Book List

Best Middle-Grade Fantasy & Science Fiction of 2019

Not the first tale to be set in a universal library but unusually clever in the details and commendably accurate in its own...

THE LIBRARY OF EVER

A bored preteen discovers that there’s more to library work than developing a world-class “SHUSH” or shooting through librarian-sized pneumatic tubes.

Indeed, hardly has 11-year-old Lenora stepped through the mysterious portal that connects her public library to a much, much larger one then she is invited to take the librarian’s oath (“Do you swear to venture forth bravely and find the answer to any question, no matter the challenge?”). She’s given a Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian badge and whirled off on a series of assignments that take her from the year 8000 to correct a leap-year misconception to a near stranding on a massive globe as she searches for the place with the world’s longest name. And as if such realistically typical reference work isn’t hard enough on its own, along the way she is repeatedly attacked by bowler-wearing villains (some of them robots) collectively known as the Forces of Darkness and dedicated to the suppression of intellectual freedom. Fortunately, being the resourceful sort who gets a thrill of pleasure from realizing that she is lost, Lenora is well up to most challenges—and for the rest she gets solid support from a multispecies supporting cast led by her supervisor, Chief Answerer Malachi. Lenora presents white; Malachi is a 10-foot-tall, dark-skinned woman.

Not the first tale to be set in a universal library but unusually clever in the details and commendably accurate in its own way. (Fantasy. 9-11)

Pub Date: April 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-16917-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Imprint

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

This can’t be the last we ever hear of the Legendary Alston Boys of the purely surreal Logan County—imaginative,...

THE LAST LAST-DAY-OF-SUMMER

Can this really be the first time readers meet the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County? Cousins and veteran sleuths Otto and Sheed Alston show us that we are the ones who are late to their greatness.

These two black boys are coming to terms with the end of their brave, heroic summer at Grandma’s, with a return to school just right around the corner. They’ve already got two keys to the city, but the rival Epic Ellisons—twin sisters Wiki and Leen—are steadily gaining celebrity across Logan County, Virginia, and have in hand their third key to the city. No way summer can end like this! These young people are powerful, courageous, experienced adventurers molded through their heroic commitment to discipline and deduction. They’ve got their shared, lifesaving maneuvers committed to memory (printed in a helpful appendix) and ready to save any day. Save the day they must, as a mysterious, bendy gentleman and an oversized, clingy platypus have been unleashed on the city of Fry, and all the residents and their belongings seem to be frozen in time and place. Will they be able to solve this one? With total mastery, Giles creates in Logan County an exuberant vortex of weirdness, where the commonplace sits cheek by jowl with the utterly fantastic, and populates it with memorable characters who more than live up to their setting.

This can’t be the last we ever hear of the Legendary Alston Boys of the purely surreal Logan County—imaginative, thrill-seeking readers, this is a series to look out for. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-46083-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Versify/HMH

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

At once enchanting, heart-rending, and bittersweet—just as Elodee would want it.

EVENTOWN

Does perfection mean the erasure of all pain? Elodee wonders.

Elodee’s family needs a fresh start; everyone says so. The Lively family relocates to Eventown, a planned utopia where there’s no internet, TV, or cars, and all the houses look the same. Fifth-grader Elodee can’t wait to bake, while her identical twin sister, Naomi, looks forward to gymnastics. Part mystery, part fabulism, with a dash of dystopia, this story is as layered and delicious as one of Elodee’s concoctions. In the preteen’s narration, readers immediately see the town’s appeal. Who could resist a special, personalized event in Eventown’s Welcoming Center? After telling your stories—the scariest, most embarrassing, most heartbreaking, loneliest, angriest, and most joyful—your memories are locked away, freeing you for the happiness of Eventown. Reluctant to give away all her stories, Elodee begins to notice imperfections and question her surroundings—the weeds in their yard, how she and Naomi are drifting apart, what exactly her family wanted to forget. It’s the last that drives Elodee to search for the truth about her past. In the process, she awakens Eventown’s citizens to their feelings and connects her family through their shared stories. Although not as dark as The Giver, the narrative will evoke comparisons about the nature of perfection and the importance of memories. The Livelys present white, as does most of Eventown; one family integral to the plot is originally from India.

