Two white, female best friends enter sixth grade, and their friendship becomes complicated.
Tink, 11 going on 12, decides to change her childhood nickname to something more grown-up, and Jackie, her best friend since kindergarten, suggests “Chris”—the abbreviated version of Tink’s given name, Christine. It is Tink’s wrestling with what it means to be the more adult “Chris” that forms the basis of this extraordinarily perceptive story. Jackie and Tink come from different backgrounds: Jackie is the only child of Bess, a single parent who is currently dating a twice-divorced man with two children, while Tink lives with her parents and three siblings in a middle-class home. Jackie, unsurprisingly, has matured emotionally faster than Tink and is now preoccupied with being part of the in “circle” of the sixth grade, to Tink’s confusion and dismay. Young’s deliciously fresh, perspicacious narrative is told in third-person from Tink’s point of view, punctuated with wry telephone conversations between the girls relayed in scriptlike format. She maintains a spot-on, getting-ready-to-leave-behind-childhood-but-not-yet-adult narrative tone as she relays the complex world of sixth grade—a world of cliques and betrayal and, in Tink’s case, the courage to try to sort it all out. Patronization and pandering are completely absent in this original treatment of the theme of belonging.
A lovely, lovely tale full of warmth, humor, and intelligence that validates its readership.
A refreshing spin on a story about fitting in and overcoming obstacles features two viewpoints written by two authors.
Just arrived from Bangalore, Ravi Suryanarayanan is eager to make friends at his new American school. When he spots Dillon Samreen, a popular, cool classmate with swoopy bangs and a big smile, Ravi believes the two could become great friends. Even if Dillon is an ABCD—American-Born Confused Desi—another name for U.S.–born children of Indian immigrants, Ravi believes catching Dillon’s attention will take him from the lame table in the cafeteria to where the popular kids eat. Meanwhile, all white Joe Sylvester wants is not to catch the attention of Dillon Samreen. Joe is large and awkward and completely aware of how Dillon can smile at you one minute then torture you forever and ever. When Ravi, Joe, and Dillon wind up in Mrs. Beam’s class, the trio are on a collision course that will end with the unlikeliest of friendships. Veteran Weeks pairs with newcomer Varadarajan for this tale told in Ravi’s and Joe’s alternating first-person narrations. Varadarajan’s voice offers an authenticity and liveliness that perfectly pairs with Weeks’ realistic, quietly poignant style. Using the daily school-lunch schedule as a structural device, the authors bring alive a humdrum, ordinary routine, making it crackle with emotion and humor. Glossaries of Hindi and American terms and two recipes round out the book.
A novel treatment of a familiar situation delivered with fizz and aplomb.
A video game–obsessed middle schooler tackles his third new school in two years.
Josh Baxter has had a hard time since his father died. His mother works around the clock, and his older sister has thrown herself into school, sports, and the social scene. Josh finds refuge in the video games he and his father played together, letting his social life and grades fall by the wayside. When an abysmal progress report makes Josh's mom lock his consoles in her closet, Josh has no choice but to grapple with his crummy middle school experience. Brown paints Josh's middle school as if it were a hazardous level of “Star Fox,” filling the novel with references to video game culture, leaning particularly hard on Nintendo imagery. The author also wisely pushes the overused bully storyline to the background. This isn't yet another story of a weird kid standing up to a bully. This is the much more interesting story of a kid standing up to the worst aspects of himself. The author paces the book like a “Legend of Zelda” quest, complete with sages, allies, and a damsel. These tertiary characters are more complex than simple avatars, fleshed out with just enough inner life that they aren't completely subservient to Josh's arc and providing some multiethnic counterpoint to white-kid Josh.
Smartly paced and emotionally engaging, a book even those who have never held a controller will enjoy.
What happens when a girl who is expected to live by the rules meets a boy who makes his own rules?
