3 Awesome Middle School Books

Black Bird Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternack is a beautifully written book about a young woman who escapes with her brother from a family steeped in traditional fear. Ziva is that “that” age where her family is beginning to find her a suitable husband. The only thing is Ziva wants to be a judge, just like her father. Although an arranged marriage is reason enough for fleeing her family, Zita also has a twin brother Pesha whom she is compelled to take to the Byzantine Empire to be healed. You see, Pesha has leprosy, and the entire family has basically accepted the idea that Pesha will die, except for Ziva. So, one night Ziva takes Pesha, and they flee their home only to be attacked by highwaymen who attempt to steal everything they have, kill Pesha and hold Ziva for ransome…that is until Ziva accidentally (on purpose?) frees a half-demon in exchange for escape, which is fine. Still, she and Pesha have a half-demon bound to them until they repay their debt. Will they make it to the Byzantine Empire safely? Will Pesha be cured? Will their ties to the underworld compromise not only their physical well-being but also their moral well-being?
A very well-written, captivating story about family love, perseverance and living with the consequences of choice.

Each of Us a Universe by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo with Ndengo Gladys Mwilelo
Calliope Scott is fascinated by Meteorite Mountain. In fact, she’s making it her mission to reach the top to find out the answers to the secrets it holds, especially the mystery of the meteorite, “the one that people say landed on the top of that spire…just because no one’s found it doesn’t mean it isn’t there, right? If it is, how do we know it isn’t magical?” ( page 45). You see, Cal is in need of magic, her mother has cancer, and her father is in prison, and although most of the community is supportive towards her and her mother, Cal still sneaks clothing from the lost and found at school, and steals cans of food from the grocery store. Then one day, a small change occurs in her world; a new girl named Rosine becomes an ally and a friend at school. Rosine, having lost her parents to war in another country, has arrived with her sister. Rosine, too, wants to find magic in the mountain to help her sister, who is “sick with sadness and making bad decisions” (page 77). Bound by this common quest, the two girls find strength in each other to succeed in their quest and forge a true friendship that strengthens both during a difficult time in their lives.
This is a lovely book about friendship, overcoming adversity and perseverance. It also has a wonderful interview at the back with an actual “stardust hunter” that explains how you can collect “stardust” (micrometeorites) yourself. A perfect novel for a cross-curricular study linked to science.

Gabe in the After by Shannon Doleski
This is a story about a pandemic and survival…like so many other books, TV shows, and movies that have popped up since Covid. However, this story reads a bit differently. Gabe Sweeney is one of 20 survivors (primarily children and young adults) who lives on a small island off the coast of Maine. Gabe and his group were evacuated there during the start of a deadly outbreak that they assumed killed most of the country’s population. The novel starts with Gabe scouting for survivors. For two years, Gabe has taken a small boat to the dock on the mainland to see if anyone is waiting, and so far, there has been no one. But today, Gabe finds (or rather his dog Mud) finds a young woman named Relle in the forest nearby. Relle has been on her own for most of the two years and had been making her home in a library until the roof caved in, making it uninhabitable. Since then, she has been wandering, hoping to find a community, a family of her own. From this initial incident, the novel follows Gabe in his tasks and responsibilities, one of which takes him days away from the island in search of medicine and ultimately to see what the outbreak’s status is in the world. During this time, Gabe has to deal with his feelings for Relle, with whom he falls in love. Let’s say dealing with these newfound feelings is a whole other story in survival.
I really liked this book. Even though it was a story about a deadly pandemic, the narrative didn’t focus on that tragedy; instead, I found it a charming love story, growing up, responsibility, and finding joy and comfort in the little things in life. Suppose you’re looking for a story about zombies and murderous raiders. In that case, this is not the story for you, but if you’re looking for a wholesome story about first love and growing up, then definitely pick this one up.

Good Enough by Jen Petro-Roy

Ok, let’s cut to the chase; this novel is an honest portrayal of a 12-year-olds struggle with anorexia. It is written as journal entries that provide an intimate look into her thoughts and emotions concerning: her motivation for not eating, her feelings of inadequacy, and her relationship with food. The author, Jen Petro Roy, was diagnosed with anorexia when she was young so the experiences relayed through the eyes of our protagonist Riley sound authentic and raw.

The entirety of the novel takes place in a treatment Centre where Riley undergoes weekly weigh-ins, having nurses stand outside the door making you count aloud so that they know if you throw up, counselling sessions. At the end of the day Riley’s writing gives us a realistic view of how she is processing her experiences and emotions. Riley is sarcastic, honest, and actually quite funny in her entries. I found it fascinating to follow her journey of healing and the baby steps it took for her to become strong enough to leave treatment. Her change comes slowly and with a lot of work, all of which is documented through the engaging voice of her journals.

This novel can be used as a segway into discussions around body image and mental and physical health, offering opportunities for parents and educators a non-threatening way to discuss these important issues.

What About Will by Ellen Hopkins

So I’m looking for new books for junior high classrooms. NEW books. Not Holes, or Hatchet or The Outsiders. NEW titles. I found one. And, read it in a day and I loved it. I even teared up at the end. 

What About Will is written by Ellen Hopkins. Now for those of you who have spent any time in a junior or senior high school library know that Hopkin’s novels are ALWAYS signed out. This is interesting because she writes her novels in verse and, in my experience, most students don’t immediately gravitate towards verse.

Hopkins’s novels often deal with difficult themes using intense issues such as drug abuse, physical abuse, and sex trafficking, to name a few. What About Will, however, deals with a serious issue but in a heartwarming and empowering way. 

The story is told from the viewpoint of 12-year-old Trace. Trace’s life is pretty awesome; he lives with his mother and father and his big brother Will whom he adores. 

One day though, Trace’s life takes a dramatic turn when Will is tackled in a football game and suffers a serious concussion. Will recovers but, he no longer is “Will”. He is angry, in pain, shoves those whom he loves away from him, and starts to make decisions that put his life at risk. The stress of the accident causes his parents to divorce, and soon, Trace feels the need to tippy-toe around any serious issues he is experiencing in order to spare his loved ones’ stress. Even if it means keeping secrets that can turn out to be fatal.

Trace is a kind-hearted, selfless young man who just wants to keep those he loves safe and together. Unfortunately, he finds that no amount of good intentions on his part can sway the choices of others.

I really loved this novel so much that I’m including it in a book collection for Junior High Teachers to use for classroom book clubs. If I were still in the classroom I would try and possess several copies to use for literature circles or independent novel studies. It’s accessible to most readers because of its format. Students will not be overwhelmed by the number of words on the page or vocabulary.