At once enchanting, heart-rending, and bittersweet—just as Elodee would want it. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-268980-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

This book, drenched in Cuban Spanish and personality, is a breath of fresh air.

SAL AND GABI BREAK THE UNIVERSE

From the Sal and Gabi series , Vol. 1

Salvador Vidón is the new kid at Miami’s magnet school Culeco Academy of the Arts, but being at a special school doesn’t protect Sal from trouble.

Bullies are everywhere, but seventh-grader Sal knows just how to handle a difficult kid like Yasmany Robles. Obviously, you deal with a bully by opening a portal into another universe, taking a raw chicken from it, and planting it in the bully’s locker. But you cannot just go opening portals into other universes without some consequences. For one, Sal gets sent to the principal on only his third day at Culeco and in the process meets Gabi Reál, who isn’t buying Sal’s innocent-magician act. The more pressing issue is that when Sal opens portals, sometimes his deceased mother comes through from alternate universes where she still exists—Mami Muerta, in Sal’s words. But if you could bring your dead mother back, wouldn’t you? The story moves quickly, with lots of multiverse traffic, school hijinks, and strong, smart, diverse characters. Most are Cuban-American in various shades of brown, like Sal, Gabi, and Yasmany, and Hernandez effortlessly folds in multiple intersectionalities, including Sal’s diabetes and Gabi’s unusual, delightfully matter-of-fact family structure. Secondary characters receive as much care and love as the primary cast, and readers will find themselves laughing out loud and rooting for Sal, Gabi, and even Yasmany until the very end.

This book, drenched in Cuban Spanish and personality, is a breath of fresh air. (Science fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: March 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-368-02282-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents/Disney

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

Fast-paced and full of wonder, this is a powerful, gripping must-read.

LALANI OF THE DISTANT SEA

A young girl goes on an epic journey across the sea.

Twelve-year-old Lalani Sarita lives on the fictional island of Sanlagita, where people say benedictions to the foreboding Mount Kahna and dream of sailing to paradise on Mount Isa. But sailors who journey to Isa never return. When a strange creature on Mount Kahna grants Lalani a wish, she discovers magic comes with a price. After her mother falls ill, the villagers turn on her, and with everything in ruins, she runs away in search of Isa and the flower that might save everyone. Along the way, she encounters creatures and plants, some friendly and some deadly. Lalani must overcome many hardships and challenges to create her own path. Inspired by Filipino folktales, Newbery Medalist Kelly (Hello, Universe, 2017) writes a heroic fantasy about making choices, going on a quest, and conquering evil. Though the tale is told primarily in the third person, characters develop deeply through revealed thoughts and actions. Each character adds another layer to the story, all facing their own issues, such as finding courage, patriarchy, and gender roles. Scattered throughout the novel are short, beautifully illustrated second-person vignettes allowing readers to imagine they are the mythical creatures Lalani encounters, adding yet another layer of depth and fantasy to the story.

Fast-paced and full of wonder, this is a powerful, gripping must-read. (Fantasy. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-274727-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Greenwillow

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

A delectable treat for food and literary connoisseurs alike

MIDSUMMER'S MAYHEM

Eleven-year-old Mira “Mimi” Mackson is a baking prodigy from a small Massachusetts town called Comity (a thinly disguised Concord).

Mimi is the youngest member of a large family: Her Indian American mom is a successful software consultant, her white dad is a renowned food writer and critic, and her three older siblings (all biracial, like Mimi) excel at acting, dance, and soccer. Although Mimi enjoys creating new treats for her family and experimenting with uncommon flavors, she sometimes feels out of place and invisible amid her accomplished siblings. When a new bakery in town, the While Away Bakery and Café, announces a baking contest for children, Mimi is excited to compete and show off her talents. Things get complicated, however, when Mimi’s father falls under an enchantment that causes him to not only lose his refined sense of taste, but also eat everything in sight. Loosely based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream and inspired by TV shows like The Great British Baking Show, LaRocca’s debut is original and compelling. The realistic characters and complex family dynamics augment the tightly knit plot, and the mouthwatering descriptions of food are guaranteed to make readers hungry. Three recipes at the end of the novel (based on the characters’ concoctions) are an added bonus for those interested in developing their culinary skills.

