Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Amazing Middle Grade!

In the interest of holiday season posting: need gifts for the kid who has every video game, or a bookworm who has read everything, and needs something new? Allow me to be your guide through a few fantastic middle grade reads I’ve just finished.

Malcolm and Me, by Robin Farmer, (Nov. 2020, SparkPress), $16.95, ISBN: 9781684630837

Ages 10-14

Where do I even start with Malcolm and Me? This book blew my mind in the best way possible. It’s 1973, and 13-year-old Roberta has a lot of feelings. She’s reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X and discussing Black history and Black Power with her father at home, and clashing with a racist nun at her Philadelphia Catholic school. When she’s sent home after a blowup with Sister Elizabeth, she deep dives into the Autobiography, examining her own feelings and frustrations through Malcolm X’s lenses. Already a writer, she begins journaling her verse and diary entries, guided by Malcolm, and it gives her the strength she needs as her home life and school life begin unraveling.

There is such power in this book and in the characters. Roberta emerges as an incredible heroine; a self-aware 13-year-old coming of age in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, during Watergate, she questions her own faith in God and in organized religion, in family, and in color. Inspired by an event in the author’s life, Malcolm and Me is essential reading that hits that often hard-to-reach middle school/high school age group. Please put this on school (and adult) reading lists, and talk about this book with your tweens and your teens. Talk this up to your Angie Thomas fans, Nic Stone fans, and – naturally! – Ilyasah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter. Author Robin Farmer’s author website has more information on the author’s articles, her books, and a link to her blog.

 

The Clockwork Crow, by Catherine Fisher, (Sept. 2020, Walker Books US), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536214918

Ages 9-13

Orphan Seren Rhys thinks she’s being rescued from the orphanage when her mysterious godfather, Captain Jones, sends for her. His country mansion, Plas-y Fran, is just going to be wonderful, Seren knows it! She’ll be the apple of Captain Jones and his wife, Lady Mair’s eyes, have wonderful parties, and play with the couple’s young son, Tomos. She realizes things are very different when she’s picked up at the train station and arrives, late at night, at Plas-y Fran, which looks rundown and all but abandoned; Mrs. Villiers, the cold housekeeper, tells her that the family is in London for the foreseeable future. Seren turns to the mysterious package entrusted to her at the train station and discovers a mechanical crow. Upon assembly, the crow can talk, fly, and complain. A lot. But when Seren learns that Tomos has been taken by fairies, she decides to rescue him and restore life to Plas-y Fran: and the crow will help her do it.

A fun fantasy with a bit of steampunk, which I always enjoy, this is a quick read with adventure and a warm family story at its heart. Seren is the hopeful orphan, and the cantankerous Crow is a great foil, making this a fine buddy comedy. Fairie lore amps up the action and the tension, and adds some dark fantasy and magic to the plot. A good choice for readers who loved the Nevermoor/Morrigan Crow series by Jessica Townsend.

 

The Sisters of Straygarden Place, by Hayley Chewins, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536212273

Ages 10-14

Hayley Chewins is back! Her 2018 novel, The Turnaway Girls, was one of the best books I’d read that year, so I was excited to read her newest, The Sisters of Straygarden Place. The Ballastian Sisters – Winnow, Mayhap, and Pavonine – have lived in the house by themselves after their parents left seven years before, only a note telling them to “sleep darkly” left behind. The house takes care of their basic needs – food, clothing, shelter – but they cannot leave the house, lest the tall silver grass take them. Winnow grows tired of waiting and ventures outside, leaving 12-year-old Mayhap to take care of their youngest sister, Pavonine, and figure out how to heal 14-year-old Winnow. As Mayhap discovers more about the house and the history of the magic within it, the mystery deepens. Readers will love this gorgeous, dark fantasy written with prose that’s almost lyrical, magical. Hayley Chewins writes like Neil Gaiman, where the words just caress you, wrap themselves around you, and when you’re fully under their spell, tell you stories that will leave you wondering. In a world where dogs crawl into your mind to help you sleep and the grass tempts you to come outside so it can take you away, The Sisters of Straygarden Place is truly magical reading.

The Sisters of Straygarden Place is is one of Kirkus’s Best MG Fantasy & SF Books of 2020.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Blog Tour and Giveaway: The Turnaway Girls, by Hayley Chewins

Raised in a shelter cloister with other young women, Delphernia Undersea is a 12-year-old Turnaway Girl: girls raised to be silent, invisible; to weave male Masters’ music into gold they call “shimmmer”. Delphina is well aware of her place in society – Mother Nine beats it into her regularly enough – but still has a rebellious streak in her. While she can’t make shimmer, she can sing; a forbidden action in this world. Girls are told that the sea waits to swallow girls with musical throats, but Delphernia must sing, so she does so in secret until the day a young Master named Bly comes to claim her. Once out of the cloister, Delphernia’s world opens up, befriending a trans girl named Linna, who calls herself a Master and wears a dress covered in bells. Delphernia spends time with Bly, discovering more about him and his sister, the Childer-Queen, and in so doing, discovers more about herself and the society she moves through. It’s time for rebellion, and Delphernia holds the key.

Wow. This book is high literary fantasy that has the gift of empowering readers. Delphernia is a strong, intelligent heroine who motivates those around her. This is a male-driven society that doesn’t want music, free thought, or questions. They twist the truth to suit their means, but this next generation of children is about to bring it all down. Hayley Chewins’ weaves gold – shimmer – with words that nearly brought me to tears as I read. I was Facebooking and texting passages from this book to my friends, family, and coworkers over the last two days, because I could not keep these words inside me.

 

This is how you talk to middle graders. This is how you write middle grade fantasy that makes a statement, always respecting your readers. This is fantasy that holds our society up to a mirror and lets readers see for themselves how change is theirs to make. Diverse and gender fluid characters, discussions about gender roles and corrupt leaders, and a tale of self-discovery, magic, and music put this firmly on my must-read, must-have list, and my Newbery and Hugo watch lists.

The Turnaway Girls has a starred review from Kirkus. Author Hayley Chewins has a playlist for the book available on her blog.

Want your own copy of The Turnaway Girls? Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway!

 

Blog Tour Roll Call! Visit these book bloggers for their The Turnaway Girl thoughts.

October 8 – Purple Readers

October 9 – YA Books Central

October 10 – Cheyenne Reads

October 11 – Mom Read It

October 12 – Wizard Library

 

The Turnaway Girls, by Hayley Chewins, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763697921
Ages 10+