Fifth-grader Evelyn is used to routines. Her mother insists on doing things a certain way—they buy certain types of shoes at a certain time of year, they wear certain outfits to birthday parties, and on the last day of summer vacation they make their house as “neat as a new pin.” When Evelyn begins her first day of fifth grade, however, a new student arrives who makes it clear that he makes his way through the world differently from the rest of the students. Queen is white, like Evelyn, and has long wavy hair and wears several beaded necklaces, even though, as the school secretary feels she has to announce, he's “a boy.” He and Evelyn form a quick friendship, and she learns that self-acceptance might be even more important than avoiding teasing and criticism from others. Cassidy offers a brief, stellar option for readers looking for characters who refuse to bend to societal norms and instead follow their own instincts toward confidence and joy. The contrast between Evelyn and Queen serves as a meaningful background to the friendship that forms naturally between them.
A small, eloquent book with a powerful message.
Poet and storyteller Harrington offers a verse novel about a girl named Katharen, nicknamed Keet for the parakeetlike chattiness that her family loves, particularly her grandpa, an avid fisherman.
When Keet's family moves from Alabama and the "brown arms" and "brown legs" of her friends to Illinois and the classmates with "faces like sour grapefruits" and "eyes like measuring tape" who tell her that she "sounds funny," she silences her storytelling voice. She slowly befriends Allegra, a Spanish-speaking girl who lives in the neighborhood, with whom she bonds after telling Allegra where her cockatoo escaped. Through this emerging friendship, her grandfather's encouraging love and life lessons imparted while they wait to catch Ol' Muddy Joe the legendary Fish, and an Appalachian storyteller who visits her school, Keet finds her voice again—and with heartwarmingly victorious results. Harrington announces Keet’s race as subtly as she develops her characters and in details such as the simple, almost-missable mention of the number of braids Allegra draws in her rendering of Keet. A poetry glossary concludes the book, explaining the various forms used, including blues poems, contrapuntal poems, and pantoums.
A gentle-spirited book about a black girl who almost gives up her gift but for love and friendship.
(Verse novel. 8-12)
When her source of books is threatened, so is 9-year-old Yasmin’s goal of reading a book a day “forever.”
The inspiration behind and assistant to her in that goal is Book Uncle, owner of a free lending library on the street corner where she lives. His motto is to provide the “right book for the right person for the right day.” When Book Uncle is forced to shut down his lending library because he can’t afford the permit, Yasmin is disappointed and confused. She is then motivated to try and get the lending library back in business and enlists the help of her friends and then their larger neighborhood. All this happens amid a mayoral election, which provides the perfect background for the plot. Yasmin is a precocious, inquisitive protagonist with a tendency to speak before she thinks. Her relationships with her family and friends read as authentic and loving, even, and perhaps especially, in the moments when they are not perfect. This all lays the foundation for the community organizing that later becomes so necessary in effecting the change that Yasmin seeks to make. Swaney’s playful, childlike illustrations advance the action and help to bring Yasmin’s Indian city to life.
Yasmin’s campaign should help inspire young readers to believe in their own potential to make a difference and teach the valuable lesson that sometimes it takes several small actions to make big moves.
Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw feels like he’s been running ever since his dad pulled that gun on him and his mom—and used it.
His dad’s been in jail three years now, but Ghost still feels the trauma, which is probably at the root of the many “altercations” he gets into at middle school. When he inserts himself into a practice for a local elite track team, the Defenders, he’s fast enough that the hard-as-nails coach decides to put him on the team. Ghost is surprised to find himself caring enough about being on the team that he curbs his behavior to avoid “altercations.” But Ma doesn’t have money to spare on things like fancy running shoes, so Ghost shoplifts a pair that make his feet feel impossibly light—and his conscience correspondingly heavy. Ghost’s narration is candid and colloquial, reminiscent of such original voices as Bud Caldwell and Joey Pigza; his level of self-understanding is both believably childlike and disarming in its perception. He is self-focused enough that secondary characters initially feel one-dimensional, Coach in particular, but as he gets to know them better, so do readers, in a way that unfolds naturally and pleasingly. His three fellow “newbies” on the Defenders await their turns to star in subsequent series outings. Characters are black by default; those few white people in Ghost’s world are described as such.
