What if? What if you had a do-over of a decision you've lived to regret? Or at least a chance to see what might have been if you'd chosen a different course? Jessica Brody has crafted a clever, funny, hugely entertaining novel which plays with that very idea. Smart, ambitious Kennedy Rhodes made a life-changing decision at 13: she was accepted to elite, expensive Windsor Academy but didn't tell anyone she got in, opting instead to attend Southwest High School to stay with Austin, her longtime crush. Three years later, she's hoping to get into Columbia University with her sterling academic record and her prize-winning work as editor of the school paper but as she drives past Windsor every day she gazes at the beautiful grounds and thinks about what might have been. Then her world is shattered when she walks in on her boyfriend kissing her best friend. On impulse, she walks into Windsor Academy where she falls on her head, and wakes up in a parallel universe where she is a Windsor student, at the top of her class and nicknamed "Crusher" for her ambition and drive. As in her other life she's waiting to hear from Columbia and her little brother is still the same physics nerd with his own theories about what is going on. But everything else - her friends, her family life - is different, and not in a good way. The beautiful veneer of Windsor comes at a price: in the school's pressure-cooker environment students sometimes crack. Someone is stealing tests, and Kennedy decides to use her journalistic talents to find out who it is. Brody, author of "A Week of Mondays," "52 Reasons to Hate My Father" and the Unremembered trilogy, does a masterful job crafting this tale of two Kennedys, a coming-of-age tale in which Kennedy is offered a rare opportunity to take a step back and examine her life and all she holds most dear.
Superstar by Mandy Davis; HarperCollins, 336 pages ($16.99) Ages 8 to 12.
This heartfelt story of love and loss and starting over also offers a poignant look at the special challenges faced by children on the autism spectrum. Since his astronaut father died in an accident in space, it's been just Lester Musselbaum and his mom, Lucy, home-schooling him at their new home in an Indiana town. But when his mother gets a job as a librarian, Lester has to go to school for the first time at age 10. The cafeteria is way too loud, the other kids are sometimes mean and teachers sometimes change the lesson plan without warning, all things Lester simply can't tolerate. Davis does a wonderful job showing us the world from Lester's perspective, as he struggles to learn how to be a friend, possibly even to understand the perspective of a classmate who has always tormented him.
Poor Louie by Tony Fucile; Candlewick Press, $16.99.
An award-winning author-illustrator (who was supervising animator for "The Incredibles") offers a different take on preparing for the arrival of a new sibling in this hilarious tale of Louie, the Chihuahua. Louie figures out his doting owners are expecting a baby and their purchase of two cribs, two hiking pouches, two sweaters seems to indicate the pending arrival of twins and the end of his idyllic life as a pampered pooch. But could Louie be wrong? Fucile's buoyant cartoons are wonderful, and young readers will get a kick out of the surprising finale.