A summer trio of books for young adults

"Girls Like Us" by Gail Giles, about two special-ed teens sharing an apartment, could be an instant classic.
"Girls Like Us" by Gail Giles, about two special-ed teens sharing an apartment, could be an instant classic.
Posted: June 16, 2014

Young adults are flocking to movie theaters to see The Fault in Our Stars, based on a YA novel of 2012. Here's a handful of fine Young Adult novels that came out recently.

By Gail Giles

Candlewick, $16.99

In the market for a new favorite writer? Gail Giles just might fit the bill. This novel (Giles' 11th), written in short, alternating chapters in the voices of two special-ed teens, is an absolute stunner.

First, there's sweet-natured Biddy, who is tormented by her classmates for being fat and peculiar. (She wears a long trenchcoat all day, every day, even though they live in Texas, on the Gulf.) Quincy is a mixed-race teen with a much fiercer personality and a hilarious turn of phrase. ("Well if I ain't lower than a snake's butt," begins one chapter.)

When we meet them they are still enrolled in the special-ed program of their rural high school - which makes them "Speddies," in local parlance - and they're just about to graduate.

Quincy has spent her whole childhood in foster homes and will age out of the program at 18. Biddy was raised, reluctantly, by her mean Granny, who is just as keen to see her go. A social services program places them together as housemates in a sweet apartment above a garage, where they will live and work for the woman who owns the house.

This novel has the feeling of an instant classic, from its impeccable use of language to its stirring message. Getting started in the world is hard for everyone; these young women are especially vulnerable. You will feel for - and root for - Quincy and Biddy as they negotiate the normal stuff of life, along with the incredibly painful things they've gone through and must learn to cope with.

But it's hard to do this book justice without quoting from it liberally, so I'll leave you with this: "We understand stuff. We just learn it slow. And most of what we understand is that people what ain't Speddies think we too stupid to get out our own way. And that makes me mad."

By Francesca Lia Block

Harper Teen, $17.99

For years now, supernatural stories have positively flooded the YA market. (Thanks, Twilight). But truly, nobody does weird like Francesca Lia Block. Author of the famous Weetzie Bat books and a bona fide cult favorite, Block brings otherworldly eeriness into the everyday by plunking down ordinary teenagers into her signature, ultra-feminine, night-garden world.

In this new novel, Julie is a lonely teen in Los Angeles (Block's stories all take place in L.A.) who wears head-to-toe vintage and desperately misses her grandmother, Miriam, who lived with her and her mother until her death. When Julie uses a Ouija board to try to reach Miriam, she contacts someone - or something - else instead. Straddling this world and the next, Julie must find a way to survive.

With Teen Spirit, Block has written a good old-fashioned ghost story, and with her gift for unusual imagery manages to make it both appealing and truly eerie, her stock in trade. "In my head there was a sound like someone screaming in the middle of the night when you're not sure if you're hearing a party or a murder."

Believe it or not, this is good fun.

By Lynne Ewing

Balzer & Bray, $17.99

With this tough, true novel, Ewing depicts a dangerous part of Washington, D.C., that tourists never visit. She introduces us to Blaise, her beautiful friend Melissa, and her slightly crazy friend Kaylee, three teenagers who long for the kind of prestige that comes with membership in a gang.

Their lives are like a lot of American kids' lives in some ways - they go to school and hang out with their friends. But coming home, Blaise must dodge the homeless "dopers" who shuffle around the Borderlands neighborhood (especially dangerous because it isn't considered the territory of any one gang), and when she gets home she's faced with the heartbreaking reality that her grandmother has gone without dinner again so that her granddaughter could eat. Before long, the tough-as-nails girls from Core 9 recruit Blaise, a relatable and sweet kid who has a reputation as a fearless fighter.

With insight and sensitivity, Ewing offers a glimpse into this secretive world, capturing the fatalism that can infect kids who have always known poverty and violence. She occasionally goes a little heavy on the exposition, which drags the story down.

But at its heart this is an exciting, challenging book that should open some eyes. Blaise and her friends aren't bad kids at all, they're just faced with the kinds of hard choices middle-class teenagers can't even imagine - not whether or not to join a gang, but how soon to do it, for protection, money, and a sorely needed sense of family.


Katie Haegele is author of "White Elephants: On Yard Sales, Relationships, and Finding Out What Was Missing."

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