Spring 2022 Middle School Feature Titles Summaries

Starfish  by Lisa Fipps

Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she’s been bullied about her weight.  To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules – like “no making waves”, “avoid eating in public”, and “don’t move so fast that your body jiggles”.  And she’s found her safe space, her swimming pool, where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world.  In the water, she can stretch herself out like a starfish and take up all the room she wants.  It’s also where she can get away from her pushy mom, who thinks criticizing Ellie’s weight will motivate her to diet.  Fortunately, Ellie has allies in her dad, her therapist, and her new neighbor, Catalina, who loves Ellie for who she is.  With this support buoying her, Ellie might finally be able to cast aside the Fat Girl Rules and shine like a star in real life. 

The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman

It is 1986 in Pripyat, Ukraine and fifth-grade classmates Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko are sworn enemies.  At home, Oksana’s father physically abuses her and rails against the Jewish people, and at school Oksana bullies Valentina, who is Jewish.  But when a reactor explodes at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant where both girls’ fathers work, they find themselves thrown together in the tumultuous evacuation.  With a dead father and a hospitalized mother, Oksana’s only chance of safety is to accompany her classmate to Valentina’s grandmother’s home in distant Leningrad.  The warmth and compassion of Valentina and her grandmother shock Oksana, who begins to realize that everything her father told her about Jews was wrong – which means that maybe he was also wrong when he called Oksana weak and unlovable.  This story, told in Oksana’s and Valentina’s alternating perspectives is interspersed with a third perspective from 1941, that of Rifka, a Jewish girl fleeing Kiev and the advancing German army who finds shelter and friendship in Uzbekistan.  These tales ultimately intersect, presenting a deeply affecting testament to the power of unlikely friendship in the face of bias and tragedy.  

The Invisible Boy by Alyssa Hollingsworth

Nadia Quick’s father works at the Pentagon, her mother writes a successful blog for military wives, and her aunt is a lawyer.  The family has moved quite often and comic books provide inspiration for her.  Her mother’s very public postings and live streaming embarrass Nadia and she seeks solace in her favorite Superman comics and her idol, Lois Lane, the investigative reporter.  Determined to win the Junior Journalist Contest, Nadia, with her trusty canine Wonder Dog, begins her investigative inquiry by observing her neighborhood.  She soon discovers that a new boy who seems to appear out of nowhere to save a dog or rescue an elderly lady may be the mystery scoop she’s been looking for.  Why is this “Invisible Boy” always gardening, doesn’t attend school, and nervously hiding from all of the neighbors?  With the help of her aunt and a determination to put the pieces of this puzzle together, Nadia finds herself in the midst of a real-life situation that is far more dangerous than anything in her comic books.  An exploration of friendship and what it means to truly be brave. 

It’s Trevor Noah:  Born a Crime:  Stories From a South African Childhood Young Readers’s Edition by Trevor Noah

Comedian Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, is the son of a black South African mother and a white Swiss-German father.  He considers himself born a crime as under apartheid law in South Africa, interracial relationships and marriages were seen as illegal until the law’s decriminalization in 1985, a year after his birth.  Noah navigates through a childhood filled with poverty, discrimination, and uncertainty as a biracial person who does not know where he fits in under a racially stratified government.  His religious mother’s unwavering faith serves as the saving grace and guiding light in his life.  She sacrifices to ensure that he receives the best education as a means out of wayward behavior, hustling, and a life of crime.  Their mother-son relationship is severely tested with the addition of her new husband whose personal demons reveal themselves and lead to an unexpected turn of events.  With South Africa’s colonial and apartheid histories as background context, this nonfiction autobiography offers keen insight into the multiple facets of life in this country from the perspective of a well-known contemporary figure.  

Tornado Brain by Cat Patrick

Things never seem to go as easily for thirteen-year-old Frankie as they do for her sister, Tess.  Unlike Tess, Frankie is neurodivergent.  In her case, that means she can’t stand to be touched, loud noises bother her, she’s easily distracted, she hates changes in her routine and she has to go see a therapist while other kids get to hang out at the beach.  It also means Frankie has trouble making friends.  She did have one, Colette, but they’re not friends anymore.  It’s complicated.  Then, just weeks before the end of seventh grade, Colette unexpectedly shows up at Frankie’s door.  The next morning, Colette vanishes.  Now, after losing Colette yet again, Frankie’s convinced that her former best friend left clues behind that only she can decipher, so she persuades her reluctant sister to help her unravel the mystery of Colette’s disappearance before it’s too late.  Inspired by her own neurodiverse child, Cat Patrick delivers a powerful story of friendship, sisters, and forgiveness. 

