Blogger Suzi Wackerbarth

Middle Grade Novels: Discovery Stories

Middle grade novels are often discovery stories–who am I? What is my place in the world? These three diverse books are no exception, and I hope you enjoy reading them and recommending them as much as I have. 

The one who loves you the most, by medina (debut novel). The first sentence, “I have never felt like I belonged to my body,” is a breadcrumb. This book does not leap onto the horizon, hi, i’m your new LGBTQIA+ protagonist. Gabriela starts by not even knowing the word queer. In this book, Gabriela makes new friends, reads new books (including the classic Annie on my Mind), tries out dating and in the meantime learns the word “ace.” The right friends come along just as their world falls apart. A lovely book, indeed, and one I’ll not soon forget. 

Three middle grade novels: The one who loves you the most by medina (image: a person with a dark braid down their back looks into a mirror); Barely Floating by Lilliam Rivera (cover image: a black girl appears to be diving up while surrounded by four other swimmers.) The firefly summer by Morgan Matson (image: a white girl in a kayak with a scrap of paper in her hand, surrounded by four other children, an Asian girl on a pizza floatie, a redhead standing on a board, a Black boy in a canoe, and a blond boy in kayak. Behind the children are trees and houses.)
Three middle grade novels: The One Who Loves you the Most; Barely Floating; A Firefly Summer.
(Photo by the author.)

Barely Floating, by Lilliam Rivera is a little feistier. We start out in a busy community pool where Nat is about to bet she can swim faster than some clueless guy named Beto. Soon after she wins her bet, Nat watches the “L.A. Mermaids,” a synchronized swimming club, perform at the pool and she decides she wants to join. Complicated? Her parents don’t even let Nat read Vogue magazine. Nat joins on the sly, and “hijinks ensue.” This book was a wild ride. 

The Firefly Summer, by Morgan Matson, is a book I savored, one of those “I don’t want this book to end” books. Ryanna lives with her dad in Los Angeles. Her mom died when she was three. One day, her dad gets a letter from Ryanna’s maternal grandparents, inviting Ryanna to visit them in the Poconos for the summer. At first Ryanna refuses, but then she decides she wants to spend the summer learning more about her mother. Ryanna thinks this will be a quiet summer with her two grandparents, only to discover that she has quite a lot of cousins and aunts and uncles. As the story unfolds, we learn that the camp where her grandparents live is in danger of becoming developed into high-end lake homes. Can she and her cousins save the camp?

One thing I loved about all three of these books was that people of all sizes and colors and backgrounds fit into the stories, even when the protagonist had a very particular identity. The diversity of genders, sexual orientations, and national origins were woven into each story, with realistic and contemporary details. No one seemed like a cardboard cut-out.

What middle grade novels are you loving right now?

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