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It's a gross, cold, rainy day here in Austin so I thought maybe I'd finally come through on some promised reviews for my blog readers. I've mostly been reading contemporary YA lately, while taking breaks to read ten or so pages each night from CRYPTOZOOLOGY A-Z by Loren Coleman (from Maine!) and Jerome Clarke. Yes, it's research for a book I want to write, but, let's be honest -- the book was on my Amaz*n wishlist for like two years before my novel idea gave me an excuse to buy it. Let me just tell you: it's fascinating.

The first book I want to tell you about is GIRL FROM MARS (Groundwood Books 2008) by Tamara Bach, translated from the German by Shelley Tanaka. This book has garnered multiple awards and much praise in its native Germany, but the only reason I even know about it is that in my past job as a bookseller I saw it in a catalog. Only 29 people on LibraryThing have it, and to me, that's a travesty. It's a beautiful story of first love, told in the quirky voice of Miriam, a self-described plain fifteen-year-old girl in a small town who dreams, like many of us, of getting out and living a fabulous big-city life. She wishes she were beautiful and popular and spends every morning commiserating in the girls' restroom with her two best friends, Ines and Suse. Then enters Laura, with her wild black hair and carefree attitude, who rolls her own cigarettes and goes to clubs. Miriam is instantly enchanted, and begins to feel something she's never felt before, especially for a girl. GIRL FROM MARS is beautifully written, and rife with genuine emotion. This is a book that should not be ignored, and I urge anyone who can to track down a copy. It will make your heart ache in all the right ways.

I also recently read LEFTOVERS (Orca Books, 2009) by Heather Waldorf, which is also with a small publisher. This one wasn't quite as intense as I'd expected -- one of its core themes is sexual abuse -- and I found the author's treatment of this theme a little too light. However, the story was compelling. Taking place on a small island in the St. Lawrence River (close to Ottowa, Ontario), this is the story of Sarah Greene, who, after stealing and crashing her mom's boyfriend's car, is sentenced to community service at Camp Dog Gone Fun, a charity that treats misfit dogs to a summer of leisure. What her the judge, her fellow campers, and even her mother and her boyfriend, Tanner, don't know is that the reason she freaked out was that having her picture taken freaks her out. So when Tanner got out his brand new digital camera and asked Sarah to smile, all she could think of was the "secret" nude photos her dad had been taking of her up until he choked on a piece of steak and died. At the camp, though, Sarah throws herself into the work, cooking meals for her fellow delinquents and fin ding companionship not only in her special project -- a wild, enormous pup named Judy -- but also in Sullivan, the director's stepson. If she lets herself, this could be the summer that allows Sarah to heal, and her unexpected friendships with everyone at Camp Dog Gone Fun -- four-legged and biped alike, might just get her through. While I would have liked to see more grit in the story, LEFTOVERS ultimately makes a painful story of sexual abuse more accessible for readers who might not otherwise pick it up. Dog lovers will appreciate the canine hijinx and stories of rehabilitation, and Sarah's wacky sense of humor and conversational narrative shine a light at the end of the tunnel. This is a lovely, fast read that will find a place in the hearts of many young readers.

I'll admit it -- I'm obsessed with the show Hoarders. I think part of me is always afraid that my pack-ratty-ness make me susceptible to that extreme. But shows like Hoarders don't always show the human side of this serious, clinical illness, and DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS (Walker Books for Young Readers, 2010) by C.J. Omololu gave me a real look at what it's like to grow up in a hoarding home. Lucy is a typical teen in most ways -- she goes to school, she has a best friend, she likes music and coffee and has a crush on a boy. But what her friends don't know is that her house is full of stuff -- stuff that her mom has collected over years and years and refuses to throw away. Her older brother and sister have both grown up and gone away, leaving Lucy alone with her mom, who has let the house get so bad that there is no longer hot water, let alone the smells coming from the kitchen. When Lucy comes home one day to find that the unthinkable has happened, she begins a mad dash to try and clean up the mess that her mother has spent years building before anyone can see what her life is really like. DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS brilliantly takes place in a period of about 24 hours, utilizing carefully-placed memories to fill in the blanks of Lucy's difficult life in a family that has ceased to function. While I felt the ending came to quickly (sequel, please!) I absolutely could not put this book down and I highly recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed YA books by Laurie Halse Anderson, Elizabeth Scott, or Judy Blume. (Yes, I just invoked The Judy.) Go find your local indie and pick up a copy ASAP.

Right now I'm reading THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner, which I'm finding a bit slow to start -- does anyone who read this already want to weigh in? I also would like to state, for the record, that I had a sexy dream about David Duchovny last night, but it was ruined by his MULLET. What?! Also, I've had "Thinking of You" by Hanson (yes, really) stuck in my head since I woke up morning. Mostly it just makes me want to call my sister and reminisce, but I think she's blocked out most of 1998 pretty well.

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E. Kristin Anderson (Emily)
The Hate-Mongering Tart

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