- Julie Bookman For the AJC
Boatloads of books are released each season for middle school and YA (young adult, or ages 14 and older) readers. We’ve combed through the latest arrivals to bring forth some excellent gift-buying options. Warning: If a youngster settles in with one of these titles, he may not have much time for electronics.
‘The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street’ by Karina Yan Glaser
“Home and I are such good friends.” The line from “Anne of Green Gables” is an epigraph to this rollicking story about a family whose household is “NOT: calm, tidy, boring, predictable.” Just before Christmas, the Vanderbeekers learn their lease isn’t being renewed; they must leave the Harlem brownstone they’ve rented for years. But five kids won’t go quietly. Readers get to know and love each: Isa, Jessie, Laney, Oliver and Hyacinth.
Like “Anne of Green Gables,” this story feels like a favorite teddy bear, or comfort food — it has the evergreen radiance of a classic. It’s about the value of home, family and community. Heck, it’s about the meaning of life. (Ages 7 and older, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99)
‘Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History’ by Vashti Harrison
Forty African-American women who helped shape history get the spotlight. In this smooth, high-quality keepsake, find mainstays from abolitionists Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman to writer Zora Neale Hurston.
Happily, there are lesser-known heroines, such as pioneering psychologist Mamie Phipps Clark, who studied the effects of segregation on young black children, and Spelman College graduate Marcelite Harris, who in 1995 became a major general in the U.S. Air Force. Harrison puts the same sweet, round face on these trailblazers, then adds defining touches: big square glasses for Oprah Winfrey, flowy hair on Olympic sprinter Florence Joyner, etc. (Ages 8-12, Little, Brown, $16.99)
‘Tumble & Blue’ by Cassie Beasley
One summer in Murky Branch, Ga., a girl named Tumble Wilson and a boy named Blue Montgomery become friends. Tumble yearns to be a hero, while Blue imagines he’s cursed because he loses at everything. Can they alter their fates? It’s a legendary alligator creature called Munch who first pipes up in this imaginative yarn that defies categorization. High humor, eccentric Southern characters, the eerily lush Okefenokee Swamp and a touch of the supernatural make this a standout.
Beasley, who lives in rural Georgia, concocted more magic in “Circus Mirandus,” a 2015 best-seller. (Ages 8 and older, Dial, $17.99)
‘The First Rule of Punk’ by Celia C. Pérez
Zine-making is about throwing the rules out. Express yourself! Malú, 12, enlists other misfits at her new school to form a punk rock band. But the principal doesn’t want the Co-Co’s in the talent show. Hey, is that discrimination?
Malú is an irrepressible spitfire who narrates this engaging friendship-and-school tale. Her story is often paused for one, two or several pages of her homemade collages, or “zines.” The artsy pages provide another layer of insight. Bitten by the creative bug, readers will be asking for scissors, old magazines and a new glue stick. (Ages 9-12, Viking, $16.99)
‘All’s Faire in Middle School’ by Victoria Jamieson
A good bet for reluctant readers: snappy and colorful graphic fiction. Imogene’s folks have always worked at the Florida Renaissance Faire, so life is wacky. She’s always been home-schooled inside the faire’s gates, where the central concerns are “Feasting! Frolicking! Fun!” Now she’s off to middle school. She knows no one, feels like a ghost floating to classes. Who knew that there would also be dragons to slay there? (Ages 9 and older, Dial, $12.99)
‘The Stars Beneath Our Feet’ by David Barclay Moore
Twelve-year-old Lolly needs to make sense of things following his older brother’s gang-related death. Legos help him work through his grief and challenges; sometimes he even feels Jermaine is still there, building alongside him. This timely and outstanding debut smacks of the truth. Filled with heart, soul and characters you won’t want to leave. (Ages 10 and up, Knopf, $16.99)
‘All the Crooked Saints’ by Maggie Stiefvater
Historical fiction meets magical realism in the dinky Colorado desert town of Bicho Raro. Bury yourself in this many-sided 1960s story spiced with quirky facts but chiefly focused on miracles — those who help make them happen (the “saints”) and those who come searching for them (the “pilgrims”) — and you won’t want to climb out. At the center of things are a pirate radio show and three superbly drawn characters: the Mexican-American Soria cousins Daniel, Beatriz and Joaquin (ages 20, 18 and 16). (Ages 13-18, Scholastic, $18.99)
‘Turtles All the Way Down’ by John Green
For this Indiana author’s tons of fans (50 million books in print worldwide), the six years’ wait was so long that a fair percentage has by now left the YA field. Except: You’re never too old for the unusually gifted Green. In books like “The Fault in Our Stars” and now again, he demonstrates a rare ability to access the pangs and painful humor of adolescence.
“Turtles” involves immensely appealing high school kids who want to find a fugitive billionaire. This time, Green dug emotionally deeper. In creating his main character, Aza, he bravely drew upon his own struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety. (Ages 14 and older, Dutton, $19.99)