real friends and falls for a beautiful and troubled girl named alaska. much of the novel is a countdown to a tragedy; afterward, miles and his friends try to make sense of it. (ages 14 and up)

luna, by julie anne peters. (megan tingley/little, brown, $7.99.) as a junior in high school, regan's brother, liam, begins to come to terms with his trangendered identity as ''luna," but only regan knows his secret. now both have to leave the secrets behind -- though it will cost them the family life they have known. a compelling portrait of self-acceptance and sibling solidarity. (ages 14 and up)

make lemonade, by virginia euwer wolff. (scholastic, $5.99.) a babysitting job in a building where ''the garbage cans don't have lids, somebody without teeth / was talking to herself in the front of the door'' challenges lavaughn, who narrates in verse so fluid many readers may not realize this story about one teenager babysitting for the children of another is poetry. (ages 12 and up)

rules of the road, by joan bauer. (speak/penguin, $7.99.) when she accepts a summer job as a chauffeur to a strong-willed older woman, jenna boller escapes her alcoholic father's shadow and sets out on a life-changing journey -- learning ''great road truths that teenagers aren't always exposed to." (ages 12 and up)

sandpiper, by ellen wittlinger. (simon & schuster, $16.95.) sandpiper ragsdale has a bad reputation - only now it isn't only the boys in her grade who know, everyone seems to. and someone is threatening her. as her mother prepares to remarry, a mysterious new friend shows up to help piper overcome her past and his own. (ages 14 and up)

the skin i'm in, by sharon g. flake. (jump at the sun/hyperion, $5.99.) a new teacher who suffers from a condition that makes her face both black and white helps maleeka madison see herself in a new light, discover a talent for writing and stand up to a clique of mean girls. (ages 12 and up)

someone like you, by sarah dessen. (speak/penguin, $7.99.) after a fatal motorcycle accident, halley helps her lifelong friend scarlett mourn her first love and decide what to do about her surprise pregnancy -- while dealing with the fallout from rash decisions of her own. (ages 12 and up)

speak, by laurie halse anderson. (speak/penguin, $8.99.) when melinda sordino is blamed for what happened at an end-of-summer party ''with beers and seniors and music,'' she becomes an outcast and stops talking. in the end, she makes herself heard. (ages 14 and up)

tears of a tiger, by sharon draper. (simon pulse, $5.99.) a wrenching story written from multiple perspectives in different formats (letters, newspaper articles, documents and so on) in the aftermath of a fiery drunk-driving accident. andy jackson, school basketball star, was driving, and now has to cope with the consequences. first book of the hazelwood high trilogy. (ages 12 and up)

tiger eyes, by judy blume. (laurel leaf, $5.99.) blume grapples realistically with a girl's experience after her father dies in a convenience store holdup. a new school and a new state, and her mother's near breakdown, leads to davey wexler finding her own strength to survive. (ages 12 and up)

uglies, by scott westerfeld. (simon pulse, $6.99.) in a dystopia where every teenager gets surgery at 16 to become beautiful, a few rebels escape to survive outside the perfect city. a sharp-eyed look at the tyranny of beauty and sameness. first of a trilogy. (ages 12 and up)

justine henning, a writer and tutor, is the founder of a web site that recommends books for young readers, .

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