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Family ties

Maya Angelou wrote, “Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at.” For many teens, adolescence includes contending with changing sibling relationships. Four new novels explore the joys and challenges of these shifting dynamics.

Suzette and Lionel, the protagonists of Brandy Colbert’s Little & Lion, are close teen step-siblings in a happy, blended, Jewish, biracial family. But when Lionel was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with hypomania, their parents sent Suzette away to boarding school. When she comes home for break, Suzette’s apprehension about their changed dynamic is borne out: Lionel first covertly stops taking his medication and then pursues a romance with Suzette’s new friend Rafaela, oblivious to the chemistry between the two girls. With compelling honesty, Colbert portrays Suzette’s evolving understanding of her sexuality and Lionel’s longing for self-sufficiency. (Little, 14 years and up)

Ever since her older sister Camilla’s death, Juniper Lemon has recorded the positives and negatives of each day in her “happiness index” — a practice inspired by her sister’s sunny optimism. On day sixty-six, Juniper realizes she’s lost happiness index card #65, and a frenzied search has her sifting through school Dumpsters. Instead of her card, Juniper discovers inspiration for an art project involving found objects, which leads to connections with lonely classmates. Julie Israel’s debut novel Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index features nuanced emotional growth, a sweet blossoming romance, high-school social shenanigans, and an eclectic cast of memorable characters. (Penguin/Dawson, 14 years and up)

Seventeen-year-old twins Molly and Cassie, stars of Becky Albertalli’s The Upside of Unrequited, are inseparable despite being wildly different: Cassie’s breezy self-confidence makes dating seem easy, while quirky introvert Molly never acts on her crushes. When Cassie starts dating the “fucking adorable” girl of her dreams, Molly worries she is losing her sister and withdraws resentfully in to herself. Enter a crush for Molly: her new coworker Reid, who’s funny, sweet, and unapologetically uncool. This perceptive dramedy tackles substantial themes — including multiracial families, intimacy, individuality, and change — with warmth and subtlety. (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, 14 years and up)

In Pete Hautman’s Slider, David accidentally bids $2,000 instead of $20 on a “historic half hot dog” online with his mother’s credit card. In a panic, he formulates a plan: enter competitive eating contests and use his winnings to pay his mother back, ideally before she finds out about the charge. David’s particular talent is not quite the success his older sister has achieved in college, nor is it the small triumphs of his autistic younger brother, Mal, but David takes pride in it nonetheless. He also takes pride in caring for Mal, and makes some headway with Mal’s increased socialization. The first-person narrative explores the two brothers’ relationship in a nuanced way. (Candlewick, 12–14 years)

From the August 2017 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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