Fight + Flight by Jules Machias is a book for any young reader looking for a story that shows how to face a barrage of struggles that seem to occur simultaneously. A pansexual thirteen-year-old with lots of sass, Avery Hart loves dirt bikes because they’re “buzzy and beautiful.” This bold and assertive girl dreams of becoming “a robotics engineer who invents adorable AI assistants that do boring chores like washing dishes and folding laundry and cleaning the bathroom” (26). Diagnosed with the hypermobile type of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (hEDS), Avery’s body presents a series of challenges. Although she has always been rubber-band flexible, now she isRead More →

Written for middle grade readers, The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei by Christina Matula is a strong reminder that things don’t always go as planned and that life doesn’t follow some script. Besides sharing the experiences of seventh grader, Holly-Mei Jones, a mixed Taiwanese Canadian who moves abroad to Hong Kong, Matula imparts a rich mix of cultural details—including mores for behavior like guanxi (relationships, connections, network) and multiple gustatory delights like bolo bao (pineapple buns) and jiaozi (dumplings). She even includes recipes following the book’s glossary of the Mandarin, Cantonese, and Taiwanese words, sayings, and other terms used in the novel. While heritage is aRead More →

With her novel Green Eyes and Ham, Mary Penney explores multiple topics relevant to middle grade readers. In her protagonist Abraham Hudson, readers will find a relatable character who confronts familiar conflicts. After all, the junior high years are fraught with challenges revolving around issues like first love, sexuality, friendship, and finding a sense of belonging where everything looks different, smells different, tastes different and where the language and customs are also unknowns. For twelve years, Ham has been homeschooled, but when his mother, who is a priest, experiences a cardiac event and needs to pare some of the stress from her life, Ham isRead More →

Any reader looking for a book that teaches middle schoolers to talk back to power and to channel anger into productive civic action will find that Unfadeable by Maurice Broaddus is a prime candidate. Broaddus paints the character of his protagonist, Isabella Fades, aka Unfadeable or Bella, as a confident tagger and painter of murals in her Indiana neighborhood. Both strong and stubborn, thirteen-year-old Bella is unintimidated by adults and fighting to make the world a prettier place. She’s also homeless and hiding that fact from the powers that be. When she approaches the city to secure money for a youth arts program to beautify herRead More →

Set in Paris, Kentucky, Candidly Cline by Kathryn Ormsbee is a queer coming-of-age story about Cline Louise Alden. Alden ladies have music in their marrow, and according to Cline’s Gram, music is medicine. Thirteen-year-old Cline, who plays her secondhand guitar with finesse, imagines herself in Nashville singing her heart out at the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry. If knowing better means keeping quiet when a good song is on the radio, Cline is happy to remain ignorant.  For as long as she can remember, she has dreamed of making it big as a singer/songwriter. Cline gets the chance to be noticed forRead More →

Set in the fictional country of Mariposa, The Samosa Rebellion by Shanthi Sekaran tells the story of several twelve-year-old middle schoolers who attend Marble Hill Preparatory (MHP) Academy.  When Muki Krishnan spots Dragonflies—a type of spy drone—monitoring the neighborhood of Oceanview and suddenly hears people talking about moths versus butterflies, he knows strange things are afoot, so he is glad to have his best friend Fabi Calderón by his side. Fabi is smart, funny, genuine, great at soccer, and immune to what the world thinks. Unlike Tinley Schaedler and others whose families have ancestors from Mariposa, the two friends are on scholarship to attend MHP,Read More →

Fifth grader Anthony Joplin, aka Ant, is afraid of confrontation but confident in his card playing skills and kind to his friends. He is also trying to discover where and how he fits into the “tough guy” image and whether he can “be a lion,” as Jamal’s brother Taj says. Ant is further confused by girls, in particular, Shirley Heyward. How she smiles, talks, and laughs makes Ant’s skin tingle. “Ant doesn’t know what was prettier—Shirley’s smile, her brown fingers as they worked the deck, or the sound of the cards as she made a perfect shuffle” (193). Now that Ant’s older brother Aaron isRead More →

With the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 having recently been commemorated, we all might wonder whether we have progressed as a nation in the last two decades. We might ask ourselves if we treat others better today than we did in the days and months after the attacks. Because today’s school age youth were not yet alive in 2001, they may wonder why September 11 carries the motto, Never Forget. They may wonder why history is so important.  Saadia Faruqi’s novel Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero will guide middle grade readers to understand these complicated questions with their layered answers. Readers will learn that historyRead More →

Room to Dream is Kelly Yang’s third book in her Mia Tang/Front Desk series. It shares Mia’s current experiences as a seventh grader navigating friendship challenges and boyfriend drama. Mia also returns to China in 1995 with her parents after being absent for five years. While she cherishes the time with family, Mia wonders about the changes that “progress” is making. The big chains are “swallowing up” the small mom-and-pop businesses. Having been made aware of these changes an ocean away, when Mia returns to California, she notices that ethnic shops are closing in favor of hotel and restaurant chains. When Vacation Rentals offers toRead More →