19 2019 Middle Grade Books To Have On Your Radar
Like many of you (I’m guessing), I keep multiple reading-related lists. I keep track of what I read each year. I keep track of what ARCs I’ve gotten and hope to read. I keep track of what books I either want to get when they come out or hope to track down as ARCs but haven’t yet. There’s the list of 2019 LGBTQIA+ books. Look, I like lists. Even just listing my lists was fun for me. So anyway, I scanned through all my various relevant lists and pulled together this new list (yay!) of 19 middle grade books I can’t wait to read. In some cases, it’s because I liked the author’s previous work. In some cases, it’s a debut that’s caught my attention. In some cases, it’s just that I like reading my friends’ work. My list could have easily been much longer.
Hop in the comments or catch me on Twitter @CiteSomething and tell me what you are anxious to read in 2019!
All descriptions from the publishers.
This deeply sensitive and powerful debut novel tells the story of a thirteen-year-old who is filled with self-loathing and must overcome internalized racism and a verbally abusive family to finally learn to love herself.
There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence.
What’s not so regular is that this time they all don’t have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. It’s not that Genesis doesn’t like her grandma, but she and Mom always fight—Grandma haranguing Mom to leave Dad, that she should have gone back to school, that if she’d married a lighter skinned man none of this would be happening, and on and on and on. But things aren’t all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she’s made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show.
But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won’t the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they’re supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?
This heartfelt, captivating novel chronicles a year in the life of 14-year-old Max as he struggles with anorexia.
Some days are normal. Some days, everything is OK, and I eat three square meals, pretty much, even if those squares are ridiculously small squares.
Some days, I can almost pretend there’s nothing wrong.
Fourteen-year-old Max doesn’t like to eat, and the only one he can confess his true feelings to is Ana—-also known as his eating disorder, anorexia. In a journal that his therapist makes him keep, he tells Ana his unfiltered thoughts and fears while also keeping track of his food intake. But Ana’s presence has leapt off the page and into his head, as she feeds upon all of his fears and amplifies them.
When Max’s older brother Robin gives him a geocache box, it becomes a safe place where Max stores his journal, but someone finds it and starts writing to him, signing it with “E.” Is it a joke? Could it be the new girl at school, Evie, who has taken an interest in Max? Although Max is unsure of the secret writer’s identity, he takes comfort in the words that appear in his journal as they continually confide in one another about their problems.
As Max’s eating disorder intensifies, his family unit fractures. His parents and brother are stressed and strained as they attempt to deal with the elephant in the room. When Robin leaves home, Max is left with two parents who are on the verge of splitting up. Max thought he could handle his anorexia, but as time goes on, he feels himself losing any semblance of control.
Will anorexia continue to rule Max’s life, or will he be able to find a way to live around his eating disorder?
The Year I Didn’t Eat is an unforgettable novel that is haunting, moving, and inspiring.
Anne Ursu, author of the National Book Award nominee The Real Boy, returns with a story of the power of fantasy, the limits of love, and the struggles inherent in growing up.
When you’re an identical twin, your story always starts with someone else. For Iris, that means her story starts with Lark.
Iris has always been the grounded, capable, and rational one; Lark has been inventive, dreamy, and brilliant—and from their first moments in the world together, they’ve never left each other’s side. Everyone around them realized early on what the two sisters already knew: they had better outcomes when they were together.
When fifth grade arrives, however, it’s decided that Iris and Lark should be split into different classrooms, and something breaks in them both.
Iris is no longer so confident; Lark retreats into herself as she deals with challenges at school. And at the same time, something strange is happening in the city around them, things both great and small going missing without a trace.
As Iris begins to understand that anything can be lost in the blink of an eye, she decides it’s up to her to find a way to keep her sister safe.
A young girl with an eating disorder must find the strength to recover in this moving middle-grade novel from Jen Petro-Roy
Before she had an eating disorder, twelve-year-old Riley was many things: an aspiring artist, a runner, a sister, and a friend.
But now, from inside the inpatient treatment center where she’s receiving treatment for anorexia, it’s easy to forget all of that. Especially since under the influence of her eating disorder, Riley alienated her friends, abandoned her art, turned running into something harmful, and destroyed her family’s trust.
