What are the best middle grade books for middle schoolers about LIFE in middle school? Because life in middle school isn’t easy. And sometimes, a good book with reliability and similar stories can help kids feel less alone.
This list of fictional middle-grade chapter books is all about middle school life. With themes ranging from general student life to struggles with friendships and identity, these books are relatable to most kids. Not only that, many of these books talk about relevant topics such as racism, immigration, friendship, learning disabilities, culture, and family.
Kids experience lots of different things in middle school, but one thing is for sure: middle school life is full of ups and downs and the journey of growing up. I remember the agony of who to sit with at lunch in middle school. Do you? And just feeling so awkward. Ugh. I wouldn’t want to repeat middle school! How about you?
32 Best Books for Middle Schoolers About Middle School
Middle School: The Worst Years of my Life by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts, illustrated by Laura Park
Rafe’s goal in middle school is to break every single rule. You can imagine how his plan will go, right? Filled with cartoon-like illustrations, this story will crack you up. (And please don’t try this at home!)
Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
This is one of the best books for middle schoolers about life in middle school because it’s perfect for any reader who struggles with confidence and speaking up for themselves because so does the main character, Peppi. This well-done graphic novel tackles the issues of friendships and confidence, among other things. My kids and I highly recommend this graphic novel.
Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt
Genius story crafting and meaningful life lessons. When his grandfather’s butler arrives to help out 6th grade Carter’s family, sharing his passion for the game of Cricket, filling a void the family didn’t know they had. Butler gives Carter purpose, structure, and belonging. “Make good decisions and remember who you are,” he often reminds Carter and Carter’s sisters. Along this journey, Carter learns to do just what the title commands — pay attention to his life and to who loves him.
New Kid by Jerry Craft
This graphic novel is the Newbery winner for 2020! Jordan’s parents make him go to a private school across town where he’s one of the only kids of color. Besides having the tricky business of navigating friendships, he now must deal with the two separate worlds of his neighborhood and his school, along with racism and balancing academics with his artwork. This story feels truthful, relatable, and important.
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Aven Green is used to making up creative stories about 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 has Tourette Syndrome. They investigate a mysterious storage shed which leads them to a mystery involving Aven’s past. This story is about restorative friendship, facing your fears, and discovering your true (significant) potential.
Pippa Park Raises Her Game by Erin Yun
Exceptional! Korean American Pippa is a great basketball player, but her guardian older sister won’t let her play unless her grades improve. Then, an unexpected scholarship at a prestigious private school leads Pippa to reinvent herself, hiding her background from the popular kids and treating her old friends differently. In a satisfying ending with valuable life lessons, Pippa decides not to be ashamed of her working-class family, her culture, or her friends. Girl readers, in particular, will be able to relate to the social hierarchy of middle school and the temptation to change yourself to suit others.
Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres
In a sweet story of figuring out who you are and taking pride in your culture, initially, Stef Soto feels embarrassed by her dad’s taco truck, especially when he picks her up at school. But that changes when she learns that new city regulations could force her dad to sell the truck and get a different job. Filled with relatable middle school struggles, Spanish words, Latinx culture, friendship troubles, and a loving family, this yummy middle school book is a savory treat.
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. I highly recommend this essential book; it should be shared widely with middle school boys and girls.
More to the Story by Hena Khan
Jameela is one of four girls in a Pakistani-American family and she’s passionate about journalism. When her father leaves for a new job out of the country, Jameela wants to write an epic article for her middle school newspaper that will make her dad proud. Unfortunately, in the process, she hurts a new friend. As she digests her hard-earned lessons, she learns that her beloved little sister has lymphoma. Despite the challenges, her family sticks together with laughter and love. Khan skillfully weaves a story of family, culture, community, and social justice that is sure to become a modern-day classic.
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
Don’t miss this important middle-grade book from 2019 about self-worth, beauty, and colorism. Genesis hates her dark skin, believing that if only she were lighter-skinned, she’d be pretty and have a better life. Despite this and troubles at home with a ne’er-do-well father who can’t keep a job, at her newest school an insightful music teacher introduces Genesis to jazz legends like Billie Holliday. This changes everything. Now Genesis can find her voice, literally and metaphorically.
Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
A funny but poignant book series about middle school angst and discovery! Unpopular Dwight can make origami Star Wars characters. When his puppet of Yoda comes to life, just like Yoda, the origami Yoda is wise and helpful to Dwight and his friends during the many trials of 6th grade. One of the best books for middle schoolers!
Wink by Rob Harrell
A funny, standout cancer story based on the author’s life for readers who like humorous but emotion-filled stories. When Ross is diagnosed with a rare kind of tumor, he immediately starts radiation treatment. School becomes pretty challenging because his eye is goopy, he has to wear a hat, and his hair starts falling out in clumps– among other things 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 — like a new, unexpected friend.*A few bad words.
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
In a word: powerful. This is middle school at it’s most intimate when friends experience the challenges of growing up, from an embarrassing sexting photo to a friendship betrayal. Through it all, we see the power of forgiveness and love. I only recommend this book for middle school kids unless you’re reading it with your elementary age child because of the sexting topic.
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is a thoughtful coming-of-age story about a girl genius with OCD whose grandma wants her to go to public middle school for three reasons: to make one friend, read one non-math book, and join one school activity. Although she’s reluctant to go, Lucy finds friends and connects with a rescue dog for a school project. It’s a well-written, heart-warming story that will change your perspective of OCD and give you hope for humanity.
