Category: Middle School

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker (9780425288504, Amazon)

Felix’s life changed when he was caught in an accident in his father’s lab at three years old. A fourth dimensional being named Zyx was fused inside him. Now the time is coming when Felix and Zyx have to be separated or they will both die. Felix begins a secret blog where he shares his experiences of being fused with Zyx and the days leading up to the Procedure. There are details about normal things like his family, bullies at school, and his crush on a cute boy at school. Then there are the Zyx related aspects that draw Felix to the beauty of jazz music and immensely gifted chess playing. Even as Felix hopes to be able to fix the physical manifestations and pain brought by being with Zyx, he wonders about what his life will be like without him and if they will both potentially die as they are separated.

Bunker has created an exceptional book for middle grade readers. She has seeped it full of diversity of the LGBT community. Felix himself is gay, his mother is bisexual and his grandparent is gender queer. The beauty is that this is not the focus of the novel, just background information, a matter-of-fact look at what openly queer families can be.

The real focus of the book is Felix himself, caught in a unique situation that makes him the target of bullies. He still connects with others, his crush on a boy growing with natural pacing. He speaks in a voice that is witty and rich, his writing filled with small details of his life but also with humor. There is a sense of an impending ending but also the slim possibility of a future as well that keeps this book steeped in the small wonders of life but also immensely hopeful.

A dynamic mix of LGBT, science fiction and growing up, this novel is entirely unique just like its main character. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.

 

The Song from Somewhere Else by A. F. Harrold

The Song from Somewhere Else by A. F. Harrold.jpg

The Song from Somewhere Else by A. F. Harrold, illustrated by Levi Pinfold (9781681194011, Amazon)

Released July 4, 2017.

This novel for middle grades combines fantasy with a touch of horror. Frank’s best friends are away for most of the summer, so she doesn’t have much to do. Her father is always sending her out of the house to play, unaware that she has been targeted by a group of boys and is being bullied. When they toss her backpack into a patch of nettles, another boy steps in. Nick has always been teased at school and doesn’t have any friends. He’s bigger than the other kids and talks almost like an adult. Frank isn’t sure she wants to be friends with Nick, but when she visits his home she hears strange music that makes her feel stronger and better. Frank snoops enough to find out Nick’s secret, one that is dangerous and puts them both at risk.

Harrold’s writing is exceptional. He writes about bullying with deep perception and understanding. The bullying scenes are intense and underscore the feeling of powerlessness combined with cruelty. Harrold also captures the way that one can think one thing in the gut in another in the head. Frank has a lot of difficult choices to make in the book, ones that put her own well-being before that of others. It’s particularly nice that Frank is not a great heroine. She manages to betray people, think of deserting them, wonder whether she should just walk away, and yet in the end is exactly the heroine that we all need to be. She is often not really likable either, and that makes the book work particularly well somehow.

Pinfold’s illustrations are swirls of darkness and shadow on the page. They menace and threaten, just like the bullies in the neighborhood. There’s an aspect of danger to all of them. They manage to be both intimate and distant, a dance of being the victim or the observer.

A novel that combines horror and fantasy into one dark summer, this book is simply amazing. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Bloomsbury.

The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship by Philip Pullman

The Adventures of John Blake Mystery of the Ghost Ship by Philip Pullman

The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship by Philip Pullman, illustrated by Fred Fordham (9781910989296, Amazon)

This is Philip Pullman’s first graphic novel and what a way to start! It is the story of the Mary Alice, a ship that is caught traveling through time. Her crew is from all over the world and from all parts of time. But they are in danger as one of the most powerful men in the modern day is searching for them because the boy on board the Mary Alice, John Blake, knows his secret and could ruin him. When an Australian girl falls off of her family’s boat, she is rescued by John and taken aboard the Mary Alice. Now she has a chance to save them in return, if she can.

Pullman’s graphic novel reads like a film script. It is full of guns, explosions, and fights that make it a wild read. Then there is the historical piece to it, something that slows the intense momentum and makes the book warmer and more vital. Add in the touch of ghostly science fiction that moves the ship through time and you have a rich mix of genres that is impossible to stop reading.

Fordham’s art is done in full color, rich and vibrant on the page. His art is clear and precise, offering children reading this book a real feel of adult graphic novels. There is no cuteness here, just a realistic science fiction ghost story that is exactly what will lead young readers to search for more graphic novels and comics to read.

Get this into the hands of children who love super hero comics and they will fall hard for John Blake and the Mary Alice. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

 

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby (9780062306937, Amazon)

This first book in a series introduces readers to an alternative New York City, filled with amazing machines built by the Morningstarr twins in the 1800’s. There are servant robots, skyscrapers, elevators that don’t just go up and down, beetle-machines that clean the roads, and many more. The Morningstarrs left behind a cipher to be solved that would lead to treasure, and even though people have worked for cipher for over fifty years, no solution has been found. Tess, Theo and Jaime live in one of the Morningstarr buildings that is unfortunately slated to be torn down. While their families scramble to find somewhere new to live, the three of them discover a potential new cipher that may lead them to the treasure and save the building they love. Now they just have to solve it.

Ruby has beautifully weaved an alternative New York City in this novel. She imagines it filled with amazing technology that has a magical element to it. It’s rather like magic-powered steampunk. She combines this with riddles and ciphers, puzzles to work out and then provides distinct villains to fight as well. The result is a book that is entirely delightful to read and impossible to put down as one new discovery immediately leads to another.

