High School


5M4B disclosure


I love awkwardly lovable teen characters (such as those featured in the YA novels of Maureen Johnson, see related links below), and Penny, the heroine of this novel is that. Girl Online is subtitled “The First Novel by Zoella.” I am not familiar with the You Tube vlogger Zoe Sugg, but the book didn’t need star hook to pique my interest. Penny’s honesty and humility drew me in from page one. Whenever she gets in a situation with a boy she likes, she inevitably says the wrong thing. Worse than that, a tumble she takes at school showing her underpants ends up broadcast on YouTube for all to see.

Three things save her from focusing completely on her humiliation. One is her anonymous blog where she is known as GirlOnline. She shares her struggles, her humiliations and insecurities. This is her goal:

I have this dream that, secretly, all teenage girls feel exactly like me. And maybe one day, when we realize that we all feel the same, we can all stop pretending we’re something we’re not. That would be awesome. But until that day, I’m going to keep it real on this blog and keep it unreal in “real” life.

The other thing that provides is an immediate respite is a trip to New York City. Her mother is a wedding coordinator. When a wealthy couple from New York City comes into her London shop with a last-minute request for a no-holds barred Downton-themed wedding at the Waldorf Astoria, the entire family takes an all-expenses paid trip to New York for Christmas.

The third thing that helps Penny keep her head on straight is her best friend Elliot. They have the kind of relationship teens long for. Their bedrooms share a wall of their building, so they tap secret codes and respond to any emergency (whether it’s real or imagined). Elliot doesn’t feel that he can be honest with his family about his sexuality or anything that is important to him, so he spends a lot of time with Penny and her supportive parents.

He’s invited along on the trip, which is absolutely perfect, until Penny meets a boy. The grandson of the cook at the hotel is perfect. She can tell him anything — something she only ever felt about Elliot — but because she’s busy helping her mom with the wedding and Elliot is out sight-seeing with her Dad, they don’t have time to talk, and Elliot has to read about her encounters with “Brooklyn Boy” on her blog.

That’s the first — but not the last — of Penny’s difficulties in the midst of this dreamy week.

I loved so much about this book. It was funny and sweet and magical with just the right amount of teen angst and drama, but it’s not completely lightweight chick lit for teens. Like so much wonderful YA lit does, it also touches on issues that are so real to many teenagers today such as cyber-bullying, anxiety and panic attacks. I especially loved this element, as so many teens suffer from mental illness and it is not often represented in an honest, healthy way in novels. The conflict with his parents that


This is the kind of YA book I can recommend without reservation. It’s a solid teen read, featuring a chaste romance between an almost-16 year old girl and an 18-year old boy. There was no drinking or drugs or other unsavory (not to mention illegal) teen activity. I don’t think there was any swearing. If there was, it was mild and infrequent.


Hannah Tointon read the book. Her British accent accentuated the sense of place, and her sweet delivery contributed to Penny’s likability. There were also interesting sound effect like a buzz for a text coming in and clacking of the keyboard as Penny wrote her blogs.

Listen to a sample of the Girl Online audiobook at the Simon & Schuster site.


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Looking Beyond Gender when Recommending Books for Kids

Dawn wrote a fantastic post at 5 Minutes for Mom explaining what factors she uses when finding books for her own children and make recommendations to other people who ask. Please click through and read the post.
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Looking for some good books for preschoolers to teens? Check out the #Cybils

Dawn and I were pleased to have the opportunity to serve as Cybils judges once again, Dawn for the Fiction Picture book category, and me in Middle-Grade Fiction. The results are in! The winners have been announced in categories from graphic novel, to app, to YA, fiction and non-fiction. Check them out for a good read with the perfect blend of literary merit and kid-appeal. I always look at the finalist lists as a special bonus. There are no losers, so be sure to check out the complete list of finalists for even more books to love.
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All the Bright Places

I didn’t really want to read this book, but I was curious. Two teens meet on the ledge of a bell tower and change each other’s lives. It’s being compared to The Fault in Our Stars (as is any emotionally resonant new YA fiction these days), which has been criticized for romanticizing cancer. I don’t agree with that assessment of that title, but I did worry that this novel would somehow romanticize suicidal feelings. But I decided to give it a go, and I’m glad I did. If I didn’t want to read All the Bright Places, I definitely didn’t want to be enchanted by the sad story, but I was. Violet is a girl dealing with the tragedy of losing her sister in a
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David Baldacci Books for Everyone in the Family #Giveaway

