Middle Grade and YA Reviews: Week of 5/1/17

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A round-up of 3 of the new middle grade titles out this week, plus one January YA release………

As always, no affiliate links and I disclose the source of each book at the end of each review. 



Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh by Uma Krishnaswami
(Lee & Low – May 1, 2017)


Nine-year-old Maria Singh longs to play softball in the first-ever girls team forming in Yuba City, California. It’s the spring of 1945, and World War II is dragging on. Miss Newman, Maria’s teacher, is inspired by Babe Ruth and the All-American Girls League to start a girls softball team at their school. Meanwhile, Maria’s parents Papi from India and Mama from Mexico can no longer protect their children from prejudice and from the discriminatory laws of the land. When the family is on the brink of losing their farm, Maria must decide if she has what it takes to step up and find her voice in an unfair world. In this fascinating middle grade novel, award-winning author Uma Krishnaswami sheds light on a little-known chapter of American history set in a community whose families made multicultural choices before the word had been invented.


An outstanding example of middle grade historical fiction. This book will appeal to sports enthusiasts and history buffs alike, along with any kids who just like reading books about strong characters with an interesting story to tell! The story was fascinating and fast-paced and kept me engaged for the entire time. The author’s note at the end does an excellent job of explaining the historical accuracy of the events of the story, which is especially important to me as a librarian. I honestly can’t comment much about the baseball aspects of the book, given my lack of familiarity with the sport, but the author’s note helps with the historical significance, and I know students will love the sport storyline.

Highly recommended for all middle grade libraries and classrooms as a new look at WWII-era America from the unique perspective of Mexican-Indian families. I will be handing this to our 5th grade teacher and telling her it should be her first read aloud for next school year!

The only thing I would change about this book might be the cover, as I don’t think the illustration conveys the historical or seriousness of the topics within.

Note: I also love the author’s book Book Uncle and Me – a VERY different type of story, but also middle grade.

I received a digital ARC of this title for review ~ all opinions are my own.

PostedPosted by John David Anderson
(Walden Pond Press – May 2, 2017)


From John David Anderson, author of the acclaimed Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, comes a humorous, poignant, and original contemporary story about bullying, broken friendships, and the failures of communication between kids.

In middle school, words aren’t just words. They can be weapons. They can be gifts. The right words can win you friends or make you enemies. They can come back to haunt you. Sometimes they can change things forever.

When cell phones are banned at Branton Middle School, Frost and his friends Deedee, Wolf, and Bench come up with a new way to communicate: leaving sticky notes for each other all around the school. It catches on, and soon all the kids in school are leaving notes—though for every kind and friendly one, there is a cutting and cruel one as well.

In the middle of this, a new girl named Rose arrives at school and sits at Frost’s lunch table. Rose is not like anyone else at Branton Middle School, and it’s clear that the close circle of friends Frost has made for himself won’t easily hold another. As the sticky-note war escalates, and the pressure to choose sides mounts, Frost soon realizes that after this year, nothing will ever be the same.


Required reading for all middle school students, teachers, administrators and parents. “You find your people and you protect each other from the wolves” ~ that statement alone sets the tone for this searing commentary on middle school, friendship, bullying and the power of words. I flat out cried with about 10 minutes left in the book (no spoilers, I promise) and rejoiced at Anderson’s ability to show us light amidst the harsh reality he portrays in this story. It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, it’s educational and most of all it’s REAL. It doesn’t offer a magic bullet to stop bullying, but it can and will open conversations – this books needs to be read widely and immediately. And then felt and mulled over. And then discussed and written about.

Mandatory middle school library and classroom purchase. Would be an excellent choice for an all-school read.

I received a digital ARC of this title for review – all opinions are my own. 

LemonsLemons by Melissa Savage
(Crown Books – May 2, 2017)


What do you do when you lose everything that means anything?

Nine-year old Lemonade Liberty Witt doesn’t know the answer to that question, except what her mom taught her. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. But what if those lemons are so big that you forget how?

How do you make lemonade out of having to leave everything you know in San Francisco to move to the small town of Willow Creek, California and live with a grandfather you’ve never even met? In a town that smells like grass and mud and bugs. With tall pines instead of skyscrapers and dirt instead of sidewalks. Not to mention one woolly beast lurking in the woods.

That’s right, Bigfoot.

A ginormous wooden statue of the ugly thing stands right at the center of town like he’s someone real important, like the mayor or something. And the people here actually believe he’s real and hiding somewhere out in the pine filled forests.

How can anyone possibly be expected to make lemonade out those rotten lemons?

