Although I'm no longer a teen, I know that my teen self would have totally sat poolside reading How (Not) To Find a Boyfriend. Allyson Valentine has a terrific ear – and eye – for readers 12 and up. Valentine's protagonist is high school sophomore Nora Fulbright, a smart girl turned talented cheerleader, who makes her unlikely shift into the popular crowd by dumbing down her class schedule and avoiding the chess nerds. Valentine nails the conflict Nora has when a cute, smart boy (and chess player) moves to her neighborhood. Since he's too complicated to pigeonhole as simply a jock or a brainiac, Nora's attempts to impress him mostly backfire.
Although some of Nora's relationship decisions are irritating (even teen readers will occasionally want to shake her hard), she's complex and easy to relate to. But there's nothing not to love about her smart younger brother, Joshie. This description of his bedroom says it all: "Joshie's room looks like it was decorated by a team composed of a first-grade boy, a college math professor, and Charles Darwin." Perfect.
Eventually, the story plays out to a predictable but satisfying ending, with good takeaways: Cheerleaders aren't necessarily airheads. Divorced dads don't have to be the bad guys. Strong, liberated moms have a softer side. Always be yourself and stop worrying about what others think.
With enough cute boys, backstabbing competitors, party and school scenes to keep young teens turning these pages in the summer breezes, this debut novel should make lots of fans for the author.