Best Middle Grade Novels I Read in 2019
Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks
by Jason Reynolds
"An unforgettable, thrilling, heartbreaking, hilarious novel. A collection of ten short stories that you will read and reread, both for the engaging characters and for another glimpse at the threads that connect them as the school day ends and the sixth graders flow into the halls and out the doors of Latimer Middle School."
by Celia C. Peréz
"A story of friendship - how it begins, how (and why) bonds are created, and what those bonds mean. Within this story she has woven themes of social activism, institutional racism, socio-economic status, animal rights and how we make sense and deal with histories and legacies of wrongdoing today."
by Carlos Hernandez
"I absolutely LOVE and cannot stop thinking about this beautiful, rich, warm, generous gift of a (science fiction) book Carlos Hernandez has written. The way that Sal and Gabi and their families come together, and the way that the story moves from school to the hospital and back again is full of creativity, exploration and curiosity, despite the sad circumstances surrounding it. It is a joy to see how Hernandez has Sal face the problems in front of him while also finding himself in the world - and a few other worlds next to ours..."
by Renée Watson
"'I am learning to speak. / To give myself a way out. A way in.' These are the first words spoken by narrator Jade Butler and, while she is speaking specifically about learning Spanish so that she can travel to a foreign country, over the course of the novel she learns to speak - to speak up and speak out about what she wants, who she is, and what matters to her - and finds her voice. As a narrator, sixteen-year-old Jade's voice is quietly compelling. Watson adds layer after layer of issues, from race and class, need and privilege, deficit thinking and racial profiling, to Jade's story and it is gripping watching her struggle and ultimately succeed."
by Varian Johnson
"A masterfully written mystery with civil rights, racism, segregation, discrimination, the realities of being black in America, in the past and present, and justice at its heart. How Johnson makes all this work together, powerfully and unforgettably, is amazing. I am still gobsmacked by all that Johnson has worked into this highly readable, deeply engrossing, endlessly entertaining mystery that is also an important, clear eyed look at racism and the treatment of black people in America."
by M.T. Anderons and Eugene Yelchin
"Where to begin? The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge is so many marvelous things and will mean so many varied things to each individual reader that I am struggling to distill what I want you, readers of this review, to know about this incredible, engaging, engrossing, timeless book. I will start with these two nutshell descriptions of The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge from somewhat reliable sources: 'It is about the life and death of prejudices,' said my husband, a high school history teacher with a specific interest in politics and war and occasional reader of kidlit. And, the reviewer for Kirkus, who, calling this book splendid, describes it as, 'Monty Python teams up with Maxwell Smart for a wrestling mat with Tolkien.'"
by Lamar Giles
"The Last Last-Day-of-Summer reminds me that all children deserve to exist in magical spaces where their imaginations and familial bonds will them into heroism. Every single child should have the freedom to be one of the Legendary Alstons. And I, for one, am grateful to Giles, and this brilliant story, for that reminder." - Jason Reynolds
by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wollitzer
"This is is one of my favorite kind of novels - epistolary. What begins as a bit of an aggressive communication from Bett Devlin to Avery Bloom blossoms (pun intended) into a meaningful friendship. Over the course of the novel, told mostly in emails between the twelve-year-old girls, but with occasional communications from other adults in their lives, the girls - and readers - learn a lot about friendship, love, family and the complexities of all three."
by Pablo Cartaya
"While this a book about social justice and social activism, I would say it's more about a child's awakening to and growing awareness of the need for and importance of social justice, wrapped in a story of personal challenges that come in the form of a father home on leave from the Marines and struggling with PTSD, a mother and abuela with differing views on child rearing and managing life with ADHD. Cartaya does a masterful job integrating serious subjects into the life of a twelve-year-old who, with authenticity, gradually comes to understand them and how she can be active in her personal live and the world she lives in."
by Christian McKay Heidicker, illustrated by Junyi Wu
"This book is is a masterwork to be put in a place of honor on the shelf alongside a favorite of mine, A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz, both for story structure and for violence, to put it bluntly. But, where Gidwitz's book lives entirely in the realm of fairy tales where children can have their heads cut off (by their father, nonetheless, and then put back on with life restored), Heidicker's straddles the realm of cautionary tales and real life, set squarely in a natural world where there are predators at every turn and death is real and permanent.
by Rajani LaRocca
"A richly delectable book! From the gentle presence of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream woven throughout the book, to main character Mimi's passion for food and all the Indian flavors LaRocca adds to the book, from the pitta bird and banyan tree that mysteriously appear in the forest and the gotu kola herb Mimi finds growing there to the mouthwatering Indian foods that make this book even more special, especially those (like the gulab jamun and kulfi) that Mimi transforms into her own creative, mouthwatering desserts. Then there are the desserts. I could seriously list them all here but . . . Happily, in addition to a glossary of baking terms, herbs and spices and Indian foods, LaRocca includes RECIPES for some of Mimi's more spectacular bakes!"