YA – Spin

Caprara, Rebecca. Spin. Simon & Schuster, 2023. 978-1-665-90619-7. 393 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

“You must learn to question/ the stories you hear” (84). “The bards and poets/ often get it wrong, especially/ when they speak of/ girls and women” (4). Arachne is unattractive and destined to be nothing and be heard by no one, they say in town. But Arachne grows, learns to weave from her mother, loves her younger brother and friend Celandine fiercely, and questions the wisdom of the gods. Even as her mother shares stories of the gods (including Persephone, Leucothoe, and Aite) and leaves gifts at Athena’s altar, Arachne in her anger dares to question what the gods have done for them in their harsh, illiterate lives. As the years pass and Arachne grows from girl to young woman, she avoids others, distrusts the gods especially in their treatment of women, and learns to weave so skillfully she begins to feel pride in her own abilities as well as earn approval from others, including her father. But tragedy steals her family, and when beautiful Celandine is assaulted by a group of boys, the two flee to the city of Colophon. There, finding work as a weaver, Arachne again becomes known for her increasingly exquisite handiwork, but she will not give credit to the goddess Athena, who Arachne feels never offered her anything. Even as Arachne feels an attraction to Celandine, the two are pulled apart by anger and misunderstanding, and Arachne pours her emotions into her weaving. The resulting showdown between Arachne and Athena is powerfully described as Arachne stands boldly–in words and in weaving–for herself and all women misused, overlooked, and judged harshly. 

THOUGHTS: This masterful novel in verse will appeal to young readers, especially those interested in mythology or strong women.  

Fantasy (Mythology)

YA – Miles Morales Suspended: A Spider-Man Novel

Reynolds, Jason. Miles Morales Suspended: A Spider-Man Novel. Atheneum, 2023. 978-1-665-91846-6. 303 p. $19.99. Grades 7-12.

Miles Morales, a teen hiding secret spider super-man powers, uncovers a villainous plot after he receives in-school-suspension (ISS) at his school, Brooklyn Visions Academy. After a blow-up with a racist teacher, Miles is set to serve his ISS day quietly by completing a large packet of work from each of his teachers. As the day progresses, Miles begins to notice there is something a little ‘off’ in the ISS room—and something weird going on with one of his classmates, Tobin. Tobin is in trouble for stealing (and allegedly eating) library books. His ‘spidey-sense’ keeps prickling, and Miles is not quite sure why. Then, Miles thinks he sees a termite crawl across Tobin’s desk…and directly into his ear. Miles ultimately discovers that Tobin is part of a larger plot. Miles must face off against this enemy in order to restore justice—and the freedom to read.

THOUGHTS: Jason Reynolds masterfully weaves together verse and prose to create a layered, complex novel; Suspended could be read and enjoyed by a middle schooler right up to a senior in high school. Reynolds keeps Spider-man cool and relevant to 2023; the book tackles topics of school library censorship and contains social justice themes while still including all of the elements of a classic superhero story. Miles himself is a realistic and nuanced character who grapples with familial and cultural identity, seeing patterns, and understanding consequences. Although this book is technically a sequel to Miles Morales, Spider-man (2018), readers can enjoy Suspended on its own as well.


MG – Good Different

Kuyatt, Meg Eden. Good Different. Scholastic Press, 2023. 978-1-338-81610-5. 346 p. $18.99. Grades 4-7.

Selah, a seventh grader at Pebblecreek Academy, is on sensory overload. All her life, Selah’s mother has encouraged her to hold in her feelings—to be ‘Normal’—in public settings, but everything begins to crumble after Selah begins to feel her inner ‘dragon’ trying to escape. In a moment of desperation, Selah hits a classmate who keeps touching Selah’s hair. This impulsive action puts her status as a Pebblecreek student into question. With the help of a teacher, a friend, and her Pop, Selah works to learn more about herself and express feelings through poetry. Unfortunately, not everyone is empathetic or kind along the way. Selah is neurodivergent; throughout the verse novel, she begins to discover her triggers and how to navigate (rather than hide) her feelings and emotions in this moving coming-of-age story.

THOUGHTS: Written in verse format, this story has powerful emotional depth and offers readers a realistic window into growing up on the autism spectrum. Fans of stories like Forget Me Not, Real, Can You See Me?, and Counting by 7s will love Good Different by Meg Eden Kuyatt, a neurodivergent author. Because Selah goes undiagnosed for a large part of the story, the book sheds light particularly well on struggles that girls on the autism spectrum often face as they feel they must mask their sensory feelings, passions, and emotions. This title is highly recommended for all middle grade literature collections.

