I’ve got three middle grade reviews for you today: two contemporaries and a contemporary fantasy. I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
on October 13, 2015
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Narrator: Sarah Franco
Length: 5 hours and 20 minutes
My content rating: MG (Deals with death)
This stunning debut novel about grief and wonder was an instant New York Times bestseller and captured widespread critical acclaim, including selection as a 2015 National Book Award finalist!
After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy must have been a rare jellyfish sting--things don't just happen for no reason. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory--even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy's achingly heartfelt journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe...and the potential for love and hope right next door.
Oddlot Entertainment has acquired the screen rights to The Thing About Jellyfish, with Gigi Pritzker set to produce with Bruna Papandrea and Reese Witherspoon.
This book is really interesting because it’s written from the POV of a character who seems like she’s probably on the autism spectrum (but it’s never explicitly said, and she might not even be diagnosed as such). I actually sort of love this because I have a kid with a similar background—often in life you don’t get a definitive “this is the label that your kid has and it makes so much sense and everyone needs to know this label and act accordingly.” I’ve found raising kids to be a lot more complicated than that.
Anyway, this book deals with the death of Suzy’s best friend, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. Early on, we learn that something happened between Suzy and Franny—you find out the details as the book unfolds. Because of this something, Suzy is carrying around a lot of guilt and unresolved feelings. She is a very logical child, and the only way she can make sense of these feelings is to somehow make things right and prove that things don’t “just happen.” She needs order in her universe. So, she latches onto the idea that maybe Franny’s death wasn’t just an accident. Maybe Franny was killed by a jellyfish—and if Suzy can prove it, she will have somehow made things right for her friend.
The book is filled with scientific information about jellyfish (I learned a lot!), but the story is mostly about Suzy’s journey to accepting her friend’s death and being okay enough to move on. The book is profound in a lot of ways, and I think it works perfectly for the middle grade reader. I listened to the audiobook, which was wonderfully narrated by Sarah Franco.
Unwritten by Tara Gilboy
Published by Jolly Fish Press on October 16, 2018
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
My content rating: MG (Some violence)
Twelve-year-old Gracie Freeman is living a normal life, but she is haunted by the fact that she is actually a character from a story, an unpublished fairy tale she’s never read. When she was a baby, her parents learned that she was supposed to die in the story, and with the help of a magic book, took her out of the story, and into the outside world, where she could be safe.
But Gracie longs to know what the story says about her. Despite her mother’s warnings, Gracie seeks out the story’s author, setting in motion a chain of events that draws herself, her mother, and other former storybook characters back into the forgotten tale. Inside the story, Gracie struggles to navigate the blurred boundary between who she really is and the surprising things the author wrote about her. As the story moves toward its deadly climax, Gracie realizes she’ll have to face a dark truth and figure out her own fairy tale ending.
A super-cute fairy tale read that had a lot more depth to it than I was expecting. The story follows Gracie, who has always known that she and her mother escaped an evil villain in a fairy tale. Her mother managed to get her out of the fairy tale world and into the real world when Gracie was still a baby, before the awful fate that the author wrote for them could be played out. Gracie’s curiosity gets the best of her, though, and she talks to the author (who has no idea that her characters are alive), sending her to the fairy tale world.
Once she gets there, she realizes that everything she’s been told about the world is not exactly as she’d been led to believe. Her relationships with her family get very complicated and she even has to face some possible ugly truths about herself. The story is full of twists that I didn’t see coming, and quite a bit of character growth. It’s the type of book that you don’t want to put down, and I highly recommend it!
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
The Girl with More Than One Heart by Laura Geringer Bass
Published by Harry N. Abrams on April 17, 2018
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Source: The Publisher
My content rating: MG (Deals with deal, Some kissing)
There are times we all feel we need more than one heart to get through. When Briana’s father dies, she imagines she has a new heart growing inside her. It speaks to her in her Dad’s voice. Some of its commands are mysterious.
Find Her! it says. Be Your Own!
How can Briana “be her own” when her grieving mother needs her to take care of her demanding little brother all the time? When all her grandpa can do is tell stories instead of being the “rock" she needs? When her not-so-normal home life leaves no time to pursue her dream of writing for the school literary magazine? When the first blush of a new romance threatens to be nipped in the bud? Forced by the loss of her favorite parent to see all that was once familiar with new eyes, Briana draws on her own imagination, originality, and tender loving heart to discover a surprising path through the storm.
This book is very sweet. It would probably be best geared toward younger middle grade readers (as long as they can handle the content, since it does involve the death of a parent). This is because the voice feels a bit young for thirteen and the writing is relatively simplistic. In fact, I almost decided not to feature the book on the blog because I wasn’t sure the voice matched the age of the character well enough.
But then something occurred to me: This book would be PERFECT for older MG readers who are at a little lower reading level than their peers but still want books that deal with topics they can relate to. As the mom of a struggling reader, I know how important it is to have books that are at a lower reading level but don’t feel like “little kid books.” It can be a real struggle to find those. This book tackles Briana’s feelings about her father’s death beautifully and it also features a first romance and evolving friendships, all topics that a middle grade reader would be drawn to. An 11-13 year-old who reads a bit below grade level might find this book to be a wonderful option!
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via Media Masters Publicity in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***