December 22, 2005


Girl, Nearly 16, Absolute Torture. By Sue Limb. Delacorte Press. $15.95.

Chloe Leiberman (Sometimes Wong). By Carrie Rosten. Delacorte Press. $15.95.

     The slightly over-clever titles of these two teen novels introduce two slightly over-clever books.  Both have considerable charm and a kind of off-kilter goofiness; neither has much more profundity than a typical “beach read.”

     Girl, Nearly 16, Absolute Torture is a sequel to Sue Limb’s Girl, 15, Charming but Insane – and is a somewhat better book.  This time, heroine Jess Jordan doesn’t seem quite as much of a cliché, and a few of the things that happen to her are at least a bit out of the ordinary.  Limb’s good sense of pacing and dialogue are intact, making the book easy to read for its intended audience: ages 10 and up.  The two intertwined themes here are Jess’s relationships with her boyfriend, Fred, and with her divorced parents.  Jess plans a perfect summer with Fred, only to be whisked away by her mother for a two-week trip to visit her father – which, incidentally, leaves Fred available to Jess’s gorgeous best friend, Flora, who in the past expressed an interest in him.  The predictable worries and jealousies are nicely offset by some less-predictable events, including Fred’s decision on a trip that he takes and Jess finding out from her father why he and her mother really broke up.  The book’s lighthearted tone prevents any of the revelations from hitting too hard, with the result that everything ends happily and in clear anticipation of another Jess book to come.

     Chloe Lieberman (Sometimes Wong) could also spawn a sequel: it ends by announcing that “the end is always just the beginning.”  Chloe has the feel of a slightly older Jess: she is a high-school senior who is trying to pursue a career in fashion design and therefore has not applied to college (though her parents think she did – how clueless are they??).  Intended for slightly older readers than Sue Limb’s book – ages 12 and up – Carrie Rosten’s relies heavily for its effect on Rosten’s writing style and format tricks.  The book is arranged as a sort of application for design school, as if every question on such an application were considered at great length and answered in entirely non-academic prose.  Chapters begin with a “do” and a “don’t,” as in one called “Sacrifice.  DO: Sacrifice for the right cause.  DON’T: Sacrifice just because.”  Chloe is half Jewish, half Chinese (hence the book’s title, with “wong” also a pun on “wrong”), and lucky enough to have highly supportive friends who help her try to realize her design-school dream.  The book is frothy and rather too blasé about major life decisions, but Rosten’s bright writing compensates for the flippancy and makes it easy to root for Chloe – who, you just know, will be fine by the end (and is).

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