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December 28, 2007 Edition

Killing Miss Kitty and Other Sins, by Marion Dane Bauer

Five short stories show what life in middle America was like for a young white girl named Claire Davis growing up in the 1950s. The first story, “Friend of Liberty,” is about her first encounter with racism, both subtle and overt, in the form of a summer friendship with a black girl Claire’s age. “New Girl” has to do with the way friendships of necessity can turn into true friendships. Miss Kitty, a stray that Claire adopted when she was a kitten, becomes an ugly, mean cat who stands in the way of Claire’s new puppy in the title story. Claire experiments with impure thoughts before her Confirmation in “Sin,” only to find that some jokes can be taken too far. And in the final story, “Everything We Know,” she feels the first stirrings of sexuality. Bauer doesn’t flinch from facing the memories of bad deeds unwittingly committed (and some deliberate ones, too) and applying a little adult perspective to turn the knife in these thought-provoking stories.

Strange Relations, by Sonia Levitin

Marne is looking forward to getting a tan, going surfing, and meeting some hot guys while she stays with her aunt and uncle in Hawaii for the summer. She knows they’re Jewish – she’s Jewish, too. But she has never encountered Hasids before, and at first she finds the restrictions baffling and frustrating. Everyone is very nice to her, but she’s constantly reminded that she’s different: her clothes aren’t modest, she doesn’t keep kosher, and she doesn’t even know about girls and boys not swimming together. Gradually, though, she begins to find peace in Shabbot and community in the bustling family with all the guests that stream in and out of the household. By the time her best friend arrives from home for a visit, Marne realizes she’s not the person she used to be and starts understanding who she wants to be.

Me, Penelope, by Lisa Jahn-Clough

Penelope, nicknamed Lopi, has got a lot of goals for her life: getting out of high school early, passing her driver’s exam, losing her virginity, and keeping the circumstances of her brother’s death a secret are at the top of the list. She’s got a handle on the first two, but the third eludes her despite her determination and the last is threatening to boil over after years of silence. With the help of her mom’s boyfriend and her best friend Toad, Lopi finally begins forging a stronger relationship with her mother and coming to terms with her feelings about her brother’s death.

The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney, by Suzanne Harper

Sparrow Delaney is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter with strong psychic powers whose family has been eagerly awaiting the manifestation of her powers all her life. But Sparrow is determined to be thought of as normal and hasn’t told her family that she’s been talking to ghosts and spirit guides since she was five. Now in 10th grade, she’s bussed to a new school outside her small town, where no one knows about her family or expects anything mystical from Sparrow. Except for the ghost who seems firmly attached to the cute guy in Sparrow’s classes – that ghost definitely wants something from Sparrow. Lighter in heart than Stephenie Meyer’s books, this may still appeal to her fans as well as fans of other paranormal fiction.

The Whole Sky Full of Stars, by Rene Saldana, Jr

Now that his father has died, Barry and his mom are just scraping by. Barry wants to help out, but he’s still in high school: the only skill he’s got is boxing, and the only thing of value he owns is the 1964 Ford Galaxie that was his dad’s. His best friend Alby has a plan to make them both rich, though – he proposes that Barry enter a prizefight, with himself as manager. Barry’s pretty sure his pop wouldn’t approve, but Alby’s great at steering people in the direction he wants them to go, and for some reason, Alby really wants Barry to fight. The reason why comes close to ruining their friendship in this novel about friends and doing the right thing.

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