restricted access Girls on the Edge
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Girls on the Edge
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel
Sara Farizan
Algonquin Young Readers
304 Pages; Print, $16.95
Gabi, A Gordita A Fatgirl A Girl in Pieces
Isabel Quintero
Cinco Puntos Press
288 Pages; Print, $17.95
I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister
Amélie Sarn
Delacorte Press
160 Pages; Print, $15.99
Falling into Place
Amy Zhang
Greenwillow Books
304 Pages; Paper, $17.99

inline graphic inline graphic inline graphic inline graphicAdolescence without instant uploads, 140-character confessions, and constant connectivity was just so last century—survival in the Twenty-first means a whole new set of unfamiliar, unpredictable challenges. In four recent, better-not-miss novels for young adults, four diverse women writers amplify the modern complications of coming-of-age—race, gender, and socioieconomic status—with further contemporary struggles including sexual orientation, designer drug addiction, fundamental religion, bullying, and suicide.

A closeted lesbian from a traditional Persian American community in Massachusetts, a frustrated California Latina trapped in a dysfunctional family, two sisters of Algerian Arab descent growing apart in reaction to the polarizing pressures of their predominantly Muslim neighborhood, and a privileged alpha-girl lying comatose after intentionally plummeting off an icy road: these are the distinctive faces of today’s western teenage girls caught in the desperate tumult between childhood naiveté and the inevitable realities of becoming an adult. Their authors are equally varied: Sara Farizan is the American daughter of Iranian immigrants; Isabel Quintero is a Mexican American from the self-described “Inland Empire of Southern California;” Amélie Sarn is a French novelist in translation; and Amy Zhang is a Chinese-born American teenager (still!). For each of their protagonists, high school is a battlefield of status-anxious cliques, power players, tenuous hierarchies, and searching souls, not to mention those raging hormones. Some survive, some don’t—those who do, not only prove their resilience, but also embrace the immeasurable support of family and friends. As different we may be—in how we live, who we love, what we think, even what we eat—our most trusted human connections shouldn’t waver.

Meet Iranian American Leila Azadi in Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel. Author Sara Farizan, who explored forbidden first love set in Tehran, Iran, in her striking debut, If You Could Be Mine (2013), turns Stateside to an elite Boston academy where Leila is navigating her penultimate year. With an assurance rooted in personal experience, Farizan’s prose moves nimbly between the multigenerational culture clash at home and the all-engulfing daily drama in high school. Leila isn’t nearly as perfect as her Harvard pre-med older sister. She plans to avoid soccer by auditioning for the school play, although her surgeon father repeatedly reminds her that acting is no career.

Enter new girl Saskia, a Brazilian Dutch hybrid most recently from Switzerland. Her worldly sophistication and easy charm instantly draw Leila into Saskia’s seductive orbit until Leila is just about to spin out of control. She’s too long witnessed the harsh consequences of homosexuality amidst her parents’ conservative community and fears her own secrets are no longer safe. Relationships—old and new —will get redefined and reconfigured as Leila learns to be her own true self.

Sexuality gets a glaring spotlight in Isabel Quintero’s raw, unflinching, often comical debut, Gabi, A Gordita A Fangirl A Girl in Pieces, presented as a school-year-long diary of a feisty Latina senior on the cusp of breaking out. Gabi Hernandez has one complicated life: her best friend is pregnant, her other best friend has been thrown out by his parents for being gay, and she suddenly finds herself more boy-crazy than not. Home offers little respite: her mostly-missing father is lost chasing meth, her mother lives in fear that Gabi will ruin her future, and her angry younger brother gets to live by a different set of rules just because he’s a boy. The arrival of her hypocritical, hypercritical aunt...