The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcarcel
Quijana’s doesn’t fit with the other Latino kids because she doesn’t speak Spanish fluently. Not only that, she knows she won’t fit in with her father’s family in Guatemala and is planning on running away instead of visiting. The only place she knows she fits is with her scientist, Florida-living grandmother but she’s worried about grandmother’s cancer diagnosis. Meanwhile, her little brother seems to be adding more unusual behaviors besides not talking, he’s averse to lights, sounds, and touch. Heartfelt and relatable, this coming-of-age story will appeal to readers who like to read about complicated, diverse characters trying to figure out who they are.
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 trying to figure out life.
Smile by Raina Telgemeier
6th grade is hard enough for Raina, but it’s even worse with braces, headgear, and friend troubles. My daughter loves this series, starting with Smile. She read Sisters four times the first week she owned it — they’re all excellent books and quite addictive. ALSO READ: Drama, Sisters
Kyle’s Little Sister by BonHyung Jeong
Grace constantly lives in her brother’s shadow, only having two friends who like her for her. But when the trio gets into a big fight, will their friendship be able to survive? And when will everybody stop comparing her to Kyle!? This is a relatable and engaging middle school story about the ups and downs of middle school –perfect for younger siblings or any reader who enjoys realistic stories.
Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido
An exquisite novel in verse that celebrates music, STEM, making friends, and growing into yourself. Emmy’s eager to start a new school and make friends but she’s thwarted by rudeness at every turn. A daughter of professional musicians, Emmy decides to abandon music and take a computer programming class. She sort of makes a friend with a girl in her programming class named Abigail but she’s only friendly during that class. Which makes Emmy feel conflicted. As Emmy’s family adjusts to San Francisco, Emmy figures out her place in the world, especially as it relates to her growing passion for programming. The author skillfully connects music and programming in a memorable, poetic way that even non-programmers can understand.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée
Middle 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 that she calls The United Nations. When a jury finds a cop innocent in the shooting death of a black boy, despite a video showing the boy walking away, Shayla decides to take a stand and support the Black Lives Matter movement. She wears an armband to school and rallies many of her classmates of all ethnicities to join her, even though the principal says it’s against the rules. This is a powerful story about a girl finding her voice.
Restart by Gordon Korman
After a bad fall, Chase has no memory of who he is or was. But he soon realizes that he used to be a cruel troublemaker. Now that he has a second chance, he can decide who he’ll be with his fresh slate. Because he’s enjoying his new life in the film club and the new (“nerdy”) friends he’s made, and doesn’t really want to go back to his old self. This thought-provoking novel shows that who we are is a choice.
All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson
Growing up, Imogene (aka. Impy) always loved her family’s part in the Renaissance Faire . . . that is, until middle school. Even though she gets her dream to work in the faire as a squire, she also just wants to be like the other girls at her school, too. Her journey is painful and honest as she figures out who she wants to be. It’s narrated as a hero’s journey which, with the faire background and middle school drama, feels perfect. Beyond being a terrific coming-of-age story, I’m sure this book will interest middle schoolers in Renaissance festivals themselves.
Focused by Alyson Gerber
Clea is a chess-loving girl who gets distracted easily (except when she can hyper-focus in chess) and it’s becoming a problem, especially in school but also with friends. She’s resistant to do the testing her parents want, refusing to believe she could have ADHD. But by blurting out things and living with regret, she feels like she’s not in control. As she learns more about her brain, she realizes that she can figure out strategies to help her stay focused. Readers who don’t have ADHD will get a glimpse into how this kind of brain works. An essential book for middle schoolers to read.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Ghost accidentally gets on a track team, and it’s life-changing. His coach becomes a mentor and father figure who pushes Ghost to take responsibility for his mistakes (stealing sneakers) and to start dealing with the ghosts of his past. Well-written with a hopeful message about growing up and growing into yourself. (This is a short middle grade book around 200 pages.)
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Both Ally and her older brother have hidden that they can’t read — until Mr. Daniels who helps her learn to read and discover her value. It’s a beautiful, emotionally resonant story that will help kids either see themselves or develop empathy and compassion.
Rules by Cynthia Lord
I highly recommend reading this meaningful, coming-of-age story about 12-year-old Catherine. Read it in your classroom and with your children to develop empathy and compassion for children who have autism. Catherine’s worked hard to help her autistic brother, David, learn the rules about life. But now that she has new friends, she’s feeling more embarrassed about her brother than compassionate.
8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
I’m in awe of how Rhuday-Perkovich created such a moving realistic story and lovable but insecure main character, Reggie McKnight, an unpopular yet thoughtful middle-school student who is hoping to get past his horrible nickname (Pukey). He spends a lot of time with his church youth group which leads to an interest in his school’s elections for president. This book for middle school students explores the themes of social justice, faith, friends, and family.
Vordak the Incomprehensible by Vordak T. Incomprehensible
I haven’t laughed like this when reading a book in years–it’s pee-your-pants funny. Because the evil villain Vordak accidentally transforms himself into a middle schooler. And life in middle school is not going well for him at all…
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. When she does eventually share, it’s beautiful to see the other kids support her. Amazing!!
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 middle school readers much to ponder.
Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh
This is a powerful short story middle school anthology of diverse stories written by talented #OwnVoices authors such as Matt de la Peña, Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, and others. The stories are all excellent — some are hilarious (“Choctaw Bigfoot, Midnight in the Mountains”), some are inspiring (“How to Transform an Everyday, Ordinary Hoop Court into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium”), some are both (“The Difficult Path”), and some are meaningful slice-of-life stories (“Main Street”).
Real Friends by Shannon Hale
Kids will relate to the ups and downs of Shannon’s friendship in elementary and middle school in this true-to-life graphic novel with incredible artwork. We see Shannon struggle with friends, the popular girls, and even her own behavior; we watch as she discovers her passion — using her big imagination to make up stories.
You Might Also Like: