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

Thick As Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner (2017)

thickThis long-awaited addition to The Queen’s Thief series can also be read as a standalone adventure, and is packed with politics and bromance.

Recommended grade level: 8 and up (for reading comprehension reasons; there is little mature content)

Pages:   400 (for ISBN 9780062568243)

Genre(s) and keywords: fantasy, adventure

Tone/Style: long-suffering, a bit archaic

Pace: leisurely to moderate

Topics: slaves, kings, politics, escape, journeys, Eugenides (He should count as a topic, right? He’s basically the center of the universe in this series.)

Themes: freedom, trust, betrayal, friendship

Summary: Thick as Thieves is the eagerly anticipated new stand-alone novel set in the world of the Queen’s Thief. New York Times-bestselling author Megan Whalen Turner’s entrancing and award-winning Queen’s Thief novels bring to life the world of the epics and feature one of the most charismatic and incorrigible characters of fiction, Eugenides the thief. Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief novels are rich with political machinations and intrigue, battles lost and won, dangerous journeys, divine intervention, power, passion, revenge, and deception. Perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo, Marie Lu, Patrick Rothfuss, and George R. R. Martin. Continue reading

The Novice by Taran Matharu (2015)

noviceSolid fantasy of the classic variety, heavy on both action and politics.

Recommended grade level: 6 and up

Pages:   355 (for ISBN 9781250067128)

Genre(s) and keywords: fantasy

Tone/Style: epic

Pace: moderate

Topics: race relations, women’s rights, class struggle, war, demons, magic, magic schools

Themes: inequality, social justice, perseverance, friendship

Summary: Fletcher is working as a blacksmith’s apprentice when he discovers he has the rare ability to summon demons from another world. Chased from his village for a crime he did not commit, Fletcher must travel with his demon, Ignatius, to an academy for adepts, where the gifted are taught the art of summoning. Continue reading

Click Here to Start by Dennis Markell (2016)

clickThree twelve-year-olds hunt for treasure in a book that integrates virtual escape-the-room games into its mystery.

Recommended grade level: 5 and up

Pages:  320 (for ISBN 9781101931875)

Genre(s) and keywords: mystery, adventure, puzzle, diverse

Tone/Style: analytical, curious

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: escape rooms, World War II, Asian-Americans, Jewish Americans

Themes: friendship, family, legacies

Summary: What if playing video games was prepping you to solve an incredible real-world puzzle and locate a priceless treasure?

Twelve-year-old Ted Gerson has spent most of his summer playing video games. So when his great-uncle dies and bequeaths him the all so-called treasure in his overstuffed junk shop of an apartment, Ted explores it like it’s another level to beat. And to his shock, he finds that eccentric Great-Uncle Ted actually has set the place up like a real-life escape-the-room game! 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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Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart (2016)

lilyThis dual-POV novel addresses big issues like gender identity and depression with due seriousness but a prevailing sense of hope.

Recommended grade level: 5-8

Pages:   352 (for ISBN 9780553536744)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic fiction, LGBTQA+

Tone/Style: hopeful, insecure, emotional

Continue reading

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead (2015)

goodbyeA beloved author takes on some hot-button middle school issues in a story about love and friendship.

Recommended grade level: 6-8

Pages: 304 (for ISBN 9780385743174)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic fiction

Tone/Style: thoughtful, alternating points of view

Pace: leisurely to moderate

Topics: friendship, romantic relationships, internet and cell phone safety, theatre

Themes: friendship with the opposite sex, changing relationships with old friends, finding new interests, determining when to be in a relationship with someone

Summary: Love is __________.

It’s the beginning of seventh grade and Bridge, Emily, and Tab have a pact: no fighting. Continue reading