Category Archives: Middlegrade

Out of Place

Finished Out of Place by Jennifer Blecher. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Jennifer Blecher’s debut novel is a voice-driven story about bullying, friendship, and self-reliance that hits the sweet spot for fans of Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish and Erin Entrada Kelly’s You Go First. 

Twelve-year-old Cove Bernstein’s year has gone from bad to worse. First, her best friend, Nina, moved from Martha’s Vineyard to New York City. Then, without Nina around, Cove became the target of a bullying campaign at school. Escape seems impossible.

But opportunities can appear when you least expect them. Cove’s visit to a secondhand clothing store leads her to a surprising chance to visit Nina, but only if she can win a coveted place in a kids-only design competition. Cove doesn’t know how to sew, but her friend at the retirement home, Anna, has promised to teach her. And things start really looking up when a new kid at school, Jack, begins appearing everywhere Cove goes.

Then Cove makes a big mistake. One that could ruin every good thing that has happened to her this year. One that she doesn’t know how to undo.

Jennifer Blecher’s accessible and beautifully written debut novel explores actions and consequences, loneliness, bullying, and finding your voice. This voice-driven friendship story is for fans of Rebecca Stead’s Goodbye Stranger and Jodi Kendall’s The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City.  ”

I love Cove so much and I could relate to her story. My best friend also moved away when we were about that age, and as the person left behind in a small town while your best friend moves to a city, I can tell you that it sucks.

It’s made worse for Cove because she’s not particularly popular (most kids leave her alone, but these four popular girls seem to have it in for her and it’s for no real reason, which makes it even harder) and so now she has a lot of free time and not much to do to fill it.

This is a sweet middlegrade about accepting yourself and finding your people. Recommended.

 

Advertisements

Property of the Rebel Librarian

Finished Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“When twelve-year-old June Harper’s parents discover what they deem an inappropriate library book, they take strict parenting to a whole new level. And everything June loves about Dogwood Middle School unravels: librarian Ms. Bradshaw is suspended, an author appearance is canceled, the library is gutted, and all books on the premises must have administrative approval.

But June can’t give up books . . . and she realizes she doesn’t have to when she spies a Little Free Library on her walk to school. As the rules become stricter at school and at home, June keeps turning the pages of the banned books that continue to appear in the little library. It’s a delicious secret . . . and one she can’t keep to herself. June starts a banned book library of her own in an abandoned locker at school. The risks grow alongside her library’s popularity, and a movement begins at Dogwood Middle–a movement that, if exposed, could destroy her. But if it’s powerful enough, maybe it can save Ms. Bradshaw and all that she represents: the freedom to read.

Equal parts fun and empowering, this novel explores censorship, freedom of speech, and activism. For any kid who doesn’t believe one person can effect change…and for all the kids who already know they can!”

This book is a delight. It’s over the top, yes, but in the best possible way.

I love June so much and she reminds me a lot of me as a kid. And I love how reading became the cool thing at the school once the principal, teachers and parents banned most of the books. (Fun fact: I was in a magnet school for elementary school and in fourth grade, we all started reading Stephen King. [Explains a lot, doesn’t it?] One of the teachers got incredibly mad at us and threatened to take the books away and tell our parents. We were like, “How do you think we got these books? THEY BOUGHT THEM FOR US.” And while we can certainly have a discussion on whether fourth grade is too young for Stephen King, we are all fine adults now and none of us have any lasting trauma.)

But these kids aren’t reading Stephen King. They’re reading age appropriate books, like Because of Winn Dixie and Bridge to Terabithia. They’re reading some of the books I read at their age—or maybe a little younger—and it’s not like they’re reading Tropic of Cancer…or, I guess, The Stand.

If you know any kid who loves books, get them a copy of this. They’ll love it, and they should. It was literally made for them. Recommended.

To Night Owl from Dogfish

Finished To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From two extraordinary authors comes a moving, exuberant, laugh-out-loud novel about friendship and family, told entirely in emails and letters.

Avery Bloom, who’s bookish, intense, and afraid of many things, particularly deep water, lives in New York City. Bett Devlin, who’s fearless, outgoing, and loves all animals as well as the ocean, lives in California. What they have in common is that they are both twelve years old, and are both being raised by single, gay dads.

