Books geared towards middle-grade readers span the genres—literary fiction, mysteries, biography, and fantasy. The quality of the books in this age class can be outstanding, and adults shouldn’t dismiss them out of hand. The six novels we recommend here explore contemporary life and cover the gamut of middle-grade readers. Not to be pigeon-holed, each is complex enough to appeal to adult readers who enjoy a good story with realistic characters. Read these on your own, buy them for a child, or—even better—read them with a youngster.
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books) Two groups of best friends growing along with and out of each other struggle through the familiar trials of the middle-grade years—betrayals, bad decisions, changing bodies, noticing boys, and handling social media. The story is told from three perspectives—two girls and one boy—providing insight into the characters’ motivations and backgrounds. This sensitive and believable look at contemporary issues will give readers of all ages much to think about, making this novel perfect for book clubs or a parent-child read-along.
Dear Opl by Shelley Sackier (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky) Ever since her father died from cancer, Opal has been comforting herself with food. Now, at the start of eighth grade, she is quite overweight, yet feels invisible. On her mother’s advice, Opal starts a blog where she writes about her observations and the things that bother her. Bolstered by the blog’s popularity and a disturbing medical checkup, she begins a journey to self-acceptance and better health, while helping others. As this spunky, funny youngster learns to cope with common real-life problems, she teaches us all valuable lessons about friendship, family, and understanding.
Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamera Ellis Smith (Schwartz & Wade Books) This story of loss and healing is told from the alternating voices of two ten-year-old boys. Zavion is dealing the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina, including the destruction of his home. Meanwhile in Vermont, Henry is coping with the accidental death of his best friend. When Henry accompanies relief workers to NOLA, the two boys meet and learn, despite their outward differences, they share much in common and can help each other move forward. This emotional story has enough grown-up complexity to appeal to a range of readers.
Pippa Morgan’s Diary by Annie Kelsey (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky) When Pippa Morgan’s BFF moves all the way to Scotland, she’ll do anything to make a new friend, even lying about her ability to sing. This fun story, told in diary format, complete with illustrations, is all about the true meaning of friendship and the tangled mess that happens when we lie. Read this with your younger readers, who’ll learn a valuable lesson while laughing at Pippa’s vivid imagination and hoping she finds a way to tell the truth.
Until I Find Julian by Patricia Reilly Giff (Wendy Lamb Books) Twelve-year-old Mateo Cortez leaves his loving, but poor family in Mexico to find his older brother, Julian, who is thought to be in trouble as an undocumented laborer in Arkansas. Helped across the border by a runaway girl named Angel, the boy sets off on a journey in a strange land, armed with little more than hope and love. Told from Mateo’s point of view through narrative and journal entries, this novel sympathetically explores a current sociopolitical issue, building understanding for readers of all ages.