Friday, December 31, 2021

2021: Middle Grade and Young Adult Favorites

Happy 2022 to all of you!  The start of a new year is always exciting and as much as I enjoy a clean slate and a list of goals for the year, I also enjoy a look back at the previous year.  Today I'm sharing my final list of favorite reads of 2021, focusing on middle grade and young adult novels.  They are all fantastic! 

1. The Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley - I have tried to make a point of reading books featuring Native American characters or by Native American authors during the last part of this year.  The Firekeeper's Daughter features Native characters who live in the upper peninsula of Michigan.  Daunis is trying to straddle two worlds never fitting into the Ojibwe reservation or her small town completely.  She is planning on leaving for college after graduation, but a series of events changes these plans. Daunis makes the best of this and starts a relationship with Jamie, a new hockey player in town, who seems to have something to hide.  This book ended up being a page turner I couldn't put down.

2.  Little and Lion by Brandy Colbert - Suzette returns home from boarding school to find her stepbrother Lionel struggling with his bipolar disorder. She also falls in love with the same girl Lionel is dating.  Suzette's focus on her brother and trying to correct mistakes she made in the past is what the story focuses on and I appreciated Colbert's ability to tackle mental health issues and how everyone in a family is impacted by them.

3.  Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas - this is a prequel of sorts to The Hate U Give as we read Maverick's story as he just finds out that he's a father. He knows that he is supposed to take care of his family and with his mother's help he does manage to do a good job as a teen dad.  Yet the King Lords want him to sell dope, and Maverick needs the money.  Going straight is hard work, but Mav believes it will be worth it in the end.  I loved, loved this book - maybe even more than The Hate U Give.  I can't wait to see what Angie Thomas writes next.

4.  The Thing I'm Most Afraid Of by Kristin Levine- When I first started working as a school librarian I had several Bosnian students. Finding books about their country has proved difficult.  Levine's novel is set in Vienna during the Bosnian genocide and when Becca visits her father who is working overseas for a while her babysitter is Sara, a Bosnian refugee.  Becca has lots of fears she is working to overcome and as she makes new friends she realizes she is not the only person dealing with anxiety.  Levine's books are always amazing and this one is no exception.

5.  Red, White and Whole by Rajani LaRocca -this is a heartbreaking novel in verse.  Reha will do anything to help her mom get better. She was diagnosed with leukemia and Reha thinks if she can be the perfect Indian American daughter maybe it will help her mo.

6.  Frankie and Bug by Gayle Foreman - set in Los Angeles in 1987 I loved the way this book helped me slip back in time to watching As the World Turns and worrying about Lily and Holden's romance.  Bug is forced to spend her summer hanging out with her neighbor's nephew, Frankie, who is visiting for the summer.  Frankie isn't Bug's first choice to spend time with, but the two start trying to find out who the serial killer is that's on the loose. They're also learning some important lessons about the world.  This novel hit the sweet spot for me and might be one I press into everyone's hands for a long time.

7.  Where We Used to Roam by Jenn Bishop - I love Jenn Bishop's middle grade books and she's quickly become a must-buy author for me.  Emma has noticed that friendships have started to change as she begins middle school. But before she can really figure that out, her sports star brother Austin is injured and undergoes surgery, becoming addicted to opioid painkillers. Emma is sent to Wyoming to live with her mom's best friend from college during the summer which is a happy change from what has been happening at home. But eventually Emma must face things both with her friend, Becca, and with her brother.

8.  Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder- it's pretty amazing that I've loved a graphic novel enough to put it on my year end favorites list.  This memoir is heartbreaking as Tyler's mother is diagnosed with cancer and eventually dies. Tyler shares what it is like to face life as a motherless daughter and I found myself near tears as she so aptly described her feelings as she went through this.  I've purchased enough copies to read this with my eighth grade girls book club this coming year. 

9.  Free Lunch by Rex Ogle -this is the first memoir (the second Punching Bag came out this fall) of two by Ogle sharing his memories of his sixth grade year. He was a student getting free lunch in a wealthy district and each day lunch caused Rex a great deal of stress as he tried to keep that fact hidden.  His mom and her boyfriend were both out of work and home was often a violent and emotionally abusive place to be.  Obviously since Ogle is the author he managed to find a way out of his circumstances, but this is a tough read.  I know I have students who could identify with this, and for anyone it's a reality check that this is truly how some kids grow up.

10.  Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt - I read this one way back in January and was nearly reduced to tears by page three, but Schmidt does so many things well and is a master storyteller.  This time Schmidt tells Meryl Lee Kowalski's story as she goes off to boarding school in 1968. I loved reconnecting with characters that feel like old friends and I look forward to reading anything Schmidt writes.

Once again, there are still a lot of books I never had the time to get read this year.  But I had lots of fantastic books to choose from and am not a bit sad with what I've read.  If you have a must-read title I need to pick up, let me know.

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