Book List

Best Middle-Grade Friendship Stories of 2018

Chase’s middle-grade debut dazzles in its exploration of the complicated lives of two very different young black girls in...

SO DONE

Metai Johnson and Jamila Phillips have been inseparable since they were toddlers, but now the pressures of hard secrets and new friends threaten to sever their friendship in the wake of a summer apart.

The chapters alternate between the perspectives of Mila and Tai, allowing each distinctive character an authentic and complex voice as they navigate difficult issues facing many American preteens. Mila (also known as Bean, but she’d just as soon not be) is just returning from a summer at Aunt Jacq’s in The Woods, away from her less-affluent neighborhood, the Cove. Tai can’t wait to see her, especially as she’s grown close with her crush, Roland, and needs her best friend to share the rush. Yet as they reunite, both friends begin to realize that something is tangibly different—and the roots of this difference may be in an uncomfortable incident that took place the previous April at Tai’s. The emerging conflict will surely come to a head as they both prepare for the high-stakes audition for the local talented-and-gifted arts program, where they hope to continue to develop themselves as dancers and to stay away from the dangerous pull of street life. The author weaves in a keen sense of black youth culture, including emoji-filled text messages, fly hairstyles, and beloved nicknames that won’t go away, while powerful, flowing use of African-American Vernacular English gives the novel warmth, spirit, and familiarity.

Chase’s middle-grade debut dazzles in its exploration of the complicated lives of two very different young black girls in language that will meet its primary audience of black girl readers in their hearts. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-269178-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Greenwillow

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

A necessary and rewarding addition to any middle-grade collection.

YOU DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING, JILLY P!

Gino’s second middle-grade novel shows a well-meaning white girl stumbling through difficult issues with compassion.

Twelve-year-old Jilly has a lot going on. She’s crushing on Profound, a Deaf black boy she meets in a chat room dedicated to her favorite fantasy series. Her newborn sister might be deaf. Her white parents gloss over news reports of unarmed black youth killed by police, but her aunt Alicia, a black woman married to Jilly’s mom’s sister, encourages Jilly to not ignore racism. Jilly wants to do the right thing, but that’s harder than she realizes. She’s excited to talk to Profound about her sister, but he doesn’t like being reduced to only one of his identities. She learns to confront microaggressions at family holidays. She wants her parents to embrace having a deaf child but doesn’t realize that Deaf culture and identity are more than just learning a few signs. Gino tackles all this and much more with grace, clarity, and thoughtfulness. There are occasional hiccups in the flow and awkward moments, but readers learn a lot along with Jilly and her mistakes in this engrossing and satisfying read. Gino describes their intention in an author’s note: “this book is consciously written for white people as a catalyst to talk about modern racism and police violence in the United States” and to teach them “about their privilege and how to support marginalized people in their lives.”

A necessary and rewarding addition to any middle-grade collection. (Fiction. 8-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-545-95624-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

An important book with a well-crafted plot that is sure to linger several days after readers finish it.

THE SKY AT OUR FEET

A gripping story about two brave children on the run in the Big Apple.

This timely story features two American children: Jason, the son of a single mom from Afghanistan who has overstayed her visa in America, and Max, a white American girl who has epilepsy. Serendipity brings the two children together and leads to an exciting but nerve-wracking adventure around New York City. The heroic protagonists exhibit a good balance between independent problem-solving and making mistakes. In Jason’s present-tense narration, Hashimi creatively explores the similarities and differences in the two children’s lives: how they grew up, their relationships with their families, the ways they use their wits, and their levels of trust. She also provides a nuanced and accessible perspective on the complex issues of illegal immigration and childhood epilepsy. Jason’s sole family member disappears for reasons he could never have contemplated, and Max is a witty, confident girl who longs to be considered just like everyone else. Leveraging her pediatrician expertise but without didacticism, Hashimi also shares what people should do if they see someone having an epileptic attack.

An important book with a well-crafted plot that is sure to linger several days after readers finish it. (author’s note) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-242193-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

A well-crafted, entertaining call for middle schoolers to find their voices and remain accountable in shaping their own...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

YOU GO FIRST

Preteens Charlotte Lockard and Ben Boxer enjoy an ongoing online Scrabble feud, each vying for word-game domination, while they both silently struggle with middle school social catastrophes and crumbling family infrastructures.

Suddenly, their intermittent Scrabble banter becomes an unexpected lifeline. Pennsylvanian Charlotte’s rock collections, incessant anagramming, and deep-delving thought spirals charm readers instantly; Louisianan Ben’s sputtering, encyclopedic knowledge of presidential history, Ravenclaw blanket, relentless recycling statistics, and stick-to-it optimism couldn’t be sweeter. Guileless and earnest, these two kids seem poised for inevitable heartbreak. Charlotte can’t face her lifelong best friend, who suddenly thinks she’s a “parasite,” or her father, who’s recovering in the ICU after a heart attack. Ben can’t understand his parents’ marriage’s “devolution” into a divorce or the ridicule his student council campaign incites. Catastrophe looms and builds through the book, the reckoning of a single week that culminates with a crucial convergence of the Scrabble friends’ virtual world with their real one. Charlotte’s and Ben’s alternating first-person accounts of their humiliations and struggles induce a constricting tightness in readers’ chests. Their unspoken feelings and worries (which appear in quavering italics) weigh heavily. Readers will undoubtedly see themselves in these pages. Charlotte and Ben are both depicted with pale skin and dark hair on the cover; their respective ethnicities go unmentioned, and their supporting cast is a diverse one.

