A Short History of the Girl Next Door
by Jared Reck
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publisher/ Author Submission
A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck captures the awkward yearning of early adolescence and the hesitant fizzings of first love—all in the note-perfect ninth-grade voice of basketball-obsessed Matt Wainwright. What begins as an amusing battle with cool senior guy Liam for the heart of Matt’s lifelong best friend Tabby explodes into tragedy, and Matt’s rage threatens to destroy his relationship with family, friends, and the sport he loves. Reck explores the toxic anger of grief without ever losing the humor and heart that drew us to Matt in the first place.
After one sexist incident too many pushes Vivian Carter too far, she decides to fight back. Inspired by her mother’s Riot Grrrl past, Vivian creates an anonymous feminist zine that she leaves for the other female students to find. Before long, her one-woman revolution kickstarts something bigger than she could have imagined. Pages from Vivian’s zine are included in the story and highlight her frustrations as well as bigger-picture issues. Vivian herself is smart, funny and conflicted as she struggles to reconcile her innate desire to be a “nice girl” with her need to stand up and be heard against her high school’s culture of misogyny. Told in vivid color but not afraid to show the shades of grey involved growing a grassroots feminist movement, Moxie is a narrative of our current society that encourages everyone to find their voice.
Jade navigates two worlds in her daily life: the world of economic challenge at home and the world of economic privilege at the private school she attends on scholarship. Given the opportunity to participate in a mentorship program for “at risk” students, Jade initially balks, agreeing only when she realizes joining may help with her ultimate goal—taking part in the school’s study abroad program. Jade is a unique voice in YA, rebelling against the tyranny of sympathy and those who see her brown skin and economic status as ways to feel better about themselves. Poetic and lyrical, Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson reads like a piece of art itself, illuminating Jade as she pieces together her burgeoning identity, much as Jade illuminates her own growing truths in the collages she pieces together from the found and the forgotten.
Janna is trying to balance her faith with the crush she has a non-Muslim boy. The bigger problem is the fact that she continually has to face a boy who tried to rape her…who is also her community’s golden boy. This unapologetically feminist story is compared to “My So-Called Life,” and that’s apt. It’s funny and unflinching in equal measure, and is a nuanced portrayal of faith. Readers looking for a fun novel that’s more than a guilty pleasure should pick this one up.
The Hate U Give is a story that feels ripped from the headlines (unarmed African-American teen shot and killed by police officer) without ever becoming preachy or stereotypical and without resorting to demonizing any group. It’s an incredibly tricky line to walk, but Angie Thomas makes it look easy. Starr—the only witness to the shooting—is caught in an impossible situation; her family may be in danger whatever she does or says. The story is necessary, especially for our current political climate, but it also transcends time and politics. A must-read.
Everything that Sal knows in his life changes his senior year. This coming of age story shows not only the power of love, but how the definition of family is more than biology. This is much more than the typical adoption story where someone searches for their biological parent. On Sal’s journey he comes to terms with what defines him as a son, friend, and also a man. On that path there is pain, sadness and love for not only his family, but his friends as well. Mostly though there is hope woven throughout this amazing tale that shows that it’s okay to be loved, to love, and to forgive.
Briggs Henry believes everything’s better at the lake. He’s ready to leave behind his ex-girlfriend, his cantankerous grandmother, and his parents’ expectations. So Briggs accepts a job as a personal assistant to octogenarian Mrs. Bozic, a Serbian widow with a penchant for funerals and blue paint who lives on the shores of South Haven, Michigan. An easy summer job. Until it isn’t. Told in short chapters, the story unfolds through a series of interactions with Briggs’s mysterious neighbor Abigail, the eccentric Mrs. B, and the lake residents. Despite heavy themes of family pressures and loss, there are some scenes that cannot be read without laughing out loud. Literally. Briggs’s tone is enjoyably self-deprecating, especially in the scenes featuring his overachieving father, who believes that “failure is not an option.” A realistic, multifaceted narrator, Briggs finds his principles challenged as his life begins to shift directions. Over and out, Briggs Baby.