Young people grow up facing unique challenges in these four middle-grade titles, out this fall.
Summer vacation separates 13-year-old best friends Monique and Rasheeda in Paula Chase’s Turning Point (Greenwillow, Sept. 15). Rasheeda is stuck at home, made to attend endless church activities and conform to strict behavioral expectations, while Monique is off at a summer ballet intensive where there are few other Black girls and she’s continually made to feel different. Each must draw on her inner strength to navigate new challenges without her friend by her side.
A cruel dictatorship casts a long shadow in The Maps of Memory by Marjorie Agosín, illustrated by Lee White and translated by Alison Ridley (Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum, Sept. 22). Fourteen-year-old Celeste and friends are grateful peace has come to Chile, but the disappearances of loved ones mean there is still work to be done even as crushes, a friendly donkey to look after, and tasty pastries add sweetness. Facing difficult truths, she turns pain into action.
The Boys in the Back Row by Mike Jung (Levine Querido, Oct. 6) is full of hilarity and hijinks—and pushes back against toxic masculinity and racism. Matt and Eric, best friends who play drums in the school marching band, sneak away without permission to meet their favorite author at a comic con. The boys stand up to the homophobic bullying they receive due to their closeness, serving as the geek heroes we all need.
The titular character in Yara’s Spring by Jamal Saeed and Sharon E. McKay, illustrated by Nahid Kazemi (Annick, Oct. 13), is a girl from Aleppo who is caught up in the traumas of war. Ordinary joys—dance classes and treats from the family bakery—give way to living with never-ending uncertainty before, at last, Yara and her surviving family members become refugees seeking a new home. This is a story of fierce courage and survival.
Laura Simeon in a young readers’ editor.