3 thoughtful summer reads for teens

These three novels aimed at teens have substance AND can be enjoyed poolside.

3. 'Rotten,' by Michael Northrop


Sporting possibly the year's most appealing cover art – a closeup of a big slobbery Rottweiler – the outside of this book is not a bit beachy. Not a flip-flop or beach bag in sight. Be forewarned – the story inside isn't fluffy either. But for any teen who's ever faced a complicated situation he can't quite see his way out of, Rotten will ring very true.

When Jimmer, or JD as most of his friends know him, returns from a summer away (and pretty quickly we figure out he's not been swimming and kicking back at sleep-away camp), a surprise is waiting. Likely abused, skittish, definitely afraid of dudes, Jon-Jon the dog is quickly renamed for the lead singer of the Sex Pistols, Johnny Rotten. Will JD's friends, the ones he's been close to since they were little kids – as well as the girlfriend who may have forgotten him over the summer – rally around him and the rescued dog? There's a bit of a mystery here, a love story, a lesson learned the hard way. And of course, there's man's best friend.

In many ways, "Rotten" is a laugh-out-loud book, with so many things to love about it. For starters, there's the perfect dialogue. I've never been a teenage boy. But I've just eavesdropped on enough conversations to know that Michael Northrop has slipped just the right number of cool words into conversations between boys riding in cars looking for trouble. But witnessing a teenage boy's emotional struggle, separating right from wrong and good influences from bad, moves this story from teen angst to a book worthy of serious discussion.

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