Growing up stories show us painful challenges and hopeful futures. These coming of age middle grade fiction books tackle the tough job of showing a realistic character who matures throughout the story, finding his or her place in the world.
And because some of you are curious, I don’t review everything I read. (And, I can’t possibly read everything ever published even though it was my childhood dream . . . ) I only write about books I really like and think you and your kids will like, too. It’s my hope that my book reviews will help you, your students, and your children to find wonderful books that will spark further engagement in literature.
Finally, all my book links go to Amazon because that’s where you, my lovely readers, shop. They are for your convenience. (Writer friends, I know. I know.)
Now, on to the book reviews — new realistic books, fall 2016. Enjoy!
Painful, Hopeful Growing Up Stories: New Realistic Fiction
Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich & Audrey Vernick (ages 8 – 12)
What is it like when your parents are divorced and one finds a new partner? In this coming-of-age story written from two different points of view, Naomi’s mom begins dating a man named Tom who has a daughter also named Naomi. Both girls’ parents push them to become friends. Of course, both girls feel resistant — especially when Naomi’s mom asks her to go by her first and middle name — Naomi Marie — to differentiate between the two. It’s a tricky time in their lives, something the authors made relatable and enjoyable to read. I found the wisdom the parents give to their kids and their unwavering love of their children is inspiring. This is a warm-hearted story that rings true with a pitch-perfect ending.
Booked by Kwame Alexander (ages 8 – 12)
I’m AMAZED at how skillfully Alexander 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.
Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper (ages 8 – 12)
Now that Elyse is twelve, it’s not just the words that other people say about her that appear on her skin, but also her own self talk. The words stay about two weeks and the negative words itch badly. Because there are a lot of negative words right now ever since her best friend’s ditched her. Anonymous notes encourage Elyse to try new things, and grow out of her comfort zone. She does and is surprised with the positive results including a self acceptance. This would be an interesting book to discuss with a book group!
Ghost by Jason Reynolds (ages 8 – 12)
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 and hopeful about growing up and growing into yourself.
Best Man by Richard Peck (ages 8 – 12)
Archer narrates glimpses of his growing up life including times at school, experiences with friends, and time with his family including his cool uncle Paul. He grows from clueless to more aware throughout the story, seeing more of the world around him. For example, Archer sees that his (gay) uncle loves Archer’s super cool, soldier student teacher but that his uncle has commitment issues. I like how this book starts with a wedding and ends with a wedding. The pacing and flow are perfect.
Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes (ages 8 – 12)
First of all — WOW! Grimes wrote this entire book not just in verse but in tanka poem!! And it worked!! So, there’s that. Which is only so astounding because the story is so engaging that you don’t even notice it’s written in this format. Garvey wants to connect to his father but it seems like it’s a chasm that’s too big — Garvey likes reading and chess while his father likes sports. But when Garvey finds an interest in music, will be the bridge that connects him to his dad? I loved this painful, sweet story of redemption and belonging!
When Friendship Followed Me Homeby Paul Griffin (ages 8 – 12)
Tear alert! I kind of hated this book at the end because it IS realistic and when I read it I could barely cope with all that the main character went through. SO SAD. You see, Ben has been though hell — foster family, adoption by an amazing woman who dies after a few years, and now a bad new situation with his adopted mother’s sister and her husband. But, he has two things that are good, really good — his rescued dog, Flip, and his favorite librarian’s daughter as a good friend. Until his friend’s cancer gets worse . . . and his uncle punches him in the face . . .The story is gripping, the ending bittersweet, and the writing amazing.
The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds (YA ages 12+)
Matt’s recently lost his mom to cancer. When the funeral home director and family friend offers Matt a job, he takes it which is why he wears a black suit on a daily basis. Somehow the job helps, especially when he can sit in the funerals. Seeing other people’s grief makes Matt feel less alone in his own. As Matt struggles to survive, with an absent father and high school challenges, he’s not just supported by his new boss but also meets an inspiring girl named Lovey who opens his eyes to compassion and love.