Natalie Lloyd’s Over the Moon (2019) will have readers immediately rooting for Mallie, the middle-grade fantasy novel’s twelve-year-old protagonist. Mallie lives with her parents and younger brother in Coal Top, a bleak town where joy is scarce. Coal Top’s inhabitants have no hope for a better future. Serving inhabitants of the wealthy valley below is the only option for girls and boys must work in coal mines where they eventually lose their sight, like Mallie’s father. Mallie has already begun serving a family in the valley but she is fiercely protective of her young brother and will do whatever she can so he can avoid toiling in the coal mines. Continue reading
Greg van Eekhout’s Cog (2019) is a surprisingly philosophical middle-grade novel featuring emotionally proficient robots, maniacal scientists, and hotdog eating challenges. The title character, Cog, was created to help scientists research cognitive development. On the outside Cog looks like a brown-skinned twelve-year-old boy, but he’s all metal and wire on the inside. Continue reading
Sarah Jean Horwitz’s The Dark Lord Clementine (2019) follows twelve-year-old Clementine Morcerous on a journey of self-discovery that weaves magic and melancholy into an epic tale sure to delight readers. Most of the action takes place in and around the family’s desolate castle. Clementine knows nothing about her absent mother and her father, Lord Elithor, is a cold and angry figure whose evanescent presence haunts the text. Without any siblings or friends, the young protagonist is clearly lonely and yearns for connection. Continue reading
I love Carlos Hernandez’s Sal and Gabi Break the Universe (2019). It is a roller-coaster ride of a sci-fi adventure featuring amazing characters who are all exceptionally kind and utterly quirky. Sal, a young magician, has just moved to Miami with his dad and stepmom. He’s enrolled in a school for talented youth where he ends up spending more time in the principal’s office than the classroom. Readers learn pretty early that Sal is able to transport objects, including iterations of his deceased mother, from one dimension to another. His father is a scientist trying to figure the whole thing out. Although the science is never detailed it’s present throughout.
Geoff Rodkey’s We’re Not From Here (2019) begins on Mars as a small group of kids trade rumors they’ve heard about the fate of humanity. Earth is on the brink of destruction and the surviving humans must find a new home.
After securing permission to move to Planet Choom as refugees a small group of desperate humans enter biosuspension for twenty years, which is how long it will take them to get to what they anticipate will be a welcoming albeit completely alien new home.
Anne Ursu’s The Lost Girl (2019) is a haunting middle-grade novel that dabbles in the fantastic, but it is real-world drama that drives the story-line. The novel is about two twin sisters, Iris and Lark, who mirror each other physically while having distinct personalities. The twins live with their mother and father, but (as is requisite for middle-grade fiction) the father is absent. He is in London on a six-month long business trip and is only introduced in the text through Skype. The story is really about the girls’ relationship with each other and their discovery of their uniqueness through a forced separation at school. The two had always been in the same class but start the new school year with separate teachers. This does allow them to experience individual challenges while learning that they can have separate experiences and still share a deep bond. Continue reading
A series of interrelated events assemble to create a haunting tale of intergenerational salvation in Pat Cummings’ debut middle-grade novel Trace. The title character loses his loving parents in a car crash that he miraculously survives and mistakenly blames himself for causing.
Trace moves to Brooklyn to live with his aunt, Lea, an artsy and kind woman who doesn’t have much experience with children but makes up for it with compassion. Continue reading