David Baldacci is a familiar name to many adult fans of the legal thriller genre, but did you know that he has also written for tweens and teens? On 5 Minutes for Mom, we’re featuring two Baldacci novels as part of the ongoing Christmas Giveaway Event. While The Escape is his latest for adult readers, older tweens and teenagers are the target audience for The Finisher, released earlier this year. To read my full review and enter to win copies of both books, along with a $25 Visa card, head over to 5 Minutes for Mom. While you’re there, be sure to browse all the Christmas Giveaways going on this month.
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Revisit Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer with Penguin Classics

When was the last time you read Mark Twain’s classics Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? I’m fairly certain I read Huck Finn’s story way back in high school, but I don’t think it really struck a chord with me until a few years later. I attended Elmira College, a small school in western New York located in the town in which Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) resided for many summers with his wife’s family who hailed from Elmira. Every day, I would walk past an octagonal study relocated to campus from the land on which the family lived, and it was thrilling to know that Clemens wrote some of his best work inside that little building, including these two novels. Each of the new Penguin Classics editions feature an introduction
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5 Books to Read with Your Teenage Daughter {Friday’s Five}

I’ve read some passionately written posts in which the blogger gets very upset about the fact that grown women are devouring Young Adult literature. Oh my. And many of them are mothers, no less. It’s scandalous! My teenage daughter would describe those kinds of people as ‘judgy’. We don’t like when people are judgy. We like to read what we want, and we like to share stories with each other. If she doesn’t think it’s weird to read the same novels as her already weird novelist mother, then why would I complain? I write my novels for the future adult in her, so the least I can do is read the ones she already loves right now. Here are five of our favorites: Walk Two
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Joy School by Elizabeth Berg

I’ve read Elizabeth Berg’s fiction for adults and a writing book she wrote. I enjoy her voice and her characters. Brilliance audio released her novel Joy School on audiobook late last year. I didn’t realize it was a Young Adult book until I started listening, but I feel like I enjoyed the sort of coming-of-age story as much or more as the target audience would. Fourteen-year-old Katie Nash is an interesting character. Her dad is in the military, so she’s recently moved and isn’t sure where she fits in at school. Her uncertainties and desire to find her niche come through loud and clear. Her uncertainties about herself are amplified, because her mother has passed away, and so there are things that she has trouble
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Just Call My Name

I read I’ll Be There to get up to speed on the characters whose story continues in Holly Goldberg Sloan’s new book Just Call My Name. The first book was fine. The characters certainly intrigued me, but I wasn’t 100% wowed. Wanting to follow the characters, and especially knowing there was another book hat was going to continue the story kept me reading. This book had a stronger pacing than the first one. Maybe it’s just because the scene was set, and I already knew the characters and the situation. The characters each had a lot of growth during this novel, and new characters were introduced as well. The background from the first novel that led into the story is this: Seventeen-year-old Emily is singing
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Subway Love

Jonas is struggling through a summer in NYC. It’s kind of hot, he’s kind of bored, and he’s ticked off at his dad who left his mom for another woman. Laura is struggling a bit too. Her older brother is a total hippie, rebelling against authority, using mind-altering drugs. Her mother has shacked up with a guy closer to her brother’s age than her own. Her parents are divorced too, so she spends time commuting between her mom’s home in Woodstock and her Dad’s apartment in NYC. Jonas and Laura meet on the subway one day, but they are truly star-crossed lovers. They have to hurdle time and space and schedules and brothers and friends to be together, not to mention the pleas of a
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Deep Blue

I frequently enjoy YA books, as they may be meant for teenagers but still appeal to the kid in me, too. Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly felt more like a book that needs a teenage girl to truly appreciate it. This first book in the Waterfire series is set under the ocean and features the world of mermaids. Serafina is the princess of Miromara, and she is getting ready to celebrate her Dokimi, which is a series of tests that prove that she is ready to take on the mantle of ruler one day once her mother dies – as this is a matrilineal society and the men don’t rule. It is also when her betrothal to a prince from another kingdom will become official. In
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The Revealed

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