Carolyn Mackler, . . Candlewick, $16.99 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-2155-1

Mackler's (The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things ) latest tale starring a strong female protagonist centers on Mara Valentine, who is headed to Yale and vying with her ex-boyfriend, Travis Hart, for valedictorian. Enter wild niece V, who is only a year younger (the daughter of Mara's sister, who is nearly 20 years older) and who moves in with Mara's family. The two get off to a bad start when V hooks up with Travis, and Mara gets worked up over V's gross habits and pot smoking. But the young women stick up for each other in unexpected moments, too (such as when Mara crosses out some nasty graffiti about V). The plotting here follows a familiar path: when Mara falls in love with James, the 22-year-0ld owner of the café where she works, she sees there is more to life than grades, while V, finally in a stable environment, begins to fulfill her "unrealized potential" by landing a part in the school play. While some readers may identify more with rebellious V than with Mara ("You sure are wound tight," V says to Mara), the two characters begin to deepen and mature through the course of the novel, and the audience may well warm up to Mara. There are some hilarious moments here, too; Mara, for example, who became vegan in order to stop obsessing over her ex, dreams of cheese and wakes up with lips that "tasted salty." Readers won't find anything groundbreaking here, but they will likely be entertained along the way. Ages 14-up. (Aug.)