Middle Grade Fiction
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
I wanted to love HIDDEN FIGURES. I went into this book so excited to learn about the amazing African-American women who broke pre-Civil Rights era racial boundaries and helped America win the Space Race. Unfortunately, the young readers’ edition of the book had no story arc. It was presented as a series of facts that felt disconnected from one another, as well as being extremely repetitive. I’m still excited for the movie, but this might be the rare case in which the movie is better than the book.
Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender
Caroline was born during a hurricane, which local lore in the U.S. Virgin Islands says will bring her bad luck in life. As a young girl, her mother disappears suddenly, leaving Caroline alone with a father she resents. She has no friends at school, where she is the frequent target of schoolyard bullies. Caroline is determined to find her mother and learn why she left. Her plans are interrupted by the arrival of a new girl at school named Kalinda, who chooses Caroline as her best friend despite the odds. Caroline secretly falls deeply in love with Kalinda, and together the girls set out to uncover the truth about Caroline’s family. In this story that explores deep themes about love, friendship, and family, the girls learn that some bonds can never be broken. Thanks to the Kid Lit Exchange for the review copy. Read my full review.
The Lifters by Dave Eggers
I had mixed feelings about THE LIFTERS, a new middle grade novel by Dave Eggers. It’s a fascinating idea—when sinkholes threaten a town, two middle grade misfits head underground to fight the magical forces causing the problem. But the resolution of the personal and community problems came so late in the book that it was unsatisfying for me. The best moments came when Eggers’ voice shined through as the narrator. I enjoyed the periodic asides when the narrator spoke directly to the reader, providing some comic relief in what was otherwise a rather morose book. I’ll be interested to watch how young readers receive this book! Thanks to the Kid Lit Exchange for the review copy.
The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras
THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER, a new middle grade novel set in medieval Scotland, surprised me with how much it captivated me. Young Drest is the only girl in her warrior clan, joined by her legendary father and brave brothers. The book opens with a surprise attack on Drest’s family. She is the lone member of the family not captured. Drest is now responsible for freeing her family from a castle dungeon far from home. There are many worthwhile themes in this book, including those on family, friendship, integrity, and loyalty, but for me the takeaway was about a young girl’s fierce independence. In her quest to save her family, Drest found herself. Thanks to the publisher for the review copy. Read my full review.
Winterhouse by Ben Guterson
I was utterly charmed by WINTERHOUSE. Eleven-year-old Elizabeth Somers lives a miserable existence with her aunt and uncle after her parents’ mysterious death. As Christmas nears, her caretakers unexpectedly announce they’ll be going on holiday and Elizabeth will be sent to stay at the renowned Winterhouse hotel. Elizabeth is enchanted with life at Winterhouse. But two of the hotel’s guests give her pause: a mysterious couple that seem to know too much about Elizabeth. Coupled with a series of seemingly magical events, a mysterious book, and the hotel proprietor’s family legend about dark magic, Elizabeth begins to wonder what she’s gotten herself into at Winterhouse. Although written to entertain kids aged 8-12, I devoured WINTERHOUSE in just a few hours. The mystery was enough to captivate me, and I enjoyed the children’s wit and wisdom as they decoded the mystery. Recommended for fans of Harry Potter! Thanks to the Kid Lit Exchange for the review copy. Read my full review.
Young Adult Fiction
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
THE BELLES is like the Hunger Games meets Cinderella. A celebrated class of women called the Belles are responsible for keeping the society of Orleans beautiful. The Favorite is a Belle chosen specifically for the royal family. When the princess starts doing evil things, the Belles’ standing in the kingdom is revealed as slavery to the royal caste. The Favorite must decide when to follow the princess’ orders and when (and how) to stand up for what’s right. I was enchanted by the story and world-building in THE BELLES and I look forward to the sequel. My only wish is that the storyline in this first effort had been more wrapped up, rather than leaving the story unresolved for the second installment.
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Aza is a teenager who suffers from debilitating anxiety, yet has a strong safety net in her widowed mother and best friend Daisy. Aza is pulled into another family’s drama when Daisy forces her to reconnect with her childhood friend Davis. Davis is the son of a local billionaire who’s gone missing, and Daisy wants to solve the mystery of his father’s disappearance and earn the reward money for his safe return. Aza and Davis spark a budding romance, but the stress of old friendships, renewed friendships, overbearing parents, and missing parents, cause Aza’s anxiety to spiral out of control. I’ve been told that TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN is one of the most accurate written portrayals of what it is like to live with anxiety. As someone who doesn’t suffer from anxiety, the book was very helpful in garnering a better understanding how painful and scary intrusive thoughts can be. The story itself seemed far-fetched (I have lots of questions about the legal situation regarding Davis’ family), but it was an enjoyable read.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
In LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE, a shy teenage girl named Pearl moves with her nomadic artist mother to the perfect American suburb of Shaker Heights. Her mother, Mia, promises Pearl that they’ll be staying for good. Pearl is thrilled when she befriends the Richardsons, a family just perfect enough for Shaker Heights. Soon the two families’ lives are deeply intertwined. When a controversial adoption case captivates the entire town, the Richardsons and Mia find themselves on the opposite sides of the issue. While unraveling clues about the birth mother’s past, Mrs. Richardson also becomes obsessed with learning about Mia and Pearl’s secrets. Little does she know, her attempts at revenge become her own downfall. Each character carries deeply held secrets and unspoken desires that weave together to wreak chaos on the lives of two families. LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE is masterfully knitted together and wonderfully written.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah, comedian and host of The Daily Show, has enough interesting stories in his past to make you think he’s lived three lives. Born in South Africa to a black mother and a white father during Apartheid, Noah was literally born a crime. Until the end of Apartheid, he was forced to spend most his time indoors to avoid being charged with the crime of being “colored”—the South African term for mixed-race people. Life after Apartheid offered Noah both deep disappointment and overwhelming opportunity. Noah’s memoir is refreshingly honest, though not as funny as I expected. That’s not a criticism, though. His fresh perspective and even tone, even when describing remarkable trauma, provide more than enough insight to keep you turning the page.