There are so many upper middle grade books for 7th graders in middle school ages 12 and 13 so how do you find the best book choices for your 7th grade student or child? I’ve written a curated list of the top books for 7th graders with reviews to help you find good middle-grade books for 7th graders with different interests, topics, and genres!
For a bit easier books, read the Best Books for 11-Year-Olds. Also, look for the label SHORT by the genre tag to find books that are shorter reads.
For short nonfiction books, which I love giving to readers, try this book list.
What if my 12 year old needs harder books?
Get a PDF download of the top books from this 7th grade book list!
What are the best book series for 7th graders?
Best Books for 12-Year-Olds (7th Grade)
Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
Fantastic fantasy world-building, excellent writing, a strong Black female heroine, and a surprise plot twist ending are just a few reasons you’ll love this book. Amari’s beloved older brother has vanished but she gets a virtual message from him revealing that she’s a magician and will get to attend a secret magician school. At the school, she discovers she’s actually an outlawed dark magic magician. Amari knows she’s not evil and is determined to prove it and stay in the school so she can find her missing brother who used to attend there.
How to Stay Invisible by Maggie C. Rudd
A heartbreaking and hopeful survival story. Raymond’s neglectful parents abandon him completely so he takes his dog Rosie, and they set up camp in the woods behind his middle school. There, he survives on his own, foraging in dumpsters and fishing for food as he continues to attend school. When a playful coyote hurts Rosie, he meets an old man who helps them both — which is especially significant because it’s over the Christmas break when he can’t get dumpster food from school. Raymond doesn’t want to tell anyone, including the old man or his two friends at school, what he’s surviving, but the truth comes out when another boy discovers his campsite and a snake bite almost kills him. HOW TO STAY INVISIBLE is a powerful story of grit, survival, and longing for family. I couldn’t put it down.
Allies by Alan Gratz
Written from many different voices about one day in history, readers easily can see the massive amount of cooperation, planning, and troops from different countries involved in D-Day (when the Allies invaded France at Normandy.) We hear from an American teenage soldier who was born in Germany, a French Algerian girl whose mom who is a recently captured spy, a Canadian paratrooper who lands in the wrong spot, and an American black medic. It’s violent and disheartening yet despite terrible losses, racism, and injuries, the fighters persist despite everything to accomplish their goal — to take back the area for the Allies. What an incredible retelling of this day!
Ali Cross by James Patterson
If you want an enthralling adventure & mystery book for 7th graders that you can’t put down, read this one next. It’s Christmas Eve. Ali’s friend Gabe is missing, his FBI-agent dad is falsely accused of murdering an old man, and someone broke into their house while they were at church and stole his dad’s service weapon. Ali knows he has to try to fix things, starting by finding his friend Gabe. Don’t miss book two, Like Father, Like Son.
The Probability of Everything by Sarah Everett
(For this book review, I’m not going to tell you too much about the story– because it would spoil your reading experience.) Kemi adores her close-knit family, her African American artist mom, her baby sister, a baby sibling on the way, and most of all, her beloved Nigerian dad. When an asteroid threatens everyone on Earth with imminent death, Kemi and her family leave for her cousins’ house, where she starts a time capsule. The exceptional storytelling is emotional (I cried SO MUCH) and important with themes of family, racism, and values. A must-read, must-experience-for-yourself-kind-of book.
Rain Rising by Courtne Comrie
RAIN RISING is a multilayered story about mental health, racism, family, friendship, and self-love — with a main character that you’ll cheer on through her complicated growing-up journey. Rain’s older brother Xander gets brutally attacked and barely speaks anymore. Rain can barely cope. In an after-school group, she starts to make new friends, and she slowly finds her way back to health through therapy and group support. Intense and heartbreaking and heart-putting back together, This good book for 7th graders is important, beautiful, and hard to put down.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay
Worth reading and rereading because there are layers of meaning, skillful writing, and a haunting truthtelling that resonates with us all. Ever since Conor’s mom got breast cancer, a wild, ancient tree monster visits Conor’s nightmares. The monster demands that Conor admit the truth about his mother, but Conor refuses. In the awake world, Conor moves in with his cold, unfriendly grandmother. The metaphorical nightmare echoes Conor’s real-world experiences as we journey with him into pain, loss, and eventually, healing. Astonishing and powerful, this is one of the best books I’ve EVER read.
Gone to the Woods by Gary Paulsen
This is a compelling, disturbing, and hopeful childhood story of hardship and survival with moments of kindness and time in nature that sustain the neglected, determined young boy. I highly recommend this book for 7th grader book clubs and 12-year-olds who like survival stories.
What Happened to Rachel Riley? by Claire Swinarski
REALISTIC / SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Stunning, thought-provoking, and anger-inducing, this is a superbly written story about an ostracized middle school girl and the new student determined to figure out why…It’s about sexual harassment and negligent teachers, girls touched without consent, and the path out of that shame toward justice and empowerment. I highly recommend this middle grade book for middle school book clubs and everyone!
The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
Petra is on a spaceship traveling to a new home after the Earth is destroyed. When Petra awakens, she learns that her parents have been killed and her brother is missing, plus all the other humans’ memories have been erased. Except for her’s! Petra is determined to foil the sinister Collective’s plan to control everyone, but she plays the part of a mind-controlled teenager and secretly shares Mexican cuentos with the other Zetas. Her determination will save not only the Zetas but possibly an entire civilization of settlers. Petra is a brave, fierce girl who shows us that we are less than human without art, music, and stories. Había una vez…
A Duet for Home by Karina Yan Glaser
REALISTIC / HOMELESSNESS
A powerful story with complex, three-dimensional characters about grief, family, community, and homelessness. When their family becomes homeless after her dad dies, June helps her little sister and non-speaking mom get settled at Huey House. Despite the shock of their new situation, June finds kindness from many of the people at the shelter. But when Mrs. G, their social worker gets fired for not agreeing to the city’s new homeless policies, June helps organize a protest and discovers that home isn’t a place and family isn’t always blood.
The Brave by James Bird
When Collin, a neurodiverse boy, gets kicked out of another school, his neglectful father sends Collin to live with his mom. Collin has never met his mother but he’s curious to meet her and live on the Ojibwe reservation. Living with her is a totally different experience than his previous home — because with his mother, he’s welcomed and not judged. He befriends the neighbor girl who teaches Collin how to be brave. Which he needs. And so does she because she’s going to be a butterfly soon…
Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dees
Middle schooler Mila is feeling trapped— a group of basketball-playing boys is getting too close, grabbing her, touching her, and then telling her that she’s imagining it. Ignoring doesn’t stop the behaviors, neither does telling an adult, telling her friends, or wearing baggier clothing. Now her toxic friend Zara is acting mad and jealous that Mila’s getting the boys’ attention. Unexpectedly, Mila finds her strength when she starts karate classes. That helps her find what works to put a stop to the harassment. This is one of the essential books for 7th graders; it should be shared widely with middle school boys and girls.
House Arrest by K.A. Holt
You’ll feel so many emotions reading this tender, heartwarming story that shows a brave boy who feels anger, fear, worry, and love over his challenging situation. Timothy is under house arrest for the next year, living with a brother who needs constant medical care, and feeling so much pain over his big life changes. Part of his year-long punishment is to meet with a probation officer, meet with a therapist, and write in a journal which is the book we’re reading. When his little brother gets assigned an abusive new nurse, Timothy feels like even if he gets thrown in juvie, he must do something drastic to help his brother. Written in poetic verse, this great book speeds along and pulls your heart along with it.
