Category Archives: Middlegrade

From Ant to Eagle

Finished From Ant to Eagle by Alex Lyttle. I received a copy for review. 

Cal killed his little brother, Sammy. That’s the first thing we learn in this book. Soon, we learn there’s a lot more to it than that, but it’s important to know that going in. This is a great book, but it’s also a sad one. 

It’s easy to tell that Cal loves Sammy and that he’s a good big brother. But he wants to spend his summer with Aleta (a new girl) and most of the time, nothing would happen because of it. But Sammy feels left out and then he gets sick. There’s no correlation, of course, but now Cal feels guilty. 

This is such a good book but it’s a hard read. (Not the whole way, of course, but be prepared. This book will carve out your heart.)

Highly recommended. (Have tissues.)

Keys to the City

Finished Keys to the City by Lisa Schroeder. 

Lindy is not enthused about her summer homework (she has to find something she’s passionate about and good at). Her friends already have their things: music, dance, stuff like that. But Lindy loves books and emojis and that’s not exactly a career in the making. She has the summer to find what she excels at…except she has no idea how to even start. 

This book is adorable and amazing. I feel like we all know people who have their lives together and they’re intimidating enough now, so I don’t envy Lindy having to deal with this in middle school. 

If you’ve ever felt lost when it comes to the future, this book is for you. (Either way, this book is for you. It’s clever and incredibly sweet.) Lindy and her friends stole my heart. 

Highly recommended. 

Gabby Garcia’s Ultimate Playbook

Finished Gabby Garcia’s Ultimate Playbook by Iva-Marie Palmer. I received a copy for review. 

Gabby Garcia’s life is going perfectly: she has great grades, good friends and she’s the best baseball pitcher at her school. She’s even in the midst of pitching a no-hitter when everything falls apart: her school has asbestos. Now she has to transfer to a new school and all of a sudden she’s a jinx, the baseball team doesn’t need her (or even like her) and her grades are heading firmly toward Cs. It is not ideal. How to reverse this trend? 

This is adorable and sports fans will love it. Watching Gabby try to reinvent herself is pretty hysterical (let’s just say that all of her new “talents” prove to be harder to master than she expects) but kids will learn to (a) keep trying and (b) attempt new things. There are definitely worse things. ;)

It ends on a bit of a cliffhanger and I would definitely read the sequel. 

Star-Crossed

Finished Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee. I received a copy for review. 

Mattie is in eighth grade and is super psyched that their class play is Romeo & Juliet! She never really thought about acting before but decides to try out. She gets cast as Paris but her two best friends are cast, as well…and her new friend Gemma is playing Juliet! Things get complicated, though, when Mattie realizes that maybe she doesn’t think of Gemma as just a friend…

This book is completely adorable! I love Mattie, Tessa and Lucy. They are great friends and I really want a book from Tessa’s perspective (she collects and uses Shakespearean insults. Who wouldn’t want to be her friend?!). 

The realization that Mattie has a crush on a girl is handled sensitively and it’s a super sweet crush. (And they’re in eighth grade so it does make sense that it would happen now.)

Warning, though: this will make you want to watch the movie. Recommended. 

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

Finished Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia. I received a copy for review. 

Clayton Byrd loves a lot of things but his two favorites are his grandfather (Cool Papa) and the blues. He plays the blues harp (harmonica) and yearns for the day he’s good enough for a solo. When his grandpa dies, though, his mom forbids him from playing again. Losing Cool Papa is awful enough; he can’t lose the blues, too! So he decides he’ll steal the blues harp back and go on the road with The Bluesmen. 

I really liked this book and its exploration of grief. It’s not a sad book, per se, but it shows the little-discussed side effects (anger, sudden exhaustion). 

I also appreciate the way we see Clayton’s mom. She’s doing mean things but she has her reasons. It’s not something Clayton necessarily gets but careful readers will. 

This is a novel that will steal your heart. Recommended. 

Posted

Finished Posted by John David Anderson. I received a copy for review. 

