February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

13 New YA Books for Middle School Readers Coming Out This Month

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Finding titles to satisfy middle schoolers who crave teen lit can be tricky for librarians and teachers. The following new YA titles, though varied in genre, length, and style, are all great selections that educators can feel confident recommending to kids in grades six through eight–and beyond. Each of these selected titles hits shelves this month.


FRIEND, Natasha. Where You’ll Find Me. 272p. ebook available. Farrar. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780374302306.where you'll find me
Gr 6-9–Anna is reeling from the recent changes in her life. A year ago, her parents divorced; six months ago, her dad and stepmother had a baby; a few weeks ago, her BFF declared their friendship over; and three days ago, her mother tried to commit suicide. Everything in Anna’s life feels wrong and awful—and on top of everything else, Anna feels she’s let her mother down. Friend’s book deals with all the difficulties of middle school, newly blended families, and—authentically and without oversimplification—having a parent with mental illness. Anna’s confusion about her mother, her mother’s bipolar disorder, and their relationship are heartbreaking and honest, and her conflicts and conversations with her parents, teachers, and friends ring true. Friend avoids all the pitfalls of a run-of-the-mill “issue” novel to offer a nuanced look at a life that, despite unexpected turns and sometimes crippling feelings of fear and loss, can still be happy. VERDICT This well-written, expertly layered work is strongly recommended for YA collections.–Amy Koester, Learning Experiences Department, Skokie PL

NEUMEIER, Rachel. The Keeper of the Mist. 400p. ebook available. Knopf. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553509281; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780553509298. The Keep of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier
Gr 7 Up–Everyone knows that Keri’s father is the Lord of Nimmira, even though she’s had nothing to do with him since she was born. Since her mother’s death, Keri has been running their bakery on her own, just managing to keep it afloat. So she has reason to be surprised when the country’s Timekeeper walks through the door and informs her that Lord Dorric Ailenn has died and Nimmira has chosen her as the new Lady. When she tries to protest, the Timekeeper reiterates that Keri is the chosen one and whisks her off to the Lord’s—now Lady’s—House in the center of the town. Keri’s three older half-brothers, who were raised in Lord Dorric’s House, are not happy at being overlooked and treat her as a silly girl, attempting to undermine her at every chance. When visitors from outside the country arrive, she discovers that her father was not an honest man. Keri realizes that she’s the only one with the common sense to rule Nimmira, but she has to determine whom she can trust to support her. VERDICT This is a beautifully written story that emphasizes intelligence and diplomacy. Recommend to fans of Patricia Wrede and Tamora Pierce, as well as lovers of traditional fantasy.–Marlyn Beebe, Long Beach Public Library, CA

STARMER, Aaron. The Storyteller. 328p. (The Riverman Trilogy: Bk. 3). Farrar. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780374363130. Starmer, Aaron. The Storyteller
Gr 5-8–This title concludes the original and uniquely satisfying trilogy and will not disappoint fans of the first two books. Picking up where The Whisper (Farrar, 2015) left off in the “solid world,” former narrator Alistair Cleary’s older sister, Kerrigan Cleary, assumes the narrative. Keri is troubled by what is happening to her little brother, from his involvement in the shooting of Kyle Dwyer to the disappearances of Fiona Loomis and Charlie Dwyer. And now Alistair is refusing to talk about what is going on, except in secret conversations in which he divulges unbelievable stories of a fight he is waging in an alternate universe. As Alistair shares his accounts, Keri tries to read between the lines of what he is saying to find a way to help him. What is happening with Alistair is augmented by stories that Keri herself writes, as a way of expressing her frustrations. But when the stories Keri thinks up and writes in her private journal start to contain troubling premonitions of the tales Alistair tells her, Keri must decide if she can trust her brother, or even herself. This coming-of-age novel is a thoughtful and nuanced exploration of the difficult transitions from childhood to adulthood. The uncertainty of what the characters believe to be real and imaginary parallel the way traumatic experiences can alienate young people and make them feel as though they have to struggle alone. In a subsection of publishing where trilogies often seem formulaic or forced, this refreshing take challenges traditionally reiterated narrative devices by never dealing in absolutes and not tying things off into neat bows. Fans of fantasy and realistic fiction alike will find something to love about this book, in which narrative ambiguity has never been so well leveraged. VERDICT This is a first buy for upper middle grade and YA collections, and a great recommendation for fans of the first two books as well as Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game or Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.–Tara Kron, Aurora Public Library, CO


