January 16, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

11 Great YA Middle School Titles Out This Month

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Looking for titles for that tricky sixth to eighth grade range? The books below, publishing in February, are ideal for middle school readers—especially those more attracted to YA rather than middle grade fiction. These titles have all the sophistication and complexity that tween and teen readers crave, but with content that is, let’s say, more tween-friendly. Here you’ll find everything from space pirates battling it out in far-flung regions of the galaxy to richly detailed historical fiction to poignant, contemporary realism.

000 Forbidden OrchicdWALLER, Sharon Biggs. The Forbidden Orchid. 416p. bibliog. Viking. Feb. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780451474117.
Gr 7 Up–Elodie Buchanan grows up the eldest of 10 girls with an almost constantly absent father. Though she has never left her home village, she dreams of accompanying her father to the far-off places where he journeys in search of rare and unknown plants. Being a young woman in the 1861 English countryside, Elodie finds adventure hard to achieve. She tries instead to connect with her father by working with plants at home. She comes to love the single precious flower she miraculously gets to bloom. This orchid, forbidden to her because of its shape and her sex, is symbolic of Elodie’s passion and quest for adventure. When tragedy strikes and Elodie’s father is wounded in both mind and body during the opium wars, she gathers her courage and travels to London and eventually to China to help him. She finds her longed-for adventure and unexpected romance on her sea journey and travels through China in search of orchids. Waller does an excellent job of setting the scene in both time and place in this historical novel filled with adventure, romance, and plant biology. Readers are drawn into Elodie’s journey of discovery as she succeeds in finding the forbidden orchid, love, and her own freedom from strict Victorian societal norms. The extensive back matter contains author’s notes and a bibliography giving information about both the era and specific topics of the book. VERDICT A historical romance with a strong female protagonist, sure to find fans.–Genevieve ­Feldman, San Francisco Public Library

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000Assasin's HeartAHIERS, Sarah. Assassin’s Heart. 432p. ebook available. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Feb. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062363787.
Gr 7 Up–In the kingdom of Lovero, Lea Saldana belongs to the First Family of assassins. The nine Families of “clippers” are hired throughout the kingdom to kill in the name of the goddess Safraella. Lea keeps her relationship with Val, a member of the Da Vias Family, a secret. She knows her Family would not approve, but she can’t seem to help herself. One night, she is betrayed and her Family is murdered. Lea must flee the only home she’s ever known before the Da Vias realize they missed a Saldana. She discovers her estranged uncle is still alive and sets off to find him in order to avenge her Family and destroy the Da Vias. Along the way, she discovers a place and a mission all her own. The action and adventure packed into this first-person narrative will keep the pages turning, although the pace slows as Lea gets her bearings in a new city. The secondary characters are developed enough to be distinctive, and Lea’s convictions and determination will keep fans of strong female leads rooting for her. The familiar elements of fantasy are all evident here. VERDICT Recommend to those who enjoy fantasy, adventure, and love stories; a first purchase.–Natalie Struecker, Atlantic Public Library, IA

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000 DreamfeverALLOWAY, Kit. Dreamfever. 320p. (The Dream Walker Trilogy: Bk. 2). ebook available. St. Martin’s/Griffin. Feb. 2016. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781250078117.
Gr 7 Up–In the sequel to the imaginative Dreamfire (St. Martin’s, 2014), Alloway picks up the story months later with Joshlyn and Will still reeling at the loss of their friend. Josh is having nightmares about the maniacal Feodor Kajazkolski. If she is the True Dream Walker, where are the powers that accompany the honor? All she can seem to do is open archways and share the memories of her enemy. Into the large cast of characters enter several more, most importantly, Mirren Rousellario, the heir to the deposed monarchy and archrival to Josh’s grandfather, the leader of the Lodestar party. There is a lot of setup to the action of this story; as background unfolds, plot is built, and the characters gear up for their big adventure to try to save the Dream. In the struggle lie good and evil, lost souls, death, and power. The plot is detailed, sometimes overly so, but the dynamics among the characters are so compelling that readers are sure to worry about the fate of their favorites. Each courageous character has their own path to take, and Josh must decide where her abilities will lead her. Once again, Alloway leaves teens with a cliffhanger ending, leading seamlessly into the next book. VERDICT A solid purchase for YA sections, especially where the first installment was popular.–Jane Hebert, Glenside Public Library District, Glendale Heights, IL

