This book follows 12-year-old Ariel whose life is upturned when her big sister (the best of them all), Leah, elopes with her Indian-American boyfriend after the Loving vs. Virginia ruling. Ariel’s parents are upset, Ariel is struggling with being able to write well at school, and she can’t stop thinking about her sister and everything happening in the world.
When Madrigal’s (Maddie) older brother, Strum, goes missing from his college campus, her musical family loses its harmony. Her French mother is distraught — broken for the first time as Maddie has never seen her. Her piano playing father doesn’t even touch his instrument, and her fiery sister retreats into a rebellious funk, drinking and partying, even though she’s only 16. Maddie tries to keep everything together: focus on her oboe lessons and compulsive counting that calms her mind. But when her parents leave to look for Strum and Maddie is left with Aria, things seem hopeless.
Kitty Wentworth is grappling with the grief of losing her mother to lung cancer (even though she never smoked). Her older sister Imogen seems to be coping better and her dad just seems a bit lost. Thankfully, they have their grandmother and a baking enthusiast neighbor Ms. Allison to keep their moods up and care for them. Ms. Allison is also gearing up to start filming The Great British Bake-Off as a contestant. But Kitty’s world shifts when her father gets a work opportunity in New York and wants her and Imogen to move.
Thirteen-year-old Olivia is excited about going on a road trip back to California with her sister and their uncle and aunt. Their family moved to Tennessee from California three years ago, and the girls had buried a time capsule before their move. Olivia’s big sister Ruth is now 16 and clinically depressed. She has good and bad days and is on medication to manage her depression. Olivia feels responsible for Ruth’s happiness and has a plan to recover their time capsule, while doing a photo project during their trip to remind Ruth of good times and make her just a little happier. But she soon finds out that with mental illness, it’s not always so simple.
Krista is an almost-12-year-old living in Vancouver, Canada. Her best friend since kindergarten is a redheaded boy named Jason. Jason enjoys Korean food, even kimchi, which has a strong smell. Although both of her parents are Korean, Krista’s mom does not cook a lot of Korean food. Her paternal grandmother though, always makes and brings them Korean food. Sadly, however, it seems that Grandma prefers Krista’s teen sister Tori to her. Tori is interested in fashion and makeup, and isn’t the biggest fan of Korean food. Krista on the other hand, prefers her worn jeans and sneakers, which Grandma does not like.
Rigel has 365 days to Alaska. After her parents split up, her mom moves Rigel and her two sisters from their Alaskan bush living to Connecticut where their grandmother lives. At first, Rigel hates it in the Connecticut suburbs, even though her sisters seem to be having a better time. They’re excited about the comforts of running water, a television, and malls, among other things. But Rigel yearns for the quiet of bush life, wants to return to the simplicity of hunting animals for food, and being with her dad. So her father promises her that in a year, when he’s earned a bit of money from working, Rigel can return to live with him in Alaska.
Winnie and Ingrid Lopez are the first Latino First Daughters and their Papa’s tenure is just about done. The President-Elect (and first Female African-American President) has twin daughters Skylar and Zora. In a never-before-done move-in style, the Lopez’s allow the Williams family to move in with them seven weeks ahead of inauguration.
The Lopez girls have mixed feelings about leaving the White House after spending most of their childhood there. Twelve-year-old Winnie is eager to get away from under the public gaze and the pressure to be perfect, whereas 11-year-old Ingrid is sad to be leaving everything behind. Both girls decide to play some good-natured pranks on the Williams girls who are nervous about stepping into their new roles as First Daughters. When the Williams girls retaliate, it becomes a full-on prank war as both sets of daughters try to outdo each other.
Serena Says was high on my list of anticipated middle-grade books this fall. It was also the first time I read anything by author Tanita Davis. Serena’s best friend JC has to take a break from school for a kidney transplant, and Serena is looking forward to visiting her in the hospital after the surgery, as school ambassador. But when she catches a cold, her hopes are deflated as another girl Lani is sent instead of her. After the visit, Serena notices that Lani and JC have developed a friendship, and her relationship with JC seems to have diminished in intensity.
Throughout the story, Serena works on finding a good place in her friendship with JC while balancing working with Lani, Harrison, Cameron, and the other kids in her school and senate.
I fell for The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling just for its name alone. Thankfully, the premise is equally as captivating. Anna Chiu is a high schooler who has her hands full caring for her little brother and sort of watching over her younger teen sister. Their father runs a restaurant in a nearby town (about two hours away by car) and their mother is so depressed, she hasn’t gotten out of bed in weeks. When Anna convinces her dad to let her work at their restaurant on weekends, she starts a relationship with Rory, the new delivery boy.
As Anna gets to know Rory (and his own mental illness struggles), things at home go from bad to worse. Anna’s mother gets out of bed, but begins acting erratic and her relationship with her sister, as well as their father becomes strained as Anna has to step in to provide her mother the support she needs.
Today’s pick is Hena Khan’s most recent middle-grade book More to the Story, a retelling of the beloved Little Women. I’ve never read Little Women, but I adored this book, which was one of my best books in 2019. Sisters Jameela, Bisma, Maryam and Aleeza are distraught when their father has to move abroad for work — and then one of the sisters falls ill. This is a truly heartwarming, feel-good book featuring a Pakistani-American Muslim family.
If you or your kids loved this book, here are more books like More to the Story.
In The Code for Love and Heartbreak, Emma Woodhouse, math genius and co-president of her school’s coding club creates dating app for her classmates. Emma has poor social skills and doesn’t read social cues as well as her peers, although it’s never specifically mentioned whether she is on the autism spectrum. She genuinely believes that math and compatibility based on interests will help people find romantic partners. At first, the app is working well, and the entire coding club is on board to present their work at a competition later in the year. But then things start to go downhill.
Twins Maureen and Francine Carter have always done everything together, but things have changed as they’re starting sixth grade. For one, they have nearly all their classes apart from each other, and Francine is dressing differently, trying to stand out from her twin Maureen
The girls are still figuring out their new dynamic when Francine decides to run for student council, and by some stroke of fate, her shy, terrified-of-public-speaking sister is also running for president. Despite the ground rules laid by their parents, things get a bit messy as both girls try to establish their personal identities while fighting to reconcile their relationship as twins and sisters.