Hands by Torrey Maldonado
Trev thinks a lot about throwing hands. He starts learning how to box so he can protect his mom and sisters when his stepdad gets out of jail. But when his Uncle Larry, Quick and Uncle Frankie all ask him why and encourage him to use his brain, Trev sees how fighting could make things even more of a mess. And that if he wants to have a future, he can use his hands differently than fighting, including for his drawings. Maldonado writes shorter books so keep that in mind if your 7th grader is looking for a short book.
The Ruins of Gorlan: Ranger’s Apprentice book 1 by John A. Flanagan
Will is apprenticed to become a Ranger, a job he’s unsure about. But as he develops a relationship with his master and learns what being a Ranger is all about (spying for the kingdom,) and comes to embrace his new life. When an old enemy of the kingdom sends out dangerous beasts to attack Will’s master, Will is instrumental in getting help and killing the creatures. Action, fantasy, adventure, friendship, excellent writing — this book series has it all! Ranger’s Apprentice is a must-read, mesmerizing epic fantasy.
Starfish by Lisa Fipps
REALISTIC / BODY IMAGE & SIZE / VERSE
Heartbreaking and inspiring, this poignant book for 7th grade readers in verse shows a girl who learns, after years of fat-shaming and bullying, to define herself not based on what others say but on who she really is. Ellie’s mom won’t buy her new clothes because she thinks it encourages Ellie’s weight gain and is pushing for a dangerous gastro-bypass surgery. Fortunately, Ellie gets support from an understanding therapist who helps her move from powerless to powerful — and accept herself as she is–beautiful and worthy.
Willa of the Wood by Robert Beatty
Set in the time of early American settlers, this is a beautiful story of love about a night spirit who is still connected to the powerful wood magic of her ancestors. When Willa accidentally discovers that her clan is keeping human captives and forbidden technology, her Faeran clan leader wants her dead. Fleeing the danger of her home, Willa cautiously observes a human man, slowly learning to trust him. When she realizes that one of his children was one of the human captives she saw, Willa knows she must return to her clan and make things right.
No Place Like Home by James Bird
REALISTIC / HOMELESSNESS / OJIBWE
Beautiful character development, vivid details, and a strong narrative voice draw you into this story about homelessness, Ojibwe culture, growing up, family, and the love of a dog. Based on James’ childhood, Opin is a sweet, hopeful boy who lives with his mom and his older brother in their car, traveling from city to city. He adores his mother, but he’s scared of his angry, violent older brother, who comes and goes as he pleases. When Opin finds a hurt dog, the love of a dog fills a friend void for Opin–until his brother takes the dog away. Despite the challenges of Opin’s life, beauty and joy are threaded throughout this compelling story that is one of the best of 2023. *Sensitive readers, there are a few swear words.
Rare Birds by Jeff Miller
REALISTIC / SAD
Graham’s mom moves them to Florida to wait for a heart transplant. When his mom gets approved, Graham stays with his mom’s friend and his angry son. Fortunately, at the hospital, he befriends a girl named Lou. When he finds his mom’s rare bird journal, Lou helps him search for the last bird on the list–the Snail Kite. But because there’s prize money for finding the bird, bully kids not only thwart them but endanger them–stranding Lou and Graham in a swamp with a giant alligator and no cell service. The friends’ search is filled with challenges, which they face with bravery and determination, including the truth about Lou. I loved the two-page chapter lengths and the emotionally resonate story of friendship and family that will make you cry.
Free Lunch by Rex Ogle
REALISTIC / MEMOIR
Powerful, memorable, and beautifully written for mature readers, Ogle writes about surviving his poverty and violence-filled childhood. It’s sixth grade, and every lunch, Rex must loudly announce to the hard-of-hearing lunch ladies that he gets free lunch. Not only is Rex shamed by free lunch but also his outfits and constant hunger and violent home life. It’s ultimately a story of survival that may be relatable to some readers and will build empathy in others.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
This book brilliantly addresses the very real issue of police violence against black children, but it does not vilify or stereotype. The author shows us the complexity of issues and the humanity of a police officer from the perspective of his daughter. After Jerome is shot by her father, he becomes a ghost. Sarah, the policeman’s daughter, is the only one who can see and talk to him except for the other ghost boys who were also killed in racially motivated violence. It’s a well-written, fast-paced read but one that is going to stay with you as you ponder the important topics it addresses.
Lockwood & Co The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
Dangerous ghosts and spirits are appearing everywhere in London, but only certain kids can see them. Teens Lucy, Anthony, and George badly need money for their ghost-hunting agency, Lockwood & Co., so they take a perilous job that, if the ghosts have their way, may just be their last. It’s also a book made into a Netflix show! BOXED SET.
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Aven Green is used to making up creative stories for why she doesn’t have any arms. Especially now in Arizona where her parents are the new managers of a rundown theme park. She befriends a boy at school who, like her, feels different and isolated from the other kids. His name is Connor and he has Tourette Syndrome. Together, he, another new friend named Zion, and Aven investigate a mysterious storage shed that connects to Aven’s past. This story is about restorative friendship, facing your fears, and discovering your true (significant) potential.
Once There Was by Kiyash Monsef
This brilliant book mesmerized me from the first page with layered storytelling, plot twists, and surprises. Marjan’s alone and the owner of her dad’s veterinary practice since he died, even though she’s only a sophomore in high school. When asked to help a sick gryffin, she’s shocked to discover her father’s secret job as a mythical creature vet. She tries to unravel the lies and secrets in her father’s life, including if he was murdered, but the world of magical creatures is confusing and filled with trickery. Marjan isn’t sure if she can trust her instincts about right and wrong…and she feels like she’s missing part of herself. Woven within the narrative story are her father’s Iranian folktales about mythical creatures. Worth every page!
Black Bird, Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternack
Set in the historical Turkic Jewish empire of Khazaria, Ziva’s beloved twin brother with leprosy continues to deteriorate, and she learns he’ll be taken by her uncle, so she steals him away to search for a cure. Along their journey, they meet a half-demon boy who tells them about a mythical city where the Angel of Death can not enter. They journey toward the city and Ziva clings to the hope that the city will be the answer to everything. She’ll bargain and beg with Death, but ultimately, she’ll have to accept that in life, we all must die. This feels like an epic adventure and will sure to be a favorite new book.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
HISTORICAL / FANTASY
Part historical (ancient Rome) and part fantasy, Elias and Laia live in a world that enslaves them both in different ways — Elias with fighting and Laia with serving and spying. This is an epic page-turning series with lots of mystery, action, and a hint of romance. It’s SO good that it’s one of the most popular YA books right now but one that could be read by younger readers in 7th grade.
The Fort by Gordon Korman (his 100th book!)
Tension-filled, disturbing, and powerful, this story alternates the points of view of a group of boys who are each dealing with their own struggles including poverty, OCD, bullying, and domestic abuse. When the boys discover an abandoned bomb shelter in the forest, they make it their fort, which becomes a special and safe place. When one boy, the outsider who isn’t friends with everyone yet, figures out what’s happening with the abused boy who is secretly sleeping in the fort, all the friends try to help him, but it’s tricky and complicated.
Barren Grounds: The Misewa Saga by David A. Robertson
FANTASY / INDIGENOUS CULTURE
Foster kids with Indigenous heritage, Morgan and Eli, discover a portal in the attic leading to a magical world of Cree language and mythology. It’s a world with talking animals who walk on two legs and need their help. Ochek, the Fischer, asks the kids to end the starving community’s forever winter by finding the human man who stole all the birds and, with them, summer. Their dangerous quest triggers Morgan’s memories of her mother and a new perspective on who she is. The children travel far with their new friends and experience danger and trials in order to save this beautiful world.
