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10 Great Reads for Upper Middle Schoolers | Summer Reading 2020

Finding books that are age-appropriate but still compelling enough to hook the interest of older tweens and young teens can be tricky. Here are some of our recent favorites. 

Finding books that are age-appropriate but still compelling enough to hook the interest of older tweens and young teens can be tricky. Here are some of our recent favorites. 

Be Wary of the Silent Woods by Svetlana Chmakova. illus. by author. Yen. ISBN 9781975311216.

Ailis Thornton and her cousin Na’ya live in the small New England town of Laitham, home to night things like vampires, werewolves, and weirns. . Background characters vary by supernatural species but of the human-passing, there is some diverse representation—Na’ya is multiracial, and main antagonist Patricia Chong presents as Asian. Chmakova adds a touch of whimsy through visual worldbuilding around the eerie, desolate woods.

Find Layla by Meg Elison Amazon/Skyscape. Sept. 2020. ISBN 9781542019804.

In a story that begins like a typical coming-of-age tale, Layla, 14, lives in Southern California with her unstable, chaotic mother and her younger brother. She is academically gifted, but teased by the popular kids at school. With grace and respect, Elison depicts an intense and, sadly, accurate view on how a child survives in spite of neglect, embarrassment, and humiliation.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. Random/Make Me a World. ISBN 9780525647072.

In a town where all monsters and evil deeds are thought to have been eliminated, Jam, a selectively mute transgender teen, accidentally lets loose a creature from one of her mother’s paintings and together they hunt a particularly insidious monster—one who hasn’t yet been discovered. Unique and tightly written, without a word out of place, this slim fable forces readers to consider what is truly monstrous in our world.

Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman. illus. by author. Graphic Universe. ISBN 9781512440003.

Grace, a young transgender woman, is attempting to outrun the Civil War. Though she identifies as female, she was assigned male at birth. The Confederate army in her native Georgia sees her as a worthy soldier, but she’s got other plans. This charming and poignant queer romance set against a Civil War–era backdrop will resonate with readers.

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The Lost City by Amanda Hocking. St. Martin’s/Wednesday Bks. Jul. 2020. ISBN 9781250204264.

Hocking’s fast, engaging fantasy will draw in new and seasoned fans of the genre. Ulla Tulin lives among the trolls she was left with when she was a baby. In both plotting and characterization, Hocking keeps the surprises coming and leaves readers eager to know more.

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee. Putnam. ISBN 9781524740955.

Frustrated by the inequality she sees as a Chinese woman in 1890 Atlanta, Jo Kuan begins writing an anonymous advice column in the newspaper. The mostly untold history of the Chinese experience in the South sets the tone for Jo’s story, the secrets kept by those in power, and her drive and talent. The superb writing, deliberate pacing, and slow reveal of secrets make this a believable and enjoyable read.

The Kinder Poison by Natalie Mae. Razorbill. ISBN 9781984835215.

Zahru always believed she would grow up to be a Potionmaker like her mother, but she instead finds herself becoming a Whisperer like her father, communicating with animals rather than living a life of luxury as a more powerful magician. With characters to love, to hate, and to love to hate, plus a plot full of adventure skillfully woven with suspense, this is a must-purchase for all YA collections.

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis. illus. by author. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536204988.

A young orphan named Margaret lives on an island convent, cared for by adoring nuns. The arrival of two strangers changes her life forever. In this tale loosely based on the early years of Elizabeth I, Meconis skillfully balances imaginative twists with factual evidence.

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki. illus. by Jillian Tamaki. First Second. ISBN 9781626720947.

Every summer, Rose and her parents vacation at a lakeside cottage. The rest of the world fades away as Rose reunites with her friend Windy and delves into leisurely games of MASH, swimming, and the joy of digging giant holes in the sand—but this summer is different.

Go with the Flow by Lily Williams & Karen Schneemann. illus. by authors. First Second. ISBN 9781250305725.

When new student Sasha gets her period, best friends Abby, Brit, and Christine shepherd her to the bathroom—only to find that their school doesn’t stock bathroom hygiene dispensers. This warm, candid friendship story isn’t shy about the message it’s trying to send—that periods need not be a dirty secret.

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