Daughters Know Best

Love and Other Four-Letter Words

by Carolyn Mackler, DelacortePress, $14.95

If you asked her, sixteen-year- old Sammie Davis (no relation to the Rat Pack) would say that her life in Ithaca, New York was pretty good, at least for someone who was “absolutely, completely average.” But when her parents announce a trial separation and Sammie’s dad takes his sabbatical alone in California while Sammie and her mom prepare to spend the year in New York City, she begins to suspect that her life may not be so average after all. And she is not happy about it.

Mackler tells a story most adolescents are familiar with: the quest to figure out how and who one wants to be. As she learns to navigate her new city, Sammie has to contend with the anxious difficulties of leaving her old friends and making new ones and her anger at her parents, but also with worrying about her mom, who grows more depressed every day. In addition, there’s also Eli Rosenthal, son of her mom’s best friend, and the gorgeous Johnny Depp look-alike from her building to think about. It’s enough to make a girl give up on the human race entirely, and that’s all before school has even started.

Sammie is an utterly likable individual, realistic in her anger and angst but spunky in her choice to explore the “Big (Rotten) Apple” rather than sit on her futon and mope. Her intelligence and warmth shine through her insecurities, and it is no surprise that Sammie soon builds a small community around her. It is refreshing and fabulous to find a teenage girl who likes guys, but not more than she likes herself (Johnny Depp gets canned when he forgets her name for the third time), and who is willing, even in her anger and pain, to admit that life is way more gray than black or white. In the end, Sammie realizes that she can confront her parents without losing them, that she’s not so average after all, She’s learning how to steer her life down the roads of her own choosing—even if she hasn’t gotten her learner’s permit yet.

What My Mother Doesn’t Know

by Sonya Sones, Simon & Schuster, $17

When we first meet Sophie, she is “so totally in love” with Dylan, her boyfriend, that she seems a bit flat as a character. But as her story unfolds as a series of short poems we come to learn that she has two best friends, troubling parents, and an artistically keen sense of observation. What My Mother Doesn’t Know reads like a diary, as Sophie gives us an intimate peek into her life at school and with Dylan, her history of friendship with Rachel and Grace, and her thoughts about her world.

Full of humor and the often ironic realities of being a ninth-grader, Sones’s poems are frivolous and serious, funny and sa4 thoughtful and exuberant and confused. Sophie’s friends make good-natured fun of her affinity for the class dork on one page, then on the next, in “Culture Clash”: “Dylan says / when I meet his mother today / I shouldn’t mention / that I’m Jewish. / I say / okay, but can I / tell her about / the HIV positive thing? / He gives me a look. /I give him one back.” Sophie grapples with her first breakup, sexual harassment, and falling in love, recording it all in her unique and honest voice. She is quirky, smart, and sensitive, and, in the end, proves to herself and the world that she can make the right decisions when it’s important, even if they’re hard.

Arielle Derby recently graduated from Smith College and lives in Brooklyn, where, she says she is pursuing justice, equality and good books for all.