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Books in Brief: Lemons by Melissa Savage; Martina & Chrissie by Phil Bildner; The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Lemons by Melissa Savage; Crown Books for Young Readers, 305 pages ($16.99). Ages 8 to 12.
A heroine with the unlikely name of Lemonade Liberty Witt will steal your heart in this wonderful debut novel set in Willow Creek, Calif., “the Bigfoot Capital of the World,” in 1975. Lemonade’s mother has always told her: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But her mother is gone, and 10-year-old Lemonade is forced to start a new life, in a new town, far from her home and friends in San Francisco, with a grandfather she’s never met.

Her grandfather runs a shop called Bigfoot Souvenirs and More, which features among other things “exotic jerkies of the world” and serves as headquarters of Bigfoot Detectives Inc., run by nerdy, Bigfoot-obsessed 11-year-old Tobin Sky, who recruits Lemonade as an assistant to help document any new Bigfoot sightings. Lemonade offers wry and funny narration: “Tobin tells him that anything is better than nothing. But after seeing these pictures, I think this anything is a real close second to nothing.”

The novel is set in a pre-computer era, with no cellphones or Internet, when aspiring Bigfoot hunters head out to calls on bicycles and have to wait for film or photos to come back from the processor.

Savage does a marvelous job with the Bigfoot details, building the suspense about whether the detectives will actually see one in person, but at the heart of her novel is a child looking for hope again after suffering a grievous loss. Savage populates her novel with colorful characters and offers a particularly compelling portrait of Tobin, who has a sorrow of his own and has dealt with schoolyard bullying since kindergarten.

In press materials included with the book, Savage, who is a child and family therapist, says the Tobin character is “very special” to her, named after her son who died in 2012 when he was only nine months old. “For me, sharing my son’s name and spirit with children all over the world is one of the ways I’ve learned to make my own lemonade.”

Martina & Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports by Phil Bildner; illustrated by Brett Helquist; Candlewick Press, $16.99.
This marvelous picture book tells the fascinating true story of tennis greats Chrissie Evert and Martina Navratilova, fierce rivals who were also good friends. Chrissie was the All-American girl, daughter of a tennis pro, ranked No. 1 in the country by 8th grade. Martina was the national champ at 15 in then-Communist Czechoslovakia, an emotional player with a wicked left-hand serve. The dramatic contrasts in their backgrounds, temperaments and playing style make the tale interesting even for readers who don’t know anything about tennis while the excitement of Bildner’s staccato, shorthand replays of a few fiercely fought matches will intrigue readers who know that “Love” means zero in tennis. An informative timeline at the end fills in all the blanks in the story. The distinctive, exuberant illustrations are the work of the artist who illustrated Lemony Snicket’s “Unfortunate Event” series.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli; HarperCollins, 352 pages ($17.99) Ages 14 and up.
This funny, poignant, coming-of-age romance comes from Becky Albertalli, a clinical psychologist who lives in Atlanta and wrote the critically acclaimed novel, “Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.” Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso has had secret crushes on 26 boys but has never advanced to an actual relationship, mostly because she feels no guy would ever be attracted to a fat girl. Meanwhile her svelte twin sister Cassie has fallen hard for a girl named Mina. Mina thinks her friend Will would be a good match for Molly, but Molly is quickly finding common ground with the nerdy, Tolkien fan she works with at his parents’ trendy local store. Albertalli offers an interesting exploration of the dynamic between the twins, who have always shared everything but now are setting off on their own journeys. Among her cast of memorable characters are an evil-tongued grandma, the twins’ cute baby brother Xavier, and the twins’ mothers, whose wedding offers a spectacular grand finale and appealing resolution to  olly’s love triangle.

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