Girls on the edge

The protagonists of these pull-no-punches YA novels experience the dark side of adolescence, from mental illness to abuse to trauma to religious intolerance to the death of a loved one — but each one is given what she needs to overcome her challenges.

kuderick_kiss of broken glassAfter she is caught cutting herself in the school bathroom, fifteen-year-old Kenna, star of Kiss of Broken Glass, is carted off to a psychiatric ward for observation. Kenna depicts her seventy-two hours of involuntary hospitalization in tense free-verse vignettes ("nothing I can do but / stand there in that flimsy gown / with all my feelings hanging out"). In plaintive, private monologues, Kenna eventually comes to terms with how untenable her life has become and decides to confront her intensifying relationship with cutting. Through her sympathetic protagonist, author Madeleine Kuderick considers the subculture of teen self-harm with a steady, nonjudgmental eye. (HarperTeen, 14 years and up)

connor_things you kiss goodbyeIn Leslie Connor's The Things You Kiss Goodbye, Bettina Vasillis's strict, overprotective Greek American father severely limits her social life. When, in her sophomore year, she is allowed to date polite, adorable Brady Cullen, Bettina is thrilled with her newfound freedom. Then the once-charming Brady turns possessive, and his need to control Bettina rapidly escalates into violence. At the same time, Bettina finds herself falling for an older guy, a twenty-something named Cowboy, whose kindness shows her the sweet side of romance. Connor lets the story, and Bettina's realization of the situation, play out slowly, deepening characterization and elevating the book above problem-novel territory. (HarperCollins/Tegen, 14 years and up)

venkatraman_time to danceA Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman is a free-verse novel set in contemporary India. Veda has been studying Bharatanatyam, a classical devotional dance, since childhood. On the way home from a Bharatanatyam competition, one of Veda's legs is maimed in an accident and must be amputated below the knee. Brief lines and powerful images communicate Veda's struggle to accept her changed body as well as her determination to return to dancing: "'She was a dancer, that one'… / Not 'was.' / Am. Am. Am." Subplots exploring her blossoming romance with fellow dancer Govinda and the death of her grandmother also help Veda learn about herself, her faith, and her art. (Penguin/Paulsen, 14 years and up)

sarn_i love i hate i miss my sisterOriginally published in France, I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister by Amélie Sarn is Sohane's story about her loving but difficult relationship with her beautiful younger sister, Djelila. Growing up Muslim in a French housing project, Sohane and Djelila have always been close, but Djelila is daring and carefree while Sohane is devout and serious. When a gang of boys from their project begins taunting Djelila for her tight jeans and short tops, accusing her of shaming Islam, Sohane is fearful, but Djelila laughs them off. Then comes the horrific day when Djelila's screams lead Sohane to a nightmare of flames in the basement. Based on a true incident, Sarn's poignant novel raises issues of religious freedom — but is foremost a coming-of-age story about personal choice and the powerful bond between sisters. (Delacorte, 14 years and up)

From the September 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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