Ms. Bartels Recommends
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
Normally this book wouldn't have been one that appealed to me – the idea of a book about an Olympic-hopeful gymnast seemed like it was going to be too trite, with eating disorders and the pall of sacrifice shrouding every page. And it is that, but it is so much more. That Devon is clearly a talented gymnast shines through from page one, despite a debilitating accident at age three that causes her to lose several toes on one foot. Her parents have made loads of sacrifices, as has Devon, to get to this point. Told from Devon's mother's point-of-view, we see how these sacrifices have had an impact on the entire family and on everyone in Devon's gym. The death of someone connected to everyone in the gym is what gives this novel edge-of-your-seat appeal.
"Katie and Eric Knox have dedicated their lives to their fifteen-year-old daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful. But when a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community just weeks before an all-important competition, everything the Knoxes have worked so hard for feels suddenly at risk. As rumors swirl among the other parents, revealing hidden plots and allegiances, Katie tries frantically to hold her family together while also finding herself drawn, irresistibly, to the crime itself, and the dark corners it threatens to illuminate. From a writer with 'exceptional gifts for making nerves jangle and skin crawl,' (Janet Maslin) You Will Know Me is a breathless rollercoaster of a novel about the desperate limits of desire, jealousy, and ambition." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+
Ms. Ricker Recommends
The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor
Leslie Connor's latest novel has received a lot of positive reviews and I believe our HM Newbery Committee will consider this, so I wanted to read it first. I definitely think this will appeal to our middle school readers and is likely to end up as one of our award finalists. Mason is an authentic and charming narrator. It's difficult to read the number of upsetting things that happen to Mason: his mother is dead, his best friend died recently, he is relentlessly bullied at school and the police won't leave Mason alone as they suspect that he had something to do with his best friend's death. Although it seems like things can't get worse for Mason, he begins to develop a wonderful friendship with a new kid in town, Calvin Chumsky. Ultimately this story has a very satisfying and uplifting ending that readers will be cheering for. I will highly recommend this to our HM Newbery Committee and middle school students in general.
"Mason Buttle is the biggest, sweatiest kid in his grade, and everyone knows he can barely read or write. Mason's learning disabilities are compounded by grief. Fifteen months ago, Mason's best friend, Benny Kilmartin, turned up dead in the Buttle family's orchard. An investigation drags on, and Mason, honest as the day is long, can't understand why Lieutenant Baird won't believe the story Mason has told about that day.
Both Mason and his new friend, tiny Calvin Chumsky, are relentlessly bullied by the other boys in their neighborhood, so they create an underground club space for themselves. When Calvin goes missing, Mason finds himself in trouble again. He's desperate to figure out what happened to Calvin, and eventually, Benny.
But will anyone believe him?" ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 6+
Ms. Kazan Recommends
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Woodson, whose last middle-grade book, Brown Girl Dreaming, won the National Book Award and a Newbery Honor, shows once again why she's such a highly regarded author. Harbor Me is touching without being overly sentimental, and realistic while not being too severe for the intended audience. Woodson is able to convey the personal stories of all the protagonists and connect them together seamlessly. Readers may be able to spot themselves in these interconnected tales, but even if they can't, they will still be moved by each characters' plight.
"It all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat – by themselves, with no adults to listen in. There, in the room they soon dub the ARTT Room (short for 'A Room to Talk'), they discover it's safe to talk about what's bothering them – everything from Esteban's father's deportation and Haley's father's incarceration to Amari's fears of racial profiling and Ashton's adjustment to his changing family fortunes. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 6+
Ms. Matlin Recommends
An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard
This novel is much darker than your typical magical fantasy. In this mysterious world, using magic costs blood, payable by the caster and due immediately. Into this realm comes Sydney and a host of other magicians and interested parties; some want to change the way magic is done and some are happy with things the way they are. What I loved about this 2018 Alex Award-winner was the depth of characterizations: everyone's got something driving them into the Turning (a tournament of magic to the death). Additionally, the world of magicians is highly rigid; the power struggles are twisted and bloody, but also impossibly cold and calculating. Nothing - not love, not friendship, not even death - can derail the drive for power. At the end, things settle down in a way that is rational, but far from anyone's happy ending. This is the original Grimm's fairytale, not the cartoon version.
"In New York City, magic controls everything. But the power of magic is fading. No one knows what is happening, except for Sydney – a new, rare magician with incredible power that has been unmatched in decades, and she may be the only person who is able to stop the darkness that is weakening the magic. But Sydney doesn't want to help the system, she wants to destroy it." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+