running_leanRunning Lean
Diana L. Sharples
HarperCollins/Blink

Haunted by a cruel playground song, Stacey is determined never to be fat again. With her best friend Zoe, she embarks on a rigid diet, rejecting the high-calorie, deep-fried southern dishes her family seems to thrive on. But just when Stacey has it all under control, a fainting spell alerts her boyfriend Calvin that things aren’t as well-ordered as they seem. Stacey brushes off the event as “female problems” and hopes Calvin will just forget it.

Calvin just wants Stacey to be okay, and he’s willing to pay just about any price to make that so. He endeavors to support her, but his own emotions become increasingly strained as his bike – and through it his way of coping with life – begins to fall apart. Though Calvin wants to believe he can love and encourage Stacey through her insecurities, it becomes impossible to ignore the downward spiral her life is taking. Calvin isn’t sure he can push her into recovery without breaking her.

In her brave debut, Sharples captures the raw driving intensity of emotional insecurity and the terrible tension it places on a relationship, boldly describing a tragic teen issue. The reactions of Stacey’s friends and family, the helplessness Calvin wrestles with all felt very real and true to character and life. Though a message of hope is woven through its pages, the story Running Lean isn’t dominated by its spiritual messages. Rather, each character wrestles with thoughts about and feelings toward God in his or her own timing and way.

Language Content
None.

Sexual Content
Stacey and Calvin share kisses and hold hands, but both have made a commitment to abstinence until marriage. Things get a little hot and heavy between them as Stacey’s emotions spiral further out of control and Calvin tries to reassure her of his love by pressing her physical boundaries further than she’s comfortable with. Clothes stay on, and nothing much ultimately happens before Stacey stops Calvin. There are brief references to a past sexual abuse situation. While the scars of the experience, both physically and emotionally still manifest in the victim, not a lot of detail is given about the events.

Spiritual Content
Since his brother’s death, Calvin has had difficulty thinking about spiritual things. He’s grieving and angry and offers of prayer from his friends and family only frustrate him further. As his relationship with Stacey becomes more and more strained, Calvin begins to rethink his “okay on my own” religious stance and consider asking for God’s help with the situation, since he’s way past knowing what to do on his own.

Violence
None.

Drug Content
Stacey visits a party at which alcohol is present. She doesn’t drink anything, but others around her do.

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MiracleMiracle
Phillipa Vincent-Connolly
Pen Press

Despite her mother’s fierce hope for her romantic life, seventeen year-old Orianna is certain she’ll never have a boyfriend. She can barely walk normally thanks to the pain caused by her cerebral palsy. Still, she enjoys the company of good friends and a loving (if romance-obsessed) mother and younger sister.

After seeing the latest movie in the Twilight series, Orianna and her friends gush about handsome Edward Cullen. If only there were men like that in real life, they tell each other. Then, as if he fell right off the silver screen, a rich and handsome new boy named Ashley Mason arrives at school. Though he is totally out of her league and constantly stares at Orianna with a look she can only interpret as disgust, she finds herself drawn to him.

As their tenuous relationship develops, Orianna’s life takes a devastating turn. Out of options, she turns to faith, praying for a miracle to rescue her from the terrible choice she will be forced to make.

In a dreamlike voice, Miracle introduces readers to an intelligent girl longing for true love and independence. Vincent-Connolly bravely tackles the issue of living with cerebral palsy and brings a story familiar to every teen about fitting in and finding love.

While at times the affection between Orianna and Ashley lacks complexity (Why are the two drawn to each other? They just are.), Ashley’s quick temper and emotional highs and lows keep this from being a too-good-to-be-true romance. It is a story of a young man of great passion and a young woman who desires steadiness and normalcy in a world in which not even her body can be counted on to provide them.

SPOILER ALERT
The story’s tension level ratchets up quickly following Orianna’s rape at a party. Desperate, she first attempts suicide and then confesses the truth to her friends: she is pregnant. She reaches out in prayer, pleading with God to end her pregnancy. It’s easy to imagine any girl in Orianna’s position feeling precisely the same way.

When Orianna experiences a miscarriage, she believes this is God coming through for her. She’s new in her faith and lacks any real form of spiritual mentoring, so it doesn’t seem terribly unbelievable that she’d draw such a conclusion. Still, it’s a little hard to swallow the idea that God basically terminated her pregnancy at her request. One can understand the relief a rape victim would feel, but it is tinged with discomfort.

As a plot device, it also seems weak. Because a central theme of the story is Orianna’s questions about her own worthiness for love, it seems like a miscarriage due to medical reasons might be another opportunity to raise the stakes on that struggle.

Language Content
Moderate.

Sexual Content
Brief rape scene. Some details given during the assault prior to the rape.

Spiritual Content (Contains spoiler.)
Orianna prays for a miscarriage after she discovers she is pregnant due to rape. When the miscarriage occurs, she believes God has answered her prayers and ended her pregnancy.

Violence
Brief rape scene. References to a fist-fight. No details.

Drug Content
Orianna and Ashley attend a party and participate in under-age drinking. Some people use cocaine. When Ashley sees this, he and Orianna leave the party.

Annabeth's WarAnnabeth’s War by Jessica Greyson
Ready Writer Press

When a mysterious peasant bests him at swordplay, Ransom can’t help but wonder if the disguise conceals the elusive girl he seeks. Once he tracks her down, Ransom finds convincing Annabeth to accept his help is no easy task. As she slips away again and again, always warning him she acts for his own safety, Ransom begins to question his orders to subdue and kidnap the girl.

Annabeth can’t stop running. With a price on her head and her prince’s life hanging in the balance, she must stay one step ahead of Lord Raburn and his men, those who would seek to kill her. Yet fleeing is not so simple. She cannot abandon the prince and her own father, who are both locked in Raburn’s clutches.

Desperation forces Annabeth to accept Ransom’s aid in a plot to rescue the prince and escape across the border. But even if the plan succeeds, Annabeth would have to leave her father behind. As she struggles to find a way to rescue him, Ransom is faced with his own choice: if he lets Annabeth return to the castle, he will not be able to complete his orders, and she may find herself at the mercy of a vicious enemy.

Annabeth is a deeply compassionate and fiercely independent girl. Independent almost to her own destruction. As she learns to trust Ransom and work together with others, she will have to relinquish some of the self-sufficiency she holds most dear. Though at first he is bent on following his orders, Ransom is captivated by the strange girl and her quest. He struggles to balance his commitment to his king and his growing love for Annabeth.

Greyson’s writing is simple and her story uncomplicated, but her characters are compelling and interesting. Annabeth’s War is a short, but entertaining read. The cover art is really beautiful as well.

Language Content
None.

Sexual Content
None.

Spiritual Content
Annabeth questions Ransom’s motives, wondering how he can do good things for others without any faith in God. She tells him of her own beliefs.

Violence
There are some scenes of battle violence and brief scenes of torture, but no few graphic details are given throughout these scenes.

Drug Content
None.