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3 novels for tween and teen girls

Michelle Tea, author of

Michelle Tea, author of "Mermaid in Chelsea Creek" (McSweeney's McMullens, May 2013). Credit: Lydia Daniller

GRITTY MAGIC. Michelle Tea's "Mermaid in Chelsea Creek" (McSweeney's McMullens, $19.95, ages 12 and older) is a descendant of Harry Potter, although its children of urban blight make Harry and his friends seem as quaint as Dickens characters. Sophie Swankovski has grown up on the folklore of the Polish immigrants of Chelsea, Mass., in which craving salt is a sign of magical power. In the novel, hapless local girls are known to give their infants sodium poisoning in the misguided hope of revealing their superpowers.

Tea might have been inspired by interviews with young women for her 2004 anthology, "Pills, Thrills, Chills and Heartache," when she started on the characters in "Mermaid." Sophie's best friend, Ella, is germ-phobic and obsessed with food, "tripping out about what the animal on her plate might have eaten in life -- had it eaten poison? Bugs? Had it eaten the poop of other animals?" Ella scrubs her skin to wash away imagined filth, using household cleanser so strong she opens herself to real infection. Her aversion, however, does not extend to cigarettes -- a contradiction that Sophie points out to her constantly. Tea describes in fearsome detail the girls' attraction to playing "the passing out game": "the world of the dream state was so much nicer, prettier and more magical than the city they spent their days in."

Sophie begins to have visions of a mermaid during her passing-out sessions. There are increasing signs of the supernatural around her. When pigeons start speaking to her, Sophie learns that a magical world has been expecting her: She is the one destined to fulfill a prophecy, and it will be her mission to rescue humanity. Sophie's magical education begins in this first volume of a projected trilogy. So far, in Tea's appealing blend of magic and gritty reality, reality has a more powerful presence; perhaps that balance will shift as the series develops.

 


CELEBRITY FANDOM. Paul Rudnick's first young-adult book, "Gorgeous" (Scholastic, $18.99, ages 12 and older), isn't so much a novel as a hilarious extended riff on celebrity culture, a confection for anyone who guiltily pages through the gossip mags at the grocery checkout. Becky has grown up in a trailer in East Trawley, Mo., the affectionate daughter of an obese mother and avid consumer of fan magazines. Her horizons are narrow. When her mother dies, a mysterious clue leads her to the legendarily reclusive fashion designer Tom Kelly. Kelly promises to make her the most beautiful woman on Earth -- if she abides by his terms -- a feat he will accomplish by making her three dresses. A whirlwind transformation takes place, rocketing little Becky to life in the fast lane as Rebecca, the face that launched a thousand fits of envy.

After many, many sumptuous descriptions of fabulous rooms and digs at the rich and famous -- surely your own favorite celebs will be lampooned here -- the story suddenly focuses, as aimless celebrity worship will do, under the gravitational pull of royalty. Rudnick so artfully reproduces the full-throated hunting cry of fandom that the reader can almost hear squeals and shrieks of "After him!" the moment a British prince enters the picture.

As a playwright and screenwriter, Rudnick excels at witty scene-writing. After fleeing her own wedding, thereby abandoning Rebecca status, Becky uses her intimate knowledge of the wealthy to become a supercompetent assistant concierge at an exclusive New York hotel. Inevitably, she finds herself professionally welcoming her old rival for the prince's affections, and Rudnick knows how to make the fur fly in a catfight.

It's all so much fun that the reader has to forgive the author his few bloviations about love. After all, how else could he have written his way through to the fairy-tale ending the fans deserve?

 


A GREEK LOVE TRIANGLE. Josephine Angelini brings her delicious "Starcrossed" trilogy to a conclusion with "Goddess" (HarperTeen, $17.99, ages 12 and older). Although this volume shows its "Twilight" bloodline more than the first two, it's still a very clever reworking of Greek mythology, taking as inspiration the way the gods interfered in human affairs in the battle at the gates of Troy. Our heroine, Helen, torn in well-established romance-novel fashion between two boys -- surely somewhere there are Team Lucas and Team Orion T-shirts? -- allows one to slip off to the least-likely lover imaginable. As poor Jacob in the "Twilight" series made clear, Romantic Guy #2 is always hard to get rid of. But it's got to be done; happy ménages à trois never go off into the sunset together.

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