Collage by Beth Hoeckel.

Collage by Beth Hoeckel.

When Watched
Leopoldine Core
2016, Penguin Books

This collection of short stories starts off tough, astute, and bleeding with emotional generosity. Within the first few pages, Leopoldine Core hits you with nuggets of poignant gold. Her stories embody little snippets of truth, one after the other. They are intimate and concise, usually spanning only four to 10 pages in length. The characters she creates are aware of the web that entangles and connects people, and the infinite performance that is being alive.

whenwatchedThe characters span many wavelengths and walks of life. First and foremost, they delve into the awkwardness and beauty of being with another person, as well as the intimacy—and more often than not terror—that comes with coupling. The tie that binds Core’s friends, parents, children, couples, and co-workers is the strange condition we all face: We can only be as intimate and close to the people in our lives as they allow us to be. Pick up this book and prepare to face sublime recognition. —Emily Wood

Cynthia Kadohata
2009, Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Whenever I think of my middle school days, I fall back into the spell of sitting on the floor surrounded by my wall of books. Weedflower, by Cynthia Kadohata, was different from the other novels sprawled around me. This book buried itself into my thoughts, and even now I can remember it vividly. It is the tale of a 12-year-old Japanese-American girl, Sumiko. Kadohata’s storytelling created gentle washes of color in my mind as I painted a mental picture of what Sumiko’s life was like on a flower farm in California, right before World War II. With whirls of turmoil and loss, Sumiko and her family are forced to live in an interment camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The camp is on a Native American reservation, where bright meadows are sprayed with bunches of pastel flowers, and where the wind stirs up dust that coats the inside of Sumiko’s throat. Sumiko befriends a young Mojave boy, and learns to cope with loss and isolation. I read the book when I was only 10, and it changed my perspective drastically. To see a girl only two years older than I was grapple with such strife was inspirational. It’s a story I come back to again and again. —Kati Yewell

girlsonfireGirls on Fire
Robin Wasserman
2016, Harper Collins

It’s the early ’90s, and the small town of Battle Creek, Pennsylvania is in an uproar about devil worship after the star of the high school basketball team is found dead in the woods. In the wake of these events, a friendship is born: Lacey, the fiery Kurt Cobain–obsessed new girl, molds Hannah Dexter, who has always been a “nobody,” into Dex. The pair is bent on revenge against the basketball star’s popular girlfriend, but for different reasons. You hear from both girls as Lacey’s dark past and Dex’s wild and unraveling present are woven together. The result? Think more twisted and fucked-up than Heathers and The Craft, and that’s Girls on Fire. It’s violent and disturbing—the kind of book I wanted to tear through, but found so intense that I needed to take breathers. It captures the darkest side of girlhood in a way no other book or movie I’ve come across has. In the end, it’s a tale of friendship—the deeply transformative kind between two teenage girls—and what happens when that friendship consumes someone completely. —Stephanie Kuehnert ♦