14-year-old Karthik Raghavan is spending his last summer of middle school delivering groceries for his father’s Indian grocery store. When he’s not playing delivery boy, he’s hanging out with his best friends and sneaking glances at his crush whenever he runs into her. It’s the early 2000s in Boston, Massachusett and the recession is leading to store closures. Karthik’s father’s store becomes at greater risk of closure when Juhi’s family opens an Indian restaurant (also selling pre-packaged ready-to-cook items). But the most interesting part of Karthik’s summer? A university student wants him to act as Leonard Bernstein in her play. Can Karthik deliver?
Meet Marco and Isaac. They’ve been besties for as long as they can remember and now they share one pain in common: both their dads aren’t in their lives as they’d like. Isaac’s dad is attentive but currently struggling with alcoholism. Marco’s dad wishes Marco were more athletic, instead of nerdy. At the start of middle school, both boys decide to help each other reach their goals. For Isaac, it’s getting better at more than just basketball — getting better grades and being more responsible. And for Marco, it’s learning a sport: basketball. Can they reach their goals? And will their friendship survive it?
The Swag Is in the Socks is Kelly J. Baptist’s newest middle grade offering. It stars young Xavier Moon whose parents are both incarcerated. Xavier is not the steal-the-spotlight kind of guy. He’s often in his room playing video games or watching stuff happen from his bedroom window. He also has a stutter that he’s working on — and he has braces. But the one thing Xavier really want to be a part of is the Scepter League, the elite after-school club that only accepts confident, exemplary tween boys. His father, great uncle, and grandfather are all alumni. But when Xavier doesn’t get in, he’s determined to prove to the club leaders that he can be a League boy. Fortunately, the cool socks that his great uncle Frankie Bell keeps sending him seem to be winning him popularity votes.
Middle grade books about male friendships have a special place in my heart. I especially love when these books have “no strings attached” i.e. nobody’s secretly in love with anyone — just a good ol’ bromance. For this list I’ve included books with my favorite middle grade boy friendships. As with any kind of friendship book list, you’ll find books about unlikely friendships, enemies turned friends, and life-long friendships. I also chose books where the friendship is a central part of the plot.
Yusuf Azeem is not a hero like his dad who talked down a gun man in their small-town A-Z Dollar Store. But his dad’s heroism doesn’t prevent him from getting worsening hateful notes in his locker telling him to “Go Home.” Yusuf and his friend Danial had expected that this would be their year — their entry into middle school and a chance to compete in a robotics contest. However, when some of the townspeople, including a group called the Patriot Sons try to stop the construction of their town’s mosque and begin to target Yusuf and other Muslims in the community, they are forced to take a stand.
Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero has been on my TBR for a while, so it was a pleasure to finally read it! Isaiah’s father has died, leaving behind Isaiah, his mom, and his younger sister, Charlie. Isaiah’s mom is so depressed she’s lost her job — and started drinking too many bottles of wine. Isaiah realizes that they need money if they’ll ever move out of the motel where they’ve had to live since being unable to pay for their home. Thankfully, Isaiah has his father’s books of poems, his best friend Sneaky who sells candy at school (and lets Isaiah be his business partner), and the kind people who look out for him once they realize he’s in need. In the end, will Isaiah be the hero of his story?