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Lizard Radio

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by Pat Schmatz
Candlewick Press, 2015
Young adult, science fiction,
Ages 14 and up
ISBN: 978-0-7636-7635-3
Additional formats: ebook
Honors:
James Tiptree, Jr. Award winner * Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year * TriState YA Review Group Books of Note * CCBC Choices * Rainbow Project List

In a world where the government closely monitors gender, occupation, and emotion, Lizard (so named because she was found as a baby wearing a t-shirt with a lizard on the front) finds herself at a frightening summer agricultural camp. Kivali (that’s her true name) is a bender—meaning that she doesn’t identify as a girl or a boy—and she’s sent to a summer camp for teens in order to prepare for the adult world.

But is the camp, run by Miss Mischetti, really a place to help teens find themselves and help the world? Or is something more sinister at hand? What should Kivali make of the drugs that the campers are given and the strange, vaporizing disappearances? Kivali has to discover the truth behind her origins and why her anti-authority aunt has sent her away.

Pat Schmatz does some solid world-building here, complete with it’s own vocabulary that sci-fi readers will love.

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This Side of Home

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by Renée Watson
Bloomsbury Books, 2015
Teens, contemporary fiction
Ages 12 and up
ISBN: 978-1-59990-668-3
Additional formats: ebook and paperback

Maya and her identical twin sister Nikki live in a Portland, Oregon neighborhood that is being revitalized. Friends they have known for a lifetime are forced to relocate to other neighborhoods. While Nikki loves the new restaurants and coffee shops, Maya sees the history of their community disappearing in a sea of trendiness. Everything is becoming upscale, from the housing and stores to their own school, where Diversity Day now edges out Black History month.

This is a page-turner about two girls growing up and facing both personal and social transitions, including a difficult romance. I think Richmond teens will especially find a lot to think about here as our own city struggles with its identity and how to respect the history of all its citizens.

Raymie Nightingale

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by Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick Press, 2016
Middle grade, historical fiction
Ages 8 – 12
ISBN 978-0-7636-8117-3
Additional formats: ebook
Honors: Junior Library Guild Selection

In so many ways, this novel, set in Florida in the 1970s, is the perfect middle grade story about friendship. Raymie Clark’s dad has abandoned the family for a romance with a dental hygienist. Her plan to get him back is to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire pageant by twirling a baton. It’s at her baton twirling lessons that she meets Louisiana, an orphan in her grandmother’s care, and Beverly Tapinski, an angry, if pragmatic, girl who seems bent on all manner of sabotage. The three form an unlikely trio and eventually become one another’s lifeline.

I found each girl fascinating and often hilarious, even as they faced the saddest of truths. Ultimately, this is a story of friendship and support, focused on how girls grapple with the big disappointments that life can sometimes offer. Themes of grief, economic poverty, and neglect are handled expertly for the age group.

The Perfect Place

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by Teresa Harris
Clarion Books, 2014
Middle grade, contemporary fiction
Ages 8 – 12
ISBN: 978-0547255194
Additional formats: ebook

What is worse than being sent to stay with relatives you don’t like? Answer: Not being sure if and when your parents are ever coming back for you.

Set in a fictional town called Black Lake, Virginia, The Perfect Place is the story of twelve-year-old Treasure, whose father has been gone for two months. Unlike his other disappearances in the past, this time he hasn’t come back to the family or made contact. Fed up, Treasure’s mother decides it’s time for her to take Treasure and her sister, Tiffany, on a trip to find him. They vacate the premises in the middle of the night and travel south to meet their gruff Great Aunt Grace (GAG) who lives in small-town Virginia. Grace doesn’t care if her smoking bothers Treasure’s asthma and seems generally to dislike children.

This is a funny and tender story about three generations of women learning how to help each other survive disappointments.

Goodbye Stranger

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by Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books, Random House, 2015
Middle grade, contemporary fiction
Ages 10 – 14
ISBN: 978-0-385-74317-4
Additional formats: ebook and audio
Honors:
Multiple “best books lists” of 2015

Three middle school friends, a perfect set of three: Brig, an accident survivor who should have died when she was eight; Tabitha, ever-practical and cautious—the voice of reason; and Em, the popular soccer queen, now in a relationship with an 8th grade boy who encourages her to send him a selfie in jeans and a bra.

Uh-oh.

Newbery-award-winner Rebecca Stead fleshes out the crazy world of middle school and the dicey slope of everyday decisions and peer pressure with a wonderfully interconnected cast. I was especially fond of how she used the supporting characters to move the story along. Jamie, Brig’s brother, is locked in a dumb bet about how many steps he can take in a single day. Sherm, a classmate, writes letters to a grandfather that he refuses to speak to. A nameless second-person teen has run away for a day in the face of the fact that her “best friend” is a mean girl. Readers will find versions of themselves in these pages—and plenty of familiar experiences to keep them reading, thinking, and talking.

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano

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Evelyn lives with her mother and her feisty grandmother in Spanish Harlem, New York City in the 1970s. The Black Panthers and the Young Lords are insisting on social change—and they’ll use sit-ins and a church takeover to get their point across to city officials, if necessary.

I admire this novel for its look at the Civil Rights era in New York City—especially through the Latino lens. Sonia Manzano offers up a story about girl awakening to the impact of culture and racism on her community—and what it takes to do something about it.

The Glass Sentence (Book One: The Mapmaker’s Trilogy)

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by S.E. Grove
Viking Penguin, 2014
Upper middle grade(due to complexity), fantasy
Grades 5 and up, Ages 10 and up
ISBN: 978-0-670-78502-5
Additional formats: ebook and paperback

First, the background: In the Great Disruption of 1799, the world broke apart.

Continents were unfastened not only physically but also from time. Now the world is a strange mix of different Ages. Europe, for example, was plunged into a remote century, while the United States became an uneasy mix of adjoining Ages: the Baldlands in the West, Prehistoric Snows to the north, and New Patagonia to the south. Sophia’s Boston is now in New Occident.

It is 1891, and Sophia lives with her uncle, the great “cartologer” Shadrack, who is looking after her in the absence of her parents who, eight years earlier, left on a mission and never returned.

Together in Boston, Shadrack teaches Sophia to read all kinds of maps—some that are locked tighter than the hardest puzzles and those that also chart time. When Shadrack is brutally kidnapped, it’s up to Sophia and her friend, Theo, to find him. The only trouble is, she has never seen any other part of the world except through maps. Can she do it? The world-building is amazing in this smart, girl-led adventure.