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Books in Brief: Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins, The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I by Carolyn Mackler

CHILDREN’S

Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins; Greenwillow Books, 223 pages ($16.99). Ages 8 to 12.

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This charming novel of a girl’s first family beach vacation vividly evokes the childhood wonder of the first experience of the ocean. Perkins, who drew the marvelous illustrations, tells the story from the younger sister’s perspective, as Alix suffers through the interminable car ride, loses track of her parents in a crowded service plaza, then thrills to the excitement of exploring the vacation cottage and making friends with the cottage owner’s granddaughter as they do cartwheels and splits on the front lawn. All is not bliss: Alix is terrified by a giant beetle, she is disgusted at the thought of eating periwinkles found on the beach and suffers the humiliation of a trip to the bakery in which she picks all the icing off her purchase before she gets home. But she also makes new discoveries about the world and herself, including a trip to a raptor sanctuary and an outing with her mother to a craft store for the supplies to make beach glass jewelry.   (Perkins includes a note at the end about how to make a sea glass necklace.) This charming story of two sisters and their loving, middle-class family is the next best thing to a week at the beach.

YOUNG ADULT

The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I by Carolyn Mackler; Bloomsbury, 280 pages ($17.99). Ages 14 and up.

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This engaging follow-up to “The Earth, My Butt and Other Round Things,” continues the story of Virginia Shreves, the youngest child of ambitious, wealthy parents who constantly criticize her about her weight and compare her unfavorably to her beautiful, slender older sister. Sixteen-year old Virginia had her summer planned, but she suddenly realizes she doesn’t really like her boyfriend Froggy Welsh the Fourth (“I had this weird feeling that I was kissing a golden retriever”), her best friend bails on their plan to work together as summer interns, her sanctuary at her kickboxing class is ruined when a bully from school signs up for the class, her father keeps hounding her to get her driver’s license, and the fallout from the date rape accusation against her brother Byron intensifies. Then Virginia runs into a sweet, smart, book-loving Canadian artist at a bagel shop, and the two forge an instant connection.  But Sebastian is connected to the victim in her brother’s case, a complication that means they both have to hide their relationship from their parents.  Virginia is a very appealing character and her first-person narration is full of insight and humor as she comes to terms with who she is and sets her own course apart from her parents and siblings and their considerable issues. New York City makes a wonderfully colorful backdrop.

PICTURE BOOKS

Stegothesaurus by Bridget Heos, illustrated by T.L. McBeth; Henry Holt and Company ($17.99)

While his simple stegosaurus brothers describe the sun as “hot,” and the shrubs as “yummy,” their know-it-all stegothesaurus brother never uses one word when three will do (“blazing, blistering, broiling” or “savory, succulent, scrumptious”) in this droll tale with amusing, cartoonlike illustrations. The wordplay is a fun lesson for little ones about synonyms, and the surprising twist at the end is hilarious and  perfect.

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