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000 Some of the PartsBARNABY, Hannah. Some of the Parts. 304p. ebook available. Knopf. Feb. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553539639; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780553539646.
Gr 7 Up–High schooler Tallie McGovern is struggling to deal with the death of her older brother, Nate, who was killed in a car accident. She finds it difficult to even utter his name and goes to great lengths to attempt to keep his spirit alive—even participating in a séance. One day, two words arrive in the mail and change the way she feels about his death: organ donor. Her parents never told her that her brother’s organs were donated. Posing as one of her parents, she attempts to contact LifeChoice—an organ donation service located in Connecticut. Her friend Chase also has connections through his dad and attempts to find the organ recipients. Sad at times, the novel will resonate with teens, who will feel Tallie’s desperation and want her to seek more help for her grief than she does. Her risky attempt seems like something that will never work, but she does make progress, even though her choices are not the best. While Tallie’s character development is a long time coming, the plot moves along quickly and is easy to follow. Any teen who has been affected by the death of a loved one will be touched by this story. VERDICT Readers who enjoyed Jessi Kirby’s Things We Know by Heart (HarperCollins, 2015) will find this to be an enlightening story tinged with sadness.–Karen Alexander, Lake Fenton High School, Linden, MI

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000 Games Wizards PlayDUANE, Diane. Games Wizards Play. 624p. (Young Wizards). ebook available. HMH. Feb. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780547418063.
Gr 7 Up–In this 10th installment of the “Young Wizards” series (HMH), Kit, Nita, Dairine, and their wizard friends return for more interplanetary adventures. Every 11 years, Earth’s wizards hold the Invitational, a prestigious competition in which young wizards compete to craft and execute the perfect spell. The three young protagonists are each invited to mentor a young wizard in the competition, and each ends up facing unique challenges. Among them, Nita has a complicated vision that could change everything, and through a series of events, the stakes quickly become much higher than winning a contest. The story is slow to develop and heavily hinges on knowledge obtained in previous installments. Everything comes together in the end, though, to create a well-thought-out climax, with a satisfying resolution. Recommend this series to young teens who devour books about magic and wizards. VERDICT This is a solid addition to the series; purchase where there are fans of the previous volumes or kids looking for “Harry Potter” read-alikes.–Candyce Pruitt-Goddard, Sno-Isle Libraries, Marysville, WA

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000 Smell of OtherHITCHCOCK, Bonnie-Sue. The Smell of Other People’s Houses. 240p. ebook available. Random/Wendy Lamb Bks. Feb. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553497786.
Gr 7 Up–In the 1970s, in Fairbanks, AK, four teenagers’ lives intersect in unexpected ways. Dealing with problems that continue to propel modern teens—unwanted pregnancy, alcoholism, difficult family situations, and ambition—they try to find a future that is theirs. Their struggles feel especially poignant set against the backdrop of a young state also battling to define itself. Uniquely Alaskan issues and industries weave throughout the background of the story by an author who is a fourth-generation Alaskan. Point of view moves among the four characters. But rather than appearing disjointed, this vantage allows readers a multifaceted glimpse into the rich cast of characters. Perhaps the primary flaw of this book is its brevity—each character has a unique journey and personality that readers will want to spend more time with than they are allotted. This leads to a glossed-over treatment of the relationships among characters, implied rather than shown. However, that is not enough to rob this work of its beauty and gentle emotional richness. VERDICT An excellent debut sure to appeal to teens who prefer relationship-based fiction.–Elizabeth Nicolai, Anchorage Public Library, AK

Check out our interview with Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock.

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000 BoundaryJOHNSON, Mary Victoria. Boundary. 296p. (The Other Horizons Trilogy: Bk. 1). ebook available. Lodestone. 2015. pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781782799184; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9781782799191.
Gr 6-10–Penny is a 15-year-old girl trapped in an exquisite, mysterious Victorian estate full of deceit and lies. Along with her five friends, Penny has never ventured across the Boundary and outside into the physical world. They were taught never to question the commands of authorities, including the malevolent Master Madon. As he instills fear into the household, Penny wishes to explore what’s beyond the Boundary. Unlike her friends, she wishes for freedom. As the covert housekeeper suggests possible escape plans, the teen is adamant to break free from her enigmatic, sheltered life. What she uncovers as she crosses over the Boundary is a Pandora’s box of twisting alternate worlds that will keep readers guessing until the very end. Nightmares, realistic dreams, plague-type sicknesses that have never happened before all unravel before their very eyes. Can Penny create a rip in the Boundary? An original, compelling tale in which characters convey extraordinary motivations and personalities. Fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time will embrace this adventurous tale of trustworthiness and loyalty among friends. VERDICT A general first purchase for reluctant readers and book clubs/discussions who enjoy fantasy and historical fiction.–Krista Welz, North Bergen High School, NJ

