Eventown by Corey Ann Haydu

This book was not eerie, but you definitely knew something was up.  Twin sisters and their parents are eager to move to Eventown where they just know everything will be better. Vague references to sad times let you know that something bad happened to the family. You know something is up when their mom is happy to just leave a bunch of their stuff behind. I had so many predictions and theories about Eventown, where everything is very even and happy. They included:

It’s an afterlife, it’s heaven, it’s like Stepford and the residents are evil, they had to make a pact or deal with an evil entity, it’s more like The Giver and the utopia is really an illusion of their own making, it’s like the Twilight Zone, Eventown can or cannot be found on a map?, the girl had a mental breakdown and everything is in her head.

Which theory would be right? I loved not knowing and just waiting and seeing. And because I didn’t know which direction it would go in, every time there was a clue that something wasn’t right (there’s only 1 song you’re allowed to sing in Eventown? everything will be better after your session at the Welcome Center?) I couldn’t decide if it had sinister overtones or not.

I really enjoyed this a lot and finding out exactly what was going on and why the family wanted a new start. I have unanswered questions still, which I think is part of the charm of the story.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

An enjoyable graphic novel about a boy’s first year at a swanky private school where he feels like not only doesn’t he quite fit in (wealth-status wise) but he also feels conscious about the lack of diversity at his school. (He is one of very few black students.)

I liked this but wasn’t blown away, though I would definitely read more by this author. I’ve seen rave reviews and even a little Newbery buzz, so this review might come back to haunt me.

Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer Holm

Goodness, how did I not know this was coming out? Last year my students and I had lots of hype and anticipation for Swing It Sunny, so I feel kind of bad that I had to see this in a bookstore to know it was out! (bad librarian!oops!)

In this follow up to the other two books Sunny is now in middle school where she’s trying to navigate what’s cool and what’s not. She is excited to discover D&D and start playing with some of her boy friends in the neighborhood. Not surprisingly, the other girls tell her it’s not cool and she has conflict.

Although I enjoyed this it felt like such a slimmer story than Sunny Side Up or Swing It Sunny. The panels even seemed larger and fewer to a page, so it was overall much shorter (or at least felt that way.) To be honest, for a graphic novel exploring the angst of fitting it and changing friendships I’d recommend Real Friends or Best Friends instead. But still, it was a good story and I did like seeing how Dungeons & Dragons was woven into it.

The Unteachables by Gordon Korman

I found this unexpectedly touching, even though I could see what was coming quite plainly. A dramatically checked out teacher dumped on a group of kids that the school administration has washed their hands of and despite everyone trying to ignore each other they make each other’s lives all significantly better. You may have to have a wee bit of willing suspension of disbelief to fully enjoy the peculiar decades old grudge and complete disregard for the students.

Fast paced, funny, a nice changing of viewpoints throughout and really, who doesn’t love a story where the inaccurately judged misfits make good?

Best Friends by Shannon Hale

This was one of the most hotly anticipated publications this fall for my students (and me), along with Telgemeier’s Guts. I thought Real Friends was so terrific that we own a copy, I promote it a lot at school, and I gave it to the guidance counselor to read. I wouldn’t call it warm and fuzzy, but very realistic (as it should be–it’s her life) about the ups and downs of childhood friendships. With an added layer of Shannon having very real anxiety (and ocd.)

Just like my own kid, Shannon is now in 6th grade. Things have changed a bit since her tumultous 5th grade year, but she still struggles to figure out who is a best friend, can you be a best friend and not leave someone out, and more.

As solid as the first one.

Far Away by Lisa Graff

I’ve really liked Graff’s other books: The Great Treehouse War, Absolutely Almost, and The Thing About Georgie. One of the things I’m coming to admire about her is that each of these books is so different. Literally the only thing I would say they have in common is that she writes convincingly about a child and his or her feelings. But settings and plots are so different that you get the feeling she is (as I hope most writers would be) having fun making up stories!

In this case CJ lives with her aunt because her mother is deceased. They have a somewhat nomadic life because her aunt is a well known medium who makes a living traveling the country putting on shows where she connects people with deceased loved ones, passing on messages from “Spirit.” CJ feels she is lucky because even though her mom is dead she is still in touch with her–via her aunt.

Then one day CJ feels that Spirit is giving her clues and she starts to follow the trail of clues she begins to uncover truths about her actual life.

I really enjoyed the twists and turns this story took. While I did think there were a couple of things that maybe weren’t so believable, it didn’t bother me. (Unlike Kirkus who reviewed this title referring to it as “misstep for Graff.” !)

The 47 People You’ll Meet in Middle School by Kristin Mahoney

I happen to have a daughter starting middle school in two days, and she had loved Mahoney’s book Annie’s Life in Lists, so she was pretty excited to read this. When she finished it (and liked it) I read it too. I thought this was terrific, with only a couple of quibbles (the school is really not noticing/ignoring the chronic butt pincher?! and also believing the vandalism was done by clearly the victims of the vandalism?!)

Set up like letters written to her younger sister, Augusta is telling all about the different people she meets starting from day 1. Fortunately it flows together into a chronological narrative and lovely story about Augusta finding new friends she fits in with and navigating some mean girls and other situations.
A good story any time, but especially for those on the brink of middle school. And maybe it was good for me to read, too, to remind me of what that might be like and act accordingly.