Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge: I bought this one from the UK, believing that it wasn’t going to be published over here. But I was wrong! And you should all buy it when it comes out next year, because it is one of Hardinge’s best books: eerie, beautiful, and haunted by history’s ghosts. Hardinge writes some of the most complex middle grade books out there but what I love most are her strong characters and this one is no exception.
Jinx’s Magic by Sage Blackwood: A welcome sequel to Jinx, this one continues the story and characters but adds new complications. It’s a book that’s thoughtful without being preachy, and exciting without being thoughtless. I liked it quite a bit and can’t wait for the third book to come out next year (what is happening to Simon? inquiring minds wish to know!). [Full disclosure–Sage Blackwood is a Twitter friend and a lovely person, but I liked her books before I knew her.]
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor: I loved Cassie Logan’s story and its complexities. I wish it didn’t seem quite so prescient (I read it in March, long before August and Michael Brown’s murder), but I am glad to have read it and grateful for its hardness and its beauty both.
How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle: How I Became a Ghost is a heart-wrenching book, but a wonderful one. It brings a tragic period of history to life and at the same time, it refuses to be defined by that sadness. It’s also an unexpectedly funny book and I loved Isaac and his voice.
Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami: This book and its sequel are some of the most delightful I’ve read all year. I loved Dini and her transition from America to India, and how it feels to leave your best friend behind. I loved Dolly and the slightly-larger-than life plot that seemed really perfect for the Bollywood echoes. Most of all, this is a book that I really enjoyed reading and I’m hoping for more of Dini’s adventures.
The Lulu series by Hilary McKay: Hilary McKay’s Lulu books are a bit like Krishnaswami’s in that they are completely delightful books about a young girl with a strong interest. In Lulu’s case, it is animals, a love which leads her into (and out of) many sticky situations. I love the gentleness of these books, and of course they are hilarious because they’re written by Hilary McKay!
Greenglass House by Kate Milford: This is partly one of my favorite books of the year because I had almost a perfect reading experience with it. But it’s also a lovely book–I called it elegant in my original review and I think that’s still true. I loved the descriptions of Greenglass House itself, and the puzzle of the plot and characters. It’s a bit Westing Game, a bit RPG, a bit locked room mystery, but it’s also greater than the sum of its parts.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander: I’m often wary of novels-in-verse, but Alexander’s is wonderful. Short poems–some of which are lyrical and somber, some of which are bubbling over with enjoyment. I found myself genuinely moved at Josh’s voice and story and I thought the ending was beautiful.
* Disclaimer: my discussion of the Cybils-nominated books on this list should be taken as my personal opinion only