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Reading List

What's a Girl to Read?

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Published: March 12, 2006

If you don't want to read about sex and drugs — or don't want your kids reading about them — young adult fiction can look like a minefield. Publishers rarely give age guidance on these novels, though online booksellers are sometimes more helpful; be forewarned that if the rating is "young adult" or "14 and up," that often means sexual content. Yet it's possible to avoid the thinly imagined characters, as well as the reckless, credit-card-reliant behavior, of teenage chick lit and find many superb novels for girls. Below is a selection of 12 notable books of recent years, many of them finalists and winners of major prizes, or books that show up on teenagers' own Top 10 lists.

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Try these websites for further reading recommendations and teenagers' own lists of favorite books:

Young Adult Library Services Association
Features reading lists, news about awards and prizes and the annual Teens Top 10 list.

The New York Public Library Office of Young Adult Services
Features reading lists, author interviews and author events in the New York area.

Voice of Youth Advocates
The online version of the bi-monthly journal features articles and essays, links to many relevant websites, and readings lists.
Part of the Book Report Network; features book reviews by young readers and book lists, plus contests and author interviews.

Parents and other adults in these novels usually fail to prevent young people from acting out — with variously comic or tragic consequences. Yet their authors recognize the developing moral intelligence of both their characters and their audience, producing stimulating books for young readers (that parents might even enjoy). This is expanded from a list running in the print edition of this week's Book Review.

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, by Louise Rennison. (Avon, $6.99.) The first book in a popular British series. Sometimes compared with Bridget Jones, 14-year-old Georgia is very funny in her own right and has problems any teenager could relate to. (Ages 12 and up)

Be More Chill, by Ned Vizzini. (Miramax, $7.99.) ''The Corrections'' meets ''Fast Times at Ridgemont High'' in this realistic high school novel that swerves into satiric fantasy when Jeremy Heere, a nerd, swallows a quantum supercomputer that gives instructions in being cool. (Ages 14 and up)

Breakout, by Paul Fleischman. (Simon Pulse, $6.99.) At 17, Del escapes her foster home in a used car, heading for freedom on the L.A. freeway. Then an epic traffic jam happens. "The lanes teemed like an Arab bazaar. Del entered and felt herself disappear into the labyrinth." (Ages 14 and up)

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler. (Candlewick, $8.99.) Virginia Shreves is tired of being fat, especially compared with her perfect older brother - until she discovers that he's really not perfect at all. A scathing look at the world of selfish Manhattan parents and snobbish private schools. (Ages 14 and up)

Feeling Sorry for Celia, by Jaclyn Moriarty. (St. Martin's Griffin, $12.95.) A story told in sharp, funny and sometimes surreal letters exchanged between Elizabeth Clarry and her parents, her friend Celia and a few organizations that seem to know all about her insecurities - like the Society of People Who Are Definitely Going to Fail High School. (Ages 12 and up)

Flipped, by Wendelin Van Draanen. (Knopf, $8.95.) Bryce Loski and Juli Baker, next-door neighbors, have a love-hate relationship that goes back years, and each gets a say in alternating chapters. The tone is light, but both of their families have challenges to overcome. (Ages 9 to 12)

The Friends, by Rosa Guy. (Laurel Leaf, $5.99.) A classic tale of friendship, family struggle and survival at a new school, when Phyllisia Cathy, 14, has to decide whether to accept the friendship of a tough girl who is barely surviving herself. (Ages 9 to 12)

If You Come Softly, by Jacqueline Woodson. (Speak/Penguin, $5.99.) Tragedy is hinted at from the first page, when Ellie, who is white, begins to recall how she fell in love with Jeremiah, who is black. Watching them overcome the distance between them is most of the point - but so is discovering the gaps that can't be breached. (Ages 10 and up)

Life Is Funny, by E. R. Frank. (Puffin, $7.99.) A novel about 11 New York City teenagers from whole and broken homes, rich and poor, each speaking in a distinctive language - often harsh, yet eloquent. The action is gritty, and parents rarely help and often hurt. (Ages 14 and up)

Justine Henning, a writer and tutor, is the founder of a Web site that recommends books for young readers,

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