How To Find What You’re Not Looking For by Veera Hiranandani
In a beautiful story of family, love, and forgiveness, a Jewish girl named Ariel’s older sister falls in love and runs away to marry a Hindu boy after the Loving vs. Virginia verdict. Ariel misses her sister terribly, but her parents refuse to talk about her sister or let Ariel have her sister’s contact information. Meanwhile, Ariel’s teacher thinks she has a learning disability called dysgraphia but Ariel’s mom refuses to consider it. Her teacher encourages her to write poetry which helps her express her feelings.
Legend of the Dream Giants by Dustin Hansen
Gorgeous, sensory writing fills the pages of this beautifully-crafted story about a young, naive giant named Berg who is searching for his place in the world. He doesn’t want to be like the monstrous but because he’s so innocent, he’s tricked and becomes a prisoner of a town. This one of my favorite books for 7th graders about trust, hope, belonging, friendship, and truth.
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
I love this unique world with its plot twists and turns. Epics are super-powerful, evil god-like creatures who control the world’s cities. Because David’s father was killed by Chicago’s Epic named Steelheart, David wants revenge. He joins the rebel group, the Reckoners, to learn how to assassinate Steelheart– a next to impossible feat for a regular human like him. This is a page-turning, mesmerizing YA book series. Boxed Set HERE.
Children of the Fox by Kevin Sands
Callan’s a gaffer who joins a group of kids who are hired by a Weaver to steal something magical called the Eye. It’s a tricky job with not enough time to plan and all the kids know it’s dangerous but the monetary reward is too tempting. The misfits use their individual skills including climbing, mapping, acrobatics, and knife throwing to plan a heist in less than a week. It’s an exciting, complex, and unexpected plot involving magic and mythological gods from the stories with themes of problem-solving, friendship, and trust that ends with both an amazing resolution and a cliffhanger.
Don’t miss this wildly inventive, exciting, and thought-provoking adventure. Riley, her dad, her cousin, and her aunt are sailing in the Bermuda Triangle when they’re attacked by a leviathan. Riley and her unpleasant cousin, Alfie, wake up on an island with overly friendly, rule-centered people including half-animal people. They soon learn the sinister truth of the rule-centric community and are determined to escape. What a great book for 7th graders!
Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows by Ryan Calejo
Charlie Hernández’s house burns down, his parents go missing, and he is sent to a foster home. But it’s when he grows HORNS, the WINGS, and meets the MYTHS in real life — like calacas, mukis, and El Justo Juez — that he’s really freaked out. Fortunately, a persistent classmate Violet Rey (also his crush) helps Charlie follow the clues to find out what happened to his parents — and discover what it has to do with La Mano Peluda and the prophesied Morphling who is meant to save the world.
Across the Desert by Dusti Bowling
REALISTIC / DRUG ADDICTION
Across the Desert is a stunning story about a brave girl who has been secretly dealing with her mother’s opioid addiction. Jolene is the only person who knows that her only friend Addie has crashed her ultralight plane alone in the middle of the desert. So Jolene steals her mom’s phone and credit card to takes the bus as close as she can to Addie’s location. On the bus, she meets a kind and helpful teenager named Marty who, despite Jolene’s reluctance and mistrust, helps Jolene. The story is about trust, relationships, boundaries, addiction, survival, and family; it’s also an emotional journey of inner and outer strength that leads to hope and healing.
Taking Up Space by Alyson Gerber
REALISTIC / BODY DYSMORPHIA & EATING DISORDERS
Sarah’s mom’s dysfunctional relationship with food is affecting Sarah– who now thinks that her slowness in basketball is related to eating too much or too many “unhealthy” foods, instead of being from the normal growing pains of puberty. She’s confused, starving herself, and stressed out. Finally, a friend pushes Sarah to get help…and, help is just what Sarah needs to understand the truth about her body, what health truly is, and how her mom’s disordered eating has affected her. EXCELLENT!
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
This is the amazing & powerful biography of a boy with courage and hope who walked across Africa to find a better life. We also learn the story of an African village for whom water is a two-hour walk, and how the boy, now a man, builds a well for the village. A good book for 7th graders!
The Fire, The Water, and Maudie McGinn by Sally J. Pla
Maudie is an autistic girl staying with her father for the summer but a California fire forces them from their cabin. She and her dad head south to where her dad grew up. A friend sets them up in an old camper at a campground near the beach. While her dad looks for work, Maudie works up her courage to ask an older surfer woman for lessons. She spends the summer worrying about her big secret and learning to surf, hoping to win the beginning surfer competition at the end of the summer. Maudie makes a new friend who is friendly and neurodiverse like her. All of these things help her consider that she is more than what her mom and her abusive stepdad think of her. This is a moving coming of age story of a girl who learns to thrive instead of survive.
96 Miles by J.L. Esplin
“Dad always said if things get desperate, it’s okay to drink the water in the toilet bowl.” Isn’t this a great first sentence? An apocalyptic event has happened, there’s no electricity, the brothers are alone, and all their dad and their survival supplies are stolen at gunpoint. Now John and Stewart are on the road trying to get to a friend’s ranch for their supplies. It’s not going well–they’ve picked up a girl and her little brother, not to mention Stewart is nonstop fighting with John. If you like survival stories, sibling stories, and adventure, this is a great choice.
Attack of the Black Rectangles by A.S. King
Multi-layered and compelling with themes of censorship, family, crushes, and growing up… 6th grade Mac lives in a town that bans Halloween, pizza delivery, bright house colors, and staying out past curfew. At school, his book group notices that certain words and phrases are blacked out in The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. Mac and his friends Denis and Marci decide to find the original and fight back.
A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat
In this memoir, Dan describes a transformative trip during the summer before high school that helped him grow from awkward and insecure to confident and outgoing. The trip gave the students lots of freedom. He tries beer and cigarettes. He meets a cute girl and finds the courage to get to know her, even sharing a kiss. He falls in love with the cultures and languages, too. Readers will probably want their own European experiences, too. Although, I hope that the kids would be better supervised than Dan was!
Omar Rising by Aisha Saeed
A superb book of determination, resiliency, and community set in Pakistan. Omar gets a scholarship to attend a prestigious Pakistani boarding school, a step in fulfilling his dream of becoming an astronomer and buying his mom a house. But, his hopes are dashed when he’s told that scholarship students must work, must get A+ grades, and can’t do sports or clubs. Omar is grateful for his new friends and teachers but he’s worried he’ll lose it all so he studies all the time, even asking for tutoring help from the strict headmaster. Despite his efforts, his grades aren’t enough and he gets kicked out. Until, his classmates support him with a walk-out and the headmaster gets the board to change their mind, and the rules.
The Door by the Staircase by Katherine Marsh, illustrations by Kelly Murphy
FANTASY / FAIRY TALE
Middle schoolers will LOVE this fantastic Baba Yaga story about a brave and smart orphan girl, Mary, who wants a home, even if it’s with Baba Yaga. She just has to figure out how to be sure Baba Yaga won’t eat her and she does so with help from her friend Jacob and MAGIC!
House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
This Newbery winner grabs your attention immediately with an unbelievable (but kind-of believable) story of a boy named Matt who is a clone of the leader of Opium, El Patrón. He realizes that he’s not the first El Patrón clone and learns of a sinister reason why he’s the only Patron clone still alive. Next in the series is The Lord of Opium. This is another YA book that 7th graders can read and will love.
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
Joseph is an abused boy with a violent father, a parent at age thirteen, and is now living as a foster kid with Jack’s family on their organic farm. As he learns to trust them, we slowly learn about Joseph’s deep love for a rich girl named Maddie, his daughter named Jupiter who he’s never seen, and his shattering heartbreak. This is an amazing story– painful yet filled with redemption and hope — beautifully written and one that will give readers so much to ponder.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Mia and her parents have struggled ever since moving to America from China. When her parents take a new live-in job at a motel, they end up working around the clock for very little pay. Mia helps out by working at the front desk. She befriends the weekly tenants and uses her English skills to write letters advocating other people in tough spots— like her uncle whose sweatshop boss has taken his passport and weekly, Hank, who needs a letter of recommendation to get a job. This book is more than a memorable coming-of-age immigrant story, it’s also about tolerance and diversity and a must-read story you won’t soon forget.
