A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson: This was one of my most anticipated books this year, and it totally lived up to my expectations. Isaveth is a great character, and the plot is exciting and engaging. Plus, the story takes a thoughtful look at religion and class. AND there are some quiet references to Golden Age mysteries.
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste: Baptiste’s second book is a perfectly scary one for this age level, drawing on stories from her background in Trinidad. I loved Corinne’s strength and stubbornness, and the way she learns to reach out to others, as well as coming to terms with her family’s past and her heritage.
Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry: I debated on whether to put this one in YA or middle grade, but in the end I stuck it here because I think that the right 13-14 year old reader is going to adore this story. It sounds sort of awful to say that I laughed the whole time, since it opens with a double murder, but I did. I loved the relationships between the girls and the mystery, and just the whole thing.
The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall: It’s no secret that I love the Penderwicks, and I was curious and apprehensive about how this one would go, since it jumps several years time-wise. I ended up loving it just as much as the others–maybe even more so–although it’s also more heartbreaking.
Jinx’s Fire by Sage Blackwood: The third book in the lovely Jinx trilogy. I’ve enjoyed spending time in the Urwald and with the characters in this series so much. Jinx himself is a great protagonist, but add in Sophie, and Simon, and Elfwyn, and the whole book becomes so much richer. Great mg fantasy which kids love!
Tall Story by Candy Gourlay: This had been on my TBR for awhile, but when my friend Chachic hosted a month-long promotion of Filipino books and authors, I knew I had to pick it up. Told in alternating narratives between Andi and her half-brother Nardo, it focuses mostly on family and what happens when your definition has to change. I really liked the way Gourlay portrayed both Nardo and Andi, as they learn to find their own strengths.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson: While they are totally understandable (and even correct), the comparisons to Raina Telgemeier’s books shouldn’t overshadow the fact that this is a delightful story in its own right. I really appreciated the way Jamieson shows Astrid’s struggle as she tries to find her place when her world is changing around her. I also liked that she’s not instantly good at roller derby, and the nuances of her friendships.
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones: An epistolary novel, as written by Sophie. Sophie has just moved with her parents to her great-uncle’s small farm, and isn’t happy about this. But then she discovers a mysterious chicken and strange events begin to unfold. This is a lovely example of magical realism, both funny and heartwarming. I truly enjoyed Sophie’s adventures and hope she’ll be back for more.
The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye: Nye’s quiet realistic story of a young boy who is moving to the US from Oman was a total joy. It’s a book that should be savored, and it’s one that takes the interior life of children seriously. Nye’s language is beautiful (not surprising as she’s also a poet) and the fears and hopes of moving are nicely drawn.
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor: It took me so long to actually read this one, and I’m glad I did and sorry I waited. Sunny’s journey as she comes into her powers and herself is a really wonderful one, and I loved the relationships between her and the other magical students. I’m hoping there will eventually be a sequel.
The Fog Diver by Joel Ross: Sometimes I find mg dystopia stories a little bit simplistic, but this one is smart and engaging. Although Chess is the narrator and main character, I really did feel that the story was a shared one. The idea of the Fog is an interesting one, and the way it’s used in the story worked really well for me.
Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens: A middle-grade murder mystery set in a 1930s English boarding school, narrated by the wonderful Hazel Wong. This is a UK import and I had been hearing good things about it. It’s ended up being one of my favorites of the year by far. I love Hazel and her funniness, her fierceness and introspection, as she attempts to navigate being Daisy’s best friend, being from Hong Kong–and also solving a mystery. The second book is just as good!
Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon: An utterly delightful fantasy. Molly is a witch who needs a castle, and Castle Hangnail is a castle that needs a master or mistress. But neither of them get quite what they expect. This is wickedly funny, but it’s also about choosing our paths and finding our places.
Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia: The last book in the Gaither sisters trilogy! I can’t say how much I love Delphine, and Vonetta and Fern. I felt that each book was deep and complex, and this one really looked at the shadows that family history can cast. The sisters gain a different understanding of Big Ma, and of themselves.