If Riley wants her life back, she has to recover. Part of her wants to get better. As she goes to therapy, makes friends in the hospital, and starts to draw again, things begin to look up.
But when her roommate starts to break the rules, triggering Riley’s old behaviors and blackmailing her into silence, Riley realizes that recovery will be even harder than she thought. She starts to think that even if she does “recover,” there’s no way she’ll stay recovered once she leaves the hospital and is faced with her dieting mom, the school bully, and her gymnastics-star sister.
Written by an eating disorder survivor and activist, Good Enough is a realistic depiction of inpatient eating disorder treatment, and a moving story about a girl who has to fight herself to survive.
Saving the multiverse is no game
When the Demon Queen shows up in her bedroom, smelling of acid and surrounded by evil-looking bees, twelve-year-old Kiranmala is uninterested. After all, it’s been weeks since she last heard from her friends in the Kingdom Beyond, the alternate dimension where she was born as an Indian princess. But after a call to action over an interdimensional television station and a visit with some all-seeing birds, Kiran decides that she has to once again return to her homeland, where society is fraying, a terrible game show reigns supreme, and friends and foes alike are in danger. Everyone is running scared or imprisoned following the enactment of sudden and unfair rules of law.
However, things are a lot less clear than the last time she was in the Kingdom Beyond. Kiran must once again solve riddles and battle her evil Serpent King father — all while figuring out who her true friends are, and what it really means to be a hero.
Celi Rivera’s life swirls with questions. About her changing body. Her first attraction to a boy. And her best friend’s exploration of what it means to be genderfluid.
But most of all, her mother’s insistence she have a moon ceremony when her first period arrives. It’s an ancestral Mexica ritual that Mima and her community have reclaimed, but Celi promises she will NOT be participating. Can she find the power within herself to take a stand for who she wants to be?
A dazzling story told with the sensitivity, humor, and brilliant verse of debut talent Aida Salazar.
How did a raw chicken get inside Yasmany’s locker?
When Sal Vidon meets Gabi Real for the first time, it isn’t under the best of circumstances. Sal is in the principal’s office for the third time in three days, and it’s still the first week of school. Gabi, student council president and editor of the school paper, is there to support her friend Yasmany, who just picked a fight with Sal. She is determined to prove that somehow, Sal planted a raw chicken in Yasmany’s locker, even though nobody saw him do it and the bloody poultry has since mysteriously disappeared.
Sal prides himself on being an excellent magician, but for this sleight of hand, he relied on a talent no one would guess . . . except maybe Gabi, whose sharp eyes never miss a trick. When Gabi learns that he’s capable of conjuring things much bigger than a chicken—including his dead mother—and she takes it all in stride, Sal knows that she is someone he can work with. There’s only one slight problem: their manipulation of time and space could put the entire universe at risk.
A sassy entropy sweeper, a documentary about wedgies, a principal who wears a Venetian bauta mask, and heaping platefuls of Cuban food are just some of the delights that await in his mind-blowing novel gift-wrapped in love and laughter.
From debut author Lisa Moore Ramée comes this funny and big-hearted debut middle grade novel about friendship, family, and standing up for what’s right, perfect for fans of Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give and the novels of Renée Watson and Jason Reynolds.
Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she’d also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.)
But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. Wait, what?
Shay’s sister, Hana, is involved in Black Lives Matter, but Shay doesn’t think that’s for her. After experiencing a powerful protest, though, Shay decides some rules are worth breaking. She starts wearing an armband to school in support of the Black Lives movement. Soon everyone is taking sides. And she is given an ultimatum.
Shay is scared to do the wrong thing (and even more scared to do the right thing), but if she doesn’t face her fear, she’ll be forever tripping over the next hurdle. Now that’s trouble, for real.
From the acclaimed team behind The Imaginary comes another powerful, poignant, and darkly fantastical story about friendship, perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman and Roald Dahl.
Ember and Ness are best friends, completely inseparable. Ember can’t imagine what life would be without Ness. Until Ness dies, in a most sudden and unexpected way. Ember feels completely empty. How can this even be real?
Then Ember finds a way into the afterworld-a place where the recently dead reside. She knows there must be a way to bring Ness back, so she decides to find it. Because that’s what friends do: rescue each other. But the afterworld holds its own dangers. How far will Ember go to make things the way they were again?
