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By Johanna Bautista, 13, Hale MS

From the title, I thought this book by E. R. Frank was about the nation. But it’s really a book about the foster care system in our country told through the sad story of a boy named America.

By the age of 19, America’s drug-addicted mother already had six children who all ended up in the foster care system. America ends up at the house of Mrs. Harper, a caring woman who takes really good care of him and wants to adopt him.

Before the adoption papers are finalized, America’s mother tries to get him back. But he wants to live with Mrs. Harper. An uncle tells America to misbehave while visiting his mother, so she won’t want him back. Mrs. Harper tells America to be a good boy and not cause any trouble.

America returns to his mother’s apartment where two of his siblings, Brooklyn and Lyle, live. That day, his mother runs out for an errand. America waits by the window for hours looking out for his mother to return. By nighttime, he’s worried. But his two brothers don’t seem to care. They already know that she’s not coming back.

Two years go by before social services remembers him and returns him to Mrs. Harper, who by then is old and can’t really take care of him. Meanwhile, America’s uncle, Browning, had moved in with Mrs. Harper.

Things look like they’re getting better, but actually they get worse. Browning smokes and drinks and encourages America to do the same and says it will relax him. America feels special when Browning lets him drink alcohol. Then he teaches America how to read from magazines with naked women and sometimes men. Later on, Browning takes advantage of America, who runs away to get away from the abuse.

Years pass and America is shuffled from one place to another to live. By the time he’s 18, his life has settled down. In the end, America, who felt so lost in the system, finds himself.

I like this book. It’s a very interesting though sad story about lost cases in the system. I think the title represents not just one boy, but our whole country and the foster children who live here. It took me through the emotions of a boy who feels lost and alone.

Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul

By Lea Mouallem, 16, Marymount HS

With its stories about love, friendship, heartbreak, disaster, and more, Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul will help you see that you’re not the only one dealing with problems and that there are people who are ready to help you.

The book is formatted in short chapters in which teen readers have written about their problems. When I read this book I was hooked. The story that I loved most was about a pair of friends. One day one of them had to move away. In her new town she made new friends and adjusted to her new lifestyle. The other friend, however, became depressed and suicidal and their daily conversations are what kept her alive. One day the lonely girl called her best friend, while she was outside, and left a message that she should call her back. When her friend came home her mother told her about her friend calling and she went to return her call but the machine picked up so she left a friendly message saying that she missed her and was there to talk. It turns out her suicidal friend was on the verge of shooting herself until she heard her friend on the answering machine. She called and confessed everything to her and from there was encouraged to get help and did.

Other teens told me they loved the book too. Alexie Rubin, a junior at the Lycee Francais, said, "It was the type of book that I can relate to from some of the stories and gain from."

Jennifer Crowel, a Marymount High School sophomore said, "I really liked it because it was something I have never seen before, at the time, and you can draw from it and you can see how other people reacted to those situations."

Jessica Olson, a Marymount sophomore said, "Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul provides stories and poems that teach valuable lessons and are true to every aspect of a teenagers life."

The same editors have also published sequels: Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul II, III, Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul Letters. In addition, there’s a Web site. I logged on to and scrolled down the left-hand side of the page and clicked on Teenage Soul. There I saw online teen chats, meetings, story contests, and more. I recommend this Web site for teens to express their thoughts. They can go to forums and even talk to the authors.

What’s a Girl Gotta Do?

By Alexandra Toumanoff, 17, University HS

If you like to shriek with laughter, brace yourself for What’s a Girl Gotta Do? by Sparkle Hayter. The story’s red-headed heroine, Robin Hudson, is a cross between Ally McBeal and Bridget Jones. From beginning to end, the book is a total crack-up.

Even the cover makes you smile. It shows a woman in high heels wearing a trench coat and flashing a man. That could be a completely disturbing experience, except for the man’s expression—he looks bored.
Because of an ill-timed burp that slipped out in front of the Secretary of Defense, Robin was pushed out of real reporting at ANN 24-hour News and shoved into Special Reports, which specializes in stories like bad meat and UFO abductions. Her first story is to cover the shady side of sperm banks.

Then her loser husband ditches her for the spokeswoman of the hit Better Baby Powder commercials. As if things can’t get worse, Robin is pegged as a suspect for some brutal murders.

Throughout the book, Robin becomes bitter but refuses to completely lose faith and despite her bizarre storyline, she comes across like a flesh and blood person. She feels like a friend.

I’m 18 and loved the book so much, that I gave it to my 15-year-old sister and she loved it. My 10-year-old sister now wants to check it out. So does my mother. (Don’t be alarmed. She may be in her 40s, but can recognize good humor when she reads it.)

Will Robin be successful in her search for inner peace? Are New York sperm banks nursing a dark secret? Can she find out who really committed the murders and enjoy a successful date? Find out in What’s A Girl Gotta Do?