Realistic Fiction

YA – Enter the Body

McCullough, Joy. Enter the Body. Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-0-593-40675-5 . 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Question: What happens when you place Juliet, Ophelia, Cordelia, and Lavinia in a room beneath the famous Bard’s stage? Answer: They develop a voice and get to tell their story, their way. It sounds like a corny joke but is anything except a joking matter. All wronged by their co-stars and the famous Bard, each young woman has the opportunity to talk through (when able) her experiences in what reads like a group therapy session. The women are given the chance to decide how they would have done things differently if given another occasion and the ability to make their own decisions. Familiarity with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear, and Titus Andronicus (I was familiar with all but the last) is helpful for context but not a necessity. Naive readers – or those not familiar with the plays – may miss the seriousness of this tale (all of these characters were seriously wronged and are dead) but will enjoy the story nonetheless. At times this novel in verse reads like a teenage sleepover, with characters constantly interrupting each other. McCullough brings a contemporary voice to these classic characters that will resonate with today’s readers.

THOUGHTS: The audiobook is outstanding! One does not need to like Shakespeare or classic literature and plays – I am not a fan of either – to be moved by Enter the Body. Highly recommended for high school collections.

Historical Fiction

MG – I Am Kavi

Ponweera, Thushanthi. I Am Kavi. Holiday House/Peachtree, 2023. 978-0-823-45365-8. $18.99. 224 p. Grades 5-8.

Fifth-grader Kavi has won the coveted scholarship, which enables her to attend any school in Sri Lanka that she wishes. After her soldier-father’s (Thaththa’s) death, her mother (Amma) has remarried and Kavi refuses to accept Siripala, her new stepfather. With the scholarship opportunity, Kavi wishes to whisk her mother away to a far off place, away from the relentless war. However, Amma is pregnant and says her place is at home, convincing Kavi that she is no longer loved or needed. Kavi’s aunt, Mala Nanda, works as a housekeeper to a wealthy family in Columbo, so she begrudgingly travels there to live with her mother’s older sister with the family, including their thirteen-year-old daughter, Sasha. At school, Kavi’s focus on studies drops to the wayside once she sees the dress and possessions of the popular girls. Her envy takes over and she has a willing tutor in the indulged but lonely Sasha. Kavi wins over the girls, Nethmi and Sulo, with her (borrowed) stories of a rich family and displays of modern 1990’s fashion. The charade seems to be successful until examination time when all pretense gets ripped away. This novel in verse tells a traditional coming of age story with a more international setting of Sri Lanka during the war torn years of 1997 and 1998. Handling mean girls, being the new kid, fitting into a new family configuration, and longing for popularity are universal. Doing this while witnessing soldiers walking through the streets, worshiping Buddha, and making sense of the differences between Sunhil and Tamil is new. This novel in verse gives a new spin to a familiar story.

THOUGHTS: Being true to oneself is hard if one’s life has little material objects to compare with the wealthy. Kavi takes a while to learn her lesson, but she shows real loyalty when she does. Nothing major to impress here, except a revelation of different customs, different life style, different times.

Historical Fiction  

MG – Mothman

Gow, Robin. Dear Mothman. Amulet Books, 2023. 978-1-419-76440-0. 313 p. $18.99. Grades 6-8.

It is during his 6th grade year that Noah finds himself searching for meaning after his best friend Lewis dies tragically in a car accident. Both Noah and Lewis are the only two trans kids in their class and have been best friends for years. They have kept their true identities between one another, and now after Lewis’ death, Noah finds himself reaching out to other students in his class. He becomes friends with three “weird” girls, and he confides to them who he really is. At the same time, preparations are being made for the school science fair. Noah selects the subject of Mothman which is something that Lewis found fascination with. Noah plans to prove that Mothman’s existence is real and sets off on a journey of discovery and healing as he writes letters to Mothman and leaves them outside to be read. He feels he is close to finding Mothman and decides to risk it all and find him.

THOUGHTS: This book was beautifully written about a trans boy dealing with grief of the loss of his best friend and the discovery of who he is and finding comfort and love from those around him. Such a compelling read for all ages.

Realistic Fiction

MG – Wave

Farid, Diane. Wave. Cameron Kids, 2022. 978-1-951-83658-0. 313 p. $18.99. Grades 4-6.

Wave is a middle grade novel in verse that follows Ava, a Persian girl who loves to surf and sing. Ava also loves spending time with her best friend, Phoenix, but the summer before 9th grade things are not going to plan. Her mom wants Ava to volunteer at the local hospital in the hopes that Ava will follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a doctor. One day Phoenix’s lymphoma is back, and there isn’t a lot that makes Ava feel better anymore. When she is with Phoenix she feels like she belongs, and as he goes through treatments Ava begins to feel lost. Will she be able to handle what life has in store for her? Or will she be thrown off and set adrift?

THOUGHTS: This a beautifully told middle grade novel in verse about a friendship and finding your own voice. This book does not shy away from the hard topics and the ending may have the reader in tears. Great read alike for fans of Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie.  

Realistic Fiction          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter School
Novel in Verse

MG – A Work in Progress

Lerner, Jarrett. A Work in Progress. Aladdin, 2023. 978-1-665-90515-2. $17.99. 41 p. Grades 5-8.

