books in brief: Jennifer Chan is not alone, I kissed Shara Wheeler | Books

Jennifer Chan is not alone by Tae Keller; Random House, 267 pages ($17.99) Ages 8-12.

This moving and beautifully written coming-of-age novel from Newbery medalist Tae Keller is dedicated to “the girl she was at twelve” and was inspired by her own life-changing experience of being savagely bullied at school. high school.

The Jennifer Chan of the title is a Chinese-American girl who has just moved from Chicago to a small town in Florida after her father’s death from cancer. Her father encouraged her intense interest in aliens and she keeps diaries of her research.

Keller chooses to tell the story through the perspective of one of the stalkers, 12-year-old Mallory Moss, whose mother is half Korean. Mallory, “a scared girl who passed out on the Ferris wheels and turned red when the teacher called her over,” has recently become one of the popular girls at school thanks to Ella Reagan’s new best friend. From Reagan she learned: “You can control who you are by controlling the way people see you,” wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, knowing your place in the pecking order of popularity.

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When Jennifer and her mother move across the street, Mallory is intrigued by Jennifer’s enthusiastic research into whether life exists elsewhere in the universe, but is painfully aware that Jennifer will never fit in with her clique at school.

In the opening chapter, the town is in an uproar with the news that Jennifer has run away. Mallory uses clues in Jennifer’s notebooks to try to find her and recruits her two smarter classmates to her cause. Keller deftly weaves together the girls’ search for Jennifer with eloquent entries from Jennifer’s notebooks that reflect on the mysteries of the universe and with Mallory’s painful recollections of the bullying campaign in which she participated.

Keller, who won the Newbery Medal for “When You Catch a Tiger,” in an author’s note said he reached out to his former high school bullies years later and found healing in asking not, “What makes a bully? ” but “Who were you? Who did you want to be? Who have you become?”

I kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston; Wednesday Books, 368 pages ($19.99), ages 13-18.

When the bright, beautiful and perfect daughter of the school principal disappears a few days before graduation, Chloe Green, known at her private Christian high school in Alabama as “the strange queer girl from Los Angeles with two lesbian mothers”, recruits the Shara’s boyfriend and Shara’s neighbor. to help track her down in the debut of her YA fiercely funny, smart and romantic Casey McQuiston.

Shara Wheeler is her only competition for the class jackpot, so Chloe, who narrates the novel and has an acid tongue, is determined to best her in whatever game Shara is playing by leaving a trail of pink envelopes with clues about where could it be Most of all, Chloe wants to know why Shara kissed her in the faculty elevator at school just before she disappeared, a kiss that made Chloe “forget an entire semester of French.”

Chloe came to Alabama at age 14 when her mothers returned (“driving from sunset California to butt Alabama”) to care for her dying grandmother. She made the unlikely decision to enroll in Willowgrove Christian Academy because of its strong AP offerings and its well-funded theater program. Chloe, the only person in her school, puts up with the homophobia of classmates and staff and the school’s brand of Christianity, though she’s not without scars, flouting the rules enough to upset the powers that be. factual, but not enough to endanger her. GPA. Her friends are the children from the theater; her quest to find Shara brings her into the company of classmates she never would have sought out, Quarterback Smith Parker, who is Shara’s boyfriend, and Rory Heron, a stoner who lives next door to Shara. But what game is Shara playing? And will Chloe ruin her own chances of being top student in her eagerness to find out?

McQuiston deftly weaves together several plot lines in this electrifying novel, a perfect summer read. Chloe’s scathing narration, as she reminisces about her long academic rivalry with Shara, is hilarious. But this is also a coming-of-age story: Only gradually does Chloe realize that her hard outer shell of self-protection has blinded her to the possibility of making connections with unlikely allies, in the ways that people do. they may surprise you.

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