The Girls by Lori Lansens is one of those books I kept moving down in my to-read pile. Not because it didn't look like a great book, but because I just had to read other books for other reasons. I had a little time to spare while visiting family, though, so I got to read it (finally!). It's an adult book, but one that I think could have very high appeal to teen readers as well.
Rose Darlen is mostly the narrator of this book. She's writing her autobiography. That's not an uncommon thing to do, but Rose is somewhat of an uncommon person. She and her sister, Ruby, are craniopagus twins, joined at the head. Separation was never an option, because they share an essential vein. They come into the world on the day of a tornado that takes the life of a local boy, an event that ties them unwillingly to one of their neighbors. Rose and Ruby are raised by the nurse that delivered them and her adoring husband, who they refer to as Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash. Lovey and Stash do everything in their power to always treat the girls as two separate people and encourage others to do the same. The Girls goes somewhat against the grain of what's popular in YA lit right now (not that it was ever intended to be a popular YA book, imho): Rose and Ruby are extraordinary people, but they get the most joy and meaning from ordinary events and things. In that way, it reminded me a lot of my all-time favorite book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
What impressed me the most about this book was Lansens's ability to write distinctly in the two girls' voices. Lots of books are told in two voices, but few are told in the voices of two people who are so close physically and emotionally. Rose, whose goal in life was to become a writer, writes like someone who reads, with lusher phrases and a larger vocabulary. Ruby is no less intelligent than Rose, but her dislike of reading in favor of television leads her to more forthright language. I didn't always like the characters as people, but I found them fascinating from beginning to end. Definitely a great life-story book, even if said life is outside the realm of experience of almost every one of its readers.
Personally, I'm not much of a t-shirt wearer, but I would absolutely love for them to carry gold ballpoint pens with "Riptide" written (or engraved?) on them. Bonus points if there's a way to Velcro it into your pocket.
Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern is one of those books that I wish had been around when I was in high school. It's centered on Jessie, an average (not in a bad way!) sophomore who finds her circle of friends changing. Her two BFF's, Bizza and Char, have suddenly gone mall punk. They've developed a minor obsession with Jessie's brother's punk band and are using Jessie rather than being her friends. Bizza even hooks up with Van, the boy she knows Jessie has crushed on for years. Jessie's brother has gone from punk to preppy, even dating a popular girl. Jessie feels a little like she's lost her center, even though she maintains her love of audiobooks and making crazy print skirts. Where's a girl to drift? In this case, it's toward the nerds.
Though she resists their initial advances, Jessie finds herself enjoying the company of a group of Dungeons and Dragons players. Popular they're not, but Jessie finds them refreshingly honest, which is very much what she needs after the way Char and Bizza have treated her. There's even...gasp...a cute boy in the D&D group! It's not that Jessie isn't enjoying her time with her new friends, but she worries about her social standing and what it means for her longtime friendships and crushes if she develops new ones. Is it "once a nerd, always a nerd?"
I know I was prejudiced toward this book because it has a pink cover, but I also picked it up because I'm conversant in Nerd. Even if the cover had been blue, I'd still recommend it. Jessie is smart and funny, but not to the point where it sounds like the author just wants to be the next Joss Whedon. Halpern also does an excellent job of balancing Jessie's feelings about her friends. I saw how badly her friends were treating her, but I didn't want her to be lonely and alienated, either. She also has a really positive relationship with her brother, which warmed my heart. The way Jessie reacts to her changing friendships felt realistic to me. She's defined herself a lot by her friends, but doesn't give up on herself or fall into a pit of despair when she grows apart from them. I'd say this was a winner, but one doesn't really win a game of D&D, so I'll just say it rolled a 20.