ACIOLI, Socorro. The Head of the Saint. tr. from Portuguese by Daniel Hahn. 192p. ebook available. Delacorte. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780553537925; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780553537949.ACIOLI, Socorro. The Head of the Saint
Gr 7 Up–When 14-year-old Samuel walks for 16 days to the small, destitute Brazilian town where his grandmother supposedly lives, he hopes only to find his father and fulfill his mother’s last wishes. Rejected by his grandmother, he crawls into the head of an enormous statue to rest and heal. Inside the head, Samuel hears the villagers’ prayers to St. Anthony and one beautiful voice singing twice each day. Hoping to silence the voices so that he can locate the singer, he helps one of the supplicants marry the man of her prayers. Soon, news of this “miracle” spreads, and Samuel is besieged by the lovelorn and the needy, flocking to the head for miracles. With his fame comes new life for the town, and Samuel and a few villagers soon profit greatly from his ability to “channel” the voice of St. Anthony. Not everyone is happy to see the town prosper, though; stories of how it fell into such desolate poverty and why the statue was never completed are unveiled, and Samuel finds himself in grave danger. The novel begins and ends on a bleak note, and although many story lines conveniently converge, Samuel’s fate and that of the town is left in question. The text has a lilting rhythm, and vivid descriptions offer a glimpse of Brazilian culture. VERDICT A general purchase for teen collections.–MaryAnn Karre, West Middle School, Binghamton, NY

CHAN, Marty. Fire and Glass. 128p. (Keepers of the Vault: Bk. 1). ebook available. Clockwise. Mar. 2016. pap. $10.95. ISBN 9780993935152. 000 Fire and Glass
Gr 6-10–Kristina Mah is dealing with the fallout of her father deserting their family, her grandmother’s death, and a new inner-city school that may be haunted in this series opener. After hearing strange noises from the ceiling and seeing an ominous image on her teacher’s whiteboard, Kristina decides to visit the school’s fourth floor with her classmate Dylan, the only other person to perceive the danger. Behind a storage space, they discover a vault filled with mysterious relics and accidentally release an ancient, evil djinn named Niram into the world. The clever Niram, who has a knack for creating fire and smoke, pretends to be a new classmate at school to trick Kristina into wasting the three wishes that she must grant her. Kristina and Dylan must find a way to get Niram back into the vault before she wreaks mass chaos and destruction. The fast-paced and exciting plot will interest fans of fantasy and the supernatural. Simple sentences and short paragraphs keep the narrative moving, and Chan crafts a story with fleshed-out characters and an engaging plot in this compact book. The numerous references to social media, selfies, and Instagram will also make the action relatable to teenagers. While this YA hi-lo book is designed to appeal to reluctant readers, the work will leave all readers anxious for the next installment. VERDICT An action-packed title that will appeal to reluctant readers and fans of fantasy.–Kathryn Justus, New Hartford Public School Library, CT

CHERRY, Kathleen. Everyday Hero. 167p. Orca. Mar. 2016. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781459809826. CHERRY, Kathleen. Everyday Hero
Gr 5-8–Thirteen-year-old Alice is attending a new middle school where her teachers and classmates are not aware of her Asperger’s diagnosis. She is living with her father while her mother has stayed behind in Vancouver to help her aging parents. Alice doesn’t like noises, smells, or strangers, and she follows rules very closely. She has a very detailed memory and often recites dictionary definitions to figure out the meaning of a word. When she meets Megan in detention, they slowly becomes friends because Megan doesn’t smell, isn’t noisy, and she “doesn’t do things for gold stars.” When Megan decides to run away, Alice breaks the rules to help save her friend from an online predator and her abusive stepfather. The author does a good job of presenting daily life from the perspective of a young person with Asperger’s—Alice relies on previous experiences and rules when faced with new situations, and both her parents and Megan help her deal with challenges of sensory overstimulation and verbal communication. VERDICT While the book features a fairly straightforward plot, mature themes of abuse and social media behavior will resonate more clearly with slightly older tween readers.–Sarah Polace, Cuyahoga Public Library System, OH