A well-crafted, entertaining call for middle schoolers to find their voices and remain accountable in shaping their own social spheres. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-241418-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Greenwillow

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

Heartening and hopeful, a love letter to black male youth grasping the desires within them, absorbing the worlds around...

THE SEASON OF STYX MALONE

Cooler-than-cool newcomer Styx Malone takes the more-sheltered brothers Caleb and Bobby Gene on a mischievous, path-altering, summer adventure of a lifetime as they embrace the extraordinary possibilities beyond the everyday in rural Indiana.

Readers may think an adventure such as they’ll find here wouldn’t be possible in the present day; this story takes place outside, where nature, know-how, creativity, and curiosity rule. Creeks, dirt roads, buried treasures, and more make up the landscape in Sutton, Indiana. Younger brother Caleb narrates, letting readers know from the outset that he’s tired of his dad’s racially tinged determination that they be safely ordinary: “I don’t want to be ordinary. I want to be…the other thing.” With Styx Malone around, Caleb and Bobby Gene will sure figure out what that “other thing” can become. The three black adolescents are enchanted with the miracle of the Great Escalator Trade, the mythic one-thing-leads-to-another bartering scheme that just might get them farther from Sutton than they’ve ever dreamed. As they get deeper and deeper into cahoots with Styx, they begin to notice that Styx harbors some secret ambitions of his own, further twisting this grand summer journey. “How do you move through the world knowing that you’re special, when no one else can see it?” begs the soul of this novel.

Heartening and hopeful, a love letter to black male youth grasping the desires within them, absorbing the worlds around them, striving to be more otherwise than ordinary. Please share. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-1595-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

Add to the growing list of intelligent books about kids whose brains operate outside the norm.

STANLEY WILL PROBABLY BE FINE

Superheroes can be found in unlikely places.

Middle schooler Stanley Fortinbras has a sensory-processing disorder and experiences anxiety, both of which make the principal’s many emergency preparedness drills difficult for him to handle. When he passes out at a safety assembly, he’s sent to school counselor Mrs. Ngozo, an African-American woman, who creates a Ready Room for him: a quiet place where he can go when school becomes too chaotic. It’s here that John Lockdown, hero of the underdog, is born. Stanley, son of a “dark,” Morocco-born French father and white mother, is no superhero, but he does have a superpower: comic-book trivia. When his best friend, Joon (who is Korean), suggests they enter Trivia Quest, a comics treasure hunt that takes place all over San Diego, Stanley’s mind reels with both possible and unlikely worse-case scenarios. After Stanley and Joon have a disagreement, Stanley asks his new neighbor, confident white girl Liberty, to go with him instead. To get through the stress of the day, Stanley creates his own way to manage his out-of-control thoughts and the resultant paralyzing fear: What would Lockdown do? The story never dumbs down or oversimplifies Stanley; he’s a multidimensional character of great depth who gradually learns how to calm his worried mind, and the book avoids patronizing readers with a false sense of everything’s-right-with-the-world.

Add to the growing list of intelligent books about kids whose brains operate outside the norm. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-244579-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

An extraordinary and timely piece of writing.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    finalist

  • New York Times Bestseller

HARBOR ME

Just before she begins seventh grade, Haley tells the story of the previous school year, when she and five other students from an experimental classroom were brought together.

Each has been bullied or teased about their difficulties in school, and several face real challenges at home. Haley is biracial and cared for by her white uncle due to the death of her African-American mother and her white father’s incarceration. Esteban, of Dominican heritage, is coping with his father’s detention by ICE and the possible fracturing of his family. It is also a time when Amari learns from his dad that he can no longer play with toy guns because he is a boy of color. This reveals the divide between them and their white classmate, Ashton. “It’s not fair that you’re a boy and Ashton’s a boy and he can do something you can’t do anymore. That’s not freedom,” Haley says. They support one another, something Haley needs as she prepares for her father’s return from prison and her uncle’s decision to move away. Woodson delivers a powerful tale of community and mutual growth. The bond they develop is palpable. Haley’s recorder is both an important plot element and a metaphor for the power of voice and story. The characters ring true as they discuss issues both personal and global. This story, told with exquisite language and clarity of narrative, is both heartbreaking and hopeful.

An extraordinary and timely piece of writing. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-25252-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

More Book Lists

The Magazine: Kirkus Reviews

Jenn Shapland reclaims a queer icon in My Autobiography of Carson McCullers.

subscribe
  • The Kirkus Star

    One of the most coveted designations in the book industry, the Kirkus Star marks books of exceptional merit.

  • The Kirkus Prize

    The Kirkus Prize is among the richest literary awards in America, awarding $50,000 in three categories annually.

    See the 2019 winners.

Great Books & News Curated For You

Be the first to read books news and see reviews, news and features in Kirkus Reviews. Get awesome content delivered to your inbox every week.

Thank you!

Looks good !! Please provide a valid email.