Magic of the Moonlight: A Full Moon Novel. By Ellen Schreiber. Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins. $17.99.
The Amanda Project, Book 3: Shattered. By Laurie Faria Stolarz. HarperTeen. $8.99.
If We Kiss. By Rachel Vail. HarperTeen. $8.99.
The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers. By Lynn Weingarten. HarperTeen. $17.99.
Year in, year out, some things don’t change, such as teenage emotional angst and the books about it. That includes both the more-or-less realistic novels and the ones with a supernatural focus. In the latter category is Magic of the Moonlight, which opens with the line, “It was official. I was in love with a werewolf.” And that’s the plot, in two brief sentences. The complications of the plot, though, take a lot longer to present and work out. In this sequel to Once in a Full Moon, Celeste is determined to find a way to “cure” boyfriend Brandon of his werewolfishness, hopefully with the help of Brandon’s scientist father. For the time being, Celeste needs to keep Brandon’s secret safe, so she hides their relationship from her best friends, setting up conflicts on that level. And there’s a big dance coming – can Celeste find a way to go with Brandon? And where does Nash, Celeste’s first crush and also a werewolf, fit into all this? The plot stumbles so much that it practically falls down repeatedly, but Ellen Schreiber gamely pulls, pushes and urges it along until Celeste ends up in the arms of her “hot, handsome, and heroic werewolf” and starts thinking ahead to the next book in the series. Even harder to take seriously than most books in the now-popular werewolf genre, Magic of the Moonlight is so frothy and so easy to read that it will make a tasty but very light meal for teenage girls hungry for a touch of otherworldly wolfishness.
The Amanda Project is no more realistic, but this series – each book written by a different author as a “collaborator” with the title character – is more of a mystery sequence than a supernatural one. Amanda Valentino is the mystery; her friends, Nia, Callie and Hal, are the mystery-solvers – although by now some readers may wonder why they are bothering. The supposed reason is that Amanda is in danger and the friends are determined to help her. Amanda has disappeared and left clues behind; the friends follow those clues to try to help – presumably the secret organization that is supposedly hunting Amanda cannot follow the clues itself or the friends themselves. In Shattered, Nia finds mysterious symbols used by that secret group in various places around town. She also finds the poem “Shattered,” which is “handwritten in [Amanda’s] distinctive penmanship” and which begins: “The rock’s been thrown./ The window is broken./ Shards of glass have torn through your walls of trust./ Do not think I am unaware that your perception of me/ Is shattered.” The entrance of a fourth searcher, Zoe, whose motives and knowledge are mysterious to the three friends, complicates matters further. So does Vice Principal Roger Thornhill, who is given to such pronouncements as “it’s best if they think they’re in control” and “I can’t get into anything now,” just to make sure the searchers don’t learn anything that is too, you know, useful. The Amanda Project gets sillier with each book in the series, but readers who like the sequence so far will enjoy continuing to follow it.
If We Kiss has an unusual title for a book for ages 13 and up – an age range in which something like “If We Have a Baby” would be more typical nowadays. But Rachel Vail’s novel is a deliberate throwback to a more-innocent time, when kissing made life, you know, complicated, and had all sorts of implications. The central character, Charlotte (Charlie) Collins, has never been in love and never been kissed, and no, she is not nine years old; she is a ninth-grader. Her best friend, Tess, has been in love three times and has kissed all three boys. Now Tess is in love with a boy named Kevin – and Charlie, much to her discomfiture, finds she is falling for Kevin herself. Furthermore, Kevin’s dad is dating Charlie’s mom, which means Charlie can’t discuss her budding feelings either with her mother or with her best friend. She is On Her Own (you can practically hear the capital letters). Charlie comes across as immature in many ways – for instance, when worrying about whether her mom might remarry, she is concerned that “I’d get demoted to the backseat. My personal space would be back there with two other kids and no toast-your-buns feature.” And she sticks her tongue out at friends when they argue. Kevin’s eight-year-old sister, Samantha, seems wiser than Charlie – Samantha is the one who tells Charlie that Kevin and she seem to feel the same way about each other, even though Kevin is dating Tess. It takes almost 200 pages until the inevitable kiss, and of course it is wonderful, and of course it creates problems, and of course Charlie eventually suffers and learns and grows because of it. The end; the expected end.
Lucy Wrenn isn’t much older than Charlie – she is just starting sophomore year of high school – but her story, The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers, is written at a very different and more typical teen level. And it gets back into the supernatural. It starts when Lucy’s boyfriend, Alex, breaks up with her just as school starts and just as she lets him know she is willing to give him her virginity; continues as three exceptionally attractive girls named Olivia, Liza and Gil offer to heal Lucy’s heart and initiate her into their “ancient secret sisterhood”; and moves into the magical realm after Lucy learns her initiation: she must get a boy to fall in love with her, without using any special powers or enhancements, and must then break his heart – all within seven days. After much uncertainty about what to do, Lucy ends up drinking “a liquid Magic Magnet” and realizing how much magic the world really holds. She is instructed in the use of Empathy Cream and Involuntary Muscle Control Serum and other magical potions and objects. And she eventually finds a way to join the Sisterhood by following the letter of the girls’ requirements but not the spirit. This is the cleverest twist in the book, and manages to make Lucy into a smarter and more interesting character than she has been through most of the novel. By the end, there is an attractive impishness to her, an awareness of magical power and at the same time an understanding of her powers as a young woman – and of her errors in her relationship with Alex. Although formulaic in many ways, The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers is more interesting than run-of-the-mill teenage-targeted supernatural-romance novels, largely because its emphasis is not really on romance at all, but on empowerment. Teen girls looking for a book that uses and bends genre conventions instead of simply following them slavishly will enjoy it – and wish for a sequel, which Lynn Weingarten seems perfectly capable of delivering.