Gloria Whelan's The Turning (2006) is set in the Soviet Union in 1991, not a time period that falls into our curriculum. This is the reason that I don't have more of Whelan's work-- many seem to be set at odd times. Still, I liked this one very much. Written in the first person, it was more engaging than the Royal Diaries of which my students are so fond, and brought in more history (although give the setting, it seems more like current events!). It illustrated well how the political unrest at the time affected one student. Homeless Bird has been quite popular, so this should be an easy sell.
Also enjoyed April Henry's Shock Point(2006). It started out rather choppily, going between Cassie's arrival at a "school" designed for children who are problems and the events a few days prior to this that caused her to be sent there. There is a mystery involving her stepfather, who was giving teens an experimental drug without their knowledge, a drug which ended the lives of three of them. There is also adventure, with Cassie running away from the school. The scene where she almost gets swept away in a flash flood was riveting. I loved the back cover most of all, which quoted a line form the book, "It was then that Cassie realized the truth. Peaceful Cove wasn't a school. It was a prison. And her stepfather had locked her up and thrown away the key." That's all I'll need to get this into eager hands!
Chill Wind(2002), by Janet McDonald, offered the same bizarre mix of street dialect and preachiness that have caused me not to purchase her other works. The main character is losing her welfare benefits after five years, and tries various unsuccessful ways to have them reinstated, once by pretending to be insane. When, to her surprise, she loses her benefits, she takes a job patrolling the subway, she is "discovered" by a modeling agent whom she had alienated previously. She becomes a successful model with lots of money. I'm not sure what the message is supposed to be here. The tone at the beginning doesn't glorify casual sex, teen motherhood, and lack of education, but ultimately, that is what this book does.
3/5/2007-- Having read Ms. McDonald's comment, I went back and reread several of her titles. I understand her perspective that she doesn't preach, she just observes, but as a school librarian, when characters in books make decisions that are not successful, I hope that the book will point this out in some way. I did make a mistake when saying that the girl becomes a model, and for that I am sorry. I'm sure that this book is widely circulated in public libraries-- this author's work has won many awards. This blog is about whether or not I feel comfortable handing a book to a child and saying "Read this". I am still not comfortable with handing McDonald's books to children. I'm sure this is realism; it's just not a preferable or constructive realism.
Others I looked at: Ron Koertege's The Brimstone Journals (2001), a novel in verse about high school seniors with problems and his Where the Kissing Never Stops (1986, 2005), both of which were too mature for my audience; Grace Lin's The Year of the Dog (2006) and Simon Mason's The Quigley's at Large (2003), both of which were too young; Anne-Laure Bondoux's The Destiny of Linus Hoppe(2001), which was translated from the French and read very oddly; and Nicola Morgan's Fleshmarket (2003), which was graphically gross, and not in the way that students would find appealing.
Now I know I've been reading young adult fiction too much; I can differentiate between appealing and disgusting graphic gore. Excuse me while I go reread some L.M. Montgomery.