Catherine Ryan Hyde's The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance is going to be very popular with my 7th grade girls who want problem novels. Cynee's mother is an alcoholic, and finds it hard to take care of Cynee's brother Bill, who has Down's Syndrome. Finally unable to cope (and because a boyfriend indicates that the children make her less desirable), the mother sends Bill off to live with a grandmother, leaving Cynee lonely and hurting. To cope, she uses the only mechanism she has seen modeled-- drinking. Eventually, this causes problems for her (although not as many as you would think) at school, and when she choses to drive under the influence, bigger problems that put her on probation and into AA. Her recovery is difficult but believably drawn.
Robin Friedman's The Girlfriend Project was a nice respite from the gloom of the first book (which does head towards redemption in the end. Reed has spent his high school years as a spectacled geek, but matures over the summer and starts his senior year as a "hottie". Confused about the attention he recieves from girls who previously scorned him, he attempts dating with mixed success. I loved the descriptions of his attempts to talk to girls; this will make 8th grader boys who are just starting to notice girls feel much better about their own discomfort. The blue cover is not girly, and the high school setting does not descend into foul language, excessive substance abuse (there is some beer drinking, but it's painted in an unflattering light), or rampant sexuality (there's some kissing). Reed begins to realize that looks aren't everything, which was a nice message, but also that sometimes what you think you want for really good reasons just doesn't work out. Along with Bradley's 24 Girls in 7 Days, this is a great read for reluctant boys who secretly want to read romance books and just don't want to admit it!