A delectable treat for food and literary connoisseurs alike . (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4998-0888-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little Bee

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

A high-octane, science-fiction thriller painted with a Korean brush and a brilliant example of how different cultures can...

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DRAGON PEARL

This latest in the Rick Riordan Presents imprint launches Korean mythological creatures into outer space.

Thirteen-year-old Min cannot believe her older brother, Jun, has deserted his Space Force post, as he’s been accused of doing. Naturally, Min runs away from home to clear her brother’s name. It’s a Rick Riordan trademark to thrust mythological figures into new settings. Fans will breathlessly watch while fox-spirit Min charms her way onto a hijacked starship, ending up on her brother’s military star cruiser on the way to the lawless Ghost Sector. Lee has created an adrenaline-filled space opera with mythological creatures living alongside humans. Min and her family are gumiho, or shape-shifting foxes, but they present as human to hide their magical natures. She takes on the identity of Jang, a male cadet killed in battle, and enlists the aid of two other supernatural Space Force cadets: Haneul, a female dragon, and Sujin, a nonbinary goblin. Min is first and foremost a teenager on a mission and a magical being second. The ambivalence of her identity (fox or human, male or female, hero or traitor) echoes ethical questions that many kid readers face. It is refreshing to see both Korean elements and a nonbinary character seamlessly integrated into the storyline. Narrator Min explains Korean mythology smoothly as the action progresses for readers with no previous knowledge.

A high-octane, science-fiction thriller painted with a Korean brush and a brilliant example of how different cultures can have unique but accessible cosmology and universal appeal. (pronunciation guide) (Science fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-368-01335-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents/Disney

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

The enthralling dawn of an unmissable voyage.

VOYAGE OF THE FROSTHEART

Exiled from his home among the Fira people, young Ash braves the wild Snow Sea and the ferocious Leviathans in pursuit of his long-lost parents.

Ash’s status as a Song Weaver rouses fear and dread throughout the Fira Stronghold, where rumors of the potentially destructive power of Song Weaving abound. After all, a Song Weaver can communicate with the deadly Leviathans, making them vulnerable to the loathsome creatures’ influence. When an aggressive Leviathan assault forces the Frostheart, a massive sleigh crewed by traders known as Pathfinders, to take momentary refuge in the Fira Stronghold, Ash spots an opportunity to embark on his quest. Accompanied by his stoic guardian, a powerful yeti named Tobu, the young Song Weaver joins the Frostheart’s peculiar crew, including a feisty, walruslike captain named Nuk, a bold, young Drifter named Lunah, and a mysterious archeomek expert named Shaard. Full of intriguing worldbuilding details, as well as a cast of memorable, enchanting characters, Littler’s saga offers oodles of thrilling moments of danger interspersed with an acute understanding of heartfelt storytelling. The inclusion of striking illustrations, which heighten reader immersion, further delineates each character’s charm. (Ash is depicted with pale skin; some others have darker skin.) Equipped with a song left to guide him along the way, Ash uncovers secrets about his parents and powers in equal measure while new friends and foes—human-kin and Leviathan alike—join him on his adventure.

The enthralling dawn of an unmissable voyage. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-451-48134-4

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

A worthy addition to the diverse array of offerings from Rick Riordan Presents.

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TRISTAN STRONG PUNCHES A HOLE IN THE SKY

From the Tristan Strong series , Vol. 1

Chicago seventh grader Tristan Strong travels to Alke, where African American folk characters are gods.