An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay.
Abbie Wu, Chinese-American preteen and worrywart, is doomed.
She’s about to start Pointdexter Middle School, and “nothing good ever happens in the Middles.” Added to her doom is a family who doesn’t get her. Baby sister Clara is annoyingly cute. Big brother Peter is a legend for being good at everything. And Mom never worries about anything, while Abbie seems to have written the textbook on anxiety. At school, Abbie figures at least lunch will be an improvement, with “REAL food,” but instead, she comes face to face with the injustice of the eighth-grade–only lunch line. Worse, she must choose an elective, and her nerves explode because choosing one feels like declaring her Thing, which she does not have, unlike her best friends, Maxine and Logan, who sign up for drama and coding respectively and without any doubts. With no elective chosen, Abbie is assigned to study hall, a place with suck-ups, slackers, troublemakers, and loners. And the fun begins. Debut author Vivat writes and illustrates a funny, neurotic, and delightful girl with a heart as big as her worries. The extensively illustrated novel packs a punch with fresh, lively pencil-and-ink drawings and lettering that set each mood perfectly. The multicultural cast of characters, including kooky Aunt Lisa and scary Ms. Skelter, turns up the charm and humor scale.
A hilarious Asian-American heroine guaranteed to provoke laughs—not anxiety.
Allen deftly explores the evolving friendships of Mya Tibbs as she and her Spirit Week partner compete for VIP tickets to the Fall Festival.
Nine-year-old Mya loves cowgirls, the rodeo, and jewelry. The Fall Festival has all her favorite things! She and her new best friend, Naomi, are determined to win the tickets together, but to Mya’s dismay, she draws Mean Connie as her Spirit Week partner. Mya is stuck. Can she keep her promise to help Naomi and be a good partner? Even as she writes a very funny story, Allen neither flatters nor vilifies any characters, instead letting each one grow and make mistakes. As Mya tries to make the best of the situation, she learns that Connie isn’t so mean, that Naomi isn’t so nice, and that she herself can be a better friend. The author showcases different types of friendship throughout the story: as Mya and Naomi fall out, Mya and Connie grow closer; Mya’s brother, Nugget, tries to make friends with a jock, taking his nerdy best friend for granted in the process; and twins Starr and Skye find their sisterly bond tested when their loyalties are torn between Mya and Naomi.
Nuanced depictions of friendship coupled with larger-than-life and fully three-dimensional characters make this delightful book at once thoughtful and a riot to read.
Nick Hall is a bright eighth-grader who would rather do anything other than pay attention in class.
Instead he daydreams about soccer, a girl he likes, and an upcoming soccer tournament. His linguistics-professor father carefully watches his educational progress, requiring extra reading and word study, much to Nick’s chagrin and protest. Fortunately, his best friend, Coby, shares his passion for soccer—and, sadly, the unwanted attention of twin bullies in their school. Nick senses something is going on with his parents, but their announcement that they are separating is an unexpected blow: “it’s like a bombshell / drops / right in the center / of your heart / and it splatters / all across your life.” The stress leads to counseling, and his life is further complicated by injury and emergency surgery. His soccer dream derailed, Nick turns to the books he has avoided and finds more than he expected. Alexander’s highly anticipated follow-up to Newbery-winning The Crossover is a reflective narrative, with little of the first book’s explosive energy. What the mostly free-verse novel does have is a likable protagonist, great wordplay, solid teen and adult secondary characters, and a clear picture of the challenges young people face when self-identity clashes with parental expectations. The soccer scenes are vivid and will make readers wish for more, but the depiction of Nick as he unlocks his inner reader is smooth and believable.