When their dads fall in love, Bett and Avery are sent, against their will, to the same sleepaway camp. Their dads hope that they will find common ground and become friends–and possibly, one day, even sisters.

But things soon go off the rails for the girls (and for their dads too), and they find themselves on a summer adventure that neither of them could have predicted. Now that they can’t imagine life without each other, will the two girls (who sometimes call themselves Night Owl and Dogfish) figure out a way to be a family?”

This is such a sweet, fun book. It’s told through emails, which is a narrative device I love. (Letters and texts are also really fun; they make the story feel like it’s moving so much faster because the chapters are so short.)

I loved Bett and Avery and the way that their “we need to torpedo this nonsense right now!” turned into “I guess maybe it wouldn’t be horrible” and then to “we are SISTERS.”

I never did summer camp and this makes me nostalgic for that idea. It seems so much fun and I kind of wish I had had that experience…although rowing eleven miles sounds kind of awful, too.

This is a fantastic middlegrade novel and this is the perfect summer read. Recommended.

Shouting at the Rain

Finished Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“From the author of the New York Times bestseller Fish in a Tree comes a compelling story about perspective and learning to love the family you have.

Delsie loves tracking the weather–lately, though, it seems the squalls are in her own life. She’s always lived with her kindhearted Grammy, but now she’s looking at their life with new eyes and wishing she could have a “regular family.” Delsie observes other changes in the air, too–the most painful being a friend who’s outgrown her. Luckily, she has neighbors with strong shoulders to support her, and Ronan, a new friend who is caring and courageous but also troubled by the losses he’s endured. As Ronan and Delsie traipse around Cape Cod on their adventures, they both learn what it means to be angry versus sad, broken versus whole, and abandoned versus loved. And that, together, they can weather any storm.”

I feel like I’ve been waiting forever for Lynda Mullaly Hunt to release another book and this was more than worth the wait. Her forte seems to be writing these incredibly strong, resilient girls who are still dealing with way more than any kid their age should have to. Delsie is no exception.

She’s being raised by her grandmother because her mom is battling addiction and can’t take care of her. (Delsie has been with her Grammy for all of her life, essentially.) And it’s been OK. Yes, she misses her mom but she has really good friends and neighbors. But this is the summer where everything changes.

Her best friend has picked a new friend and Delsie is really sad about it. It’s made worse by the fact that the new friend is the worst person ever—she’s mean to and about everybody.

I loved everything about Delsie. In some ways, she’s so young for her age and in others, she seems like she’s about a hundred years old.

You don’t need to relate to “turbulent home life” to relate to this book. (We all know mean girls, right?)

Highly recommended—I just hope that the fourth book isn’t so far in the future.

Other Words For Home

Finished Other Words For Home by Jasmine Warga. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

I am learning how to be
sad
and happy
at the same time.

Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.

At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.”

I couldn’t stop reading this book! I immediately loved Jude and, at the same time, felt so awful for her. (She and her mom go to America to live with family while her dad and brother stay behind in Syria. Obviously the region is really volatile and she’s concerned about their safety—moreso her brother—and also trying to fit in when she looks different and speaks English with an accent. You can imagine how well that goes over with some people.)

Ultimately, this is a story about resilience. Jude overcomes nervousness and the horrible attitudes of other people and does things the way she wants to do them. (I may have actually cheered at the ending.)

I think this is Jasmine Warga’s best book yet and that’s saying a lot. Highly recommended.

Far Away

Finished Far Away by Lisa Graff.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A book about life, loss, and the secrets families keep, reminiscent of Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons, by National Book Award nominee Lisa Graff.

CJ lives and travels with her Aunt Nic, a famous psychic medium who tours the country communicating with her audience’s deceased loved ones at sold-out theaters. Together, they give people closure and forgiveness, and pass important messages on from the Spirit world. While CJ doesn’t have her aunt’s same ability to talk to the dead, she enjoys playing a crucial role in connecting others with their dearly departed. After all, she knows firsthand what it’s like to lose someone she loves—the only way she can talk to her mom, who died hours after CJ was born, is through Aunt Nic.

