Although some people think that kids should always be reading great literature, I think a healthy dose of candy bar books, sweet reads about issues such as boyfriend/girlfriend problems, strict parents, or cliques/popularity, keep young readers engaged and enjoying reading. One of my favorite authors in this genre is Melissa Kantor, author of a new series entitled The Darlings.
The first book, The Darlings are Forever, introduces Jane, Natalya and Victoria, New York City teens who have been inseparable since kindergarten, until they enroll in different high schools. They have been dubbed "The Darlings" by Jane's late grandmother who advised them to "always do what you are afraid of doing." Jane is attending a performing arts school, where she considers acting on a crush she has on her drama teacher. Natalya, a Russian girl on full scholarship at an elite private school, succumbs to the allure of the "Queen Bee" when overwhelmed by the social pressure to fit in with the wealthy students. Victoria, whose father is running for the Senate, finds her social life now makes headlines in the tabloids. The girls continue to rely on each other for advice and friendship, even though they are no longer classmates.
In the sequel, The Darlings in Love, each of the girls struggles to navigate the treacherous waters of young love. Jane falls for the gorgeous Simon, with whom she is paired for a project on love stories. She is playing Medea opposite his Jason. Although he warns her that he has been attracted to a guy in the past, she plunges into a relationship with him. Natalya rekindles a friendship with Colin, her chess partner crush whom she alienated in the first book. Victoria is head over heels in love with Jack, but begins to worry when she realizes that they don't have much in common. The story alternates between the three girls' lives and paints a picture of a very special friendship between characters that readers really care about. Melissa Kantor is a master at writing dialogue that seems current and realistic. Several issues are unresolved at the end of the book, leaving readers clamoring for the next installment, which will be awhile because this book isn't due out until January of 2012.
In the meantime, other titles by Melissa Kantor that I would recommend include If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where's My Prince?, a retelling of the Cinderella story, set in New York City, and The Breakup Bible, another book where Grandma knows best. These books are perfect for middle and high school age readers who are Sarah Dessen fans.