Category Archives: Tween Book Review

Top Books of 2012: YA and Middle Grade Fiction

The end of December causes us to look back on everything we did (or read) during the past year.  Here are my picks for the best YA and middle grade books of 2012 (limited to what I actually read, so I’m sure I’m missing more than a few good ones!)

I don’t know about you, but when I’m reading a book that is all the way at one end of the spectrum (either amazing or horrible) I tend to flip to the author’s photo many times as I read.  If it’s a great book, I’m in awe, thinking “How could you have written this?”  (If it’s bad, I’m thinking the same thing, but more along the lines of “How could you have written this???“)  Anyway, for this wrap up of the year, I thought I’d feature the books with their creators.


The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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This book came out all the way back in January, but I still think about it a lot.  In fact, I read it twice.  Once on vacation, and I listened to the audiobook several months later.  If I could find the audiobook version with John Green as the narrator, I’d love to hear that story again.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

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A coworker recommended this book to me, and I’m glad she did.  It’s one of those books that makes you invest in the characters, to the point where what happens to them seems like it’s happening to you.  This is another book that I think about often, and the fate of the characters at the end is still up for debate!

Every Day by David Leviathan

I read this on NetGalley, and it was the first time that I willingly read a book on a computer screen.  David Leviathan is capable of writing from many different perspectives (the main character in this book switches bodies every day) while giving each one complexity and depth.

Middle Grade

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

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This book broke my heart (in a good way).  I felt for August as he tried to make it through the jungle of middle school with a facial deformity.  This book has been embraced by librarians who realize that middle grade students need stories about what they’re really going through:  bullying, prejudice, cliques, and discrimination.  It’s not always easy to read about, but books like these can be a lifesaver to a kid in need.

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

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Rebecca Stead mixes quirky characters with an intriguing mystery.  I can’t think of a kid who wouldn’t get caught up in this book.

What was your favorite middle grade/YA book for 2012?  Tomorrow:  my favorite adult fiction from 2012.



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Tween Book Review: Liar & Spy

Once in a great while, I read a book that is so amazing, all I want to do is read another one exactly like it.  Well, maybe not exactly like it, but at least very closely related to it.  Usually, this isn’t a big problem.  If the book is the first in a series, I just read the sequel.  If the author is prolific, I move on to his/her other works.

Cover of "The Invention of Hugo Cabret"

But what about books that are unique in their greatness and the author hasn’t published any more like them?  Case in point:  when I first read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, I had never read a book like it.  (At that point, Wonderstruck had not been published yet.)  I was recommending this amazing reading experience (it is so awesome, I hesitate to call it a book) to everyone I saw:  man, woman and child.  Kids would usually take the recommendation, and then request a similar book.  Unfortunately, now we were in the same boat:  waiting until Brian Selznick came out with his next creation that would knock our socks off.

Cover of "When You Reach Me"

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead was another one of those books for me.  She offers us complex characters who are dealing with the reality of life.  Even when you’re 12, life is rarely a perfect experience.  Rebecca Stead isn’t afraid to explore growing pains and this enriches her writing.  She also can tell a great story.  A story that makes you wonder what is really going on, and what might happen.  As I read, I had my own suspicions about the ending, and I loved Miranda and all of the other characters so much, I desperately hoped that everything would turn out alright.

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So, I’ve been waiting for her sophmore novel, Liar & Spy, ever since I finished the last page of When You Reach Me.  The book is set in NYC in present day.  Georges has just moved from the house he loves into an apartment.  His dad is in the middle of a career change and he mom is swamped with work.  Georges is an outsider at school and the target for bullies.  He slogs through each week, high-fiving his gym teacher on Friday afternoon to celebrate two days of freedom stretched out before them.

All of this changes when Georges meets an unusual family in his apartment building.  Safer, a boy Georges’ age, is a spy in training and knows the comings and goings of everyone in the building.  Candy, Safer’s younger sister, has an obsession with her namesake and a penchant for changing her outfit many times each day.  As Georges’ relationship with Safer and his family develops, he learns not to make assumptions about others and that it is possible to create your own rules.

I would love to gush about the details, but it’s one of those books that is best to read yourself, discovering all the twists and turns as you go.  Liar & Spy comes out on August 7th.  I would highly recommend it to kids and adults who are looking for a book so good it will keep you away from Netflix Instant Play (true story).

Recommendation: 5 out of 5 lupines


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Tween Book Review: The Dunderheads

Today’s tween book review is two for the price of one!

First up, The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman

What’s the best way to outsmart a horrible teacher?  Work together, of course!  The Dunderheads are a group of kids that use their unique talents to their advantage.  After Miss Breakbone (think of a cartoon version of Agatha Trunchbull from Matilda) steals a small cat figurine that Junkyard (a boy who has a talent for finding hidden gems while rummaging through garbage cans) wanted to give to his mother.

Einstein (known for his quick thinking and problem solving skills) rounds up a group of kids to recover the stolen item.  Each kid lends his/her quirk to help complete the mission.  In the end, the team accomplishes something together that would have been impossible to do alone.

In the sequel, The Dunderheads Behind Bars, the gang is back for another adventure.  This time one of their own (Spider, known for his climbing ability) has been wrongly accused of a crime and thrown in jail!  The team must work together to convince the authorities that they have the wrong man and to try to figure out who actually committed the crime.

These books are fantastic for reluctant readers because each page features large, detailed illustrations.  These kids are dealing with big problems and solving mysteries without the help of parents (or even older siblings).  Young readers will love the fact that these eccentric “outsider” kids are the stars of the show and have what it takes to make a real difference.  The wonderful portrayal of the Dunderheads’ offbeat skills will help kids realize that all talents (mainstream or not) are to be celebrated.

