Macy Weaver has trouble keeping friendships, and as readers quickly discover, most of this is her fault. Whenever she meets someone she likes and wants to be accepted by, she starts to copy them — their style, preferences, and even mannerisms — and sometimes pretends to be someone she isn’t to impress them. This usually puts off her new friends. Unfortunately, when her family moves from South Carolina to Maryland, Macy continues this behavior.
Bea is winning at being a shortstop, finally making headway with her crush, and is excited to go to summer camp with her friends when her dad’s legal license is suspended in a town scandal. Suddenly, she develops a case of the yips and begs her parents to send her to another softball summer camp on Gray Island, where her mom grew up. Throughout the summer, Bea learns more about her parents’ previous marriages and other secrets.
After she and her dad move from Brooklyn to Florida, Bree is excited for her first day in middle school. But also, she’s super anxious about whether she’ll make friends and fit in. Thankfully, she makes a new friend in the housing complex where they live. Unfortunately, when Bree goes to choose her math club elective, it’s fully booked. As a math lover who can’t swim, she’s crushed to hear that the only elective left is swim 101.
Jillian is a shy fifth grader put to the test when her teacher suggests she join the Mind Bender quiz competition in her school. Her class is also learning about chick development and incubating a few too! As Jillian works to improve her mindset and use her voice, she also has to deal with the grief of losing her grandmother, her mom’s lupus flares, and helping out a friend dealing with his own family challenges. Will Jillian get it right?
Alex is looking forward to spending the summer (as she’s always done) with her best friend, Will. Will’s mother runs the concession stand at their community pool, and both kids have spent several summers playing games at the pool. This summer, though, a schoolmate named Rebekah has eyes for Will — and him for her! As Rebekah and Will begin a tentative crush-friendship, Alex feels threatened and ropes Will into a big summer project (building their treehouse) for which they’ll need several summer jobs to afford building supplies. Surprisingly to Alex, Rebekah also wants to be her friend too. Can Alex get over her jealousy and other issues in her life to figure out this summer friendship drama?
In A Galaxy of Sea Stars, we meet Izzy whose dad recently returned from a deployment in Afghanistan and is dealing with PTSD while trying to build a new business since he won’t be returning to the war front. Izzy’s mother is away on a neighboring island, taking time away from her marriage under the guise of helping out an extended family member. Izzy herself is feeling a bit lost as her friend group “the sea stars” seems to be changing and Zelda, the queen bee of the group is trying to keep them together by making all three of them join the school’s broadcasting club. As if things aren’t hard enough, Izzy’s dad introduces her to a friend who’s just moved from Afghanistan with his family and Izzy seems to be saddled with befriending their daughter Sitara who will be attending the same school. Sitara wears a hijab and seems so different from anyone Izzy knows. As Izzy’s friendship issues and Sitara’s being bullied at school collide, Izzy will learn what it means to be brave.
11-year-old Aurora Petrequin’s life changes when she befriends Frenchie Livernois, a new neighbor her age who doesn’t speak. Frenchie is on the autism spectrum, but immediately feels comfortable with Aurora who can’t seem to stop talking or control or impulse to interrupt others. Both kids enjoy nature and Frenchie is especially fond of birds. But when they move into a new grade, they’re placed in different classes and Frenchie is assigned an aide. Aurora starts to feel guilty as she makes new friends and can’t devote all her attention to her friendship with Frenchie. The guilt intensifies when Frenchie goes missing one day.
A Song Called Home is YA author Sara Zarr’s middle grade debut. It follows Lou as her mom remarries a man named Steve. Lou and her sister Casey have to move from the city to the suburbs to live with Steve, leaving behind their old schools and Lou’s best friend Beth Tsai. Forming this new family is hard on Lou and Casey for different reasons. Lou feels like she’s leaving their alcoholic father behind and Casey worries that Steve is being too nice and the “real Steve” will show up soon. On the day before their move (which is also Lou’s birthday) Lou finds a guitar right outside their old apartment addressed to her. Convinced it’s from her dad, she starts learning to play guitar to maintain that bond with him. As they all navigate the blending of their families, Lou learns about herself and what family truly means.
Golden Girl is Reem Faruqi’s sophomore middle grade novel. I liked her debut, Unsettled, but I loved this one. Afiyah has a problem with taking things (seemed like kleptomania) even when she tries really hard not to. Fortunately, she’s often remorseful and returns the stolen items. She’s shaken when her father is wrongfully arrested for embezzlement at the airport during a family trip. The situation puts a strain on her family and moves Afiyah to strongly examine her tendency to steal — especially after she gets caught in the act.
Socially anxious sixth-grader Autumn is having a rough start to middle school. Her best friend Prisha has moved to California and her father has left their family to serve in the Peace Corps in Ecuador (I know, I know). It’s just her mother and little sister living in their tiny apartment up the stairs of the veterinary hospital where her mother works.
Somehow, she makes two new friends in the first week of school — one boy named Cooper and a girl named Logan. But Logan thinks Cooper is weird, so Autumn has to navigate the fact that her friends don’t get along. On top of that, she really wants to write for the Dear Student column in her school’s newspaper — and she does! But when Autumn gives advice that polarizes her friends even more, she’s not sure how she’ll ever make it work.
Besties Beth and Chanda need to find a way to earn some money. Beth wants to give her mom a spa day while Chanda needs money to adopt a new pet (and prove herself responsible to her parents who are constantly comparing her to her big sister). But when the two land a house-sitting gig, they end up breaking their employer’s prized possession. Can they fix the problem without losing their friendship and reputation?
Middle-grade books about friendship are always in high demand because what’s more pressing to a middle-schooler than friendship drama? These middle-grade books about friendship highlight the struggles of forming friendships, the challenges of maintaining a friendship, and of course, the joys of true friendships.