High school graduate Betty Lavelle is easily tormented and doesn’t like to be the center of attention. Generally level-headed and big-hearted, she’s a clothes geek, especially of sixties mod-inspired vintage style. She’s also a worrier who has a tendency to crush on people’s brains. She recently accepted an unpaid internship at Retrofit in order to provide a stepping-stone on her way to a career in the fashion industry. On an evening out to the mall in Berkley, California, Betty’s mother and older sister, Joy, are witnesses to a mass shooting in which two people die. Now, all three are traumatized. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder,Read 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 →

With his novel All That’s Left in the World, Erik J. Brown tells a post-apocalyptic story. It features “a gay guy, a broken straight boy, a cartography genius with PTSD, a seventy-year-old woman with a shotgun fighting zoo animals” (264), and a host of not-so-supportive others with an occasional kind character thrown in. There’s also a white supremacists commune, lest we forget the corrupting forces of racism, greed, and power. After a super-flu virus has nearly wiped out the American population, Andrew sets out from Connecticut on foot to find other survivors. Near Philadelphia, he is caught in a bear trap and staggers into aRead More →

Twelve-year-old Logan Foster is good at research, deductive reasoning, and logical problem-solving. However, he is not so adept at emotional responses, human interaction, and reading social cues. This unique protagonist evolves into the hero of Shawn Peters’ novel The Unforgettable Logan Foster.  Set in Santa Monica, California, Peters’ novel retells the story of an orphan who loves comics. Logan considers comics relatable because most superheroes are orphans. They also work to undermine villains and thwart bullies. When Gil Grant and Margie Morrow visit the El Segundo Transitional Orphanage (ESTO) as promising prospective foster parents, Logan experiences the feeling of being wanted and decides it feelsRead More →

The plot of One True Loves by Elise Bryant revolves around the life of smart, capable, artistic, and driven, Lenore Bennett. Each time she has a relationship with a boy, Lenore feels chosen and treasured—only to realize she has been nothing more than a chick on the side or a stepping stone to another relationship. Intent on protecting herself from the pain of such hurt, Lenore decides to live with her guard up and her heart on lockdown. However, “rooting out fuckboys and exposing their crimes against womankind” (29) proves to be a difficult mission with a friend like Tessa who is intent on writingRead More →

Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis by Susan Hood with Greg Dawson is a novel about the Holocaust told in verse and organized into seven parts. The story rings with Zhanna’s love for her Ukrainian homeland, sorrow for her lost family, and fury for both Stalin and the Nazis. The story opens with the insatiable curiosity of Zhanna Arshanskaya, a born explorer. Until 1935, Zhanna and her sister, Frina, live a candy-coated life in Berdyansk, Ukraine, nestled near the Sea of Azov. When Stalin begins to devour their country and imposes “death by hunger,” the family is forced to seek refuge inRead More →

Twelve years ago, Frances Frida Ripley (aka Frankie) was born near the sea during a storm, which seems to have imprinted on her, making her prone to volatility and moodiness. She is often impatient with her six-year-old sister, Birdie, and temperamental with her parents. Given her outbursts, Frankie has grown accustomed to her father’s admonishment: “Shouting creates negative energy and harmful interpersonal toxicity. Plus, it messes with our heads” (19). Frankie is frustrated by how adults always try to sort out or tidy up feelings, putting labels on them or nudging them into another shape. When Frankie doesn’t get her way, she rages. Her parentsRead 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 →