Fall 2021 Middle School Featured Books Summaries

Up for Air by Laurie Morrison

Thirteen-year-old Annabelle struggles in school, no matter how hard she tries. But as soon as she dives into the pool, she’s unstoppable. She’s the fastest girl on the middle school swim team, and when she’s asked to join the high school team over the summer, everything changes. Suddenly, she’s got new friends, and a high school boy starts treating her like she’s somebody special—and Annabelle thinks she’ll finally stand out in a good way. She’ll do anything to fit in and help the team make it to the Labor Day Invitational, even if it means blowing off her old friends. But after a prank goes wrong, Annabelle is abandoned by the older boy and can’t swim. Who is she without the one thing she’s good at?  

Closer to Nowhere by Ellen Hopkins

For the most part, Hannah's life is just how she wants it. She has two supportive parents, she's popular at school, and she's been killing it at gymnastics. But when her cousin Cal moves in with her family, everything changes. Cal tells half-truths and tall tales, pranks Hannah constantly, and seems to be the reason her parents are fighting more and more. Nothing is how it used to be. She knows that Cal went through a lot after his mom died and she is trying to be patient, but most days Hannah just wishes Cal never moved in. For his part, Cal is trying his hardest to fit in, but not everyone is as appreciative of his unique sense of humor and storytelling gifts as he is. Humor and stories might be his defense mechanism, but if Cal doesn't let his walls down soon, he might push away the very people who are trying their best to love him. Told in verse from the alternating perspectives of Hannah and Cal, this is a story of two cousins who are more alike than they realize and the family they both want to save.

Efren Divided by Ernest Cisneros

Seventh grader Efren’s favorite spot to read is the bathtub. When he wants to hide from his twin siblings, that’s where he retreats, though the smell of Ama’s delicious sopas always has a way of drawing him out. To Efren, his mother is truly a superwoman! Living undocumented in the United States, Ama and Apa both work hard to provide a better life for their children. Although their apartment is small and money is tight, Efren knows he has a lot to be thankful for. But one day, everything changes. An ICE raid at the supermarket where his mother works has resulted in her deportation back to Mexico. When his father takes on a second job to make ends meet, Efren becomes the primary caregiver for Mia and Max, his younger brother and sister. Unsure of how much information about his mother’s fate to give them, Efren tries his best to keep them safe, fed, and doing their schoolwork. This extra responsibility when combined with the uncertainty of figuring out which friends and adults to trust with his secret may be more than this middle schooler is prepared to handle. A timely story of the impact of today’s immigration challenges on one family and one young man.   

Bloom by Kenneth Oppel

The invasion begins, but not as you might expect. It begins with rain – rain that carry seeds – seeds that quickly sprout into strange, black, pointy plants that first appear all over the remote island where teens Anya, Petra, and Seth live. No one can kill the plants or the long snakelike vines that spring from them. These plants take over the crop fields, twine up houses, and burrow below the streets. They bloom and form pods capable of consuming animals and even people! Only the three teens, each of which has an unusual allergy, seem immune to these toxic invaders. What is their secret? Can they somehow be the key to stopping this deadly invasion that has spread across the world? They better figure it out quickly because it’s starting to rain again! This is the first in a can’t put it down or read it fast enough trilogy that will appeal to even the most reluctant of readers.

Speechless by Adam Schmitt

It is the day before the wake when thirteen year old Jimmy’s parents tell him that he must give a short eulogy for his same age cousin, Patrick. Jimmy immediately resists as he can’t imagine any positive remarks he can make about Patrick, as the cousin had done nothing but ruin many special moments in Jimmy’s life. He can’t recall one birthday party, family gathering or school event with Patrick that didn’t result in injury or destruction. Leading up to the time of the funeral, these reflections help Jimmy gain a more objective perspective of how troubled Patrick really was, perhaps not just the intentionally destructive person he appeared to be on the surface. A heartfelt look at the complexity of family and the feelings that go along with it.

The Assignment by Liza Wiemer

High school seniors Logan and Cade are stunned when their favorite history teacher gives the class a shocking assignment. The students are to take on the role of Nazis and reenact the Wannsee Conference of 1942, each taking a side in the “debate” about the Final Solution to the Jewish population. Logan and Cade protest the assignment, first with their teacher and then with the principal. Students quickly take sides, some asserting that the class debate will glorify the Nazis and their actions while others see it as simply an exploration of an actual historical event. As the protests grow, members of their small New England town become involved in the controversy as well, with some demanding that the teacher be fired. An unexpected discovery by Cade makes the issue even more personal and he must take a stand for what he believes. Inspired by a real-life incident, this look at how to examine the unsettling events in our history will challenge readers to look at their own opinions and values. A must-read for teachers and students.   

Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles

It’s the first day of summer and Rachel's thirteenth birthday. She can't wait to head to the lake with her best friend, Micah. But as summer unfolds, every day seems to get more complicated. Her “fun” new job taking care of the neighbors’ farm animals quickly becomes a challenge, whether she’s being pecked by chickens or having to dodge a charging pig at feeding time. At home, her parents are more worried about money than usual, and their arguments over bills intensify. Fortunately, Rachel can count on Micah to help her cope with all the stress. But Micah seems to want their relationship to go beyond friendship, and though Rachel almost wishes for that, too, she can’t force herself to feel “that way” about him. In fact, she isn’t sure she can feel that way about any boy — or what that means. A heartfelt story about friendship and family struggles that shows that there aren’t always easy answers to hard questions.  

The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History : The Story of the Monuments Men by Robert Edsel

As the most destructive war in history raged in Europe, many of the world’s most cherished cultural objects were in harm’s way. Under the direction of Adolf Hitler, Herman Goring and their henchmen, valuable works of art were being systematically stolen from German, French and Italian museums, churches and the homes of Jewish families. With a photo-biography of the cast of characters, both Allied and Axis, the book’s profuse black and white photos bring history to life. The book, an adaptation of the adult bestseller for younger readers, tells the story of how 11 dedicated military and civilian men and women fought to rescue and preserve these priceless articles. Museum curators, art scholars, educators, archivists and artists, collectively known as the Monuments Men, risked their lives amidst the bloodshed of World War II to discover the secret depositories including damaged churches, warehouses, caves and mines. A non-fiction must-read for history and mystery lovers.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

Seventh grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Tristan is dreading the month he’s going to spend on his grandparents’ farm in Alabama where he’s being sent to heal from the tragedy. But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie’s notebook. Tristan chases after it and a tug of war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal from the creature, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world. Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American folk heroes like John Henry exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes with a price. This first in an epic fantasy series populated with African American .