Winterhouse by Ben Guterson, illustrated by Chloe Bristol
Elizabeth, an orphan, is unexpectedly sent to a large, stately hotel with a kind, grandfatherly proprietor for Christmas vacation. There, she discovers a magical book, a sinister couple, a family mystery, and a new friend who loves puzzles as much as she does. The writing is mesmerizing, the mystery is fascinating, and the characters are enchanting.
See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
Luminous and heartfelt, 11-year-old Alex Petroski’s story will grab your heart and expand it. His dream is to launch a rocket into space with his iPod of recordings about life on earth. The story is a transcription of what he records on the iPod — his solo journey to the rocket convention, the interesting people he befriends on the way and there, his trip Las Vegas to find information about his deceased father, and his unique, innocent perspective that tries to make sense of the world.
Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
In this society, you are sorted as Wanted, Necessary, and Unwanted. Alex is an Unwanted and is sent to die. But instead of death, Alex is rescued by a magician who has created a secret, magical haven for the Unwanteds where they live and train to use their magic skills. I love the creative magical characters in this world like Alex’s art teacher — an octagator! Here’s the problem — Alex is a twin whose brother is a Wanted. Alex risks the safety of his new home to see his twin in the old world. His actions reveal the secret world and war breaks out.
Sara and the Search for Normal by Wesley King
REALISTIC / MENTAL ILLNESS
Sara wants to be cured of her mental illnesses and be “normal” like other kids so she makes rules for herself. She hates her out-of-control brain but begins group therapy where she makes a friend; a friend who is covered in hidden bruises. Sara and Erin think of themselves as Star Children, kids wth alien DNA. It’s profoundly sad to witness Sara’s self-loathing. For readers, it’s a valuable opportunity to see inside Sara’s mind and how painful it is to have an invisible disease.
The Van Gogh Deception by Deron Hicks
MYSTERY / ADVENTURE
Written like an adult suspense novel, this is one of the best edge-of-your-seat mystery books for middle grade that I’ve ever read. The author jumps around, showing various incidents and people. You’ll have no idea what is going on or what will happen next. A boy with no memory is found at the National Gallery staring at a Degas sculpture. Strangely, this boy does know a great deal about art and artists. Soon we learn he’s being hunted by a team of professional bad guys. The boy, Art, and his foster sister escape from several kidnapping attempts and begin to unravel who he is and what’s going on.
Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL
An illustrated version of Jason Reynolds’ free verse book about Will, a teenager who witnesses his own brother get shot. He needs to follow The Rules and take revenge on the killer. But, as he travels seven floors in an elevator, each level provides an encounter with a deceased person, and their conversations halt Will’s plans and reveal to him the bigger story of what really happened with his brother.
Bomb by Steve Sheinkin, illustrated by Nick Bertozzi
HISTORY / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Three major storylines depict the significant historical events around the making of the atomic bomb: the Germans breaking the atom, the spy who was caught after giving the Russians the American plans for a nuclear bomb, and the American scientists working in New Mexico at a secret site to develop the atomic bomb. The stories are fascinating, more so because they’re based on actual events, but I did get bogged down with some of the science. Sheinkin and Bertozzi successfully capture the urgency scientists felt to compete with other countries and their singular focus. *some bad language
Bloom by Kenneth Oppel
Get ready for a wild ride of suspense, action, adventure, science fiction, and coolness!! Bloom tells the story of three kids who are not affected by the strange-looking plants that appear out of nowhere and take over land all over the world, covering houses and streets, swallowing animals and people but doing nothing to these kids. Scientists figure out that the plants are an alien invasion…and think these kids may be the only chance they have to stop them. To avoid spoilers, I’ll just tell you that it’s an AWESOME story…and ends on a crazy cliffhanger.
The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
Set in India, Viji writes this story as letters to you, her little sister Rukku who has intellectual disabilities. Viji tells how the two of them ran away from an abusive father to the big city where they met two friendly brothers and lived with them under a bridge, scrabbling to survive by collecting trash. Their lives are hard but made easier by the two boys, their new “brothers.” When Rukku gets a terrible cough and fever, so does one of the brothers. And what happens next almost destroys Viji. Ultimately, it is the kindness of her new “family” that helps her to see more than misery in the world. It’s an honest, eye-opening story that reveals the plight of many homeless children in India and yet, finds a way to be hopeful, too.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Because this is written in verse, this is a fast read but packs a big punch. Basketball player and twin Josh narrates his life in quarters, just like the game he plays. He writes about missing his twin when his twin, Jordan, gets a girlfriend; about getting in trouble when he hits Jordan in the face with a basketball; and about watching his father as his heart fails. This is a coming-of-age, gripping story about a boy who is just trying to figure out life like most boys at age 12.
Booked by Kwame Alexander
Alexander skillfully writes about the teenage human condition — he just gets it! 12-year old Nick struggles with his parents’ separation, a school bully, and the awkwardness of a first crush. The only thing that feels right is soccer. That is until he gets injured and can’t play. Written in free verse, this is a lyrical, fast-paced story that feels honest and relatable.
Wink by Rob Harrell
REALISTIC / CANCER
A funny cancer memoir for kids who like humorous but emotion-filled stories. When Ross is diagnosed with a rare kind of tumor, he immediately starts radiation treatment. His eye is goopy, he has to wear a hat, and his hair starts falling out in clumps– made funny with his cartoon drawings. A goofy, kind-hearted radiation tech gets Ross interested in alternative punk music, and in order to impress a girl, Ross asks the tech for guitar lessons. Turns out, the guitar and his new music, help Ross both express his frustrations and find his joy, leading to some surprising results.
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
This book is AMAZING, beautiful, moving, and life-changing! 12-year-old Willow is a genius with limited social skills (it’s never stated but we might guess she’s got Aspergers) whose adopted parents are killed in a car crash leaving her so confused without her parents’ support. But, Willow pushes on and finds a most unexpected new family in the back of a nail salon.
Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds
Ten short stories tell about the lives of different kids after their middle school day ends. With complex backstories and incredible depth of character development, Reynold’s fiction feels truthful… so much so that I’m so very glad that I’m not in middle school anymore. What kinds of topics are these kids dealing with? Bullying, fear of dogs, parents who have cancer, stealing, comedian goals, OCD, skateboarding, and friendships. Some stories are funny, some are serious, and all ring true.
Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna by Alda P. Dobbs
Set in historical Mexico, 1913, Petra Luna, her abuela, her little sister, and her baby brother flee their home when Federales burn the village. Petra’s abuelita considers reading and writing to be barefoot dreams but Petra thinks she’ll be able to save her family and realize her barefoot dreams, too. Eventually, they wait with throngs of other people trying to cross the bridge into the United States before the Federales arrive on the Mexican side. Exciting, interesting, and inspiring.
Invisible by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, illustrated by Gabriela Epstein
REALISTIC /GRAPHIC NOVEL
Spanish-speaking kids are thrown together to complete before-school community service hours. When the kids notice the homeless mom and her child living in a van, they try to help with leftover food. But they get into trouble with the mean cafeteria lady who thinks they’re stealing and watches them like they’re delinquents. This is a story about kindness, racism, differences, and marginalized individuals — both non-English speakers and homeless individuals. It’s excellent, and I love the Spanish dialogue written first with English-translated text second.
Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson
REALISTIC / VERSE
Written in verse with precise text, this is an important book to bring awareness to CTE as well as show families in grief. ZJ’s professional football player dad is changing. He’s stopped playing, gets terrible headaches, surprising anger outbursts, and forgets ZJ’s name. ZJ contrasts this with memories of his dad before the ever after; the before dad who played with ZJ, made him breakfast, and treated his friends like family. Now, there are a lot of doctor’s appointments and not much hope. It’s real, raw, and profoundly sad to watch ZJ slowly lose the dad he once knew.
Not an Easy Win by Chrystal B. Giles
Lawrence is been beaten up by a group of bullies, blamed for the fighting, and kicked out of the mostly-white school. His Granny tells him he can’t stick around the house. A kind, older neighbor takes Lawrence to his work at the local rec center where Lawrence helps out while doing online school and learning to play chess. PThrough the wisdom of his neighbor and learning to focus on chess, Lawrence finds purpose and inner fortitude that leads to his success in life and in chess.
A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Overnight a fence with armed guards divides Berlin. Gerta is stuck on the east side with her brother and mother while their father and another brother already escaped to the west. Greta’s father gets her a message that sets her on a course to dig a tunnel to the west. It’s dangerous but Greta’s determined. Excellent.
Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan
GRAPHIC NOVEL / FAIRY TALE
In this reimagined Snow White story, set in New York City in the 1920s, Snow White’s dad is a Wall Street king, her stepmother is a Zigfield Follies star, and her seven small protectors are street kids. It’s SO interesting how Phelan uses this historical setting to animate a familiar fairy tale. The black and white illustrations set the tone for this dark story with a happy ending
Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller
COMING-OF-AGE / MENTAL ILLNESS
Natalie wants to figure out how to help her depressed mother. As Natalie prepares for an egg drop contest with two other kids, she looks at her mother’s situation with the same scientific process. Her ultimate plan is to win the contest and then use the prize money to whisk her mother away on a special trip. It’s a beautiful, well-done story and a compassionate look at depression.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Wonderfully crafted and imagined, this 2017 Newbery award winner is a fairy tale of sorts about a good witch who rescues one of the town’s many abandoned (sacrificed) babies instead of giving her to another town to adopt and love. She’s a special baby named Luna who accidentally becomes infused with moon magic. It’s also the story of the baby’s magical, bereaved mother, a wicked witch who feeds off sorrow, a woodcarver who wants justice, and most of all, an amazing girl named Luna.
Pretty by Justin Sayre
REALISTIC / COMING OF AGE
Beautifully written and plotted, Justin Sayre has created a coming-of-age masterpiece not to be missed. Sophie’s life is complicated. Hiding her mom’s alcohol addiction affects everything, even her schoolwork. When her mother leaves for a trip, her aunt moves in and gently helps Sophie learn about being a strong, beautiful, biracial woman. Sophie blossoms with the love and kindness of her aunt. Soon, Sophie must decide what she’ll do next — move with her aunt or stay with her mother who eventually returns home from rehab.
Brothers Keeper by Julie Lee
A powerful read that captures the fearful culture of North Korea, the marginalization of females, and the bond between siblings. As war erupts between North and South Korea, Sora and her family decide to flee from North Korea but she and her little brother are separated from their family. They experience death, kidnapping, starvation, killings, sickness, and winter’s brutal cold with the Red Army marching right behind them.
Danger and Other Unknown Risks by Ryan North and Erica Henderson
review by Jemma Taylor
ADVENTURE / GRAPHIC NOVEL
This book is genuinely one of my new favorite graphic novels EVER. The world collapsed on New Year’s Day of the year 2000, but not because of technology; because magic became real. Billions died, electricity became a thing of the past, and everyone had to rebuild their lives in the new post-apocalyptic society. Everything sucks, but Marguerite is the chosen one who will save the world. (Or is she?) With visually stunning art, a creative setting, and a fantastic story, I cannot recommend this book enough.
Strong as Fire, Fierce As Flame by Supriya Kelkar
HISTORICAL FICTION / INDIA
A powerful story set in colonial India about a girl finding her voice and inner strength. Meera flees from home after her dad experts her to join her betrothed on his funeral pyre. But as she’s escaping, she’s captured by a British captain and assigned to work in his kitchen. There, she witnesses institutional racism and cruelty. She eventualyl fights back by helping the resistance.
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
REALISTIC – BEAUTY / SELF-LOVE
Don’t miss this important story about self-worth, beauty, and colorism. Genesis hates that her skin is so dark; she knows her grandma and father hate that about her, too. In her self-loathing, she believes that if only she were lighter-skinned, she’d be pretty and have all the things that go along with being pretty. In this coming-of-age story, Genesis finds her voice both literally and metaphorically. It will start the conversation about who defines beauty and how we can do better individually and as a society.
Soul Lanterns by Shaw Kuzki
HISTORICAL FICTION / WWII IN JAPAN
An important, multi-layered story of a Japanese girl’s understanding of Hiroshima, grief, family, and the healing power of sharing stories. When Nozomi’s art teacher, Mr. Yoshioka, leaves the school due to sickness, she and her friends plan a festival in his honor called “Hiroshima: Then and Now.” They interview people close to them about their experiences during the bombing (which they call “the flash”), learning many unknown stories that impact the way the kids view things now and their hope for the future.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée
REALISTICMiddle school is hard enough with friend drama but add to it not-being-black-enough drama, personal and community race-related drama, and boy drama. Frankly, it’s a lot for 12-year-old Shayla who, unlike her older sister with all-black friends, has a diverse friend group she calls The United Nations. When a jury finds a cop innocent in the shooting death of a black boy, Shayla wears an armband to school and rallies many of her classmates even though the principal says it’s against the rules.
The Bluest Sky by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Hector lives in Cuba with his mom and older brother in a communist-controlled state that imprisoned his now-exiled dad. He doesn’t understand why his mom would want to leave Cuba for the U.S. until their neighbors turn on them, and something unthinkable happens. Hector’s mom applies to leave Cuba and their journey is fraught with complications and dangers.
The Prisoner of Cell 25 (Michael Vey #1) by Richard Paul Evans
Kids love this book series about a boy with electrical powers and an evil group who wants to control him and the others like him. I zipped through the series and loved every minute.
For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington
REALISTIC / MENTAL HEALTHJust like the author’s own experience as an adoptee, it’s hard for Makeda to be a black adopted girl in a white family. But there are even more challenges for Makeda these days, starting with being the little sister to a newly distant teenager, moving to a new town away from her BFF, having parents who are constantly fighting, and watching her mom’s mental health deteriorate. After her mom’s mania takes them on a trip to Colorado which abruptly nose dives into severe depression and a suicide attempt, Makeda reaches out for help.
Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly
If you like strong girl power books for teens, you’ll love this story of five mermaids who journey to find each other and the sea witches. An ancient evil is being unleashed and is not just trying to kill the girls but also planning on enslaving or killing their communities. Very entertaining.
Traveling with his aunt around the world, Shinji is kidnapped off his aunt’s boat by the Hightower Corporation who wants a statue he just bought in. a market. Adventure from the first page, plenty of science and magic, an evil mega-corporation, an ancient curse, a spy, and an angry spider monster — this is a mesmerizing, exciting adventure that readers will love.
The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks with Jordie Bellaire
In this first book in an Asian-influenced series about an occupied city, we meet two kids from different clans and backgrounds who become unlikely friends. Kaidu is a Dao and new to the Nameless City where he’s studying to be a soldier. Rat is a street girl who teaches Kaidu how to survive in the city. Together they save the city’s leader from an assassination plot.