COHEN, Paula Marantz. Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo & Juliet. 223p. ebook available. Paul Dry Bks. Mar. 2016. pap. $11.95. ISBN 9781589881051. COHEN, Paula Marantz. Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo & Juliet
Gr 7 Up–Beatrice and Nan have been best friends almost all of their lives. Now a freshman, Nan has transformed herself from a frumpy, nerdy eighth grader to a trim, cool high schooler. This, of course, changes not only Nan’s personality but also her relationship with Beatrice, who is still considered one of the “smart kids.” Struggling to figure out how to maintain the closeness Beatrice once shared with Nan while identifying how she fits in is the heart of this somewhat engaging novel. Beatrice is relieved and excited when she finds out that the older, dowdy, female freshman English teacher has been replaced by the young Mr. Martin. He introduces the students to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. As the class dives deeper into the play, Beatrice finds herself comparing her real life with a Shakespearian one. She realizes that, just as there is more to Romeo and Juliet than meets the eye, there is more to Beatrice than most of her classmates (even Beatrice herself) could first admit. Cohen integrates snippets of the play into the plot structure in a way that helps readers understand the stanzas’ hidden meanings. Those unable to decipher the prose will be relieved by how the characters explain the play’s nuances in interior monologues and dialogue. The biggest drawback is the novel’s predictability. VERDICT An entertaining work for those who enjoy quick reads with realistic characters. For fans of Meg Cabot’s books.–Amy Caldera, Dripping Springs Middle School, Dripping Springs, TX

DAVIES, Linda. Longbow Girl. 336p. Scholastic/Chicken House. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545853453; ebk. $17.99. ISBN 9780545853590. DAVIES, Linda. Longbow Girl
Gr 7-10–Merry Owen and her family live on a farm in the shadow of Wales’s Black Castle, owned by Lord de Courcy, whose son, James, is Merry’s best friend (and possible romantic interest). The Owens acquired the farm in the 14th century after one of Merry’s ancestors, a longbowman, saved the king’s life in battle, as long as the Owen longbowman swore to protect the Crown. Generations of de Courcys have been trying to get the land back and are now close to succeeding. When Merry unearths a text that may be a lost tale of the Mabinogion, she sees a way to possibly save her family’s farm. What she reads in the book, however, complicates matters and sends Merry back to the time of Henry VIII to save an ancestor in the past and her home in the present. Time travel doesn’t begin until nearly halfway through the story, and it is a relief when it does. With the past and the present mingling on a number of levels, it is sometimes hard to tell them apart during the drawn-out prelude to the main action. Merry, as heir to her family’s longbow tradition, and James, who wants to play soccer rather than be the lord of the manor, are well-developed characters, but most others are stereotypical, including the vindictive countess and the unethical professor. An interesting setting, both in place and time, helps somewhat to offset a fairly predictable plotline. VERDICT For fans of time travel and strong heroines.–Katherine Koenig, The Ellis School, PA

HEDLUND, Jody. A Daring Sacrifice. 224p. ebook available. Zondervan. Mar. 2016. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780310749370. HEDLUND, Jody. A Daring Sacrifice
Gr 7 Up–The Cloaked Bandit has been robbing the noble families of Wessex for years and has yet to be caught. Skilled at hiding in the forests, this bandit is able to conceal the fact that she is a girl, Juliana Wessex, and a member of the ruling family, who everyone believes is dead. Her talents allow her to feed and shelter the peasants of the land. While playing this Robin Hood–like role, she encounters Collin Goodrich, who recognizes her from years past. He encourages her to stay on his estate after she is injured, and teens will want to read on to find out if Collin is able to win her heart and if he will sacrifice everything for her. While Juliana and Collin are interesting characters and the action is easy to follow, the story is idealistic as opposed to realistic. While Juliana is 17, she doesn’t sound authentically teen, though falling in love and resisting temptation will be themes that will resonate with some young adults. The book includes discussion questions in the back matter relating to its Christian motifs. VERDICT A great selection for collections looking for titles with strong Christian themes or for readers who enjoy fairy tales.–Karen Alexander, Lake Fenton High School, Linden, MI

JAE, Ava. Beyond the Red. 304p. ebook available. Sky Pony. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781634506441.JAE, Ava. Beyond the Red
Gr 6-9–Kora and Eros cannot be more different: one an alien queen who is fighting to keep the throne from her power-hungry brother and the latter a half-breed human who has never belonged anywhere. This work is told in alternating perspectives and is set in the future on Safara, a desert alien planet in Earth’s universe. Kora and Eros are thrust together, and the duo are forced to unite after being framed for an assassination attempt on Kora’s betrothed, Serek. The three protagonists not only form a compelling love triangle but are also the world’s sole hope to prevent a mass genocide. Fierce and beautiful Kora must navigate her way through court politics, revolutions, and secrets while red-blooded Eros finds himself to be much more important than he ever could have imagined. Serek holds everyone together with his calm yet authoritative nature. Jae’s debut novel introduces a unique alien world with a thrilling plot full of twists that are bound to appeal to sci-fi fans, particularly admirers of Avatar and Star Wars. The fast-paced and intense plotlines introduce deep concepts including segregation, homosexuality, and racism; however, the concepts and characters are not fully developed. The author builds a beautifully conceived world with unique details, such as language quirks, an alien monarch ruling system, and special meaning for phrases such as “golden eyes.” The fun and engaging plot is predictable but enjoyable. VERDICT An engaging and amusing read for fans of sci-fi romance.–Emily Bayci, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH

