The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon Hale (2017)

unbeatableCute, funny, and a little bit corny, this is a celebration of being yourself.

Recommended grade level: 4-7

Pages:   324 (for ISBN 9781484781548)

Genre(s) and keywords: humor, science fiction, adventure, superheroes

Tone/Style: humorous, goofy

Pace: moderate

Topics: superheroes, secrets, identity

Themes: being different, being oneself, friendship

Summary: Fourteen-year-old Doreen Green moved from sunny California to the suburbs of New Jersey. She must start at a new school, make new friends, and continue to hide her fluffy tail. Yep, Doreen has the powers of . . . a squirrel! Continue reading

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (2013)

Action-palockwoodcked, legitimately scary, and distinctly British.

Recommended grade level: 5 and up

Pages:   390 (for ISBN 9781423164913)

Genre(s) and keywords: horror, mystery

Tone/Style: scary, dark

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: ghosts, psychic powers, agencies

Themes: young people vs. adults, self-reliance, guilt

Summary: There is an epidemic of ghosts in Britain. Their touch brings death, and only children have the power to fight them.

Lucy Carlyle, a young psychic investigator, joins London’s smallest agency, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood and his ever-hungry assistant  George Cubbins. Together the trio must investigate some of the spookiest and deadliest spectral hauntings in the city, armed only with the tools of the ghost-hunting trade (magnesium flares, iron filings, chains and salt bombs), their courage and a thermos of tea.

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Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson (2013)

steelGore! Explosions! Gigantic weapons! What’s not to love?

Recommended grade level: 7 and up

Pages:   386 (for ISBN 9780385743563)

Genre(s) and keywords: action, dystopian, science fiction

Tone/Style: dark, gritty

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: supervillains, rebellion

Themes: power, revenge

Summary: There are no heroes.

Every single person who manifested powers—we call them Epics—turned out to be evil.

Here, in the city once known as Chicago, an extraordinarily powerful Epic declared himself Emperor. Steelheart has the strength of ten men and can control the elements. It is said no bullet can harm him, no sword can split his skin, no explosion can burn him. He is invincible. Continue reading

The Art of Secrets by James Klise (2014)

art-ofIslamophobia leads to victim-blaming in a mystery set in a Chicago high school.

Recommended grade level: 6 and up

Pages:   272 (for ISBN 9781616201951)

Genre(s) and keywords: mystery, diverse

Tone/Style: gritty

Pace: moderate

Topics: fires, art, fundraisers, crimes, Islam, islamophobia

Themes: trust, prejudice, greed

Summary: A fire destroys…A community unites…A treasure appears…A crime unfolds…

When Saba Khan’s family home burns in a mysterious fire (possibly a hate crime), her Chicago high school rallies around her. But then a piece of quirky art donated to a school fund-raising effort for the Khans is revealed to be worth a fortune, and Saba’s life turns upside down again. Continue reading

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (2014)

iron trialThis dark story about three kids in a magic school will appeal to those looking for Harry Potter readalikes.

Recommended grade level: 4-7

Pages:  295 (for ISBN 978054552225)

Genre(s) and keywords: fantasy, adventure

Tone/Style: dark, mysterious, magical

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: dark magic, magic schools

Themes: destiny, evil, friendship

Summary: Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial. Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail. All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him. So he tries his best to do his worst – and fails at failing. Now the Magisterium awaits him — a place that’s both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future. The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come… Continue reading

Losers Take All by David Klass

losers take allI’ve had a lot of success recommending this funny, subversive sports story.

Recommended grade level: 7 and up

Pages:   320 (for ISBN 9780374301361)

Genre(s) and keywords: humor, sports

Tone/Style: humorous, satirical

Pace: moderate

Topics: soccer, high school, social norms, internet fame

Themes: being oneself, discovering oneself, nonconformism

Summary: At Jack Logan’s sports-crazy New Jersey high school, the new rule is that all kids must play on a team. So Jack and a ragtag group of anti-athletic friends decide to get even. They are going to start a rebel JV soccer team whose mission is to avoid victory at any cost, setting out to secretly undermine the jock culture of the school. But as the team’s losing formula becomes increasingly successful at attracting fans and attention, Jack and his teammates are winning in ways they never expected—and don’t know how to handle. Continue reading

Speed of Life by Carol Weston (2017)

speed of lifeThough it is ostensibly about grief, most readers will be more touched by its frank and empathetic exploration of common and often unspoken relationship struggles experienced by young teen girls.

Recommended grade level: 7 or 8 and up

Pages:   329 (for ISBN 9781492654490)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic fiction, romance

Tone/Style: personal, angsty

Pace: leisurely to moderate

Topics: death of a family member, advice columnists, mixed families, first relationships, when to have sex, moving, new school

Themes: grief, moving on, growing up, friendship, family

Summary: Sofia lost her mother eight months ago, and her friends were 100% there for her. Now it’s a new year and they’re ready for Sofia to move on. Continue reading