Readers of Carl Hiaasen, Sneed Collard, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Vet Volunteers series will likely be drawn to Evan Griffith’s debut novel for middle grade readers, Manatee Summer. Griffith tells the story of Peter Harrison and Tommy Saunders, two Florida youth who will enter sixth grade in the fall. The pair plans to spend their summer completing their Discovery Journal, a project that they began two years ago in which they catalog every animal species they see in the wild. Each discovery in the two hundred-page journal gets two pages. On one, Tommy records research notes; on another, Peter draws pictures. These two lovers ofRead More →

Told via text messages and news alerts, This Is Not a Drill by K.A. Holt reveals the story of Ava McDaniels and her drama with separating parents and friends who can’t keep secrets. Char has told Elena Ava’s secret, so while Ava and Char engage in a stand-off, Elena tries to remain neutral—like Switzerland. Notoriously forgetting to read the notifications on the Lila O’Leary Middle School App and to keep her phone charged, Ava finds herself trapped in a classroom when an intruder enters the school. Now the school is on lockdown and one of the sixth graders, Diego, needs an inhaler. As her phoneRead 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 →

In his novel Drifters, Kevin Emerson explores what it feels like to be adrift, to not fit in or to feel empty and alone.  Where Micah Rogers blooms in a group of people, Jovie Williams withers. Now, Micah has disappeared, and Jovie feels untethered. Her missing friend leaves a hole in the world and a hollow feeling inside Jovie. Although other people are able to “move on” with their lives, Jovie is obsessed with finding her friend. When she discovers evidence that suggests Micah may have found a way to cross into an alternate universe, she is determined to bring her back. Jovie secures theRead More →

With multiple allusions to film noir and with some genre blending, Katie Henry writes a humorous story—Gideon Green in Black and White—about Gideon’s serious approach to being a detective and solving mysteries. Dressing the part, sixteen-year-old Gideon wears a trench coat and a fedora and lives his life in the shadows. Using his difference to put distance between himself and others, Gideon makes his life mission one of truth-telling: “That’s a detective’s job. Telling the world what’s real, even if people don’t want to hear it” (12). For him, life is black and white and facts are facts. However, as time goes on, Gideon realizesRead More →

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 →

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 →