Here are two books that have little in common besides being contemporary speculative fiction at the middle grade level. The first I picked solely because of the adorable yet fierce kid on the cover; the second because I liked the first book in the series.
Oddity by Sarah Cannon. Feiwel and Friends, 2017.
In the New Mexico town of Oddity, many things that we would consider odd aren’t. It’s normal to have zombie bunnies invade your room and have battles with aliens in your yard. It’s normal to escape from deadly wild animals during gym class while your teachers watch through a closed door. The town is run by puppets, and no one really looks at the black-clad people who stand behind them pulling the strings. There’s also a festival and a Sweepstakes every year, where adults are chosen as winners and taken away to a fabulous new life.
Ada never questioned any of these things until her twin sister, Pearl, was taken by the sweepstakes and her parents stopped functioning from grief. Also, the new boy next door, Cayden, is shocked by so many normal things that Ada has to question her understanding of the way things work. And when things take a turn for the sinister, Cayden, Ada, and Ada’s best friend Raymond, will have to break lots of rules and even face down the Blurmonster and question Scoby the sentient kombucha culture to find out what’s going on.
The action is narrated with snarky, up-to-date language, while thoughts on cultural appropriation and respect for indigenous cultures lurks underneath. Though this doesn’t appear to be an #OwnVoices book, things like Ada’s memories of Sunday hair braiding sessions with her sister, mother, and aunt in happier times touched on similar events in other books I’ve read by Black authors. This helped Ada feel like a legitimately African-American character, and the town as described is ethnically diverse, though the focus is decidedly on the adventure and the town. Kids looking for an offbeat adventure with a heroine who is seriously not to be messed with will be very pleased.
The Daybreak Bond by Megan Frazer Blakemore. Bloomsbury, 2017.
Spoiler alert! This is the sequel to The Firefly Code, and spoilers are inevitable. You have been warned. Now, the crew of friends are figuring out a way to get out of the utopian city of Old Harmonie for the first time ever. They plan to travel to Boston to meet Mori’s grandmother’s best friend and fellow scientist Dr. Varden, whose initial research led to the creation of their friend Alanna. But the Firefly kids’ parents think that Alanna is dangerous, and not a real person, and want to take her apart. It takes a whole lot of thinking to disable a system meant to keep them inside and tracked, and that’s only the beginning. On the way, they must overcome obstacles, confront their beliefs about the outside world as well as the privilege they’ve grown up with. Underneath it all is the growing question: can they trust people whose thoughts can be manipulated?