LOVE, Jessica. In Real Life. 256p. ebook available. St. Martin’s/Griffin. Mar. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250064714.LOVE, Jessica. In Real Life
Gr 7 Up–Hannah Cho has spent her entire life doing everything she is supposed to do. She has never broken a single rule, except that rule about falling in love with your best friend. Nick Cooper has been Hannah’s best bud since eighth grade—even though they’ve never met. They talk everyday and he knows everything about her, from her greatest fears to her latest boyfriend. When Hannah’s original plans for her senior year spring break get ruined, she forgets her “good girl” self for an instant and suggests a trip to Vegas to surprise Nick and express her deeper-than-friend feelings. Her ever-eager best friend and rule-breaking sister are quick to jump on board, and so starts an adventure in love and self-discovery for Hannah. Love expertly creates a timely and entertaining story set on the glamorous Vegas strip, complete with rock and roll, gambling, love, and drama. Readers will relate to the characters in this book and their effortless use of technology to support relationships. VERDICT A strong purchase for any library with a large teen audience.–Betsy Davison, Cortland Free Library, NY

RULE, Adi. The Hidden Twin. 336p. ebook available. St. Martin’s Griffin. Mar. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250036322.RULE, Adi. The Hidden Twin
Gr 7-10–In this coming-of-age fantasy, the nameless teenage narrator has spent her life in hiding because her society would put her to death as an evil monster. She’s a human-appearing Redwing, the magical offspring of a powerful Other who emerged from a volcanic lava pool to save her human father’s life. When the Redwing disguises herself as her human twin to destroy a plant that will reveal her true nature, she’s drawn into a conspiracy to seize a volcano god’s power. The author has concocted an unusual setting in the ash-strewn shadows of the volcano Mol, where birds are the only animal life in evidence and the wealthy ride giant striches through grimy city streets. Many characters have hidden motivations and agendas for the Redwing and her powers, and the climax comes as a surprise, validating the protagonist’s essential goodness. The contemporary-sounding commentary of the characters is occasionally jarring against the otherworldly tone of the story, but liberal helpings of mystery and danger help to pull readers along. Two potential romances with a conspirator and with the son of the Empress add to the appeal. VERDICT Purchase where Tamora Pierce’s books are popular.–Beth Wright Redford, Richmond Elementary School, VT

STRAND, Jeff. The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever. 268p. ebook available. Sourcebooks/Fire. Mar. 2016. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781492628149.STRAND, Jeff. The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever
Gr 7 Up–Fans of comical books rejoice as Strand has hit the zombie trend on its head with this one. Justin just wants to make a perfect movie—no big deal, right? However, he is 15 years old, he has to shoot the film in one month, and his grandmother is funding his project. And his crush is the leading actress on the project. What ensues are laugh-out-loud moments of friends overcoming obstacles, and readers will be wondering if Justin will ever finish that film. From the warning at the beginning of the book through the double epilogue, Strand walks the line of balancing the right amount of humor without it overtaking the entire book. Fans of his previous work will not be disappointed by this title. Aspiring filmmakers, zombie movie fans, and reluctant readers should be entertained by this title. VERDICT A worthy addition to any library’s collection.–Stephanie Charlefour, Wixom Public Library, MI

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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  1. I’d also like to suggest that educators seek out independently authored books for this age range. There are a lot of quality books out there, though they don’t get the publicity of those backed by the large publishing houses. Books by Michelle Isenhoff, Cheryl Carpinello, etc. are good examples. My series, Seed Savers, also straddle the line between Middle Grade and YA nicely. Thanks for the post!

  2. I’d like to suggest that SLJ check out the books by James Preller written for middle grades and YA. They are highly rated and extremely readable. I havn’t seen them recommended on eitheryour YA or middle grade lists. Thank you. I always enjoy reading SLJ. Nancy

  3. Jan Edwards says:

    A great grouping to choose from, but most are likely to interest a female middle school audience. What about books that will appeal to the boys who are avid readers and the boys who are reluctant readers?

    • Marybeth says:

      Our middle school boys, both avid and reluctant readers, absolutely LOVE Tim Green’s sports books. We can’t keep them on the shelf, especially after he visited us in February!