Coleen Murtagh Paratore
Scholastic Books, 2012, $16.99
It's a good thing 12-year-old Aislinn's name means "dream" in Gaelic, because without her passion for "wide-awake" dreams, she'd have no life at all. As summer arrives, her beloved Nana is away, her mother's pregnant again, and her alcoholic father's become increasingly abusive. Her best friend Maizey takes up with snobby Sue-Ellen, and her father won't let her see the boy she likes. People shouldn't wear their hearts on their sleeve, her Nana has cautioned, but Aislinn decides dreams are different, wearing hers in the literal sense—in writing, on paper. You need other people to make dreams come true, she learns, but can anyone make her father stop drinking? This heartfelt, semiautobiographical tale is by the Troy-based author of the Wedding Planner's Daughter series.
Carolrhoda Books, 2011, $17.95
Caldecott winner Levine courageously tackles a storyline made all too timely by the Republican War on Women. It's the McCarthy era; high school junior Jamie's father is fresh out of jail. She's plagued by nightmares, and best friend Elaine is using her as a cover to see her forbidden-fruit boyfriend. Finally admitting she's pregnant, Elaine lurches from denial to deluded motherhood fantasies, squelched when her boyfriend deserts and her parents insist on adoption. But Elaine's not the only girl facing a heartbreaking choice, and Levine pulls no punches in depicting the terror of negotiating an illegal abortion. Sensitive and multilayered, In Trouble makes two things painfully clear: There's no easy solution to an unwanted pregnancy, and avoiding the issue won't help.
Scholastic Press, 2012, $16.99
Jack Mogens is a happy-go-lucky star player with Little League baseball team the Tall Pine Braves, riding high until he gets plunked in the head by a stray pitch and promptly loses his mojo. This is where Red Hook author Northrop shines, offering lots of interior detail to complement the superficial aspects of a seemingly carefree young jock's life. Jack descends into a spiral of secret anxiety, experiencing stress so intense that he lies to everyone, claiming a hand injury, and ducks out of a game. He seriously considers quitting baseball. Lucky for Jack, he's got great parents, a gruff-but-lovable coach, and a best friend, who all understand him a lot better than he thinks they do.
—Robert Burke Warren
The Beginning Of After
Harper Collins, 2011, $17.99
In the instant of a police officer's word, Laurel's identity changes forever, from bright, secure suburban teen to survivor of a front-page tragedy. Her entire nuclear family has been killed during a heartbreakingly mundane trip to the ice cream shop. The devastation, anguish, and upheaval and the sometimes fumbling efforts of the community to rally to her side make for a painful and riveting read. Laurel is an engaging and courageous heroine, and spending time with her as she struggles along the rutted gravel road to recovery—stumbling sometimes, always getting back up, learning forgiveness and survival—makes this debut novel by Dutchess County writer Castle a rich experience. Reading with Nova Ren Suma & Kim Purcell at Inquiring Minds, New Paltz 6/15, at 7pm.