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Girls in trouble

Two years ago , Natasha Friend struck a nerve with her novel ``Perfect," which has sold more than 100,000 copies. Friend, a former schoolteacher who lives in Quincy, heard from hundreds of girls worried about eating disorders, and her book tour became an occasion for truth-telling. In San Francisco, Friend told a gathering of seventh-graders that it was more important to seek help for a troubled classmate and risk losing a friendship than to do nothing. Later that day, two girls told an adult about a friend who had been cutting herself.

In Friend's new novel, ``Lush," published this month , a 13-year-old girl struggles to help her alcoholic father. Already Friend has received e-mails from girls facing the same challenge. Though she is wary of being pigeonholed as a writer of the young adult ``problem novel," Friend is pleased that her books get people talking about taboo subjects. She will discuss ``Lush" at 7 p.m. on Nov. 3 at Borders in Peabody.

`Ghost' story
After trying for three years to write a historical novel about Samuel Clemens's three daughters, Suzanne Berne gave up. ``They refused to become fictional characters," she said.

Now the daughters are a haunting presence in her new novel, ``The Ghost at the Table ," set during a Thanksgiving gathering in Concord. Berne, who lives in Newton, sets the story of a family's unraveling against the dysfunction of the Clemens household.

Most of what she writes about the Clemens girls is straight from her research, she said. And it is a fascinating look at a troubled family that put on a happy face for the public. The eldest girl died young. The middle daughter had a nervous breakdown when her mother died. At one point, Clemens sent away his youngest daughter, who had epilepsy.

Next Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Concord Bookshop, Berne will read from her novel, setting the stage with her description of Concord as a town full of ``women with frosted pageboys who became militant when a Dunkin' Donuts was proposed for Main Street."

Coming out
``Hundred-Dollar Baby," by Robert Parker (Putnam)

``Lisey's Story," by Stephen King ( Scribner)

``The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness," by Steven Levy (Simon & Schuster)

Pick of the week
Tova Beiser of Brown University Bookstore, in Providence, recommends ``Sharp Objects," by Gillian Flynn: ``Reporter Camille Preaker is sent to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to cover what might be the connection between a young girl murdered nine months earlier and another young girl recently gone missing. . . . This exceptional and disturbing thriller is not to be missed."

Jan Gardner can be reached at

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