Sometimes we need to find comfort whichever way we can – so I thought about putting together a list of happy, beautiful reads in YA and Middle Grade that I read and reviewed here over the years. This is not only a list for those of you who read YA and Middle Grade but for your kids, for your students, for the youth of this world.
And if some of these books are political? Well, everything is political. That is all.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – a MG memoir written in free verse, Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming is a memoir of her childhood, a collection of passages about growing up between her father’s Ohio and her mother’s South Carolina in the sixties and then eventually moving part of the family to New York.
Nation by Terry Pratchett – May be my favourite Terry Pratchett novel. Nation is a book of ideas. Its main theme, that of construction and creation: the construction of a home, of a family, of rules, tradition and religion. It is about those building blocks of civilisation itself and of individuals, in a way that is both extremely rational and enormously emotional.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz – A LGBT love story, Aristotle and Dante is a smart, intelligent, engaging coming-of-age story and a deep, thoughtful exploration of identity and sexuality.I wrote this when I first read this book: “Aristotle and Dante is the kind of book that gives me hope that the universe might be still be an ok place to live”. This feels very relevant right now.
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge – I could never pick one favourite Hardinge novel but this one might be the one that is most… current because it features a plot about a revolution. It’s fist-pumpingly good and like all Frances Hardinge books, it’s a lot of fun.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia – The first in a trilogy about Delphine and her sisters, these are books about identity, about the fascinating Black-Panthers and the Civil Rights movement, about abandonment and its repercussions. One Crazy Summer is a book about all of those things yes, but above all, it is a book about a summer of discovery, about Delphine and her family and as such the author manages to expertly combine a winning story about sisters with great social commentary. In fact, what strikes me the most about the novel is how the author successfully navigates the waters of so many important issues with the clear, concise, direct prose expected in a middle grade book but without being simplistic or didactic. Quite the contrary, I have found more subtlety and impact on this story than I have in several novels for adults.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart – The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks chronicles Frankie’s journey from being a quiet, clever, geeky girl, her father’s “bunny rabbit” to someone who starts to think and to fully, completely interact with the world she lives in by observing and analysing, criticising and daring to ask questions mostly about the sometimes unspoken rules and roles that society allows or doesn’t allow her to play, as a girl.
Ms Marvel comics by G Willown Wilson – If there was ever a time in which we needed this Muslim Teenage Superhero Girl, this is IT. Kamala Khan is the BEST, THE BEST.
The Broken Lands by Kate Milford – Another topical book for our times: a middle grade story featuring a Chinese girl and an Italian boy, about immigration, about immigrants and how they build NY and the US.
Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott – a seamless combination of Contemporary and Historical with a side of Urban Fantasy that explores one of the first major battles of the British-American Revolutionary war. In 1776, Prospect Park (along Flatbush Ave) was the battleground for British and Hessian soldiers as they fought the Continental Army (led by George Washington) – and this iconic battle serves as a key point for the story. To do this, to add on top of the historical commentary also one that explores the issues of race, gender, and religion in contemporary Brooklyn.
Flygirl by Sherri L Smith – Flygirl is about Ida Mae Jones, a young black woman who wants nothing but to fly and wishes to join Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program which trains young women to fly military aircrafts across America during WWII.
8th Grade Super Zero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich – This is a book about kids getting involved with local and school politics, about hope and growth, friendship and family.
My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger – Probably the happiest book in this list – also about friendships and one main character who is a Chinese-American Gay super-happy kid.
Everything Leads to You by Nina Lacour – from my review: “Everything Leads to You is probably the closest thing to a RomCom in book format – from character’s arcs to story progression, from storytelling to hopeful ending – I can think of. I loved it. I loved it for the romance between the two girls that somehow managed to be both understated and grandiose. It’s a quiet romance in many ways but also one where you can almost hear the unsaid things and the sweeping music score in the background when they kiss for the first time. I loved it for the acknowledged differences between them – especially that of class and privilege. Emi’s life has been easy, she has the best of everything, enough money to not have to worry and a nice, supportive net of family and friends as well as the privilege of being able to come out as lesbian without any problems.”
And these are some of the books I can think about right now – how about you? Which MG and YA are comforting you at the moment?