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growing pains

Detail from the cover of Mermaid in Chelsea Creek, by Michelle Tea

Mermaid in Chelsea Creek
By Michelle Tea (McSweeney's McMullens, 331 pages, $23.50)

The closing two words in Michelle Tea's debut Y.A. novel should really be mirrored in prologue for unassuming readers: "Prepare yourself." Never mind that they are spoken by a grouchy, pollution-sick, slightly frightening Polish mermaid whose broken English is elsewhere peppered with profanity. And never mind again that any such preparation would likely be fruitless. In downtrodden Chelsea, in dizzy summer heat, Sophie Swanowski plays the pass-out game with her chain-smoking, germ-phobic best friend, toils in a dump with humbly enchanting Angel while working her single mother's last nerve, and happens to be the salt-craving girl that mermaids, ogresses, witches, pigeons, and tragic locals expect to save humanity from great sadness and evil.

The magic here is so natural and visceral, covered in dust and seen through a light smoggy haze, the characters flawed but not arch, the grit balanced with the sweet so easily, no prologue could prepare the reader for the post-pass-out, dizzy-dreamy feeling that comes from reading it. Lonesomely populating a chasm in books for young readers where the magic comes from the blessed gutter,championing a realistically unlikely messianic heroine covered in dirt with tangles in her hair, a single salve for the hangover of having finished it is knowing there are two more volumes in this trilogy forthcoming. Sophie Swanowski, we are counting on you.

Letting Ana Go
By Anonymous (Simon Pulse, 279 pages, $11.99)

Following a nameless high-school student for over a year from lighthearted athlete through anorectic compulsion and somewhat speedy recovery makes for a quick, though darkly compelling read. More a cataloguing of an eating disorder than a cautionary tale, the diary-entry format could potentially read as a how-to guide for the impressionable without quite giving an antidote or example of how to recover. The relentless internal monologue of self-loathing, while a sadly realistic mantra, takes on a bit of a voyeuristic snuff quality. A grim account.

When We Were Good
By Suzanne Sutherland (Sumach/Three O'Clock Press, 227 pages, $14.95)

Katherine Boatman has been pitched into double grief as the new millennium rolls in. Struggling to finding her place at punk shows with tough, impressive kids, and finding unexpected love and friendship, Katherine also finds trouble. Heartbreakingly, battling depression, she seeks "goodness," with the resonant idealism of golden, late adolescence. Set on Toronto streets in the year 2000, Sutherland's first novel keeps the story fresh. A bit like Weetzie Bat with the wings ripped off.

Rush (Book One of The Game)
By Eve Silver (Katherine Tegen, 368 pages, $19.99)

Kendo-trained Miki Jones goes through a kind of re-birth after, perhaps, dying, and waking in "the lobby," jettisoned through space and time and into The Game. For readers of The Hunger Games and Divergent, Rush follows in a similar new tradition, with electric high-action scenes, a world in peril (this time, by the threat of aliens), and amorphous morality in a broken society, though with a little less emotional heft. The brazenness that makes Miki nearly barely likeable at the opening of the book morphs into bravery, giving her the makings of a true hero. Nearly as many cliffhangers as chapters.

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