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000 StarflightLANDERS, Melissa. Starflight. 368p. ebook available. Disney-Hyperion. Feb. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484723241.
Gr 7 Up–Her knuckles inked as a convicted felon, Solara is eager to make her way to the Fringe, the outer edge of the solar system, where society is rough and she can start over, hoping to use the mechanic skills she developed in the orphanage. In order to afford transport, however, she finds herself indentured to Doran, the snotty son of a fuel mogul who tormented her throughout high school. Solara quickly turns the tables by electronically stunning him and switching master and owner identification bracelets. After a series of mishaps, the two of them end up on board a run-down smuggling ship, the Banshee, where the lines between passenger and crew soon blur. Meanwhile, it turns out that the galaxy patrol is looking not for Solara but Doran—wanted on felony charges himself. As the two open up to each other, hate wanes and romantic sparks fly. Teens will be bracing themselves during the swashbuckling space pirate action scenes and an over-the-top climax as Doran’s childhood history is revealed. VERDICT A great choice for fans of raw sci-fi action, reminiscent of the lawlessness presented in the television series Firefly.–Leah Krippner, Harlem High School, Machesney Park, IL

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000 MarkedMCCAFFREY, Laura Williams. Marked. illus. by Sally Cantirino. 352p. ebook available. HMH/Clarion. Feb. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780547235561.
Gr 6 Up–In McCaffrey’s dystopian science-fiction thriller, Lyla lives in a society where criminals are tattooed—Marked—and the schism between the rich (barons) and the poor (miners, farmers, and so on) is palpable and volatile. After becoming Marked for visiting a black market, Lyla undertakes a dangerous spy mission to infiltrate the Red Fists, a unlawful band of misfits, in order to erase her Mark. Complicating the situation are her intense feelings for a childhood friend and newest misfit, Gill. Once drawn into the Red Fists’s web of rebellion, Lyla must make important choices on what and whom to sacrifice. Comic-style strips are included throughout and give some background on Lyla’s society. McCaffrey’s world-building is on the scarce side; readers are thrown into this community with little fleshing out of the nuances, aside from the one-page comic strips. However, the strength of the characters, especially the strong female protagonist, allows teens to fully engage with Lyla and her struggles. Full of fast-paced action and ethical quandaries, this work will appeal to fans of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Little, Brown, 2011) and Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Delacorte, 2009). VERDICT With its top-notch characters and a cool premise, this is a must-purchase for fantasy collections.–Amanda C. Buschmann, Atascocita Middle School, Humble, TX

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000 Of Better BloodMOGER, Susan. Of Better Blood. 272p. ebook available. Albert Whitman. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807547748.
Gr 6-9–Rowan is the youngest daughter in the affluent Collier family living in Manhattan a century ago. Though the girl grows up without a mother, her childhood is comfortable and carefree. That is, until Rowan is struck by polio. As the family struggle to cope with their own prejudice, the protagonist is sent away. She befriends Dorchy, another young girl with her own set of problems, in her journey to find the inner strength to cope with her new disability and the raw rejection of her family. As their summer unfolds, the friends uncover the horrific plans of their wardens to create a “fitter” society. They vow to save their friends, but they aren’t even sure if they will be able to save themselves. Moger crafts likable characters who mature over the course of the book. A few characters are downright villainous, and most follow predictable paths of personal growth. The story touches on delicate subjects, such as forced sterilization, with sensitivity. While the account of Rowan is fictional, Moger explains the historical context of her story in the notes at the end of the book. Despite a slow start to the story, the pace of the plot picks up with unexpected challenges and heartbreaking results. Readers will enjoy the mystery as it mounts in the final chapters but may be frustrated with the realistic conclusion. VERDICT This book is an engaging work of historical fiction that would be a great addition for any middle school library.–Paige Rowse, Needham High School, MA

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000 TitansSCOTT, Victoria. Titans. 320p. ebook available. Scholastic. Feb. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545806015; ebk. $17.99. ISBN 9780545806022.
Gr 7 Up–Seventeen-year-old Astrid Sullivan lives in Detroit with her family. Her grandfather lost their home in Wisconsin, and now her father is close to losing their home in Warren County. Betting on mechanical horses called “Titans” during the summer racing circuit is the vice that cripples families, including her own and her best friend’s. Unemployed factory workers struggle, and betting seems to be their only way to survive. Astrid hates the racing circuit, but she can’t help but be fascinated by the Titans. After a second chance encounter with an old man, Astrid is given the opportunity to race a Titan in the summer circuit and try to win the grand prize, something that would save her family from homelessness. This is a fun, fast-paced read. Astrid is a strong character anyone can identify with: she’s headstrong and has trouble trusting those around her. But she has a can-do attitude that stems from her struggle to keep her family from falling apart. The races are very lively and action-packed. Perfect for fans of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races (Scholastic, 2011) and Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games.” VERDICT A fun addition to any library.–Faythe Arredondo, Tulare County Library, CA

Kiera Parrott About Kiera Parrott

Kiera Parrott is the reviews director for School Library Journal and Library Journal and a former children's librarian. Her favorite books are ones that make her cry—or snort—on public transportation.

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Comments

  1. I hope this helps you find some great books to keep your middle school child reading happily this summer.