SUMMER READING 2018: FICTION, Middle Years and YA

The titles below, listed alphabetically by author, present a range of genres, themes, character and settings that should appeal to readers, ages 9 through 16.



THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Xiomara (X), a Domincan teenager, living in Harlem confronts the feelings of growing up, of falling in love and becoming an independent thinker. Most challenging for X is her confrontations and battles with her mother who is devoutly religious and wants the same for her daughter. The only comfort for Xiomara is her journal writing, a place where she can be honest with herself and consider the relationships in her life. With the encourgement from an English teacher, Xiomara finds a sense of peace in writing poetry and participating in Spoken Word events. The Poet X is a tough character asking questions and fighting for what she believes in. A worthy contribution to the Free Verse novel from a first-time novelist.


Not sure exactly why I bought this novel. Maybe I read a great review. However, I do like books with alternating narratives. We meet Korean Penny Lee, a college freshman who enjoys writing (and learning about writing) and we meet Sam, a down and out twenty year old, a great baker  who dreams of becoming a documentary filmmaker. Penny and Sam intersect, mostly through text messages and become the ’emergency contact’ for one another as they share problems with family, breakups and grasping for their dreams. The author has a terrific command of contemporary lingo that is filtered throughout the narrative (e.g., meta, tagging, every day carry (EDC), obvs (obviously) snack-crastinated)


This novel was brought to my attention by OISE colleague Rob Simon, who conducted a research project with Teacher Candidates and a group of grade 8 students. Responses centred on the issue of transgender identity. Having such literature is important for adolescents to bring them closer to understanding the complexities of hanging on to gender identity when family, community and even friends are confused by the truth.  There are many novels recently about transgender males. This story, however, is about a girl (Elizabeth) who really knows herself to have been a male (Gabe) his whole life. Gabe doesn’t need to convince himself about this identity, but needs to sort out new feelings about falling in love with beautiful girls,  and the challenges of being loyal to friends, the trauma of being threatened by ‘haters’ and the trials of coming out.  Gabe’s passion and knockout expertise for the world of music is a plus to the story. (He is  talented deejay for a midnight program called ‘Beautiful Music for Ugly Children’.

BAYGIRL by Heather Smith

I have a favourite new Canadian author. Having read and admired Ebb & Flow and The Agony of Bun O’Keefe I chose to read this first novel for young people by Smith. I am often puzzled when reviewers say they ‘couldn’t put a book down and finished it in one day.” This novel tells the story of sixteen year old Kit whose father, an alcoholic, making Kit’s life (and her mother’s) miserable. The Newfoundland setting and Newfoundland ‘characters’ add to the appeal of this fine novel.  Can’t wait for your next one (and more), Heather Smith.


AGES 9 +



Early in this novel (and on the jacket blurb) we learn that thirteen-year old Aven was a girl who was born with no arms and who was adopted by loving parents. Many questions will likely come to a reader’s mind and most are answered as we learn how Aven copes and thrives and rises to any occasion and tough challenges. Together with her new pal Connor, another isolate, they fight mean kids, work towards solving a mystery  and   hold hands together to conquer their world.  The setting of a Western theme park in Arizona adds to the adventures. A terrific story about resilience.


Alix is a happy young girl, with a happy older sister, a happy mother and father who all go on a happy vacation by the sea. Readers join Alix in her holiday adventures and in doing so might be inspired to consider the events that comprise their own family vacations by a salty sea – or elsewhere. Perkins’ narrative gives significance to what may seem like ordinary moments, but help readers to contemplate  the stuff of our growing-up the memories of our experiences that fill the knapsacks of our lives. Really, nothing dramatic arises in Alix’s family vacation – unless licking the icing off a store-bought cake, eating periwinkles, making sea-glass necklaces can be considered dramatic but long bicycle rides, a new friendship and a visit to a bird sanctuary contribute to an important week for Alix. Perkins, a Newbery award winner for her novel Criss Cross, tells an appealing story and presents black and white illustrations that are both realistic and poetic that are sure to engage readers (yes, mostly female), ages 8 through 11. A ‘sweet’ read.

AMAL UNBOUND by Aisha Saeed

Twelve-year old Amal, a well-educated Pakistani girl, longs to be a teacher. After insulting a member of the ruling class, she is forced to work as a servant and becomes the victim of a controlling family.  She struggles day to day, but is dutiful to the overpowering demands that come her way, with the hopes that she will be reunited with her own family and a place of freedom.

THE CREATIVITY PROJECT edited by Colby Sharp (short short stories, poems and illustrations)

The premise of this book is intriguing: 44 popular authors and illustrators were asked to come up with  prompt that could grow into a story. All contributors then swapped prompts, each challenged to let their imaginations loose to create a piece that grew from the seed of the prompt. The results are original and of course, creative. However, for me, most of the pieces fall short of entertaining me. We seem to be in the realm of fantasy and twilight zone narratives which I don’t particularly enjoy. With authors and artists suh as Kate Dicamillo, Chris Grabenstein, Jennifer Holm, R.J. Palacio, Lemony Snicket, I was hoping for more ‘wow’s’ that were served up here. The brevity of each piece was a plus. And I suppose the offered prompts might inspire young writers to create their own ‘creative’ pieces.

THE WORLD’S WORST CHILDREN 3 by David Walliams; illus. Tony Ross (short stories)

This guy is funny. Very very very funny. And gross. And rude. And funny. Illustrations, layout and wild use of font make this a very very very funny book (third in the series). with such characters as Kung Fu Kylie, Bonny Bossypants, Boastful Barnabus, and Vain Valentine.  Walliams is a genius and his books appeal to young readers (and me) who are eager to read about such things as bogeys, earwax and belly-button fluff.  Funny!



Kelly Yang

This is one terrific novel.  Mia is the girl who sits at the front desk of a hotel in California. Her mother and father take care of all the maintenance duties while their daughter oversees customers. Mia’s family is Chinese and it is the 1990’s.  Based on her own background, Kelly Yang tells the heartbreaking – and heartwarming story – of one immigrant family as they strive to survive. The author has assembled a wonderful cast of characters that help readers come to understand poverty, racism, perseverance and hope. In the afterward to the book, Yang writes, “I hope in telling thse stories, these immigrants struggles and sacrifices will not be forgotten. They will will be forgotten./ And to nearly twenty million immigrant children currently living in the United States (30 percent of whom are living at or below poverty), I hope this book brings some comfort and hpe. You are not alone.”  A fantastic novel, an important novel. Read it!

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