Jason and Marceline by Jerry Spinelli (Little, Brown & Co. $12.95).
For the last 10 years romance novels for junior and senior high school female readers have all but taken over the shelf space in bookstores--an outgrowth of the enormously popular Harlequin romances, and their clones for the adult market.
Now comes a breakthrough--maybe the start of a new trend--a love story for the junior high level from the male viewpoint, so funny and engaging that not only will boys want to read it but girls will gobble it up for clues about the male psyche.
Jason is a ninth-grader who has been "going" with Marceline for more than a year. But what is their relationship? "I mean, we're more than just friends. I think. I'm sure. On my side, anyways. Like, we talk a lot and ride bikes and do stuff together." She was once in his house and he's played Scrabble often at hers. He holds doors open for her sometimes (because he feels like it) and sometimes she holds doors open for him. "No Christmas presents. But birthday cards. We never kissed. Yet. But I like her better than the two girls I have kissed. So what do you call us? What are we?"
Marceline is an original, with a strong will of her own. She walks to school, though everyone else takes the bus; she wears "shades" and feels no embarrassment at yanking her trombone out of its case in the middle of the street to play a few notes. At a time of life when being different brings taunts and rejection, Marceline's weirdness is hard for Jason to accept.
The story takes off at the beginning of ninth grade, after a summer in which the girls have developed curves and the boys are down with cases of galloping hormones. Spinelli captures perfectly the adolescent boy who supposedly has a sexual thought every seven seconds.
The characters are delightful--from Jason's sister, whom he calls "Cootyhead" and who doesn't let him get away with a thing, to his mother, who worries too much, and his father, who believes in giving "more leash."
This is a book about the first journey into love--the longing, the fumbling, the first kiss and those that follow.
It's also a book about growing up and recognizing the difference between sex and love, and when it's time to stand up to the crowd. It's not a great book, with a strong social message, but it's a book kids of either sex--from sixth grade through ninth--will love to read.