Paired with enchanting illustrations from Emily Gravett, A. F. Harrold’s powerfully woven tale explores the lengths we go to for the people we love.
Twelve-year-old Sunny St. James navigates heart surgery, reconnecting with her lost mother, first kisses, and emerging feelings for another girl in this stunning, heartfelt novel–perfect for fans of Ali Benjamin and Erin Entrada Kelly.
When Sunny St. James receives a new heart, she decides to set off on a “New Life Plan”: 1) do awesome amazing things she could never do before; 2) find a new best friend; and 3) kiss a boy for the first time.
Her “New Life Plan” seems to be racing forward, but when she meets her new best friend Quinn, Sunny questions whether she really wants to kiss a boy at all. With the reemergence of her mother, Sunny begins a journey to becoming the new Sunny St. James.
This sweet, tender novel dares readers to find the might in their own hearts.
The Hardy Boys meets The Phantom Tollbooth, in the new century! When two adventurous cousins accidentally extend the last day of summer by freezing time, they find the secrets hidden between the unmoving seconds, minutes, and hours are not the endless fun they expected.
Otto and Sheed are the local sleuths in their zany Virginia town, masters of unraveling mischief using their unmatched powers of deduction. And as the summer winds down and the first day of school looms, the boys are craving just a little bit more time for fun, even as they bicker over what kind of fun they want to have. That is, until a mysterious man appears with a camera that literally freezes time. Now, with the help of some very strange people and even stranger creatures, Otto and Sheed will have to put aside their differences to save their town—and each other—before time stops for good.
Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles (ISBN-13: 9781536200034 Publisher: Candlewick Press Publication date: 04/02/2019)
If home is where the heart is, what would happen if you lost it? Compassion and humor infuse the story of a family caught in financial crisis and a girl struggling to form her own identity.
It’s the first day of summer and Rachel’s thirteenth birthday. She can’t wait to head to the lake with her best friend, Micah. But as summer unfolds, every day seems to get more complicated. Her “fun” new job taking care of the neighbors’ farm animals quickly becomes a challenge, whether she’s being pecked by chickens or having to dodge a charging pig at feeding time. At home, her parents are more worried about money than usual, and their arguments over bills intensify. Fortunately, Rachel can count on Micah to help her cope with all the stress. But Micah seems to want their relationship to go beyond friendship, and though Rachel almost wishes for that, too, she can’t force herself to feel “that way” about him. In fact, she isn’t sure she can feel that way about any boy — or what that means. With all the heart of her award-winning novel See You At Harry’s, Jo Knowles brings us the story of a girl who must discover where her heart is and what that means for her future.
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (ISBN-13: 9780062747808 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/07/2019)
I am learning how to be
at the same time.
Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind her, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her home town start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.
At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the U.S. –and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.
This lyrical, life-affirming story is about losing and finding home, and most importantly, finding yourself.
A poignant, laugh-out-loud illustrated middle-grade novel about an eleven-year-old boy’s immigration experience, his annoying little brother, and their cake-baking hijinks!
Sometimes life isn’t a piece of cake . . .
When Jingwen moves to a new country, he feels like he’s landed on Mars. School is torture, making friends is impossible since he doesn’t speak English, and he’s often stuck looking after his (extremely irritating) little brother, Yanghao.
To distract himself from the loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of Pie in the Sky, the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother has laid down one major rule: the brothers are not to use the oven while she’s at work. As Jingwen and Yanghao bake elaborate cakes, they’ll have to cook up elaborate excuses to keep the cake making a secret from Mama.
In her hilarious, emotional middle-grade debut, Remy Lai delivers a scrumptious combination of vibrant graphic art and pitch-perfect writing that will appeal to fans of Real Friends.
My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva (ISBN-13: 9781338310504 Publisher: Scholastic Publishers Publication date: 07/30/2019)
Light and deep, smart and funny, crushing and hopeful all at the same time, My Fate According to the Butterfly will open your eyes to both the world’s potential for magic, and to its harsh realities.
When superstitious Sab sees a giant black butterfly, an omen of death, she knows that she’s doomed!
