Son of the Mob, by Gordon Korman

Son of the Mob

Vince Luca’s father’s job has always caused trouble for Vince’s dating life. There was the time his date found an unconscious guy tied up in the trunk of his car, and he gets into trouble every time a girl wants to come home to meet his family. Life’s tough when your dad is the head of the New York mafia. When he meets Kendra, Vince finally thinks he’s found someone who’s worth all the trouble. When he finds out that her dad is in the FBI, he gets a little bit worried. When he finds out that her dad is investigating his dad, life gets really, really complicated.

The classic Romeo and Juliet romantic story is satisfying, but the really engaging part of this book is Vince’s moral struggle with his role as the child of a mob boss. In his attempts to help a few men who owe his father money, Vince finds himself more and more entangled in the family business, which he has always avoided. In the end, Vince has to make a choice about his own future, but he also has to protect his family from the FBI investigation. Vince’s choices provide a moral core for a very funny book. It is this story, and not the trite love interest, that makes Korman’s book unexpectedly satisfying.

Catch, by Will Leitch

Catch

The Temples family is like royalty in tiny Mattoon, Illinois, and Tim Temples is no exception. A popular high-school athlete going into the summer after his senior year, Tim is on his way to college, and he is preparing to leave his comfortable life as a big man in a small town. Hanging over him are the failures of his older brother Doug, who used to be a hero to Tim. After losing out on his minor-league baseball contract and dropping out of college, Doug is now back in Mattoon, and his relationship with his family is strained. While Tim works a summer job at the local Lender’s bagel factory, he meets an acerbic older woman, Helena. She is unlike anyone Tim has ever known in Mattoon, and their confusing, exciting relationship challenges and matures Tim, helping him make his choice to move on.

While Catch sometimes feels formulaic, Leitch’s love for the small-town Midwest keeps the novel fresh. Tim’s complex inner life shines through in the narration and when he is with Helena, in a way that rarely comes out with his family or his jock friends. There were a few things I found distracting about the novel – occasional stilted dialogue, and the frequent sports references, especially all the shout-outs to my favorite baseball team’s fairly recent real-life games. The story is pervaded with a sense of place, and the Cardinals references help reinforce that very Midwestern feel. Despite some flaws, Tim and his coming-of-age story are surprisingly affecting by the end of the novel.

The Dashwood Sister’s Secrets of Love, by Rosie Rushton

The Dashwood Sisters Secrets of Love

In a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, the sudden death of their father places three very different sisters into a life of relative poverty. Ellie, the sensible one; Abby, the romantic troublemaker; Georgie, the tomboy; and their frazzled mother are suddenly forced to move to the small town of Norfolk on the coast of England, and their beloved family house is left to their father’s awful new wife. While the plot focuses on the three sisters romantic exploits in the new town, the book’s real center is the girls’ struggle to adapt to their new surroundings and circumstances. It is their relationships with Blake, Nick, and Adam, as well as their strong bond as a family, that eventually help the girls accept their new home.

I was surprised to find a generous portion of Austen’s novel Emma inserted into the plot, as the basis for Abby’s relationship with Nick. While Rushton’s novel certainly does not have the depth of either of Austen’s classics, it was pleasantly readable and engaging, with three likable main characters and will appeal to many teenage girls – or to anyone who, like me, is a sucker for anything Jane Austen.

Trickster’s Choice, by Tamora Pierce

Trickster’s Choice

Aly’s only ambition in life is to be a spy, like her father, but her parents won’t allow it. So when she is kidnapped and sold into a life of slavery in the Cooper Isles, Aly is prepared to collect imformation for her spymaster father, and then to escape back to her family. But when a God appears to her and makes a deal, Aly accepts. She is bound to stay with her captors and to protect the Balitang family’s children for one year. As Aly learns why the Balitangs are in exile from court and works her way into the family’s trust, she discovers that she is in the middle of a burgeoning rebellion. Aly is swept up in the excitement and intrigue, as well as the friendships and romantic relationships she establishes in the Copper Isles. She makes herself indispensable to the Balitangs and to the rebellion, and at the same time finds her own destiny.

Aly is a clever, engaging heroine, and Pierce’s world is full of excitement and intrigue. It is obvious that Pierce’s work on her earlier books set in the same world have led to a very complex, well thought out fantasy setting for the book. While Aly does sometimes come across as much more talented and clever than anyone has a right to be, she has her share of flaws. These flaws, along with her humanizing relationship with Nawat and her sassy humor, help keep her from becoming a too-good-to-be-true heroine. The fast moving plot and the strong female characters will make this book especially popular for girls who enjoy fantasy.

The Year of Secret Assignments, by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Year of Secret Assigments

None of the girls at Ashbury High School are pleased about the penpal program with Brookfield, the rival school. When best friends Cassie, Lydia, and Emily start their letter exchange with three Brookfield boys, they see it as a chore. But all three eventually find themselves drawn to their new penpals, setting off a series of secret missions and mistaken identities. A falling out between the girls and their penpals leads to a similar falling out between the three girls. When Cassie’s penpal turns out to not be the person they thought he was, the other four must come together to get revenge for Cassie and to prove that they did not vandalize the boys school.

This light novel, told mainly in epistolary form, was charming and funny. There was, however, one part of the novel that I found problematic. The climax happens when Cassie meets with her penpal in a park at night. The meeting is not shown or discussed for some time, we only see Cassie’s reaction. She is found sobbing by her friends and is unwilling to talk about her experience. From her reaction and the writing at this point in the book, my assumption was that Cassie had been assaulted or raped. While this seemed to be the books implication for several chapters, it eventually comes out that Matthew was just very unkind to Cassie. This fit in much better with the light-hearted tone of the book, and I wonder why it was made into a secret for so long, leaving the reader to assume something much worse.