Love, life and family

Families: Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

Our families can be so crazy, and yet we seem to find a way to accept them, despite their quirks. Is anyone in your family a vampire? A stand-up comedian? A witch? A neat freak? A werewolf? The kids in these stories have it all and then some. These novels are about growing up, discovering the meaning of life and learning the truth about what makes a family.

DUSTIN GRUBBS: TAKE TWO!, by John J. Bonk, Little, Brown& Co., $15.99; ages 9-12.

Dustin’s life is a mess. He wants to be an actor, but he can’t sing or dance. He wants to be part of the school play, but the school’s athletes are doing their best to stop the play. Dustin auditions for a commercial, but the call back is the same day and time as his aunt’s wedding. And worst of all, LMNOP (Ellen Mennopi), the girl next door, is always on his back about something. He just can’t catch a break. What is a boy to do?

Dustin Grubbs: One Man Show is the first book in this crazy, whacky, funny series.

GET REAL, by Betty Hicks, Roaring Brook Press, $16.95; ages 10-14.

Dez and Jill are typical teenagers when it comes to that age old feeling of being embarrassed by their parents. They are both thinking,"Who are these people and how can I possibly be related to them?” Dez is a neat freak and her parents are messy. She wishes she could live with Jill’s family. Jill thinks Dez’s family is eccentric, crazy and cool. The difference here is that Jill is adopted and wants to meet her"real” mom.

The girls’ friendship is strong. Their parents are very supportive. This novel is light-hearted and fun even while delving into the complicated issue of what makes a parent real.

JEREMY FINK AND THE MEANING OF LIFE, by Wendy Mass, Little, Brown& Co., $15.99; ages 10-13.

Jeremy lives with his mom. His best friend Lizzie lives in the apartment next door. A month before Jeremy’s 13th birthday, a package arrives. Jeremy and Lizzie can’t resist-they open the package and find a beautiful wooden box. The words"The Meaning of Life: For Jeremy Fink to open on his 13th birthday” are carved into the underside of the box. Jeremy knows this is a gift from his father who died five years before.

The problem is the box needs four keys and the keys are nowhere to be found. Jeremy and Lizzie have one month to find the keys, open the box and discover what’s inside. In the meantime, they break into an office, meet a kooky old man, get in trouble with the police and make new friends. In the end, they find a whole lot more than just the meaning of life.

You can’t go wrong with a Wendy Mass book, and this one is the best yet. It is fun, thought provoking, tear-jerking and the ending makes it so worth your while.

NEW MOON, by Stephenie Meyer, Little, Brown& Co., $17.99; ages 13 and up.

New Moon is the extremely exciting can’t-put-it-down second book in a trilogy. In the first book, Twilight, Bella moves to live with her dad and to a new school. She meets Edward and finds true love, but Edward has a dark century-old secret. Edward and his family are vampires.

In New Moon, Edward considers his secret to be too dangerous for Bella. He and his family leave and we feel for Bella as she becomes depressed and inconsolable. We enjoy Bella’s relationship with her new friend Jacob while still mourning the loss of Edward along with her. We want her to be happy, but we also miss Edward. After months of anguish, Bella discovers she can hear Edward’s voice in her head when she is in danger. Bella takes up riding motorcycles and cliff diving just so she can be closer to his voice. But the adventure gets really wild when she discovers that Jacob also has a secret …

When Edward’s life is in danger, Bella saves him, then he saves her again. We cheer for Bella-she has her love back. Now, we wait for book three. Will they live happily ever, forever after?

THE WHITBY WITCHES, by Robin Jarvis, Chronicle Books, $17.95; ages 9-12.

Ben and Jennet have been living with foster family after foster family for the past two years, since their parents died in a car accident. No one wants to keep them after they learn about Ben’s ability to see things. Ben is sure his sightings are real and keeps forgetting that he should not tell people what he sees. After he tells, Ben and Jennet find themselves being sent on to another home.

As they go to stay with a distant relative named Alice, Jennet reminds Ben to keep his mouth shut about his visions. But Aunt Alice is not concerned. In fact, she is very interested to hear about what Ben sees. While Ben is down by the sea, helping some fisher folk find moon kelp, Aunt Alice is at home holding seances.

When Aunt Alice’s friends begin to die, Ben"sees” a huge beast. And in the end, good triumphs over evil-or does it?

Sandi Pedersen is the mom of four and the Web mistress for Chicago Parent.

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