Tristan has just lost his first boxing match. It’s unsurprising, given he’s mourning the death of his best friend, Eddie, and struggling with accompanying survivor guilt, but unacceptable for someone from a boxing family. On the ride to summer exile with his grandparents in the Alabama countryside, Tristan begins reading Eddie’s story journal. Somehow, the journal allows Tristan to see folk heroes John Henry and Brer Rabbit sending an unseen someone off on a mission. That night, Gum Baby (a hoot and a half—easily the funniest character in the book), from the Anansi story, steals Eddie’s journal. Needless to say, things go awry: A hole is ripped in the sky of Alke, and Tristan (but not only Tristan) falls in. The people of Alke are suffering, but grieving, reluctant hero Tristan’s unwilling to jump right in to help those in need, even when it becomes clear that he’s partly responsible, making him both imperfect and realistic. Mbalia’s African American and West African gods (with villains tied to U.S. chattel slavery and the Middle Passage specifically) touch on the tensions between the cultures, a cultural nuance oft overlooked. Readers who want more than just a taste of Alke will be eager for future books. Most human characters, like Tristan, are black with brown skin.

A worthy addition to the diverse array of offerings from Rick Riordan Presents. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-368-03993-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents/Disney

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

A quirky sci-fi adventure with a surprising layer of political irony.

WE'RE NOT FROM HERE

Who knew the survival of the human race would depend on fitting in at school?

With Earth destroyed, humans have successfully petitioned Planet Choom to take them in as refugees. Narrator Lan Mifune and their family (Lan is never gendered in the text) travel there, arriving to a surprise. During the 20-year journey in bio-suspension asleep, Choom’s government has changed, along with their acceptance of humans, and they are asked to leave immediately. With no other alternative, Lan’s mom, Amora Persaud, who’s on the ship’s Governing Council, is able to negotiate a trial run, in which the Mifune family will prove humans can peacefully assimilate. Being the new kid at school is tough anywhere, but on Choom, Lan must navigate the cultures of the werewolflike Kriks; Ororos, who resemble giant marshmallows; and the Zhuri, who resemble giant mosquitoes and express emotions by secreting specific scents. Things get complicated when the Zhuri government executes a smear campaign against humans even as some privately believe humans can be peaceful if given the chance. It’s up to Lan and their family to prove humans can contribute to society. Rodkey deftly mirrors recent debates about refugees and immigrants, twisting them into a black comedy–sci-fi mashup. Racial and ethnic diversity is purposely shown solely through names, hinting via surname that Lan’s family shares mixed Japanese and Indian heritage. The abrupt resolution might leave some in disbelief, but that’s a small price to pay.

A quirky sci-fi adventure with a surprising layer of political irony. (Science fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-7304-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

As the stench-loving Rancidians would say: It stinks! (Fantasy. 7-12)

HOBGOBLIN AND THE SEVEN STINKERS OF RANCIDIA

From the Hazy Fables series , Vol. 1

A “Snow White” parody—substituting smelling grossest for fairest—about taking down a tyrant.

The seven districts of Rancidia once existed in harmony, the people enjoying the blend of everyone’s individual odors and governed by democracy. This putrid peace was shattered when ogre Fiddlefart conquered Rancidia and declared himself both king and Grossest Smelling in the Land. When Fiddlefart’s magical Burping Bullfrog sees a new challenger for stinkiest—the humble Hobgoblin, a bean farmer from the neighboring Unincorporated Mucklands—the outraged ogre sends his top scent-assassin, Huntress, to scrub Hobgoblin so clean he’ll never stink again. Instead of de-odorizing Hobgoblin, Huntress whiffs him into hiding with the Seven Stinkers, the ousted elected former government of Rancidia, who invite him into the resistance. Amiable but essentially an isolationist who tries “to stay out of politics,” Hobgoblin initially takes action only for self-preservation (while Huntress warns: “Anytime a creature is treated unjustly—no matter who they are or where they’re from—it’s everyone’s business”), but the fairy-tale plot trajectory pulls him in so he can join the effort to liberate Rancidia. The bodily functions and other stinky-things–based humor amp the kid-friendliness, frequently put the “pun” in pungent, and occasionally dip into parody musical numbers and sly self-awareness. Happy, rounded, nonthreatening cartoon illustrations make Hobgoblin’s delighted tooting downright charming. Some of the Seven Stinkers are female, and one has two mothers.

As the stench-loving Rancidians would say: It stinks! (Fantasy. 7-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-948931-04-5

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Hazy Dell Press

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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