July 21, 2003 12:00 PM

By Laura Moriarty

Hillary Duff and Amanda Bynes may be today’s reigning tween queens, but with their flawless skin and general lack of angst, they’re hardly the real deal. Evelyn Bucknow, on the other hand, is just that: a moody, smart, pimples-and-all adolescent who serves as the flinty narrator of Moriarty’s debut novel. Growing up in rural Kerrville, she is smack-dab in the middle of Kansas, caught between her single mom, her cliquish classmates and a brooding neighborhood boy who just may be the love of her life. Or maybe not. Moriarty resists tidy portrayals, creating a world where Evelyn’s mom is immature, intuitive, loving. But the real star is Evelyn, who is precocious but not overly so. Bonus for children of the ’80s: The book is packed with period references to everything from friendship pins to The Outsiders to Rubik’s Cubes. Rad. (Hyperion, $22.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Top tween tale for grown-ups

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