A friend recently asked if I could recommend a book for her 7th grade son that is “not as depressing” as what he reads in school and much of what they find in bookstores. It was not the first time I’ve heard that question. A few years ago, a 6th grade girl, browsing in the school book fair, said: “it seems like every book is sad.” I try to keep a mental list of titles to recommend when faced with this question: The Great Green Heist by Varian Johnson, The Last Boy at St. Edith’s by Lee Gjertsen Malone, The Wild Robot by Peter Brown, and Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, among others. But they have a point.
Earlier today, while reading reviews of book I’m considering for Inly’s summer reading list, these lines jumped out at me:
“When thirteen-year-old Stevie Grace Tanner’s parents are killed in a freak accident, their deaths uncover a wealth of family secrets….”
“After his father dies, twelve-year-old Flip has to leave Amsterdam for Mossum, a remote island in the North Sea, to live on his uncle’s farm.”
“Clair and Abigal have few memories of their mother – she died when they were very young….”
“After her mother was murdered in cold blood….”
“Constantly on the move after her father’s death, Calliope June Snow (Calli) arrives in St. George, Utah, with her lovelorn mother, a few suitcases, and an egg carton rock collection.”
There are lots of wonderful new books – and I definitely cherry-picked the lines above to make my case, but Harry Potter is only one character in a long line of orphans.
I understand why authors make this decision. The readers of middle grade and young adult realistic fiction are starting to crave some independence. They want to act rather than being acted upon. The process of “coming of age” is necessarily part of a separation – kids want to see other kids solve problems themselves rather than being saved by a well-meaning parent or guardian who comes to their rescue or provides them with “the answer.” That being said, I would like to see more middle grade novels in which the young protagonist has to navigate adolescence with their families. That is the reality for many young readers, and those changing relationships are rich with material for a novel.
I recently reviewed Nicole Helget’s new novel, The End of the Wild, for School Library Journal. A timely and worthwhile read. Here’s an excerpt from my review:
“Eleven-year-old Fern has more responsibilities than most kids her age. Since her mother and baby sister’s death in a car crash two years earlier, she has lived with her stepfather, Toivo, and her two younger brothers. Fern works hard to help keep her poor family together. Toivo, a veteran of the Iraq War, has been unemployed since losing his job as a mechanic, and although he does odd jobs to support his family, he drinks too much and the family struggles to keep food on the table. Fern is central to the family’s success. Their house is surrounded by woods that, as her name suggests, Fern treasures as both sanctuary and food basket…..Fern is struggling to select a project for the school’s STEM fair, when she learns that her beloved woods are being considered for a wastewater pond for a fracking company…..an excellent book for a young reader who is interested in learning about one of today’s most complex environmental issues. Fern is a likeable character who is, in her words, learning “what kind of adult do I want to be.” A worthy goal.”
Finally, I highly recommend this article from today’s New York Times:
Note: The banner photo was taken from Inly’s school library where you can see the maker space downstairs.