Turtle Boy by Evan Wolkenstein

Seventh grade is not going well for Will Levine.  He is bullied by his classmates for his small, receding chin – the result of a birth defect that will require extensive surgery to correct – which has earned him the nickname “Turtle Boy”.  His former science teacher has discovered that Will is hoarding wild turtles in his room from the marsh behind the school, creatures that have become his beloved pets.  But now, as a community service project for his upcoming bar mitzvah, he is being forced to go to the hospital and spend time with RJ, a boy struggling with an incurable illness.  At first, the boys don’t get along, but then RJ shares his bucket list with Will.  The dying boy wants to ride a roller coaster, go to a school dance, and swim in the ocean.  To Will, happiness is hanging out in his room, preferable alone with his turtles, but as RJ’s disease worsens, he realizes he needs to tackle the bucket list on his new friend’s behalf before it’s too late.  It seems like an impossible task, way outside Will’s comfort zone.  But as he completes each task with RJ’s guidance, Will learns that life is too short to live in a shell.  

All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Courtney

High school sophomore Allie Abraham often feels like an imposter.  The daughter of a Jordanian Muslim father and a white American mother who converted to Islam when she married, Allie is red-haired and fair-skinned, blending in as the perfect all-American girl.  Her father does not practice his religion and, afraid of potential harassment and discrimination, has always encouraged Allie to keep her identity to herself.  After a move to the South, Allie falls for the charming and vulnerable soccer star classmate, Wells Henderson, a boy whose father happens to be the host of a cable news show that promotes anti-Islamic views and an anti-immigrant perspective.   Feeling increasingly driven to take a stand, Allie realizes how much she yearns to connect to her religion and heritage.  Can she embrace all the parts of who she is and find her place as an all-American Muslim girl?  With a diverse range of characters, this book looks at the timely issue of the ever-changing religious and social landscape in American culture.  

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

Twelve-year-old beach-loving, surfing fanatic Alberta has lived in Ewing Beach, California with her fathers for years.  As the only black girl in town, her best friend, Laramie, is white and is the closest thing Alberta has to a sister, even though there are some things she just can’t understand.  When a black family purchases the bed and breakfast across the street, Alberta is ecstatic to learn that they have a twelve-year-old daughter and is certain they will be fast friends.  Edie, however, is nothing like Alberta.  She’s a proud Brooklyn native, wears all black, and can’t understand why everyone in Ewing loves the beach.  Despite their differences, however, a friendship begins to develop while, at the same time, Laramie seems to be drifting toward the popular girl who has bullied Alberta with racist taunts for years.  When Edie and Alberta discover a box of old journals in the attic of the bed and breakfast, they team up to figure out who’s behind them and why they got left behind.  Soon they discover shocking and painful secrets of the past and learn that nothing is quite what it seems.  A story of learning how to balance sustaining old friendships while building new ones, this book is a realistic look at the powerful dynamics of middle school relationships perfect for young teen readers. 

Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy

Patricia “Sweet Pea” DiMarco wasn’t sure what to expect when her parents announced they were getting a divorce.  She never could have imagined that they would have the idea of living in nearly identical houses on the same street, a strategy they believe will keep their daughter’s life stable.  Dividing her time between two homes is not easy and it doesn’t help that, at school, Sweet Pea is now sitting next to her ex-best friend, a daily reminder of the friendship that once was.  If not for her friend, Oscar and her fifteen-pound cat, Cheese, things might be unbearable.  When her eccentric neighbor Miss Flora Mae, the famed local newspaper advice columnist, leaves for a trip, she asks Sweet Pea to collect and send along her mail while she’s out of town.  When Sweet Pea happens to recognize the handwriting on one of the envelopes, she gives in to her curiosity and opens the letter.  Believing she has great advice to offer, Sweet Pea responds to the letter and to some of the others as well, keeping her identity as the new advice columnist a secret.  This, however, throws her friendships into disarray as she navigates the tenuous line between right and wrong.  With a main character who shines in her strength, humor and self-confidence, this story is perfect for readers looking for timely advice on the many facets of middle school life.