Enter Alice McKinley, star of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's The Agony of Alice and its many sequels and prequels (she's eleven when we meet her and ages through the series). Alice lives in a real world located somewhere between the sanitized one of many middle-grade novels and the fast-paced one of much YA. She's funny and flawed and full of embarrassing questions. Alice often feels like she missed a day or two thousand in how-to-be-a-woman school, and attributes that deficiency to the fact that she's grown up without a mother. But I suspect millions of readers with and without mothers breathe sighs of relief as they learn things from Alice that they thought everyone else already knew. And in between all that learning, they get to know characters who are both lovable and real.
The Alice books are my wholehearted recommendation of the day. There will be more, particularly of books that might be either overlooked or maligned. 'Cause sometimes in our routine booklust, we forget the books that just need some literary love.
*"she" for the purposes of this post, but boys can certainly enjoy and learn from these books. I would have a lot of respect for any boy open-minded enough to check them out.