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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