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There aren’t many traditional back-to-school tales for young adults. So I decided to focus on some of the tough topics and social skills teens face instead. (There are, however, a ton of new-kid-at-school tales and boarding school adventures (for MG too.) Tune in next week for a grand list of my favorite school books for a few suggestions to get you started.)
Stewart, 13, is at a loss. His mom has passed away and it seems his hopes for a sister to round out their family just aren’t going to come to pass. But then his dad tells him they’re moving in with Caroline, the woman he’s been dating recently, and her daughter, Ashley. So even though he has to change schools, leave the only home he’s known (and all the memories he built there with his mom) and work through all the adjustments with his therapist, maybe things won’t be so bad.
Ashley, 14, isn’t exactly thrilled when her dad announces he’s gay and her parents get divorced. To make it worse, her dad is living in the guest house in the backyard and her mom’s new boyfriend and nerdy son are moving in. But she will not let any of them ruin her standing on the school social ladder where she mostly reigns supreme.
Told in alternating chapters from the two points of view we see the turmoil of two very different kids trying hard to fit in and find their way in their new realities. Stewart is a little more easy-going and genuine, getting the brunt of Ashley’s anger and hurt thrown his way but as things progress he proves his mettle to her (and everyone else) as they work through some brutal issues at school and home.
There’s a lot going on here (bullying, theft, underage drinking, death, learning differences, peer pressure, sexual orientation, divorce, prejudices, just to name a few) but it happens naturally and seamlessly and never seems heavy or preachy. You love, hate, pity and admire each of the characters in turn. There are moments of humor that make you laugh out loud and moments that make you think (and if you’re a baby like me, you’ll probably even tear up a bit!)
Written by: Susin Nielsen
Number of Pages: 248
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 2015
Age Range: 12-15