Title: Shadow Weaver
Author: MarcyKate Connolly
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Publication Date: January 2, 2018
Fans of Serafina and the Black Cloak and The Night Gardener will devour Shadow Weaver, the first in a dark middle-grade fantasy duology that’s filled with shadows, danger, magic, and has the feel of a new classic.
Emmeline’s gift of controlling shadows has isolated her from the rest of the world, but she’s grown to be content, hidden away in her mansion with Dar, her own shadow, as her only company.
Disaster strikes when a noble family visits their home and offers to take Emmeline away and cure her of magic. Desperate not to lose her shadows, she turns to Dar who proposes a deal: Dar will change the noble’s mind, if Emmeline will help her become flesh as she once was. Emmeline agrees but the next morning the man in charge is in a coma and all that the witness saw was a long shadow with no one nearby to cast it. Scared to face punishment, Emmeline and Dar run away.
With the noble’s guards on her trail, Emmeline’s only hope of clearing her name is to escape capture and perform the ritual that will set Dar free. But Emmeline’s not sure she can trust Dar anymore, and it’s hard to keep secrets from someone who can never leave your side.
I was immediately drawn to this story because of its cover and premise, and I wasn’t let down when I finally got to sit down and read it.
The writing style was both lyrical and simple enough for reluctant readers. Fans of Connolly will embrace the familiarity in the style and the dark but magical quality in every word and plot choice.
Emmeline is a flawed character, but one to root for. Her relationship with Dar, and the idea of a battle between darkness and light, isn’t a new idea, but it’s an important one I love seeing in middle grade, this fresh take on displaying this theme was well done. I especially liked Lucas and Emmeline together. Following them through their adventures kept the pages turning all the way to the satisfying, but teasing, conclusion.
Title: Tess of the Road
Author: Rachel Hartman
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: February 27, 2018
In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons get to be whomever they want. Tess, stubbornly, is a troublemaker. You can’t make a scene at your sister’s wedding and break a relative’s nose with one punch (no matter how pompous he is) and not suffer the consequences. As her family plans to send her to a nunnery, Tess yanks on her boots and sets out on a journey across the Southlands, alone and pretending to be a boy.
Where Tess is headed is a mystery, even to her. So when she runs into an old friend, it’s a stroke of luck. This friend is a quigutl–a subspecies of dragon–who gives her both a purpose and protection on the road. But Tess is guarding a troubling secret. Her tumultuous past is a heavy burden to carry, and the memories she’s tried to forget threaten to expose her to the world in more ways than one.
Right away I loved the folk tale feel of this story. It pulled me in and felt classic and fresh all at once. As a Seraphina fan I was eagerly awaiting my chance to dive into this story. But to be clear, while Tess is set in the same world, all of the characters are new and this story feels much heavier and darker.
There is so much to love about this story. Hartman’s writing is, as always, on point. This book is not for the reluctant reader though because the prose and the fantastical elements are not simple or easy, which isn’t a good or bad thing, just something I feel should be mentioned in a review for young readers.
The messages in this book are quite mature, but not ones children shouldn’t be aware of. I think readers of all ages will root for Tess in all of her complexity and vulnerability, and get lost in her quest and adventure. Tess grows as a character and like any good middle grade protagonist, she needs to discover her strengths and weaknesses and put them together to become the person she was meant to be.
I love this world and this new important story that has been told within it.
Title: Once You Know This
Author: Emily Blejwas
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 19, 2017
A girl wishes for a better life for herself, her mom, and her baby brother and musters the courage to make it happen in this moving and emotionally satisfying story for readers of Kate DiCamillo and Lynda Mullaly Hunt.
Eleven-year-old Brittany knows there has to be a better world out there. Lately, though, it sure doesn’t feel like it. She and her best friend, Marisol, stick together at school, but at home Brittany’s granny is sick, her cat is missing, there’s never any money, and there’s her little brother, Tommy, to worry about. Brittany has a hard time picturing her future as anything but a plain white sky. If her life is going to ever change, she needs a plan. And once she starts believing in herself, Brittany realizes that what has always seemed out of reach might be just around the corner.
This debut novel by Emily Blejwas is perfect for readers who love emotionally satisfying books. Thoughtful and understated, it’s the hopeful story of a girl who struggles to make her future bright . . . and the makeshift family that emerges around her.
It’s no secret I’m a fan of middle grade that addresses tough issues but inspire hope at the same time. This book checks off all the boxes of what makes a compelling story for me: Lovable characters, real-life issues, real-life reactions, lovely prose, messages about believing in your dreams and finding yourself.
While the content may be tough for some young readers, with the proper conversations with trusted adults, there are important lessons to be learned.
I loved this heart-warming story and am inclined to pick up any future book by this author.
Title: The Exact Location of Home
Author: Kate Messner
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Kirby “Zig” Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than most people–especially his father, who he hasn’t seen in over a year. When his dad’s latest visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo–a garage sale GPS unit–for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town to explain his absence, Zig sets out to find him. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon discovers that people aren’t always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there’s more than one set of coordinates for home.
An important story of love and hope that will capture readers’ hearts, The Exact Location of Home is another must read from beloved author Kate Messner.
I haven’t picked up a Kate Messner book that I didn’t like, that’s why it’s funny I didn’t pick this one up when it first came out years ago. But I’m so glad I found it this time around. This story has all the elements I love about a Messner story and so much more.
My boys are obsessed with the geocaching right now, so it was fun to see the theme of this story advanced through this device. Zig was such a lovable little guy with so many qualities that made him feel real, and not created. I wanted him to be safe in his secret and to find everything he was looking for.
Again, there are some tough topic involved, but I don’t think they are insensitively handled or unnecessarily told. This story stole my heart and will definitely be one I re-read in the future.
Title: Stars Beneath Our Feet
Author: David Barclay Moore
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 17, 2017
It’s Christmas Eve in Harlem, but twelve-year-old Lolly Rachpaul and his mom aren’t celebrating. They’re still reeling from his older brother’s death in a gang-related shooting just a few months earlier. Then Lolly’s mother’s girlfriend brings him a gift that will change everything: two enormous bags filled with Legos. Lolly’s always loved Legos, and he prides himself on following the kit instructions exactly. Now, faced with a pile of building blocks and no instructions, Lolly must find his own way forward.
His path isn’t clear–and the pressure to join a “crew,” as his brother did, is always there. When Lolly and his friend are beaten up and robbed, joining a crew almost seems like the safe choice. But building a fantastical Lego city at the community center provides Lolly with an escape–and an unexpected bridge back to the world.
Oh my goodness, this book made me FEEL so many things. I think it’s so important for middle grade books to both allow the reader to see themselves in it and introduce them to parts of the world and humanity that will make them a better person. This book does both.
Oh, Lolly. I wanted to hug him through the whole book … but he didn’t need me to, and that was part of his greatness. He navigated his trials and came out way better than I would have in his position.
The way the author balances tough topics with things a lot of kids can relate to as an escape (like Legos) was a brilliant touch.
Moore constructed his plot and paced it in a way so the reader worked through the pages the way Lolly built his creations. The dialogue was realistic and the bits of humor in the heaviness of the subject-matter was well-done.
Definitely one I’d recommend to the middle grade readers I know.