The three main characters are strongly written and offer a diverse cast. Tess keeps up and surpasses the boys at times, offering a strong feminist take on events as she does so. All of them are exceedingly bright in their own way, from being logical and sometimes robotic to looking at the world through art. There is a celebration of different intelligence types here that is great to see.

This mix of magic, technology, mysteries and ciphers is exceptional and just right for summer reading. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Walden Pond Press.

 

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge (9781419724848, Amazon)

Neverfell was discovered as a child in the depths of Grandible’s cheese caverns. She had no memory of where she came from and for the next seven years spent her time solely with Grandible who insisted that if they did have a rare visitor that she cover her face. Neverfell knew she was hideous in some way, so she complied. Then one day, she discovered a way out of Grandible’s caverns and into the larger world of Caverna, a subterranean city whose wealth came from the magical items that could be produced there, like Grandible’s cheeses, perfumes that would make you irresistible and wines that could alter memory. Neverfell found herself in a world of people with faces that were taught and learned and that did not express the emotions they were feeling. Neverfell’s own face though did not do that, her expressions shifted with her feelings, something that made her unique and valuable, but also a threat.

This book was nominated for the Carnegie Medal in 2013 and has finally made its way to the United States. A new book from Hardinge is always a treat with her impressive world building and immense creativity. Entering Caverna is an adventure and the details and wonders found inside are wildly inventive and amazing. There is an intense richness to the writing, one that serves to suck you deep into the caverns and not want to emerge again for a long time. Hardinge mixes so many elements here that it’s amazing that it continues to be a story that not only makes sense but is entirely riveting.

Neverfell is an incredible protagonist and unique in the story. Still it is the world building here that kept my attention throughout the book. From the dark corners of cheesemaking to the green satin of the wealthy of society, from the menace of a master thief to the dominion of those who will retain power at all costs. From the insanity of the man who will not sleep to the slavery of the drudges. It is so complicated and so incredibly well done.

A masterpiece of fantasy writing, this book is rather like the True Delicacies of the novel, something that may change your life forever. Appropriate for ages 11-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld

Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld

Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld, illustrated by Alex Puvilland (9781596439368, Amazon)

Addison lives inside the protected border of the Spill Zone, where an event changed the city of Poughkeepsie. No one is allowed into the spill zone, but Addison has found a way to support herself and her younger sister by taking photographs of the strange things happening inside the city. A certain energy keeps the dead floating in the are with glowing eyes, creates strange wolf-like lightning creatures, makes designs out of objects and flattens others into the ground. Addison has only a couple of rules that keep her alive, like not getting off of her motorcycle and never entering the hospital where her parents died. Soon though, a strange woman who has been collecting Addison’s photographs offers her a huge payout for Addison to take on a dangerous mission and break all of her own safety rules.

Westerfeld excels at creating parallel worlds for readers to explore. This graphic novel is no exception, inviting readers to ride fast alongside Addison into a confusing and neon-bright world with rules all its own. Westerfeld combines horror elements and science fiction in this graphic novel, a combination that is vastly appealing and allows Westerfeld to twist and change the world, filling it with surprises that either delight or dismay. Perhaps the best of these is the doll that Addison’s younger sister has that comes alive thanks to energy in the Spill Zone, a secret that Addison isn’t aware of.

The art of the graphic novel is crucial to bringing Westerfeld’s twisted world to life. The play of normalcy against the dangers and horrors of the Spill Zone makes both of them darker and even stranger. The elements of the Spill Zone splash across the page in a blaze of color and oddities. One both wants to return to that area and also avoid it, thanks to the depiction on the pages.

A very successful first book in a new graphic novel series, this one will be popular with Westerfeld fans and fans of horror and sci fi. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

 

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk (9781101994856, Amazon)

The author of Wolf Hollow returns with her second novel for young people.  This is a novel of the Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts where Crow has lived all of her life. She lives on a solitary island with Osh, the man who found her afloat in a little boat when she was a newborn baby.  The others on the islands won’t associate with Crow, since they all assume that she came from a nearby island that was a leper hospital. Miss Maggie is the exception, she cares fiercely for Crow and makes sure that she learns what she needs to despite not being able to attend school. As Crow starts to piece together her own history, she exposes those she loves to new dangers that are far worse than the storms of nature they weather together.

Wolk once again has created a novel that brings a place to life. Here she has chosen the Elizabeth Islands and the islands themselves feature prominently in the story both in terms of their isolation but also in their beauty. The islands serve as shelter, home, a source of fuel and food, and a community as well. The island with the hospital for lepers insures that Crow is even more isolated than the rest of the community due to the questions of her past. It’s a brilliant setting, one of the best that I have ever read where each page is a reflection of the sea and the islands.

Crow is a dazzlingly great heroine. She is strong and independent, determined to figure things out even as those around her give up. She pieces together clues from the mystery of her past, a mystery that permeates the entire novel even after it is solved. Crow is anxious to learn of her history and throughout the novel explores questions of identity and family of love and betrayal. It’s a novel that swirls and eddies, displaying beauty and dangers in turn.

This is a beautifully written and deep novel for middle grade readers who will long to visit Crow’s island themselves. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton Books for Young Readers.