I suspect that many adolescent readers will find themselves in the pages of Francina Simone’s novel Smash It! The leading female in this book, which is dedicated to “theater kids,” seventeen-year-old Olivia James-Johnson considers herself a nerdy loser, a sad black girl with a “too curvy” body, and someone who does uncool things since she’s addicted to self-sabotage. Because she lacks self-confidence, she passes up doing what she wants because she’s afraid of being judged or looking like a clown. A talented flutist who loves dancing, she can find a beat and step into it with her whole body. “When I dance, I feel likeRead More →

Featuring illustrations by Robin Boyden, Get Me Out of Here! by Andy McNab and Phil Earle is a humorous novel written for middle grade readers.  The plot revolves around eleven-year-old Danny Mack’s desire to attend what he believes will be an epic, adventure-filled school field trip with mountaineering, kayaking, and zip-lining.  However, the trip costs more than his mother can afford. So, in order to raise the $150.00 participation fee, Danny undertakes a series of “get rich quick” schemes. His best friend Thomas Jefferson Raffles (aka Giraffles), who is always willing to stick his neck out for a pal, helps Danny to realize he’s notRead More →

Attracted to the bold, the risky, and the unknown, Hattie Darrow plays Don Quixote to Reid MacGregory’s role as Sancho Panza. Reid is content playing Hattie’s side-kick extraordinaire in pranks and at parties.  Where Reid is calm and reasonable, Hattie is spontaneous and daring; her energy luminesces around her.  From the time Reid met Hattie in middle school, Reid saw her potential and declared: “Being Hattie Darrow’s friend would make me better” (51). As the two are about to enter their senior year in high school, Hattie is still Reid’s social oxygen.  “Humiliation is a language [Hattie] doesn’t speak, and she doesn’t want [Reid] toRead More →

Jasbinder Bilan’s debut novel for middle grade readers, Asha and the Spirit Bird, is one rich with cultural detail and adventure. Set in a village in India called Moormandali, Bilan includes many Hindi and Punjabi words to add authenticity to the telling of this coming of age, epic journey. The story features eleven-year-old Asha Kumar and her twelve-year-old best friend, Jeevan Singh Gill.  The two children sneak away from home to travel from their village in the foothills of the Himalayas to find Asha’s papa in Zandapur. The journey calls on the children’s perseverance, courage, hope, and conviction that they will be successful.  Along theRead More →

Like nightmares, scary stories are a sort of dress rehearsal for real-life fear, helping children learn to cope with the emotion in a low-stakes setting.  After all, the world can be a scary place where children will encounter frightful situations—such as getting lost, losing friends, being less loved than a sibling, or experiencing abandonment as a result of parental death or divorce.  Therefore, knowing how to confront fear can benefit children and help them cope with difficulty. Scary stories like Dan Poblocki’s Ghost Hunter’s Daughter, targeted for middle grade readers in the eight to twelve year old age group, not only help children forge resilience but give them a senseRead More →

Eat Pray Love meets lust, love, soccer in Iva-Marie Palmer’s young adult novel Gimme Everything You Got. Set in Illinois in 1979 when Title IX was historically significant, Palmer’s book starts off with a snarky, candid, and humorous tone.  Who knew fulcrum could be sexually suggestive or that prolongedly was even a word, especially as an adverb to describe a fantasy kiss? I found myself laughing out loud about how genuine this all seemed. Initially, the discussion of masturbation and erogenous zones gave the novel an air of authenticity—given that such a focus is a natural part of the maturation process for teens—but it wasn’tRead More →

Reading You Don’t Live Here left me wowed and gushing that author Robyn Schneider is a genius at capturing the search for one’s true self!  In her novel, Schneider not only shares insight into human nature and how keeping parts of ourselves hidden has consequences but includes multiple metaphors for the therapeutic power of art.  I also laughed out loud when she referred to high school as a “uniquely hellish social experiment” (70). Sixteen-year-old Sasha Bloom is a photographer, an identity she gravitated towards after her mother bought her a camera because Sasha would rather be invisible behind a camera lens than be a continuedRead More →

Although Leah Johnson is a writer and editor, You Should See Me in a Crown is her first novel. Set in Indiana, the story features seventeen-year-old Liz Lighty whose life has been derailed by her mother’s death to complications with sickle cell disease (SCD).  Living with her grandparents where money is tight and taking care of her brother Robbie who has Acute Chest Syndrome, an inherited form of SCD, keeps Liz on edge. Because she feels like everything about her makes her stand out, Liz has mastered the art of being a wallflower.  On the fringes and out of the spotlight, Liz hopes to hideRead More →

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, I needed a feel-good book, and Alex Flinn’s Love, Jacaranda did not disappoint.  Written in one-way email correspondence, almost like a diary, Flinn’s book performs some genre-bending in that it is realistic fiction sprinkled with mystery and romance. Named for the tree that heralds springtime in Southeastern Florida, Jacaranda Abbott bags groceries at a Publix supermarket.  Because she loves to sing and to bring joy to others, she performs for Mr. Louis, one of her favorite patrons. Chorus has always been the best part of her school day, since it is “sort of like a little vacay right in the middleRead More →