By middle school most readers have decided on a genre or two that they really like. No one will like all of these books, but there should be something of interest here to the average middle schooler, should such a person exist.
The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins leave the reader barely able to wait for the next in the series. I have talked about this trilogy at some length on my blog so will just repeat that this is a book that middle school students and their parents are enjoying thoroughly.
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins is aimed at a little bit younger students than The Hunger Games series, but it is an equally compelling start to a popular series. It features a young boy who is looking after his baby sister, giant spiders, and myriad interesting creatures, all looking for the one who is meant to fulfill an ancient prophecy.
Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadahota won wide acclaim and numerous awards, including the Newbery Award, all of which were merited. This novel tells of the struggles of a Japanese family in the 1950s when they move from Iowa to rural Georgia and try to fit in. The writing is stunning, pulling the reader deep into the lives of the family’s two daughters.
A Step From Heaven by An Na is at least partly autobiographical as it recounts the life of a young girl who moves with her family from Korea to California. The family struggles to learn English and to adapt to their new home. The title comes from the girl thinking that since they fly to America and heaven is in the sky that America must be heaven. Her uncle assures her that it is a “step from heaven”. Life is not easy for the family and none of the harsh realities of a troubled family are glossed over in this telling.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly is set in Texas in 1899. Calpurnia resents the restrictions that are placed on girls. She wants to be out exploring nature, not home cooking and sewing. Only her grandfather understands and helps her explore the world around her. Read this with the intriguing new biography of Charles Darwin, Charles and Emma: the Darwins ’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman which deals with the conflicts that Darwin felt between his findings and his wife’s deep religious beliefs.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon was written for adults but soon became a hit with young adults. The narrator is autistic with the ability to view everything through math. While these may not make him popular or comfortable with people his age—or with adults—it does ultimately help him solve a mystery about his family and a dog he finds dead in his back yard.
The Schwa was Here by Neal Shusterman is an unusual novel, in no small part because one of the main characters in invisible. The Schwa, as he is called, is not really invisible, but people rarely notice him. Can this talent—or curse—be put to good use? The boys in this book seem very real. The story is both moving and humorous.
The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks has been mentioned before on my blog so let me just say that it is one of the funniest books I have read in a long time. It gives a distinctly different view of vampires than you will find in the Twilight books.
The Big Splash by Jack D. Ferraiole portrays middle school at its worst where bullying and power groups run rampant. The leaders in this story maintain their power by strategically spraying water onto those whom they wish to humiliate. A popular person can be put down with a single shot. This clever school story that will appeal to anyone who has ever felt uncomfortable in middle school—and isn’t that anyone who has ever gone to middle school.
Canned by Alex Shearer finds a young boy who does not fit in well in middle school. It soon becomes obvious that part of this may be because he collects cans that have lost their labels. He lines them up neatly and keeps a close tally when and where he acquired them. When he finally opens one, he finds a severed human finger in it. Other strange things appear in the cans. Then he meets a girl who also collects cans without labels. Together they have to solve a sordid mystery. This has a very British feel that adds to the humor.
Erratum by Walter Sorrells is an adventure that takes a young girl into a book to save herself and her friends from odd people and strange surroundings. Only she can finish the book of her life properly, but she must decide just what that means.
Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson reveals what so few people realize—that librarians control all knowledge. Alas, the librarians in Alcatraz’s life manipulate this information into cruel lies that allow them to control the world. Alcatraz thinks he is just a normal boy with an odd name (all of his family is named after famous prisons) until his grandfather arrives to show him his special talent that he must use to help save the universe.
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex may be the funniest book I have read in years. The world has been taken over by space aliens and 11 year old Gratuity Tucci sets out to drive herself to the relocation center in Florida after her mother disappears. She is soon joined by an alien who wants to fit into American society so has named himself J-Lo. The story is a comedy of errors but also a thoughtful look at how colonizers treat the indigenous peoples they conquer.
The Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede combines history and magic to tell the story of a girl who is the thirteenth child born into a family magic practitioners. Her father is a well-respected professor of the magical arts. Her twin brother is the seventh son of a seventh son which is supposed to mean extra magical powers. She, however, is bad luck as the thirteenth child. When the family moves to the edge of the American West, they must deal with believers and non-believers, magic and the hardships that were faced by all who moved west to settle this country.
The Dead and the Gone and Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer are disaster stories at their finest. They offer essentially the same story—the moon has bit hit by an asteroid which has thrown it out of orbit, changing the tides, climate, and life of the earth. The Dead and Gone is told by a boy living in a Latino area of New York City. Life as We Knew It is in the voice of a girl who lives in central Pennsylvania. You will look at the moon a little differently when you read these stories.