Stick, by Andrew Smith
13-year-old Stark McClellan is so tall and thin that he's called "Stick" by almost everyone he knows. He was born only one ear. His older brother, Bosten, is always there for him. He's always ready to protect Stick, whether it be from their abusive parents or from run-of-the-mill bullies. But when the situation at home becomes unbearable, Bosten runs away. So Stick steals a car and goes looking for him. Pros: Fabulously original voice. Compelling storyline. Believable, natural dialogue. Cons: I honestly can't think of any, though it's definitely a book that's not going to appeal to everyone -- it deals with some pretty heavy issues, and it deals with them frankly. Recommended to: Fans of Chris Crutcher.
From Recovery Road, by Blake Nelson:
Trish thinks for a moment. "I would love to beat people up. How did you learn to do that?"
"I got really, really drunk and then it just came to me."
16-year-old Maddie is dealing with her addiction at Spring Meadows rehab center when she meets 19-year-old Stewart, who's at Spring Meadows dealing with his own issues. The story goes forward from there. Pros: Stand-out voice, and a narrator who's not always likable, but who's always believable. A storyline that goes in unexpected directions, but that always feel realistic and true. An honest portrayal of addiction -- and how it often ends -- that never feels preachy. There are no easy answers here. Cons: Again, I'm at a loss. Like Stick, it's got the gritty thing going, which won't work for everyone. Recommended to: Fans of Ellen Hopkins.
Stupid Fast, by Geoff Herbach
15-year-old Felton Reinstein's body goes from zero to sixty, and now the football team wants him to join up and play against a guy who looks like he could literally knock his head off. Also, his brother is a musical genius, his mother is a disaster, and he's in love with a girl who might think he's incapable of speech. Pros: Fresh, original, energetic and believable voice. Laugh-out-loud funny. Cons: It has a bit of a slow start, which might lose some readers, and Felton's tendency to sling zingers doesn't allow for much emotional engagement. Recommended to: Fans of Carter Finally Gets It and other books featuring hilarious male narrators.
The End of the Line, by Angela Cerrito
13-year-old Robbie ended up at Great Oaks School, also known as the End of the Line, because it didn't work out anywhere else. The only way he'll get though (and, hopefully, out of) Great Oaks is by coming to terms with the truth: He's a murderer. Pros: The premise'll pull 'em in. Cons: The story is told through alternating glimpses of the past and the present, but the focus is so fractured that I never developed any sort of attachment to Robbie. Also, as there's no view of the period that resulted in his time at Great Oaks, the past and present views never seem to mesh. Recommended to: Eh. The Great Oaks chapters are high interest, and might appeal to reluctant readers, but it's quite possible that the chapters set in the past will lose them.