Sixteen: Stories About That Sweet and Bitter Birthday edited by Megan McCafferty

Sixteen: Stories About That Sweet and Bitter BirthdayFrom the Wayback Machine's crawl of Megan McCafferty's website: "Remember what it was like to be sixteen? Whether it was the year your teeth were finally free of braces or you were discovered by the opposite sex, that magical, mystical age is something you will never forget. Edited by Megan McCafferty, author of the runaway hit novels sloppy firsts and second helpings, SIXTEEN: Stories About That Sweet and Bitter Birthday is a compilation of short stories inspired by all the angst, melodrama, and wonderment of being sixteen.

Sarah Dessen's "Infinity" is about a girl confronting two major milestones: getting her driver's license and losing her virginity. The Dead Girls in Jacqueline Woodson's "Nebraska 99" have already done it and now must cope with being teenage mothers. And Carolyn Mackler's, "Mona Lisa, Jesus, Chad and Me" explores whether friendship can survive when prayer and partying clash. Also included is a new Jessica Darling story by Megan McCafferty about the last fifteen minutes Jessica spends--or rather, doesn't spend--with her best friend, Hope, who is leaving Pineville.

Also featuring stories by Steve Almond, M.T. Anderson, Julianna Baggott, Cat Bauer, Emma Forrest, Tanuja Desai Hidier, David Levithan, Sarah Mlynowski, Sonya Sones, Zoe Trope, Ned Vizzini and Joseph Weisberg, these hilarious, poignant and touching tales are perfect both for those who have yet to reach that milestone and those who want to reminisce about their "sweetest" year."

I spotted this sweet little polka-dotted book at the used bookstore the other day.  I noted the title, the editor (she wrote my beloved books Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings), and the copy included the words "hilarious and poignant".  What a lie.  If this book were more honest it would be "Well-written stories that will make you sad for the rest of the night and you'll lie on your bed and weep and despair through several of them."

Some of the stories, including Sarah Dessen's and Megan McCafferty's are actually quite good (and helped pulled the average of this book up from a 2).  They ring reminiscent of my sixteenth year when everything was overly melodramatic and you spent a great deal of time thinking about driving, sex, school, and friendships.  Others, like Sonya Sones's free verse story and Hidier's story of an Indian girl who falls in love with her best friend are interesting and contain both sad and happy elements.  They ring true to life for people in difficult or odd situations while containing an element of hope or love.  And, frankly, Sarah Mlynowski's "The Perfect Kiss" made me cheer for the heroine.

But, you'll notice I just listed fix stories I liked out of sixteen.  The other eleven just made me want to curl up and give up.  Woodson's story "Nebraska 99", in particular, left me feeling hopeless and out of sorts and miserable.  This does speak to the power of the writing, but it doesn't particularly leave me wanting more.

Again, I can't give this book too low a score.  It contains many well-written stories.  It contains several stories that I loved.  It dealt very well with a range of teens by including different characters of different ethnicity, genders, and sexuality.  But, and this is a big but, I just couldn't enjoy the book.  It was like kale.  I know I'm supposed to like kale because it is some kind of super food that is good for me and I admire it in principle, but I hate to actually eat it.  I know this book is good, but I hate to read it.

Verdict:  4.  I'm unspeakably depressed after having finished this collection.  Everything sucks at sixteen, everything.  I know I enjoyed that year, but clearly no one else on Earth did.

Thoughts:  The ratio of depressing to empowering was way too high for a book about sixteenth birthdays.  Seriously, the story about the girls who were pregnant teenagers made me want to lay down and weep.  Powerful, but not my cup of tea when I expect "hilarious, poignant, and touching tales".

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