But when a magician bent on proving that Aunt Nic is a fraud shows up at their shows, CJ learns an impossible truth—that her mother is actually still very much alive. Now CJ no longer knows who to trust. As she learns more unsettling family secrets, CJ must grapple with the lies she’s been told and the lies she’s helped perpetuate. And in the end, she must decide how to reconcile what it means to find her true family and home—and what it means to forgive.

A poignant, heartfelt novel that explores the lengths we go to protect those we love—and how that impulse can often lead us down difficult roads.”

I’m not sure there’s been a Lisa Graff novel I haven’t loved (though there are a couple I haven’t read yet) but this one feels different. Part of it is that CJ’s mom died when she was a baby and, as you know, I do love grieving books the most. And part of it is that I am fascinated by psychics in general and mediums in particular.

And you guys, I love CJ. She’s far more grown up than a 12-year-old should be but she deals with it so well and, though she misses her mom, she’s also OK with it…because her aunt’s gift means that she can talk to her mom on a regular basis anyway.

This book broke my heart multiple times, but it was definitely worth it. Highly recommended.

Summer of a Thousand Pies

Finished Summer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway.  I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A heartfelt contemporary middle grade novel, perfect for fans of The Thing About Jellyfish and Fish in a Tree, about a girl who is sent to live with her aunt and must try to save their failing pie shop.

When twelve-year-old Cady Bennett is sent to live with the aunt she didn’t even know she had in the quaint mountain town of Julian, she doesn’t know what to expect. Cady isn’t used to stability, or even living inside, after growing up homeless in San Diego with her dad.

Now she’s staying in her mother’s old room, exploring the countryside filled with apple orchards and pie shops, making friends, and working in Aunt Shell’s own pie shop—and soon, Cady starts to feel like she belongs. Then she finds out that Aunt Shell’s pie shop is failing. Saving the business and protecting the first place she’s ever really felt safe will take everything she’s learned and the help of all her new friends. But are there some things even the perfect pie just can’t fix?

Summer of a Thousand Pies is a sweet and satisfying treat of a novel full of friendship, family, and, of course, pie.”

Kids today have so many better book choices than I did when I was their age! Middlegrade books are amazing now, and I’m honestly jealous.

I loved Margaret Dilloway’s first two adult novels (and just found out that there’s a third I haven’t read!) and so getting to read her middlegrade book—I think it’s a debut!—was a no-brainer. Her ability to make her characters immediately seem so vibrant is incredibly rare.

I felt like I had known Cady forever, and felt her nervousness at going with an aunt she’d never met and had barely heard of to a town she’s never been while her dad is out of the picture. I completely understood why she barely trusted anyone (she had basically one friend back home; people and especially young kids aren’t exactly kind to homeless people, even if one of them is a kid, too) and how she didn’t really understand the concept of…well, anything.

Her only real treasured possession is a cookbook of her mom’s (who died when Cady was five) and so learning that her aunt Shell was a baker too was a dream come true. It’s how they initially connect and so Cady decides (OK, more accurately is told) that she will make a thousand pies over the summer because that’s the best way to become great at something. (Which is true—practice and repetition goes pretty far in love.)

I loved the town and its residents (it almost seemed like a west coast Stars Hollow, in that everyone genuinely cared for each other and it’s also far less quirky).

Highly recommended.

Orange for the Sunsets

Finished Orange for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“A soaring tale of empathy, hope, and resilience, Tina Athaide’s unforgettable middle grade debut follows two friends whose lives are transformed by Idi Amin’s decision to expel Indians from Uganda in 1972.

Twelve-year-old Asha and her best friend, Yesofu, never cared about the differences between them: Indian. African. Girl. Boy. Short. Tall. But when Ugandan President Idi Amin announces that Indians have ninety days to leave the country, suddenly those differences are the only things that people in Entebbe can see—not the shared after-school samosas or Asha cheering for Yesofu at every cricket game.

Determined for her life to stay the same, Asha clings to her world tighter than ever before. But Yesofu is torn, pulled between his friends, his family, and a promise that could bring his dreams of university within reach. Now, as neighbors leave and soldiers line the streets, the two friends find that nothing seems sure—not even their friendship. And with only days before the deadline, Asha and Yesofu must decide if the bravest thing of all might be to let each other go.”

