The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (2016)

Romance laced with social issues and philosophical musings.

Recommended grade level: mature 8th graders and up

Pages:   348 (for ISBN 9780553496680)

Genre(s) and keywords: romance, realistic, diverse

Tone/Style: contemplative

Pace: moderate

Topics: Asian-Americans, African-Americans (sort of; she is technically Jamaican), undocumented immigrants

Themes: love, romantic relationships, fate, chance, finding meaning, preparing for the future

Summary: Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story. Continue reading

City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson (2017)

This mystery, set in Kenya and the Congo, packs an emotional and disturbing punch.

Recommended grade level: mature 8th graders and up

Pages:   401 (for ISBN 9780399547584)

Genre(s) and keywords: mystery, thriller, realistic, diverse, international, Africa (Kenya and the Congo)

Tone/Style: gritty

Pace: moderate

Topics: murder, investigations, refugees

Themes: family, trust, revenge, traumatic family history

Summary: In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who doesn’t exist. After fleeing the Congo as refugees, Tina and her mother arrived in Kenya looking for the chance to build a new life and home. Her mother quickly found work as a maid for a prominent family, headed by Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most respected business leaders. But Tina soon learns that the Greyhill fortune was made from a life of corruption and crime. So when her mother is found shot to death in Mr. Greyhill’s personal study, she knows exactly who’s behind it. Continue reading

15 Days Without a Head by Dave Cousins (2013)

daysIn this British import, a teen goes to great lengths to keep anyone from discovering that he and his little brother have been abandoned by their alcoholic mother.

Recommended grade level: 6 and up

Pages:   302 (for ISBN 9780738736426)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic, British

Tone/Style: humorous, distressed

Pace: moderate

Topics: alcoholism, siblings, contests, survival, cons

Themes: family, trust, responsibility

Summary: How far would you go to keep your family together?

Meet Laurence – fifteen years old and six feet tall – he’ll dress up as his mum and impersonate a dead man on the radio. Meet Jay – his six year old brother. He looks like an angel but thinks he’s a dog. He’ll sink his teeth into anyone who gets in the way.

Today is Tuesday – and the next fifteen days will change the boys’ lives for ever… (Source) Continue reading

Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan (2017)

shortThis new offering from the author of Counting by 7s is considerably lighter, funnier fare.

Recommended grade level: 4-7

Pages:   304 (for ISBN 9780399186219)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic, some humor

Tone/Style: funny, naive

Pace: fast

Topics: theatre, height, actors, little people

Themes: new experiences, finding confidence, friendship, adulthood, body positivity, relationships

Summary: Julia is very short for her age, but by the end of the summer run of The Wizard of Oz, she’ll realize how big she is inside, where it counts. She hasn’t ever thought of herself as a performer, but when the wonderful director of Oz casts her as a Munchkin, she begins to see herself in a new way. As Julia becomes friendly with the poised and wise Olive—one of the adults with dwarfism who’ve joined the production’s motley crew of Munchkins—and with her deeply artistic neighbor, Mrs. Chang, Julia’s own sense of self as an artist grows. Soon, she doesn’t want to fade into the background—and it’s a good thing, because her director has more big plans for Julia! Continue reading

Ghost by Jason Reynolds (2016)

ghostAn up-and-coming rockstar of a writer takes on a younger audience in this quick, charming book about the healing power of a track team.

Recommended grade level: 4-7

Pages:   192 (for ISBN 9781481450157)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic, sports, diverse, African-American protagonist, award winner

Tone/Style: conversational, African American Vernacular English (AAVE)

Pace: fast

Topics: running track, shoes, stealing, traumatic past experiences, incarcerated parents

Themes: opening up about difficult life experiences, accountability, causes of misbehavior, hard work and determination, new friends

Summary: Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel of a brand-new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds.

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves. (Source)

Who will like this book?: At 192 pages and with a sports theme, this should appeal to many reluctant readers. The book also has a fabulously diverse cast that offers representation to readers who may not see enough of themselves in literature. Castle (aka “Ghost”) is an honest and relatably flawed narrator. Ghost weighty enough that teachers should like it, too, making it a great choice for book reports.

Who won’t like this book?: It’s more of a character development book (though an unusually fast-moving one) than a plot-based book, and certain types of readers may reach the end and feel that not much happened in it.

Other comments: I read this as a physical book, but my coworkers tell me the audiobook is excellent. It won an Odyssey Honor this year. Ghost is also a National Book Award Finalist. It looks like this will be the first of several books about different members of the track team.

Sequel(s): Patina (expected August 2017); two more titles forthcoming (presumably called Lu and Sunny).

Readalikes: Jason Reynolds exploded onto the scene a few years ago and hasn’t stopped since. His  When I Was the Greatest and The Boy in the Black Suit are a good choices about urban black boys for slightly more mature audience (recommended for grades 7 and up). Ghetto Cowboy and Chess Rumble by G. Neri and Riding Chance by Christine Kendall are also books about black boys who find outlets in new hobbies. Readers interested in track can also try the ever-popular The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen.

-Kylie Peters

Image credit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28954126-ghost

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Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick (2016)

fallingJordan Sonnenblick is a staple in realistic fiction aimed at middle school readers.  His newest offering does not disappoint.

Recommended grade level: 6 and up

Pages:   272 (for ISBN 9780545863247)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic, humor

Tone/Style: thoughtful, self-pitying

Pace: moderate

Topics: parental illness, strokes, recovery, dance, saxophone

Themes: family, parent-child relationships, selfishness, sacrifice

Summary: It’s not easy being Claire. (Really.)

Claire’s life is a joke . . . but she’s not laughing. While her friends seem to be leaping forward, she’s dancing in the same place. The mean girls at school are living up to their mean name, and there’s a boy, Ryder, who’s just as bad, if not worse. And at home, nobody’s really listening to her — if anything, they seem to be more in on the joke than she is. Continue reading

Booked by Kwame Alexander (2016)

bookedKwame’s novel-in-verse follows in the tradition of Newbery Award-winner The Crossover.

Recommended grade level: 4-8

Pages:   320 (for ISBN 9780544570986)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic fiction, verse, sports, diverse, reluctant readers, African-American protagonist

Tone/Style: cool, lyrical

Continue reading