Over the past few weeks, I’ve been featuring some of the titles on Inly’s summer reading list, beginning with picture books for young readers. This week – our middle school students. Books for “tweens” have changed a lot over the past ten years. The books still focus primarily on identity and self-discovery because that’s what kids between the ages of 12 and 14 are figuring out. The difference is that contemporary novels grapple with issues on the front burner far more directly than they did when I was in middle school (or junior high as we called it in Ohio). Today’s young adult books tackle, among other issues: gender identity, social media, climate change, refugees, race, social justice issues, and sexual orientation. Young people have a lot to navigate, but there are lots of good books to pave the way.
Here are five of my favorites on Inly’s middle school list:
“…Alicia D. Williams’s stunning debut novel…explores racism within the black community, creating a fully realized family with a history of complex relationships to one another, and to their own skin colors. The suburban school where Genesis finds herself navigating a diverse cast of friends and foes is no less vivid…But the standout voice in this tender and empowering novel—reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, but appropriate for a much younger audience—belongs to Genesis herself, as she discovers a truth that we adults would do well to remember: Growing up isn’t just about taking responsibility for the happiness and well-being of others. It’s also about learning what you can and should fix, and what you cannot. As Genesis discovers, there is no true reinvention without self-acceptance.” (New York Times Book Review)
“Gansworth, himself an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation, explores the boys’ organic relationship with generosity and tenderness and unflinching clarity, sidestepping stereotypes to offer two genuine characters navigating the unlikely intersection of two fully realized worlds…. And although Gansworth manages the weighty themes of racism and poverty with nuance and finesse, at its heart, this is a rare and freehearted portrait of true friendship.” (Booklist, starred review)
“Beast Rider is a short book, coming in at 176 quick pages, a good choice for readers toward the younger end of the Y.A. spectrum…Given that the plight of Latinos fleeing to the North is such a big and important subject, it’s impressive how much information Johnston and Fontanot de Rhoads are able to share, so economically: the violence migrants face during their journey to the States, the help from strangers they receive along the way, the danger that can be found at the border, and the challenges that new immigrants face when they’re in the United States. This novel is as sharp as it is brief.” (New York Times Book Review)
“Taking on friendships, crushes, cliques, and music culture, Maclear offers an honest, deeply respectful look at what is at the core of belonging and isolation for teenagers. Charlie Noguchi narrates her middle-school existence through the lens of her music teacher’s assignment to “choose a song for this moment in your life and write about it.” She pines for Emile, a quiet aspiring entomologist, and wonders about the mysterious prolonged absence of Luka, a femme boy who sings like an angel and once disturbed kids and adults at school with his unapologetic fabulousness…When Charlie, Emile, Luka, and friends find the courage to express themselves together, their music creates a rainbow. With poetic words and pictures, Maclear and Eggenschwiler create a synesthetic experience that captures all the high and low notes of youth.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Sophie Scholl was a young German student who wanted to see the end of Hitler and the Nazi regime. She gave her life for that cause. As children, Sophie and her brother Hans were enthusiastic members of Hitler Youth organizations. But as the Nazis’ chokehold increased and the roundups and arrests of dissenters and Jews escalated, they became determined to resist. After conscription into the National Labor Service, Hans, Sophie, and trusted university friends formed the secret White Rose resistance group. Hans began to compose treasonable leaflets, promoting an uprising against Hitler. Sophie helped get the leaflets out to influential people as well as to other university students. Their work attracted the attention of Nazi sympathizers, who informed the Gestapo of suspicious activities—and they were ultimately caught by a university custodian. Intensive interrogation and imprisonment, followed by a sham trial led by a fanatical judge, led to the sentence of death by guillotine. Organized in repeated sections that move forward and backward in time, readers hear Sophie’s thoughts in brief, pointed, free-verse poems in direct, compelling language…..Real events made deeply personal in an intense, bone-chilling reading experience.” (starred review, Kirkus)
School is out for the summer so I’m going to step away from the blog for a few weeks. I have lots of reading to do! And so, apparently, does this baby —