September 11, 2021 will mark the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, and Alan Gratz’s book Ground Zero is here to bring that history to middle grade readers. Told in alternating perspectives between Brandon Chavez, a nine-year-old living in New York City in 2001, and Reshmina, an eleven-year-old girl living in Afghanistan in 2019, the two tales run parallel to one another but ultimately intersect in a surprising twist. As the novel opens, Brandon has been suspended for punching a bully in the nose, and because his mother has died and no one is available to watch him at home, he has to accompany his father toRead More →

A form of cognitive efficiency, labeling helps people make sense of their worlds. Although labels give our brains the ability to categorize and to draw useful conclusions, they can also limit thinking and lead to stereotypes. With labels like normal, mentally ill, or bipolar, we not only make assumptions about others but about ourselves and our potential abilities. These assumptions can even influence our identities. It is this identity labeling that concerns Journey Smith, the seventeen-year-old protagonist in Faith Gardner’s novel Girl on the Line. Journey doubts the truth about many of the things the world tells her and believes that her brain ruins everything asRead More →

Betita is a nine-year-old girl with a loving family in modern-day America. She enjoys learning new words, spelling, drawing, and playing with other kids her age. What appears to be a rather normal life quickly begins to unravel into fear and uncertainty when her Papi doesn’t pick her up after school one day. After failing to reach her father, the principal drives Betita home. While her mother tries to hide her worry, Betita knows something is wrong, and she soon finds out that the almost-worst has happened. Her father has been deported, leaving her mother, who is newly pregnant, and Betita to fend for themselvesRead More →

Given the coronavirus pandemic currently sweeping the world, Katharyn Blair‘s novel Unchosen is eerily relevant. Fans of Suzanne Collins, Scott Westerfeld, Mercedes Lackey, and Brandon Sanderson will also cheer for the strong female characters and appreciate the engaging and action-packed story. In Blair’s dystopia, someone has knowingly or inadvertently unleashed the Crimson, a virus-like curse that causes the end of the world as we know it. Rather than wearing face masks, people wear blindfolds because looking into the wrong eyes is a death sentence. When infected, a person’s irises turn from their natural color to purple and then to red. That individual has only oneRead More →

The Ninth Life by Taylor B. Barton is a book about hope, family, grief, friendship, romance, and identity. But most of all, it is a book about fighting for love—that raw, untamed, and messy emotion—and a book about the monstrosity of being human, which is both horrible and beautiful. As Caesar’s feline life is coming to a close, a life bursting with endless amounts of love, he can’t imagine living without Ophelia Matherson and her dog Missy. His life as Ophelia’s cat was a full one; it had taught him kindness and brought him friendship. In that life, he loved a girl who loved himRead More →

Like a tower built from Jenga blocks, eleven-year-old Piper Trudeau’s former life in Cypress Point, Texas, all comes crashing down after a series of unfortunate events: her parents’ job hours cut, lost jobs, unexpected medical bills, car trouble, bills piling up, and eventually an eviction.  Now, she and her family are homeless and living in a shelter in Idaho—experiencing new places and new people and learning that a rough patch can seem like a “football field full of briars” (39). But this is only one plot thread in Stay by Bobbie Pyron, a novel targeted for middle grade readers that alternates between the story ofRead More →

Four Three Two One by Courtney Stevens recounts the story of four young adults, all unique in their idiosyncrasies as they board Charter Bus 21 in New York City on June 15 bound for Ellis Island: Chandler Clayton is allergic to sudden changes but artistic with a sketch pad or a chain saw and logs; Golden Jennings is eager to explore the world beyond the towering oaks and billowing blue grass of Kentucky with her vintage No. 3 Kodak; Rudy Guthrie is a talented soccer athlete and a writer who has just won a scholarship to Emerson College in Boston; and Caroline Ascott from a wealthyRead More →

“Hope is the thing with feathers-/that perches in the soul,” wrote Emily Dickinson, but ten-year-old Star Mackie isn’t so sure that’s true.  For Star, the main character in Robin Herrera’s inaugural novel Hope Is A Ferris Wheel, hope is a Ferris wheel, and loneliness is perching in her soul.  Star has an empty space in her heart and soul where her dad is supposed to be.  Neither her mom nor her sixteen- year-old sister Winter will talk about Dad, but he is in Star’s head, “making [her] hope for things like birthday cards and ice cream dates and whatever else fathers and daughters [do] together”Read More →

For a fast-paced, suspenseful, and engaging read, Nick Lake’s Hostage Three won’t disappoint.  That Lake was the Winner of the 2013 Printz Award is apparent in his writing style—which captivates with its pacing and imagery-richness. The book’s protagonist is seventeen-year-old Amy Fields fromLondon.  Struggling to deal with her mothers’ death and craving her father’s attention, Amy has taken acting out to a self-destructive level: swearing at teachers, taking drugs, insulting her parents, going to all-night parties, and intentionally failing her high school exit exams.  Hoping to block out the world or simply wishing to disappear, she is snarky, sullen, defiant, and without charming personality quirks.Read More →