According to legend, she has one week before her fate catches up with her–on her 11th birthday. With her time running out, all she wants is to celebrate her birthday with her entire family. But her sister, Ate Nadine, stopped speaking to their father one year ago, and Sab doesn’t even know why.
If Sab’s going to get Ate Nadine and their father to reconcile, she’ll have to overcome her fears–of her sister’s anger, of leaving the bubble of her sheltered community, of her upcoming doom–and figure out the cause of their rift.
So Sab and her best friend Pepper start spying on Nadine and digging into their family’s past to determine why, exactly, Nadine won’t speak to their father. But Sab’s adventures across Manila reveal truths about her family more difficult than she ever anticipated, and get her into real trouble.
Was the Butterfly right? Perhaps Sab is in danger after all!
Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee (Publisher: Aladdin/S&S Publication date: 9/03/2019)
For seventh grader Mila, it starts with an unwanted hug on the school blacktop.
The next day, it’s another hug. A smirk. Comments. It all feels…weird. According to her friend Zara, Mila is being immature, overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like?
But it keeps happening, despite Mila’s protests. On the bus, in the halls. Even during band practice-the one time Mila could always escape to her “blue-sky” feeling. It seems like the boys are EVERYWHERE. And it doesn’t feel like flirting–so what is it?
Mila starts to gain confidence when she enrolls in karate class. But her friends still don’t understand why Mila is making such a big deal about the boys’ attention. When Mila is finally pushed too far, she realizes she can’t battle this on her own–and finds help in some unexpected places.
From the author of STAR-CROSSED, HALFWAY NORMAL and EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT YOU comes this timely story of a middle school girl standing up and finding her voice.
A true story from Raina Telgemeier, the #1 New York Times bestselling, multiple Eisner Award-winning author of Smile, Sisters, Drama, and Ghosts!
Raina wakes up one night with a terrible upset stomach. Her mom has one, too, so it’s probably just a bug. Raina eventually returns to school, where she’s dealing with the usual highs and lows: friends, not-friends, and classmates who think the school year is just one long gross-out session. It soon becomes clear that Raina’s tummy trouble isn’t going away… and it coincides with her worries about food, school, and changing friendships. What’s going on?
Raina Telgemeier once again brings us a thoughtful, charming, and funny true story about growing up and gathering the courage to face — and conquer — her fears.
Stargazing by Jen Wang (ISBN-13: 9781250183880 Publisher: First Second Publication date: 09/24/2019)
Moon is everything Christine isn’t. She’s confident, impulsive, artistic . . . and though they both grew up in the same Chinese-American suburb, Moon is somehow unlike anyone Christine has ever known.
When Moon’s family moves in next door to Christine’s, Moon goes from unlikely friend to best friend―maybe even the perfect friend. The girls share their favorite music videos, paint their toenails when Christine’s strict parents aren’t around, and make plans to enter the school talent show together. Moon even tells Christine her deepest secret: that she sometimes has visions of celestial beings who speak to her from the stars. Who reassure her that earth isn’t where she really belongs.
But when they’re least expecting it, catastrophe strikes. After relying on Moon for everything, can Christine find it in herself to be the friend Moon needs?
New York Times–bestselling author-illustrator Jen Wang draws on her childhood to paint a deeply personal yet wholly relatable friendship story that’s at turns joyful, heart-wrenching, and full of hope.
Friend or Fiction by Abby Cooper (Publisher: Charlesbridge Publication date: 10/08/2019)
Jade wishes her family could leave their no-name town in Colorado already. What kind of place can’t keep a few nice flowers alive or considers three stores a mall, anyway? Everybody else made sure to move away sooner than later, including every best friend Jade’s ever had. But it’s tricky to leave when her dad’s recovering from cancer. So, stuck in a dead-end town with absolutely zero friends, Jade makes one up. In the pages of her notebook, she writes all about Zoe—the most amazing best friend anyone could dream of. The stories flow around-the-clock, especially during boring science lessons or lonely lunch periods. But the plot really thickens when Jade loses her notebook and an actual girl named Zoe shows up at school. In real life. Jade notices that new Zoe seems to have an awful lot in common with made-up Zoe. But who could pull off something this incredible? More importantly, are Jade and the real Zoe destined to be best friends, regardless of how or why Zoe turned up in the first place?
Filed under: new books
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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