Recommendation:  5 out of 5 lupines

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Tween Book Review: I, Emma Freke

On Sunday at the MLA conference, I had the opportunity to meet Elizabeth Atkinson.  I was a little more than halfway through her tween book I, Emma Freke.  It was a wonderful (and rare) experience to be able to speak with the author of the book I was currently reading.  I plan to post later on about her workshop, entitled “Empowering Tweens through Story” but for now, I’ll just give you my thoughts about the book.

Emma Freke (pronounced “freak”) knows that she lives up to her last name.  She’s a tall, gangly 12 year old who towers over everyone in her grade. She also has bright red hair, which makes her even easier to spot in a crowd.  Any outgoing, sociable person might not be bothered by these traits, but for shy Emma, her unusual appearance is like the kiss of death.  She feels awkward and uncomfortable socially around people her own age.  Emma has never felt like she has belonged in her family (she even thinks that she might be adopted).  However, this is not the case, and she decides to take a journey halfway across the country to meet the other side of the family, which she greatly resembles.  It takes this independent adventure to inspire Emma to believe in herself.  She not only gains self-confidence during the family reunion, she also inspires her family to stand up for what is right.

I really enjoyed this realistic, humorous look at tween life.  I think tweens would enjoy the book because it so accurately captures the awkward “growing pains” of being twelve.  You think that you’re a freak (even if that’s not your last name) and you enter every social interaction with the fear that others will draw attention to what makes you different.  The book’s inclusion of non-traditional families (Emma’s friend is adopted, and she herself is being raised by a single mother) will spark conversations with tweens about what family means and stress the importance that the family structure is secondary to the love and support a family can provide.

Recommendation: 4 out of 5 lupines


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Tween Book Review: Mockingbird


Caitlin is completely lost after her teenage brother was killed in a school shooting, as any 5th grade girl would be.  But Caitlin isn’t like other 5th graders.  She has Asperger’s, a syndrome which is on the Autism spectrum.  She sees the world differently.  Feelings and emotions are difficult for Caitlin to recognize and understand in herself and others.  Her brother was the only person who understands her and after his death, she struggles to make sense of the world around her.  Caitlin desperately wants closure, but doesn’t know where to start.  During the grieving process, she slowly learns empathy and finds a new connection with other people.

Kathryn Erskine does an amazing job with a difficult topic.  She writes in first person, which gives the reader some insight into Caitlin’s world.  Many of Caitlin’s actions and words seem uncomprehensible, but coming from her perspective, they seem to make more sense.  The author’s daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s when she was young, and her familiarity with the syndrome makes Caitlin’s character sympathetic and believable.    

Anyone who appreciates a story told from a unique perspective will enjoy this heart-wrenching book.  In its themes, it reminded me of Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  In both stories, the main characters are ostracized by their peers based soley on their differences.  Great books like Mockingbird and Wonder will help educate young people about diversity and tolerance and help readers to understand that everyone deserves to be accepted, no matter what their differences.

Recommendation:  5 out of 5 lupines



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Tween Graphic Novel Review: Meanwhile

Meanwhile by Jason Shiga

What happens in Meanwhile? You decide! Meanwhile is a graphic novel with a twist-you choose your own adventure, starting with a simple question in an ice cream store: chocolate or vanilla? Your answer will decide the next stop on your journey. Instead of the classic “turn to page 22” directions found in the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series, the reader navigates this book by following a line on the page. When you get to the end of the line, you follow the corresponding tab to the next part of the storyline you’ve chosen. Each page has several tabs on the edge, which in theory would make them more susceptible to tearing, but the plastic coating on the pages solves this potential issue.

So, what could happen when you leave the shop with an ice cream cone in hand? You might wander into an old man’s apartment and ask to use the bathroom. Once inside, you realize that he is a scientist who has invented three incredible machines: the killatron, a time machine, and a machine that transfers memories from one person to another. He offers you the chance to play around with one of his inventions, but there always seems to be a catch.

This story has 3,856 endings, and even though I enjoyed exploring the different possibilities, I only read about 20 of them. Needless to say, this book would provide hours of enjoyment for graphic novel fans. This is definitely one of those books that young patrons return to the library with the question “Do you have any more books like this?” This is a unique, interactive reading experience that is sure to delight even the most reluctant reader.

Recommendation: 5 out of 5 lupines


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Tween Book Review: The Aviary

The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell

Do you remember reading books when you were in middle school and getting completely caught up in the world between the pages?  As an avid reader during my tween years, I was always on the look out for the perfect book.  I would have been delighted with The Aviary if it had been around when I was 12.   The reader immediately connects with Clara, a seemingly shy and timid girl living in Maine in the 1800s.  Clara is not your average girl.  She does not have any friends or attend school due to a heart condition.  Her mother is terrified that she will overexert herself, so she insists that Clara stays indoors with only books for company.

Clara’s mother is not the evil stepmother of fairytales; on the contrary, she is kind and caring.  Her mother loves her and wishes to protect her from the outside world, but Clara longs to learn the truth about the father and have the freedom to lead her own life.  She feels like the birds caged outside in the aviary and longs to break free.

  After meeting another girl in her neighborhood, Clara slowly begins to gain confidence and independence.  Together, the two girls investigate a horrible crime that took place decades ago and they slowly discover the seemingly unbelievable history of the Glendoveer family.

This book reminded me a little bit of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.  There’s a fantastical element to the story, but it reads almost more like historical fiction than fantasy.  The Aviary is beautifully written.  Even though Clara speaks in an old-fashioned manner, her sense of humor and sweet demeanor will appeal to any modern day reader.  The mystery at the heart of the story will keep you reading, but the book also brings up good points about independence and family and friend relationships. 

Recommendation:  5 out of 5 lupines



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