Ana Maria dreams of going to a top-notch private school, but with her family’s income, only a full scholarship will make her dream come true.
Ana Maria Reyes Castillo—her father’s last name means Kings, and her mother’s last name means Castle—does not live in a castle even though her mother reminds her that “we are the Reyes! Wherever we live is our castle.” In fact, she lives with her parents and three sisters in a two-bedroom apartment in Washington Heights, a heavily Dominican neighborhood of New York City, and a new sibling is on its way, to boot. Through 11-year-old Ana Maria’s voice as she oscillates between self-absorption and empathy, readers discover a close-knit community of family and neighbors. As Ana Maria prepares for a piano recital that she hopes will help her win the coveted scholarship, other events ensue that help her see the importance of the choices she makes: a family trip to the Dominican Republic; a car accident; the birth of the new baby. Burgos’ characters have depth, and the community she portrays is complex, warm, and very real. Themes of socio-economic disparities, bilingualism, and straddling of two cultures are brought effortlessly and realistically into the story.
Readers will find places in their hearts for this strong and multifaceted character.
A middle school story in which parental depression manifests itself in absence.
Natalie’s vivacious botanist mother (who’s white) has retreated from life, leaving her therapist husband (who’s biracial) and daughter to fill the gaping hole she has left. With the help of an egg-drop contest and a scientific-method project, Natalie explores breakable things and the nurturing of hope. Narrating in first-person, the mixed-race seventh-grader (1/4 Korean and 3/4 white) is drawn to her mother’s book, titled How to Grow A Miracle. It reminds her of when her mother was excited by science and questions and life. With a STEM-inspired chapter framework and illustrated with Neonakis’ scientific drawings, Keller’s debut novel uses the scientific method to unpack the complex emotions depression can cause. Momentum builds over nine months as Natalie observes, questions, researches, experiments, and analyzes clues to her mother’s state of mind. Providing support and some comic relief are her two sidekicks, Dari (a smart Indian immigrant boy) and Twig (Natalie’s wealthy, white best friend). The diversity of the characters provides identity and interest, not issue or plotline. Tension peaks at the egg-drop contest, as the three friends plan to use the prize winnings to bring Natalie’s mother back to life with a gift of a rare cobalt blue orchid. Paralleling their scientific progress, Natalie reluctantly experiences her first visits to talk therapy, slowly opening like a tight bloom.
A compassionate glimpse of mental illness accessible to a broad audience. (Fiction. 10-14)
Merci navigates the challenges of being a scholarship kid at a posh South Florida private school and the expectations of and responsibilities to her intergenerational family.
Eleven-year-old Merci Suárez isn’t the typical Seaward Pines Academy sixth-grader. Instead of a stately mansion, Merci lives with her parents and older brother, Roli, in one of three identical homes next to her Cuban-American extended family: Abuela and Lolo, Tía Inéz, and her rambunctious little twin cousins. At school, Merci has to deal with condescending mean girl Edna Santos, who loves to brag, boss around her friends, and throw out hurtful comments that start with “No offense….” Although Merci wants to earn money so that she can afford a new bike, she’s stuck volunteering for Sunshine Buddies, in which current students mentor new ones. What’s worse is that her assigned buddy is Michael Clark, a new tall white boy in her class. At home, Merci’s beloved Lolo begins to act erratically, and it becomes clear something secret and serious is happening. Medina writes about the joys of multigenerational home life (a staple of the Latinx community) with a touching, humorous authenticity. Merci’s relationship with Lolo is heartbreakingly beautiful and will particularly strike readers who can relate to the close, chaotic, and complicated bonds of live-in grandparents.
Medina delivers another stellar and deeply moving story.
A 13-year-old biracial girl longs to build the house of her dreams.
For Lou Bulosan-Nelson, normal is her “gigantic extended family squished into Lola’s for every holiday imaginable.” She shares a bedroom with her Filipina mother, Minda—a former interior-design major and current nurse-to-be—in Lola Celina’s San Francisco home. From her deceased white father, Michael, Lou inherited “not-so-Filipino features,” his love for architecture, and some land. Lou’s quietude implies her keen eye for details, but her passion for creating with her hands resonates loudly. Pining for something to claim as her own, she plans to construct a house from the ground up. When her mom considers moving out of state for a potential job and Lou’s land is at risk of being auctioned off, Lou stays resilient, gathering support from both friends and family to make her dream a reality. Respicio authentically depicts the richness of Philippine culture, incorporating Filipino language, insights into Lou’s family history, and well-crafted descriptions of customs, such as the birdlike Tinikling dance and eating kamayan style (with one’s hands), throughout. Lou’s story gives voice to Filipino youth, addressing cultural differences, the importance of bayanihan (community), and the true meaning of home.
This delightful debut welcomes readers in like a house filled with love.
Through the story of fifth-grader Mia Tang, readers experience the courage, hard work, and dreams of a young Chinese immigrant.
A small room behind the office of the Calivista Motel is home for Mia and her parents. Hired by the rich, coal-hearted Mr. Yao, the family works bone-numbing hours cleaning rooms, fixing problems, and managing the front desk. Troubles check in from every direction: at home, where her mom belittles her love of writing; at school, where bullies and lies surround her; and especially at the motel, where the family battles financial ruin. Yet along the seemingly endless roller coaster of poverty, hope appears in small places. Debut author Yang weaves in autobiographical content while creating a feisty and empowered heroine. The supporting characters are rich in voice and context, with multiple villains and friends that achingly reveal life in America in the 1990s for persons of color and those living in poverty. Heavy themes, including extortion, fraud, and racism, are balanced with the naïve dreams and determination of a 10-year-old. The power of Mia’s newfound skill in English pushes her to fight for her community, which has lovingly become her adopted family in this new land. With bittersweet information on Chinese immigration to America added in an author’s note, this book captures many important themes to explore individually or in the classroom.
Many readers will recognize themselves or their neighbors in these pages.
(Historical fiction. 8-12)
In the face of a loved one’s illness, Georgie struggles with blended-family growing pains and the ups and downs of friendship.
It’s summertime, and for 11-year-old Georgie and her 6-year-old sister, Peaches, doing the latest dances offers a respite from the changes that came with their parents’ divorce. They have a new stepmom, Millicent, nicknamed “Millipede” by Georgie. Could she be the reason Georgie and Peaches don’t see their dad as much as they used to? The girls have also moved from Atlanta to the suburbs with their mother to live with their new stepdad, Frank, and stepsister, Tangie. Tangie is still mourning the sudden death of her younger sister, Morgan, five years earlier, and she’s less than thrilled about Georgie and Peaches’ arrival in her life. When Georgie accidently makes things worse with Tangie, she reaches out to a “getting-out-of-a-jam” expert, her best friend, Nikki. But even Nikki can’t solve the problem when someone close to Georgie falls seriously ill. Feisty, loyal Georgie is determined to make things right in her family and thwart a mean girl’s scheme. A budding romance and a timely lesson about social justice round out Georgie’s summer. Chock-full of cultural and historical references that reflect Georgie and her family’s and friends’ African-American heritage, Youngblood’s debut is a celebration of intergenerational family bonds. Readers in co-parenting or blended families especially will relate to the conflicts between Georgie’s loving but imperfect parents.
An openhearted, endearing, and unforgettable debut about the challenges of friendship, growing up, and the boundless love of family.