But my second impression was much more important: The minute she started to read, all of the teens in the audience were riveted. And I was riveted, too. Perfect is the story of a girl battling an eating disorder, but it's written with such heart and humanity that it transcends the "problem novel" label and feels vividly like a real girl's story. My mom was also in the audience, and she and I fought over who would get to read Perfect first. (She won.)
A few months later, Natasha came to me with the first eighty pages of her new book, Lush. It's the story of a girl whose father is an alcoholic - and it has just as incredible a voice as Perfect, intermingling humor and pain, frustration and grace. The eighty pages that Natasha submitted ended with an event that completely shocked me - when you read the book, you'll understand - so part of my rush to acquire it was because I needed to know what happened next.
I do not say this lightly: I think Natasha Friend could easily be this generation's Judy Blume. She knows how to connect with readers, and does it in a completely unselfconscious way. Lush and Natasha's next book for us, Bounce (coming in Fall 2007), are both powerful looks not just at the issues they raise, but also at what it's like to be a girl today. I know I've been moved by them ... and I have no doubt that readers will be, too.