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Real girls

Body image issues; death and grief; attempted suicide; mental illness. Problem novels move into the twenty-first century with these books starring young women who cope with their troubles in refreshingly realistic, nuanced ways.

In K. A. Barson’s 45 Pounds (More or Less), sixteen-year-old Ann Galardi wants to lose weight: she can’t fit into department store clothes, and her skinny, weight-obsessed mother constantly buys her smaller sizes as “incentive.” But it’s only when Ann’s cool aunt Jackie asks her to be a bridesmaid in her (lesbian) wedding that, with dress shopping looming, Ann resolves to lose forty-five pounds in two months. Her journey is funny and relatable — if also difficult and depressing. Debut author Barson writes with a light touch, but unflinchingly confronts stereotypes about overweight people. (Viking, 14–16 years)

Danielle’s summer job babysitting five-year-old Humphrey is more fun than it is work. Both lonely in their own families, babysitter and “babysittee” quickly develop a closeness more akin to that between siblings. When Humphrey is killed in a hit-and-run — on Danielle’s watch — and the driver is found to be an undocumented immigrant, Danielle gets dragged into fierce debates about illegal immigration. Imperfect Spiral by Debbie Levy is a story of love and loss deepened by the protagonist’s inspiring development from someone afraid of conflict into someone who can stand up for what she believes is right. (Walker, 14–16 years)

After a disastrous attempt to make friends her first day of sophomore year, Elise Dembowski, star of This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, tries a “practice” attempt at suicide. Seven months later, she’s wandering alone late at night when she happens upon an underground dance club, a discovery that changes her life. She finally feels a sense of belonging — and realizes she has a talent for DJing. Elise’s eventual triumph doesn’t come easily, but she survives with a perceptive eye and a sharp sense of humor. (Farrar, 15–18 years)

At the start of Corey Ann Haydu’s OCD Love Story, narrator Bea meets Beck when the power goes out at a school dance. Hearing Beck’s too-fast breathing and recognizing a panic attack, Bea goes to comfort him; the two share a kiss in the dark. They’re reunited in a group therapy session — they both have debilitating obsessive-compulsive disorder. Despite treatment and newfound support from Beck, Bea’s OCD seems to get worse, not better. Thanks to some leaps of faith and a lot of therapy, Bea gets a happy ending. Haydu explores a sweet, unconventional romance alongside her characters’ disorder. (Simon Pulse, 15–18 years)

From the September 2013 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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