Frost and his friends aren’t the coolest group in their middle school. They’re mostly left alone, thanks to the fact that one of them is a jock. Then three things happen (in no particular order): the jock friend gets good, a new girl starts to sit with them and cell phones get banned from the school. As a result, Post-Its become a new form of bullying. 

This book is a slow burn. Most of it is character-driven (which is fine, because the characters are fantastic, especially Rose) and, while it’s interesting throughout, the last quarter or so is the best. 

It’s definitely interesting to think that kids will always find a way to be awful to each other. I like to think it’s not true, but I know better. Especially in middle school. But it’s also true that you find your people and they will save you. Those are basically the two themes of the book, and both are equally true. 

Recommended. 

The Summer of Bad Ideas

Finished The Summer of Bad Ideas by Keira Stewart. I received a copy for review. 

Edith, her twin siblings and their parents are spending the summer at her grandma’s house. She died recently and her will stipulates that her children fix up the house together (it’s Edith’s family, her uncle AJ and cousin Rae). Rae is about 50 times cooler than Edith and so she decides to reinvent herself. Step one: go by Edie instead. Step two: complete a list her grandmother made on how to have a great summer. (Except the suggestions are scary—catch a snake? Cross the swamp at night? Kiss a boy?)

This book is cute. It’s perfect summer reading (though you don’t have to wait til then; it’ll bring summer to you!) and Edith is incredibly relatable. 

Bonus points for having Rae not be so perfect and cool either. 

I would like a sequel please. 

Georgia Rules

Finished Georgia Rules by Nancy Turner Steveson. 

Maggie’s mom and stepfather are getting divorced. That’s hard enough except her mom has decided that they’re going to move to Vermont. Maggie’s biological father (a man who’s essentially a stranger) has died and left her a farm. The plan is to stay there a year and then sell it (that stipulation is in the will), take the money and move anywhere else. Except it doesn’t take long for Maggie to love Vermont and the friends she makes there. She feels closer to her dad there…hopefully she can convince her mom that they need to stay. 

This is another fast read, one that I think will make people want to go to Vermont. (In my case, in the summer. The snow would kill me.)

It also works as a reminder that families can comprise people we choose, not just people we’re related to. And I love Maggie’s friends (a giant blended family with siblings) and her new life. 

Recommended. 

Invisible Emmie

Finished Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson. I received a copy for review. 

Emmie is practically invisible and that’s the way she likes it. Whenever she has to talk, she kind of does a little. Being the center of attention is excruciating. 

Katie is the exact opposite. She’s super popular and loves being noticed. 

They don’t spend time together until a note Emmie wrote to her crush (but never intended to share) is accidentally found and spread. That guy is Tyler and he happens to be dating Katie. (Or whatever you call it when it’s middle schoolers.)

This book is so cute! It’s a fast read (Emmie’s sections have little illustrations and Katie’s parts are graphic-novel style) and it’s completely charming. 

Watching Emmie come out of her shell (slowly and grudgingly) is completely delightful and I think shy girls will overidentify and maybe decide to talk more, as well. 

Planet Jupiter 

Finished Planet Jupiter by Jane Kurtz. I received a copy for review. 

Jupiter, her brother Orion and their mom lead a very unconventional life. They make their money busking and doing odd jobs and they tend to leave when the mood takes them. And then Jupiter learns that her couson Edom is going to live with them while her mom (Aunt Amy) is going through chemo. Even worse, they have to live in one place while this happens. And worst of all, Orion isn’t coming with them. 

Edom isn’t a good replacement, either. She’s adopted (from Ethiopia) and takes everything literally. She won’t talk about her past at all, and she won’t share. Any money she earns is her money. 

I enjoyed this story, which felt like something I would’ve read and loved as a child (it has a touch of The Great Gilly Hopkins) and I think middlegrade readers will enjoy a glimpse into two very different lifestyles. 

It’s sweet and surprisingly funny, too. Obviously there are sad parts, but on the whole, I don’t think anything would upset young readers. It’s clear that Aunt Amy is going to survive, for example. 

Recommended.