August 28, 2008


The Princess and the Hound. By Mette Ivie Harrison. HarperTeen. $8.99.

The Juliet Club. By Suzanne Harper. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $16.99.

Rumors: A Luxe Novel. By Anna Godbersen. HarperCollins. $17.99.

Labor of Love. By Rachel Hawthorne. HarperTeen. $5.99.

Lucky. By Rachel Vail. HarperTeen. $16.99.

      The variations on themes of teenage discovery of self and of love seem to be endless, as does the parade of books on those subjects. But some approaches are cleverer than others. The Princess and the Hound, originally published last year and now available in paperback, moves in some interesting directions. It is a sort of beauty-and-the-beast story, although here the beastliness is more on the female side than the male. Mette Ivie Harrison pulls in all the fairy-tale elements (prince, princess, castles, neighboring kingdoms, magic, and so on), but she does a better job than many other writers of making her protagonists, George and Beatrice, come alive for the reader. George is a reluctant prince – the duties, he finds, are a burden – and the possessor of animal magic that he must constantly conceal, even though speaking with animals gives him great pleasure. Bound to marry Beatrice in the aftermath of a war, he finds her to be a young woman with her own problems: “It seemed that she was rejected for any signs of femininity yet also rejected for not showing enough femininity.” Illnesses treated by mysterious physicians, discoveries of true nature and true names, and acceptances of the burdens of leadership add up to a well-woven story that invites a sequel – which will be the forthcoming The Princess and the Bear.

      The Juliet Club is a more ordinary book, but it too has a level of mythic resonance, as Suzanne Harper’s echo-of-Shakespeare title makes clear. The heroine, Kate Sanderson, is the daughter of a Shakespeare scholar. Kate’s boyfriend breaks up with her; Kate decides to avoid love forever; and she heads off to a summer Shakespeare symposium where she can let her intellect flow and hold her hormones in check. But of course, things don’t work that way (at least in romance novels), and Kate finds herself irresistibly attracted to a fellow Shakespeare Scholar named Giacomo, whose watchword – even though he too has been dumped by someone – is, “My heart does not break.” The book is laid out in acts, scenes and entr’actes rather than chapters, and the finding-each-other Act V is no surprise at all, but The Juliet Club is a nicely written book with which young teenage girls can pass their time dreaming of exotic lands and exotic boys.

      There is a touch of the exotic in Rumors as well, but this sequel to The Luxe is somehow harder to swallow than The Juliet Club. Set among glittering (and 100% stereotyped) New York socialites and their hangers-on at the turn of the 20th century, Anna Godbersen’s novel introduces or reintroduces characters already familiar from The Luxe and, it seems, from countless period pieces before it: the too-appealing cad, the sister seeking to redeem the family name, the seductress determined to pick up where her betters left off, the lower-class schemer learning to trade in upper-class gossip, and more. There is plenty of talk here and a modicum of action, but this tale of misplaced pride and prideful romance is so overwrought that the reappearance of Elizabeth Holland – heroine of the previous book – is not only no surprise but also a foregone conclusion.

      The foregone conclusion in Labor of Love, by that reliable recounter of summertime love, Rachel Hawthorne, is that heroine Dawn Delaney will do her very best to avoid falling for a very cute guy but will fall for him anyway. Dawn’s first and only boyfriend cheated on her, so of course she has sworn off all boys and gone to New Orleans to help rebuild houses (isn’t that what everyone does?). She and her friends, Jenna and Amber, have also gone to a psychic, who has told Dawn to expect to encounter a stranger with a red baseball hat. And that’s what happens! And the guy is cute! And Dawn meets him at a bakery, and later at a restaurant! And it’s all just too precious for words! But there are plenty of words here, in Hawthorne’s usual style: “The thought of being with only Brady, with no buffer, no other people, was scary and thrilling. And I suddenly realized that it was something I wanted. I wanted a lot.”

      What Phoebe Avery wants in Lucky is something a bit more unusual, at least in a novel for teenagers: she wants her mom’s wealth back. Lucky is the first book of a planned trilogy about the Avery sisters, who have plenty of material possessions and (as a result) lots of admiration from many, many friends – but whose mother, the source of all that money, suddenly loses her job, plunging the family into financial crisis. Now Phoebe, who has always considered herself lucky, cannot count on having just the right dress for graduation from middle school; nor is she sure she can count on her best friend any longer, or on her crush. Phoebe is not close to her two older sisters, and is too embarrassed to discuss her family’s financial reverses with her school friends, so she has nowhere to turn – until, slowly but surely, she comes to realize that friendship and love are more important than money. Phoebe seems a little too shallow to discover the inner strength that she needs to pull herself through the family crisis, but Rachel Vail makes sure to give her that strength and make it available in time for an ending that is, probably inevitably, syrupy-sweet. Books for young teens rarely focus on financial matters – it seems somehow easier to write about sex, families’ emotional breakdowns, and so forth – so Lucky deserves credit for tackling a subject that is not often handled for this age group. But the characters remain one-dimensional and the ending too pat.

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