Will was once a happy fourth grader with a large group of friends. Friends he could never imagine losing, fourth grade friends who had sleepovers and promised to one day be college roommates. One day a classmate teased Will about his weight, humiliating him in the hallway in front of the entire grade. With this one word, Will began to see himself differently. By middle school Will is a loner who buries his feelings by eating. Will chooses to draw constantly instead of engaging with others. He sits alone at lunch, avoids crowded hallways, and buries his head in his sketchbook when people try to engage with him. Will’s inner voice tells him he is an unworthy monster that no one will ever understand or want to be friends with. Will is sure that if he can just change his physical appearance then everything will go back to the way it was before that horrible moment so long ago. Long lost friends will return to inviting him for sleepovers, and girls will stop being disgusted by him. Will often sneaks outside at lunchtime to hide behind the auditorium. Here he meets a new student, Markus, who also is avoiding the lunchroom so that he can ride his skateboard. Markus has moved all over the country. This is his eighth new middle school. Markus is confident and kind, but Will has forgotten how to make and be friends with kids his age, and he pushes Markus away. Eventually Will’s unhealthy plan to lose weight catches up with him, and he collapses in the hallway at school. As he recovers, Will opens up to his parents, and accepts help from a therapist. Markus sticks with Will, gently encouraging him to be a friend, ride a skateboard, and to stop trying to change himself for others, but to accept himself. Markus explains that we are all “works in progress” capable of change and growth through accepting help from parents, friends, teachers, and mental health specialists. Will begins to realize that working one day at a time, he can improve his self-image.

THOUGHTS: This is an important, emotionally moving novel. Will’s thought process and the characterization of his inner monster are written in verse with illustrations from his sketchbook. The inner-angst of peer pressure, of overhearing unkind comments, the middle school awkwardness of running into an old friend, all are heartbreakingly real. The narrative cleverly changes to prose when Markus reveals his different, but difficult, backstory. Anyone who has ever struggled with food and body image, confidence, isolation, peer pressure, or bullying will relate to this beautifully written book. Equally significant, this novel shows the direct effect of a single unkind word. A fabulous read aloud that will provide an excellent opportunity for class discussions about the many issues raised in this novel. Publication date: May 2, 2023.

Illustrated Novel in Verse, Realistic Fiction

MG – The Door of No Return

Alexander, Kwame. The Door of No Return. Little, Brown and Company, 2022.  978-0-316-44186-5. 418 p. $17.99. Grades 6-9.

Kofi Offin’s life in the Upper Kingdom of Africa is good. While Kofi’s school lessons may be boring and his cousin tries to intimidate him with feats of strength, his coming of age ceremony is around the corner, and he is excited. His best friend Ebo and his crush Ama often come with him when he spends his day swimming in the banks of the river Offin, for which he is named. During the Annual King’s festival, Kofi’s brother Kwasi represents the Upper Kingdom as a fighter and as such, fights against the strongest man in the Lower Kingdom. The fight results in a fatal tragedy which disintegrates the peace between the two kingdoms. Kofi becomes an unfortunate victim of that break in peace and is taken captive on the banks of the very river he loves. Kofi must find the strength within himself to survive the hardships that come next.

THOUGHTS: Kwame Alexander’s beautiful poetry draws the reader into the story while simultaneously weaving a chilling true story of what happened to many Africans during the Atlantic slave trade. The reader will relate to Kofi’s coming-of-age story and root for his survival. This would be an excellent purchase for middle grade libraries and also for classroom literature circles, especially when used in conjunction with a history curriculum focusing on early American and British history.

Historical Fiction           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD
Novel in Verse

MG – Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round: My Story of Making Martin Luther King Day

Kirkwood, Kathlyn J. Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round: My Story of Making Martin Luther King Day. Versify, 2022. 978-0-358-38726-8. 114 p. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

When Kathlyn Kirkwood is 17 years old, she realizes that racial discrimination is still very much present, especially in the South. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is fighting for change, and Kathlyn wants to be part of the movement. In 1968, The Negro Memphis sanitation workers go on strike for better working conditions like the white sanitation workers already receive. Dr. King comes to Memphis to support and lead the march – and Kathlyn decides to join in. The peaceful protest turns deadly when they are attacked, and it turns into a riot. The next month, Dr. King returns to march again, and Kathlyn cannot wait. The day before, she heads to the mall with her sister when she hears the breaking news: Dr. King has been killed right in her hometown of Memphis. All of his supporters knew that Dr. King deserved a day to commemorate the sacrifices he made to fight bigotry and hatred. One congressman, John Conyers, agreed, and introduced a bill for a Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday. It did not pass. Years go by and millions of people across the country sign a petition for the holiday, but it still does not pass. Undeterred, Kathlyn and fellow supporters (including singer Stevie Wonder) march, petition, and speak up for Dr. King until they finally accomplish their goal – 15 years later!

THOUGHTS: Kathlyn Kirkwood writes about this historical moment in lyrical verse paired with photographs, newspaper articles, flyers, and her own experiences. This is an important story for middle grade students to read and a must-buy for libraries.

Memoir           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD
Novel in Verse