I didn’t know much about this at all, and that makes me feel awful. We always think we’ve learned from the Holocaust and this is how the Holocaust starts. We see it here through the eyes of Asha (who’s Indian) and Yesofu (Ugandan).

At first, it seems like Idi Amin has a point (at least to Yesofu). He can see the disparity between how Indians and the British are treated and how Africans are treated; he sees how Asha has a nice home and servants, while he and his family live in a shack without running water.

But then it escalates and he starts to wonder what will happen when all the non-Africans have left Uganda. Will it stop there? Or will he go after other people? Who will be the next target?

This is such an intense book and it’s almost worse because we see it through kids’ perspectives. They don’t really see the danger that’s creeping up on them.

Highly recommended.

Trace

Finished Trace by Pat Cummings.  I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In a debut novel that’s perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds and Erin Entrada Kelly, award-winning author/illustrator and educator Pat Cummings tells a poignant story about grief, love, and the untold stories that echo across time. 

Trace Carter doesn’t know how to feel at ease in his new life in New York. Even though his artsy Auntie Lea is cool, her brownstone still isn’t his home. Haunted by flashbacks of the accident that killed his parents, the best he can do is try to distract himself from memories of the past.

But the past isn’t done with him. When Trace takes a wrong turn in the New York Public Library, he finds someone else lost in the stacks with him: a crying little boy, wearing old, tattered clothes.

And though at first he can’t quite believe he’s seen a ghost, Trace soon discovers that the boy he saw has ties to Trace’s own history—and that he himself may be the key to setting the dead to rest.”

This doesn’t feel like a debut novel. The pacing is excellent and it’s ideal for middlegrade readers (especially around Halloween!). I love the supernatural aspect, though people who aren’t fans of things that are scary or even horror-adjacent don’t need to worry. I don’t think anyone will be losing any sleep because of this book.

Trace is an orphan now and of course he blames himself because he thinks it’s his fault that he and his parents were on the road in the exact right time to get into the fatal accident. Because he doesn’t really talk about his feelings, no adult in his life can reassure him that it’s no one’s fault.

As much as I feel awful for Trace, he’s sometimes hard to like. He makes a lot of really rude comments (in his head, at least) about people in his life. (Mostly his teacher but also Presley, a girl in his class.) This may be spot-on for boys in that age range; I don’t personally know any so I can’t say for sure.

If you know of any reluctant readers, this is perfect for them. (And also for people who already love it.)

Where the Heart Is

Finished Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles.

Summary (from Goodreads):

If home is where the heart is, what would happen if you lost it? Compassion and humor infuse the story of a family caught in financial crisis and a girl struggling to form her own identity.

It’s the first day of summer and Rachel’s thirteenth birthday. She can’t wait to head to the lake with her best friend, Micah! But as summer unfolds, every day seems to get more complicated. Her “fun” new job taking care of the neighbors’ farm animals quickly becomes a challenge, whether she’s being pecked by chickens or having to dodge a charging pig at feeding time. At home, her parents are more worried about money than usual, and their arguments over bills intensify. Fortunately, Rachel can count on Micah to help her cope with all the stress. But Micah seems to want their relationship to go beyond friendship, and though Rachel almost wishes for that, too, she can’t force herself to feel “that way” about him. In fact, she isn’t sure she can feel that way about any boy — or what that means.”

Can we first acknowledge that Jo Knowles is one of the best middlegrade authors today? I loved this book so much and it feels incredibly timely.

There are a lot of heavy topics in this book and they’re all handled with grace and sensitivity (as I would expect). I loved Rachel and her relationships with her parents and little sister, Ivy. She’s a really good kid and she’s genuinely caring and empathetic. She is definitely confused about her romantic leanings, but she also just sort of feels like she’s got time to figure it out and she doesn’t need or want to rush anything.

The financial aspect of the story is what hit me hardest. It really affected Rachel and she was trying so hard to be strong (knowing that her parents would feel even worse if she got upset) so when she finally lost it, I ugly cried everywhere.

This is such a fantastic book and I cannot wait for what Jo Knowles writes next. I hope there’s a companion novel (there’s precedent for that in her backlist!). I need to know what happens next for Rachel.

Highly recommended.