Brandon is the biggest and toughest kid in his small-town school. He is feared as a bully, but he only pretends to be "dumb as a bag of hammers," so he can learn as much as possible about the people around him. When Leon, his sister Winnie, and their lively little brother Sam, arrive in Kingsville, they are the only black people in town. Everyone is curious about themwhere they came from, what their parents dobut when Brandon discovers the truth about their situation, he decides to do what he can to protect them from harm.
It's hard enough for Eve to adjust to a new high school without the extra weight she's gained over the summer. Her best friend is ashamed to hang out with her, and she's become the focus of a schoolmate's cruelty. Determined not to be "that pathetic fat girl" at school, Eve struggles with a diet and forces herself to join a mentoring program. The diet only makes her food obsessed, and she feels she is failing as a mentor. How can a lonely fat girl gain the confidence she needs to succeed?
When Cody and his friends accept a challenge from a local gang to steal a park bench, their main concern is keeping themselves on the gang's good side. Cody learns that the stolen bench had been dedicated to the father of the English teacher who sponsors the school newspaper; the paper that Cody has just started writing for - and he's worried about the consequences. As the gang applies pressure for more from Cody and his friends, he realizes they've crossed a line, and now he has to figure out how to make it right.
Addy has worn hearing aids for as long as she can remember. Her mother tells her this makes her special, but now that Addy's in grade six, she wants to be special for what she's done. When Addy joins the school running club to keep her best friend, Lucy, company, she discovers she is a gifted runner. Lucy isn't, which is problematic. Further troubles surface when Addy gets paired on a school project with Sierra, a smart, self-assured new classmate who wears a cochlear implant. Addy is surprised to discover hearing loss is all they have in common and a shared disability is not enough of a foundation for a friendship. True friends support each other, even if they have different passions and dreams. More importantly, Addy comes to understand that she is defined by more than her hearing loss. She has the power to choose how people will see her, and she does.
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Turk needs cash, but he's allergic to his own sweat so getting a job is out of the question. Then he makes a discovery: Girls love dogs. Turk's friends will do anything to meet girls. Turk starts a dog walking business. His friends walk the dogs and Turk collects half the money. In an attempt to impress dog-loving Carly, Turk brags about his business in front of the school tough guy, Chuck. When Chuck learns the true nature of Turk's business and wants in on the action, Turk worries that he will lose his business and Carly's respect.
Marta is an outsider at school. Partly because she chooses to be. With parents who were once farmworkers, she was used to moving a lot. It was hard to make friends. Though now the family is settled, trouble seems to follow her. To escape, she draws. Her art teacher thinks she has a gift. He signs her up for a program in another city. As she leaves behind the drama back home, she encounters other places, people, and events that are just as dramatic and even dangerous. Her drawings seem to be responsible. This series of books was designed specifically for struggling teen readers. The contemporary fiction is written at accessible levels and provides substantive content without being edgy. The relatable plots appeal to teens, especially those who are reluctant to read. Books in the series quickly grab their interest with fast-paced storylines that feature realistic, sometimes larger-than-life teen characters readers can identify with or would like to know. Then there is an unexpected twist. The characters' lives are suddenly on the edgeÑof fame, fear, or even sanity. What starts out as fun or routine becomes a nightmare, real or imagined. As characters are tested in mind, body, and spirit, readers have a sense of being there to experience the adventure.
Life is hard enough for Tansy with her depressed mom away indefinitely and her dad making a mess of things at home. But then Dad sends her down the hall to a wrinkly old babysitter named Miss Stella, who Tansy hates on sight. Miss Stella has a unique perspective on life, to say the least, but with the help of her best friend Parveen, Tansy gradually learns to manage all the changes in her life and make unexpected new friends in the process.