Everything is different and Lem just wants to go back home. And then she meets Tobin Sky, the CEO of Bigfoot Detectives, Inc. and sole investigator for the town. He invites her to be his Assistant for the summer and she reluctantly agrees. At least until she can figure out her escape plan.

Together, Lem and Tobin try to capture a shot of the elusive beast on film and end up finding more than they ever could have even imagined.


Lemons is a early middle grade novel about family, friendship and believing. It touches on some tough topics such as Lemonade’s mother’s death, the Vietnam War and bullying, but does not immerse readers in them as do many of the more complex and deeper novels being published today. That is what makes this a good fit for readers at the lowest end of middle grade (age 8) up through early 5th grade. For older readers looking fTheLittlestBigfootor a Bigfoot novel (or any readers looking for a more nuanced story), I highly recommend The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner. Or, these two could be a really interesting pairing for a 4th or 5th grade book club or lit circle.

One issue I had with the book is that it’s set in the 70’s and references the Vietnam War and PTSD, but just as easily could have been set in current day and referenced Afghanistan – the time setting was only occasionally referenced during the story and seemed almost to be an afterthought. I liked (didn’t love) this book, but definitely know some 3rd and 4th graders who will really enjoy it, and it does have some cute messages about perseverance and optimism. I will probably purchase a paperback copy for my library in the future.

I received a digital ARC of this title for review – all opinions are my own.


YouIveNeverKnownThe You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Hopkins
(Margaret K. McElderry Books – January 31, 2017)


For as long as she can remember, it’s been just Ariel and Dad. Ariel’s mom disappeared when she was a baby. Dad says home is wherever the two of them are, but Ariel is now seventeen and after years of new apartments, new schools, and new faces, all she wants is to put down some roots. Complicating things are Monica and Gabe, both of whom have stirred a different kind of desire.

Maya’s a teenager who’s run from an abusive mother right into the arms of an older man she thinks she can trust. But now she’s isolated with a baby on the way, and life’s getting more complicated than Maya ever could have imagined.

Ariel and Maya’s lives collide unexpectedly when Ariel’s mother shows up out of the blue with wild accusations: Ariel wasn’t abandoned. Her father kidnapped her fourteen years ago.

What is Ariel supposed to believe? Is it possible Dad’s woven her entire history into a tapestry of lies? How can she choose between the mother she’s been taught to mistrust and the father who has taken care of her all these years?

In bestselling author Ellen Hopkins’s deft hands, Ariel’s emotionally charged journey to find out the truth of who she really is balances beautifully with Maya’s story of loss and redemption. This is a memorable portrait of two young women trying to make sense of their lives and coming face to face with themselves—for both the last and the very first time.


This lengthy mature YA novel in verse was a riveting and fast read, even with the prose-style journal entries interwoven. Now for the lens I’m reading through: I’m a school librarian, mid-30’s and cis. Does that matter? Well, from some of the reviews I have read, it does. The major trade publications have given this high ratings and the major teen blogs I read gave it good reviews too. However, there are several reviews on Goodreads that take major offense with the way bisexuality is portrayed in the book, but I haven’t been able to find some of the quotes referenced in those reviews actually IN the book. Perhaps the manuscript was changed after early reviews? I’m open to suggestion on this topic and will re-read if needed. With all of that out of the way, here is my PRO/CON review:

Fast-paced, emotional graphic verse that is stark in the portrayal of Ariel’s reality of living with her alcoholic father. Once I got into the book, I couldn’t put it down. The relationships were vivid and Ariel’s confusion about her sexuality was clear (to me, at least!). I loved that she admitted that her desire for sex was sometimes simply wanting human touch, rather than sex itself. Regarding the twist, I honestly had no idea what was coming until JUST before it became obvious. The rawness of Hopkins’ choice of words seemed a bit muted compared to earlier work like Crank – depending on the reader this could be a pro or a con, I guess.

The interwoven diary entries, which to me were welcome because I sometimes struggle with the staccato nature of verse, might be cumbersome to readers who chose it specifically for the verse style. The portrayal of bisexuality is maybe/possibly troublesome, but possibly fine. If I were reviewing this for a major trade publication, I would definitely request than an editor take a look at it and have a sensitivity reader look it over, given my lens. I thought it was possibly a bit long, and could have done without the additional journal entries at the end, but those didn’t take away from my engagement with the overall story.

I will be purchasing this for my school library collection, and know quite a number of high school students who will be excited to read it, especially after I just purchased a replacement copy of Crank after having to weed our battered older copy.

I checked this book out from the public library.

Find me on Goodreads for ALL of the middle grade, YA and adult books I read. All of my picture book reviews are on my Instagram ~ would love to see you there as well!

2 thoughts on “Middle Grade and YA Reviews: Week of 5/1/17

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