Pasadena by Sherri L. Smith; Putnam, 229 pages ($17.99) Ages 13 and up.
With loving care, Sherri L. Smith crafts a Young Adult noir of secrets, of love, death and salvation set against the sweltering backdrop of Pasadena, California’s City of Roses, in summer. Jude has escaped to the Jersey Shore when she gets the call that her best friend, Maggie Kim, has killed herself. (Jude narrates the novel: “Leave it to her to end up face down in a swimming pool on the hottest day of summer.”) Convinced that Maggie would never take her own life, Jude decides to find out who might have murdered her best friend. Was it Luke Liu, so obsessed with Maggie that he stalked her day and night, documenting her every moment with his camera? Did Maggie’s cancer-stricken brother Parker, the apple of the family’s eye, have something to do with it? Or was it someone in their so-called circle of friends, hard-bitten, hard-living rich kids who aren’t even of legal drinking age? Jude leaves no holds barred in her laser-like determination to find the truth, and the secrets that eventually surface, in Smith’s beautifully crafted and suspenseful novel, come as a surprise.
– Jean Westmoore
Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger; Amulet Books, 272 pages ($14.95), Ages 8 to 12.
The creator of the Original Yoda series teams up with science fiction writer Paul Dellinger for this marvelous sci-fi take on middle school, in which a robot is sent to middle school to learn to think for himself, in an artificial intelligence experiment of Fuzzy Logic. Nerdy seventh-grader Max is recruited to escort Fuzzy the robot around Vanguard One Middle School, which has a human principal and teachers but is ruled by an all-seeing supercomputer named Barbara in a Federal School Board program called Constant UpGrade (“a revolution in education” entirely focused on testing and scores to evaluate both students and teachers – sound familiar?). Max is constantly getting “dTags” for disciplinary violations and warnings about test scores even though she is certain she has aced her tests and is warned she may be placed in a special school if she does not improve. Fuzzy begins to investigate and develops a new goal for himself: HelpMax, and the fireworks begin involving top-secret military research, foreign espionage and competing AIs. (“Middle school is hell, and you’ve got to be a bada— to survive, and he just became one.”) As in every great tale of middle school, friendship is at the core, and it’s that which makes “Fuzzy” a keeper.
– Jean Westmoore