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
REALISTIC / BOOKS ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS – OCD
My daughter and I could not put this book down — it’S a thoughtful coming-of-age story about a girl genius with OCD whose grandma wants her to go to public middle school to make one friend, read one non-math book, and join one school activity. Surprisingly, Lucy does find friends and more than that, too. A well-written, heart-warming story!
Words on Fire by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Learn the history of Lithuania’s book smugglers as well as the fundamental truth that books give readers freedom from oppression; books keep alive a language, culture, and identity, no matter how hard someone tries to erase it. Audra doesn’t know her parents are book smugglers until they are arrested by the Cossacks. She flees to their contact’s house but she herself can’t read or write. She slowly learns and develops a passion for stories. Not only that, she became a clever smuggler.
The Maze Runner by James Dasher
What a wild ride! Kids can’t put these books down. In this dystopian world, kids are either killed or must kill to survive. There are tons of plot twists that kept me surprised and entertained but I thought the last few books weren’t as strong as the first few. Boxed Set HERE.
When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler
Three friends in Vienna, Leo, Max, and Elsa are separated by war, location, and ideology. Because Leo and Elsa are Jewish, their path includes ghetto housing, escape, and prison camp. But, Max is not Jewish and his main goal is to get the approval of his brutal Nazi father. To do so, he gladly pursues Nazi beliefs and actions, despite the nagging voice that reminds him that his friends weren’t “dogs” or less than human. A heartbreaking, beautiful story about humanity, morality, hope, and love.
Above World by Jenn Reese
Humans are created to live in tech-dependent, animal-morphed groups with different climates and groups: mer people, snake people, centaur, bird people –and the groups have mostly remained separate from each other. The main character, Aluna, a Kampii (mer), has left her clan in order to discover why the clan is dying. In Mirage, she and her unique group of friends must try to convince the Equian colonies that the evil Karl Strand is trying to take over Above World.
I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day
The author skillfully weaves an important, heartfelt story about growing up, family, and finding your identity in the context of adoption, the historical maltreatment of Native Americans, and the mystery of your own heritage. When Edie unexpectedly finds a box of photos and letters from the woman she suspects was her mom’s birth mother, it prompts a journey to discover the truth of her Native heritage.
Closer to Nowhere by Ellen Hopkins
REALISTIC / VERSE
A #ownvoices heart-warming story in verse of struggle and unconditional love for a child with challenging behaviors. Hannah hates that her cousin Cal is now living with her family. He’s ruining everything from her parent’s relationship to her gymnastics competitions, and can’t be trusted. Once we learn Cal’s backstory and the pain he’s suffered from an abusive dad who is now in jail and an addict mom who died of leukemia, we begin to feel compassion for him.
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
HISTORICAL FICTION / INDIA
Written in a diary as letters to her Mama, Nisha shares how her life is turned upside down when the British rule of India ends in 1947, splitting the country into two — the Muslim north where she lives becomes Pakistan and the Hindu south remains India. Even though Nisha’s mom was Muslim, Nisha, her brother, her doctor Papa and her grandmother are forced to leave their home in the north because they are Hindu. There’s violence everywhere; nowhere is safe, not even the trains. It’s a harrowing journey and a confusing time.
Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Harbor Me tackles some very big issues including race, immigration, bullying, learning differences, friendship, and forgiveness. The story is about six diverse children with learning differences. They bond during a special kids-only time on Friday afternoons where they share their stories, many of which Haley records on a tape recorder. Even as she learns about the other kids who are, Haley is reluctant to share that her own dad is in jail for the car accident killing her mother.
Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
This beautiful story captures the essence of love, family, and self-discovery. It’s compelling and exquisitely crafted. Osh, a solitary island man, rescued baby Crow when he found her in a small boat on the sea. Crow loves Osh but now at age 12, she wants to know where she came from — was it the island across the way where the leper colony was? She, Crow, and their friend, Miss Maggie journey to the island to find out. The island brings them closer to answers but also into danger, too.
Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant
A warm-hearted adventure with brave kids, dogs, and a happy ending… The war has made Ben an orphan –again. All that he has left are his dog and his dad’s boat, the Sparrowhawk, he and Lottie set off on the boat for France to find Ben’s missing older brother. The boat isn’t meant for a channel crossing but the two kids are determined to make it work…but it won’t be easy. Nor will it be easy to find Ben’s missing brother in a country decimated by war.
Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley
You’ll fall in love with this magical story about a lonely boy whose beloved grandfather faces a life-ending illness. Micah’s grandfather and Micah hope the Lightbender in the Circus Mirandus who owes the grandfather a miracle, will be able to help. With a missive to the Lightbender, Micah soon discovers the magical circus his grandfather once loved so much. It’s an adventure filled with emotion and faith.
The Outcasts: Brotherband Chronicles, Book 1 by John Flanagan
A well-written story of a young, fatherless boy named Hal whose mom was an Araluen slave. To survive the town’s prejudice against him, he is helped by another outcast, his dead father’s former shipmate, a one-armed recovering drunk. When it’s time for his Brotherband training, he becomes the leader of a rag-tag group of boys. They’ll compete against better, stronger teams who don’t always play fair. The stakes are high and Hal must win even with his group of misfits.
Black Brother Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes
PREJUDICE / COMING OF AGE / FENCING (SHORT)
Twin brothers with very different skin colors, one whiter and one darker, are treated differently, most noticeable at their school. Donte is unfairly accused of something and when he tries to defend himself, the police are called and he’s suspended from school. Donte starts fencing to get revenge but as he trains, he finds that he’s smart, good at fencing, and courageous.
Furthermore (Book 1) by Tahereh Mafi
Magic and color are closely linked in her world. Only Alice has no color in her skin or hair. And her father has been missing for years making her even sadder. She travels with a boy named Oliver to a different magical land in order to find and rescue her Father. But the rules are wildly different and the inhabitants eat people for their magic. Even though Oliver and Alice start their quest at odds, the many challenges join them in a solid friendship.
Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras
Set in medieval Scotland, this is an action-packed adventure with a strong female protagonist, medieval and mythical elements. When Drest’s war-band family is kidnapped by knights she sets off in pursuit, taking a wounded soldier hostage. Throughout their travels, the two develop a complicated friendship and Drest learns many uncomfortable truths about her family.
Captain Superlative by J. S. Puller
Right from the start, we know Captain Superlative is gone. This foreshadowing kept me reading with curiosity. The big lesson our main character, Janey, learns is about not standing by when injustice is happening. She learns this from a girl dressed in a swimsuit, wig, mask, and high tops who arrives at her middle school and changes everything. Read this with a book club or with a friend!
Edge of Extinction The Ark Plan by Laura Martin
This is an awesome dystopian story about a dangerous world where cloned dinosaurs have taken over. Sky and other humans live below ground in safety with Noah, their supreme ruler. Sky leaves the safety of the underground city in order to find her dad. Barely outside a day, she and her friend Shawn are rescued from hungry dinosaurs by a boy who lives in a treetop enclave. When his enclave is attacked by Noah’s soldiers looking for her, Sky realizes that everything she believed about Noah is wrong.
The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling
Written in verse, this is a heart-wrenching, heart-stopping, suspenseful adventure with lyrical, figurative language about an intense journey of physical hardship and emotional healing. For the first time since her mom was shot, Nora and her dad climb into a Sonoran Desert canyon for the first time. Then, a flash flood careens through the canyon, carrying her father and their supplies away. Alone and terrified, Nora forces herself to find shelter and keep searching for her father, even with the venom from a scorpion bite slowing her down. As she faces her fears and continues on, she overcomes a metaphorical war with the “beast” who has been giving her nightmares.
Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson
Told from many different, well-developed characters’ points of view, this is a Newbery award winning historical fiction story about the plantations with their abuse and a thriving swamp community of Freewater filled with formerly enslaved people and some freeborn children, loosely based on the history of maroon communities in the South. There are many intertwined story threads including escaped children, Freewater residents, and the plantation owner’s daughter that weave together for a hopeful ending.
The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
Powerful! I don’t normally like books with animal characters but this was epic and I didn’t really notice or care that the characters were rabbits. The writing is excellent, the characters are compelling, and the plotting is exceptional. I totally love this series!
Ahisma by Supriya Kelkar
Anjali’s parents join the freedom movement against the British government. Through her parents, Anjali begins to see her world differently including the poverty-stricken caste of many people call “the Untouchables”. Other Indian families do not like the changes her family is making. Then, Anjali’s mom is thrown in jail!
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
One of the BEST books for 7th graders and all middle schoolers, it’s so well-crafted with deep emotional resonance. Doug is a boy who is struggling to read with no support from his home life. Not only is his dad and older brother abusive but they live in abject poverty. What saves Doug is his connection to a librarian who shows Doug Audubon’s bird paintings and how to draw. This eventually leads to reading and hope.
Unteachables by Gordon Korman
REALISTICFunny, sensitive, well-written, brilliantly paced, relatable, and poignant. The middle school assigns the worst teacher, Mr. Kermit, to a class of the so-called worst kids –the class known as the unteachables because Mr. Kermit does not care at all about teaching. Or disciplining. Or his students. As things get more complicated, Mr. Kermit cares more and their mechanic field trips are transforming for everyone. But the students need a plan for saving their teacher’s job.
Mark of the Thief by Jennifer A. Nielsen
HISTORICAL / FANTASY
Set in historical Rome we follow the life of a slave abandoned by his mother in the mines. After he accidentally discovers Julius Cesar’s magical amulet and its protector griffin, he’s in constant danger. It’s an exciting adventure with an unexpected revelation that will have you eager for the next book.
A Seed in the Sun by Aida Salazar
A tender and poignant middle-grade novel in verse showing an important time in history. Lula’s family are migrant workers. When Lula’s mom gets sick from pesticides, they can only get her medical care if they join the worker strikes started by Phillipino migrant workers. Eventually, her violent dad is convinced to join the strike which transforms their family, gives the girls hope, and helps Lula’s mom get health care.
Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie
Claire’s dad isn’t just fascinated by ghosts but he leads ghost tours of Chicago. When a reluctant Claire, a firm disbeliever, and scientist, is forced to help out on the tour one night, the ghost of a dead little boy follows her home. And won’t leave her alone. Claire is so scared that she confides in her brother and estranged friends. Together, they use research and scientific reasoning to figure out who the boy is and what he wants from Claire.
The Ghost Network: Activate by I.I. Davidson
Jack and his friend are hackers who get taken to a top-secret tech school where dangerous secrets are hidden behind the STEM school facade. Not only are the kids in danger but there also seems to be a computer implanted inside their brains telling them what to do! The story intrigued me from the start but after about the middle, the action was so fast-paced and suspenseful, Talk about a great book for 7th graders.
My Not-So-Great French Escape by Cliff Burke
Rylan hopes that traveling to work on a farm in France with his former best friend will repair their friendship. But once there, Rylan is separated from his arrogant friend which helps him be open to befriending other international kids, milking a goat named Bijou, growing a garden from scratch, and discovering the truth about his father, who’d abandoned him years before. The growth that Rylan experiences is incredible; readers will be cheering him on as he forges his path, experiencing hard-earned, painful truths about his former friend and his dad and finding wonderful new lessons about what he values.
The Loop by Ben Oliver
The world is one government under the control of an AI called Happy. Luka’s a prisoner in The Loop, a barbaric prison for death row inmates who escape death if they’ll allow experimental surgeries. After Group A’s experiments turn the prisoners into smiley killers, Luka escapes when his prison warden tries to kill him. It’s a crazy, fast-paced adventure of life and death that is impossible to put down.
Sweep by Jonathan Auxier
HISTORICAL MAGICAL REALISM
Set in Victorian London, this is a beautiful, bittersweet story about a plucky girl and her protector golem. When another sweep tries to burn Nan alive, a charcoal golem emerges to save her life. She and her protector golem find a new place to live but must stay vigilant so her old master doesn’t find them. On their own, they are helped by a street boy and a kind Jewish teacher. This is an irresistible story that will expand your heart.
Boy, Everywhere by A.M. Dassu
Sami’s family flees from modern Syrian life to detention in England and a new home in England with hateful relatives. We feel Sami’s emotions every step of this journey — from thinking about playing video games and soccer to his worry about capsizing in an overcrowded boat in the ocean and to blaming himself for his mom and sister being at the mall when it was bombed. In sharing his experiences, readers will see how much they can relate to Sami who is just a regular kid trying to be safe.
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
This is a well-written story about a real-life historical event when Philadelphia was the U.S. capital city and yellow fever killed thousands of citizens. We follow Mattie, a brave young girl, who struggles to survive in an abandoned and diseased city. She’s lost her grandfather to looters and doesn’t know where her mother has gone but fortunately finds help from their coffeehouse’s former cook, Eliza.
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly
This is the story of three children in medieval France who are hunted by the King. Fascinating writing shares pieces of the kids’ stories from third-hand witnesses as retold in an inn. The writing, the story, the characters, and the themes all pack a big punch adding up to a compelling novel, one of the best I’ve ever read. (Sensitive readers: There are two scenes with a lot of blood and a few bad words.)
Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola, illustrated by Emily Carroll
FAIRY TALE/GRAPHIC NOVEL
After her grandmother dies, and her father remarries, Masha becomes Baba Yaga’s assistant. To pass Baba Yaga’s tests, Masha uses her wits and the stories from her grandmother. She rescues three children from Baba Yaga’s cage but she still passes Baba Yaga’s tests. Excellent storytelling and illustrations.
Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
In this YA Wizard of Oz remix, Dorothy is evil and Amy Gunn, the other girl from Kansas, is recruited to help the freedom fighters fix and free all of Oz. Great writing plus an unexpected plot make this hard to put down!
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
This is middle school at its most intimate and revealing where friends experience the challenges of growing up, from an embarrassing sexting photo mistake to a shameful friend betrayal, and where we see the power of forgiveness and love. Would this make your best books for 7th grader lists?
Greetings From Witness Protection by Jake Burt
ADVENTURE / REALISTIC
A winsome story of adventure and finding where you belong. Nicki leaves the group home to live with a family in the witness protection program. She likes her newest foster family and takes her role seriously. She must stay vigilant against potential threats, not stand out, and try to keep her kleptomania under control. As she grows closer to her new family, both their past and hers catch up to them.
Dark Life by Kat Falls
When the oceans swallowed much of the earth, humans moved into stacked cities or the ocean floor. Ty lives in the ocean. He befriends a Topside girl named Gemma who is looking for her brother underwater. They learn that her brother is the leader of the outlaws and was a former medical experiment with Dark gifts just like Ty. A great book for 7th graders with action and intrigue from the get-go.
Loot by Jude Watson
When March’s dad falls off a building in his last jewel robbery (accident or not?), March is sent to foster care where he meets the twin he didn’t know he had. With the help of two friends at the foster home, they decide to escape and finish March’s dad’s plan to steal all the cursed Moonstones.
The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla
Charlie’s dad has brain damage from the war. When he’s moved across the country to a different hospital, Charlie and his siblings follow. But as the kids travel, along with a 20-something girl they hardly know, he searches for the birds he and his father always wanted to see…someday. The journey brings Charlie, who has autism, way out of his comfort zone. He grows in ways he never imagined and hopes that if he can see all of the Someday Birds, his dad will get better.
Concealed by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Imagine being in the Witness Protection Program. But when Katrina’s parents disappear, she learns that nothing her parents told her was true. Not Witness Protection. Not her “Uncle”. And not why they’re running. She reveals her story to a new friend named Parker and together, they embark on a journey to find the truth. If your 12 year olds like edge-of-your-seat adventure and mystery, they’ll love this book.
Beneath by Roland Smith
Pat’s parents are checked out and his brother is missing. Pat sneaks off to spend his Christmas vacation tracking his brother, Coop’s, last movements. His search leads him to an underground community but Coop isn’t there anymore, he’s gone deeper under the ground. And he is in terrible danger. One of the more popular books for 7th graders.
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids edited by Cynthia Leitch Smith
REALISTIC /SHORT STORIES
These exceptionally written, interconnected stories are about kids and their experiences with the powwow, cultural aspects of the Native communities, growing up, and belonging. They’re wonderfully written and wholly engaging. At first, each story seems distinct, but the stories intersect with graceful wonder. It’s a beautiful collection of stories that amplifies Native voices and gives non-Native folks a view of the modern-day lives of Indigenous kids and their families.
The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer
Our complex, likable story-loving heroine Ileana lives in Romania under a real-life, evil leader named Ceausescu. During his totalitarian regime, spies were everywhere. So were disappearances, death, rationing, and fear of saying the wrong thing. Ileana is an ordinary girl who finds joy and solace in stories, especially the folktales her father tells her and the ones she writes and rewrites in her journal. As we read about her life, interwoven in the chapters is a folktale about a brave princess named Ileana who survives thanks to her wit and bravery.
The Watcher by Joan Hiatt Harlow
American-raised Wendy’s Nazi-spy mom takes her to live in Germany during World War II. Wendy doesn’t even speak the language and feels overwhelmed with her mother’s zeal for Hitler. But when Wendy starts working at Lebensborn, the place where only Aryan children live — many who were forcibly removed from their parents — she sees the truth.
The Neptune Project by Polly Holyoke
When the government cracks down and discovers her mom’s secret lab, Nere learns that her mom has experimented on her and many other kids so that they can survive underwater. Suddenly Nere has gills and is forced to swim for her life to meet up with the other kids who are part of the Neptune Project, traveling to where her not-really-dead-after-all father has built an underwater headquarters. The journey is dangerous and there’s tension within the group. Will they survive the trip and if they do, to what end?
Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi
This beguiling story of Whichwood captures the humanity of loneliness, love, and life’s purpose inside a beautiful story of a mordeshoor girl with the magic of the dead in a town that no longer values her work. Two young strangers appear on Laylee’s doorstep to help. They get a second chance to help Laylee not just escape an unjust prison sentence but find happiness as well. This requires help from their buggy friend and thousands of reanimated corpses. It’s not your average story, it’s better –brilliant.
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
Caitlin’s brother Devon is killed in a school shooting, leaving Caitlin, who has Aspergers, to make sense of the world on her own, without his compassionate and understanding guidance. Her father isn’t helpful, he’s lost in his grief. So when Caitlin reads about grief and closure, she decides to go after closure in a literal, hands-on way. And it will help both her and her father build their relationship and let go of Devon. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read — so powerful and honest.
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chaining
Two girls are selected to attend the school for villains and school for heroes. Only all your stereotypes will be blown out of the water with which girl goes where. This book series for 12 year olds will make you think deeply about what makes someone good, friendship, and love. Boxed Set HERE.
Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick
This series kept my 12-year-old daughter reading all summer last year. The story begins when a group of 6th graders begin a mother-daughter book club. Each book in the series focuses on one book the girls read (such as Little Women, Daddy Long Legs, and Pride and Prejudice) and the relationships of the girls among themselves, the relationships with their mothers, and the business of growing up.
Click’d by Tamara Ireland Stone
REALISTIC / STEM
At coding camp, Allie makes an app to help kids can find new friends. When she returns to school, she releases it only to discover it has a major glitch. Relatable and engaging, this is a cool STEM-themed story of a middle school girl’s coding project that has unexpected consequences both positive and negative. Will the social media issues be applicable in this book for 7th graders? I think so.
It All Comes Down to This by Karen English
Experience the 60s in Los Angeles, a turbulent time of racism and burgeoning activism, from the perspective of Sophie, a sweet black girl who lives in an all-white neighborhood. Her parent’s marriage is in trouble, her sister is about to leave for college, and her best (white) friend has moved on. Surprisingly, Sophie’s strict, disapproving housekeeper becomes an ally, something Sophie needs during the challenges of life and growing up.
The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
REALISTIC / POVERTY
This is a well-written story with an emotional poignancy about poverty and relationships. Zoey is trying to stay hidden to survive her life living with her siblings, mom, and her mom’s newest boyfriend in his trailer. She cares for her siblings while her mom works, trying not to make a mess or too much noise. A kind teacher at school encourages Zoey to join the debate club which gives Zoey the courage to talk to her mom about everything.
Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer
A bard, a boy, a band of Viking berserkers, trolls, dragons, and a quest — what more could you want in a series? This is one of those can’t put it down books that will keep you up all night reading and I loved it. (Actually, I love all Farmer’s books.) Your kids will enjoy reading a new adventure in Norse and Old English mythology.
Trowbridge Road by Marcella Pixley
A beautiful story of misfit friends set in the 1980s. Two emotionally abandoned children become friends when Ziggy’s abandoned at his grandmother’s house. June Bug’s mom suffers from a severe mental disorders including fear of germs and June Bug is starving because there’s no food in the house. Luckily, Ziggy’s Nana Jean notices and offers June Bug love, food, and safety. The friends’ imaginary world helps them deal with the neighborhood bullies and family troubles. It’s a complex story with friendship, love, and redemption.
The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and A Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson
Wow. You’ll not only learn a TON from this historical fiction book for 7th graders, but it is thoroughly mesmerizing! Eel is an orphan who turns one of his odd jobs into saving lives when he helps a real historical person, Dr. Snow, determine if the water pump in Eel’s neighborhood is the source of the deadly cholera.
Thrones of Bones Frostborn by Lou Andres
Two misfits — a boy named Karn who is only good at playing a board game, and a girl named Thianna who is a half-human, half-giantess — unexpectedly partner to survive deadly soldiers, undead warriors, trolls, and a dragon. I absolutely loved this adventure and can’t wait for the next in the series. Plus, I’m so happy to see that Norse mythology is growing in popularity with writers.
A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou
Two girls in two locations (Texas and Pakistan) each discover a magical book, The Exquisite Corpse, in which a love story appears that will eventually connect the girls to each other and their histories. It’s a beautifully written book of friendship and self-discovery.
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
This middle-grade novel great for 12-year-olds is a puzzling mystery that only the boy named Ted who seems to be on the spectrum (his brain is different but not explained) can solve. How did his cousin disappear from a closed pod on the London Eye? The enjoyable action and intrigue will keep your attention throughout — and you’ll wonder why you didn’t guess the ending before Ted.
Book Lists By Age
Easy Reader Books for 5- and 6- year olds
Beginning / Easy Chapter Books for 6- and 7- Year Olds
Books for 3rd graders, 8-year olds
Books for 4th graders, 9-year olds
Books for 5th graders, 10-year olds
Books for 6th graders, 11-year olds
Books for 7th graders, 12-year olds
Book Lists By Genre
Adventure Books for Kids
Fantasy Books for Kids
Funny Books for Kids
Historical Fiction Books for Kids
Mystery Books for Kids
Nonfiction Books for Kids
Realistic Books for Kids
Science Fiction Books for Kids
ALL Picture Book Reviews