Though I’ve devoured more than a few samplings of middle grade over the years, I never quite have the words to sum up a traditional review. This has been such a common phenomena recently, I decided I had more than enough content to do a couple mini reviews- a few quick sentences summing up a make or break aspect of the book. One of the most under appreciated demographics in fiction, this post is sure to give you a couple more books to tack onto that TBR. Trust me, you’re not gonna want to miss this.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander- 4 stars
In the basketball slang Kwame Alexander is oh-so fond of using; The Crossover’s unique freestyle is sizzling, jamming, popping, AND locking. Quite frankly it’s what takes the story to a whole new level of middle grade stardom. More than Alexander’s dreamy use of adjectives and verbs though is a story that will fascinate near every young reader; elementary or junior high aged, reluctant or voracious in their devouring of words. There’s also a discussion-worthy message at its core, ripe for a read aloud or book talk. A must have on any library or classroom shelf.
The Nest by Kenneth Oppel- 3 stars
In another world where A Monster Calls doesn’t exist, Kenneth Oppel’s The Nest could easily fill the middle grade void for a somewhat dark, yet meaningful ode to growing up. Lest that is not the case. As a result, despite all the many positives Oppel’s debut brings to the table (dynamic characters, interesting setting), I couldn’t separate it from the far superior work of fiction that is the former. This is in large part due to the message Oppel attempts to deliver being far less clear, and at times muddled in its presentation. I hate when I have to say this about a not-half-bad story, but there’s really no point in reading this one.
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead- 4 stars
Goodbye Stranger is a much different story than Rebecca Stead’s award winning and universally acclaimed debut, When You Find Me. It’s reflective and much more grounded, but missing in the spunk of Stead’s oddball mystery. However that’s not to say it’s an inferior read. Some merits include the unique idea behind its conception (basically, is thirteen year old you an unrelated entity to thirty-three year old you), the carefully curated setting (Stead portays NYC with infinite tenderness that really enhances the reading experience), and the characters (realistic, precocious, and decidedly unique- no other cast could make the book what it is). It might be a hard sell to actual middle schoolers, but the appeal is diverse beyond YA.
Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Chodenko- 2 stars
I LOVED Gennifer Chodenko’s Al Capone series, but her follow up simply does not compare in the least. Though I found the historical accuracy refreshing, there was little else for Chasing Secrets to ride on besides that. This is largely because the story at hand is one geared for an extremely young reader (I wouldn’t put it past a determined second grader to grasp the full depth of the content), making it impossible for me to use my traditional rubric of rating & reviewing. I couldn’t get my mindset out of snooping for plot holes and loose ends in order to really enjoy the book for what it was intended. Likely a case of me not you, but still one I couldn’t recommend.
Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff- 4 stars
Lisa Graff consistently delivers as a talented force in middle grade writing, and she did not disappoint with Lost in the Sun. Arguably my favorite book on this list, it briefly sat at five stars on my Goodreads shelf as I was so overcome with the emotion behind its ending. My feelings shifted every chapter from amusement, to mild frustratiom, to anger, to sorrow, and eventually back to a peaceful equilibrium. That intense emotional pendulum is all because of the characters, a three dimesnional bunch of people whom I’m honored to share in a piece of their messy, occasionally sad, always hopeful lives. You’ll root for everyone to discover happinees, from protagonist Trevor to schoolyard bullies, because that’s just the kind of book this is.
What are your favorite middle grades? Have you read any on this list? Let me know in the comments!
-Keep Calm and Read On