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Boys to men

Being a teenage boy can be tough. Things change, insecurities reign supreme. These new YA novels all feature male protagonists dealing, in their own ways, with life’s big stuff.

When fourteen-year-old Walker offers up a prayer (“Look…if you’re up there, help / my mom, okay? My brother’s been dead / two whole months, and she’s still crying”), he gets an answer in person. It turns out that Jesus is a pretty ordinary Joe, with an irreverent sense of humor. With its broad humor and subtle life lessons, Ron Koertge’s verse novel Coaltown Jesus is a good vehicle for meditations on life, loss, grief, and faith. (Candlewick, 13–16 years)

Budding horror-filmmaker Sam, star of Life in Outer Space, is tight with his posse of fellow Aussie misfits. Then Camilla arrives on the scene: beautiful, tattooed, worldly, lonely. Like a chameleon, she blends right in with the cool kids, but she also hangs with Sam and his crew. Melissa Keil’s characters are multifaceted and real, and snappy banter and fish-out-of-water situations combine with touching moments to create an entertaining and diverting read. (Peachtree, 13–16 years)

In Back to Blackbrick by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, Irish lad Cosmo is coping with not only his grandfather’s slide into dementia but also his brother’s death and abandonment by his mother. He travels back in time to his grandfather’s youth and discovers that the sixteen-year-old stable boy is falling in love with the wrong woman — bad news for Cosmo’s grandfather’s descendents. “That’s the thing about being alive: It’s totally weird,” says the astute protagonist in this brain-bending time-travel story. (McElderry, 13–16 years)

When Gerald was five, TV’s Network Nanny came to his house, along with camera crews, to help solve his behavior problems. Now nearly seventeen, Gerald bears the emotional scars of having his deeply dysfunctional childhood nationally televised. When Gerald meets Hannah, he discovers he’s not the only one with a messed-up family. Fans will recognize A. S. King’s expert skill at believably portraying a bullied, neglected, angry teen in desperate need of healing and love. Put down the remote and pick up Reality Boy — it’s a showstopper. (Little, Brown, 13–16 years)

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

Katrina Hedeen About Katrina Hedeen

Katrina Hedeen is associate editor of The Horn Book Guide and manager of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards.

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