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May 30, 2008 Edition

Gym Candy, by Carl Deuker

Mick’s father is determined to see his NFL dreams lived out by his son, and Mick has played football ever since he could walk and carry a mini ball. His dad even kept him back a year so he’d be bigger, stronger, and faster when he made the high school football team. There was never any question in Mick’s or his dad’s minds that he would: there were two empty walls in the den just waiting to be filled up with awards and articles. But when things start going badly for him on the field and Mick can’t seem to shake the thought that he’s never going to improve, his weight trainer offers him steroids. The euphoria Mick feels as he gains power and watches his body change is offset by the increasing depressions and rages that come on him out of the blue. This is a compelling story with lots of tension, both on and off the field, and memorable, believable characters.

The Last Knight, by Hilari Bell

Sir Michael Sevenson is a self-proclaimed hero, a knight-errant, out for adventure with his (mostly) trusty squire, Fisk, who’s been blackmailed into the job. Now the two are off to rescue a maiden from a tower in the dead of night with a horse named Chanticleer. But they’ve been misled and soon find themselves imprisoned themselves. Told alternately by Fisk and Sir Michael as the two anxiously try to right the wrong they’ve done and clear their names, usually with comic results.

Kissing the Bee, by Kathe Koja

As a big fan of Koja’s spare and powerful first-person stories, I couldn’t resist this story of changing friendships, third wheels, and new loves. Dana and Avra have been best friends since freshman year, but now the seniors are growing apart. Dana has played attendant to Avra’s queen bee too long and has finally found someone who doesn’t need tending. Problem is – it’s Avra’s boyfriend, Emil, so at first, Dana keeps quiet. Counterpointing Dana’s day-to-day life are excerpts from her paper on bee societies, to both amusing and poignant effect.

1000 Reasons Never to Kiss a Boy, by Martha Freeman

Sixteen year-old Jane’s first ever romance ends when she catches her boyfriend cheating on her in a walk-in refrigerator at work (all she wanted was a tomato). Now she’s decided she’s through with boys and romance and starts a list to help other girls come to the same conclusion. But Jane only gets to #42 before she changes her mind, with the help of the strong women in her life and a guy named Ashok, who turns out not to be quite the geek she thought he was.

Sisters in Sanity, by Gayle Forman

Like “Holes” but for an older, female crowd, this novel takes place at Red Rock, a “rehabilitation” center for out-of-control girls. Under the guise of a family vacation, sixteen year-old Brit has been left until the counselors deem her “cured”. The “cure” involves lots of group therapy and learning to rat your peers out. Brit can’t survive on her own, but the girls are kept psychologically isolated. Quietly, under the counselors’ radar, a group slowly begins to coalesce and V, Martha, Cassie, Bebe, and Brit become each other’s most trustworthy friends and lifelines to the outside world.

Yellow Flag, by Robert Lipsyte

Everyone in Kyle’s family races NASCAR except Kyle: he’s raced in the past, but now he’s given it up to play trumpet in a school brass quintet on the verge of nationwide recognition. But when Kyle’s older brother, Kris, who’s becoming famous for his racing skills, is sidelined by an injury, Kyle gets pulled out of his haze of music and back into the racing circuit in Kris’s place – and finds a new passion. Can Kyle find a way to balance music and the race track?

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