When my teen librarian, Ms. D, and I started talking about a realistic fiction list for middle school, the way that formerly close friendships often start shifting in middle school came up as a particularly relevant topic. I’d been working on this slowly when my daughter’s Cadette troop started working on their aMAZE journey, which covers very similar themes. Several of these are books that Ms. D recommended, and which I still need to read myself. If you’ve read any of these, or have others you’d add to this list, please let me know in the comments!
As usual, links are to my reviews where available. Most of the books are available in ebook and audiobook formats from the library through Libby or Hoopla.
Best Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham – In this sequel to Real Friends, Shannon, now in sixth grade, is part of the popular crowd! But this comes with strict requirements about dress and behavior – can she follow these rules, and is it worth it?
The Boys in the Back Row by Mike Jung- Sixth graders Matt and Eric have been best friends ever since fourth grade, enjoying hanging out together at the back of the band. When they learn that Eric has to move, they plan the adventure of their lives – sneaking away from their band competition at an amusement park to go to a nearby comics convention and meet their favorite author.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Ramee Libby – Shayla’s world has been rocked when she and one of her best friends want to take the same boy to the middle school dance. Then, an unarmed Black man is killed in their community. Shayla starts wearing a black armband to school to protest – only to get in trouble with the administration.
Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead Libby – Best friends Bridge, Em, and Tab join different clubs and making new friends as they enter middle school. Bridge is very unsure about this, wearing cat ears every day, and wondering about her role in the universe.
Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly Libby – “Lives of four misfits are intertwined when a bully’s prank lands shy Virgil at the bottom of a well and Valencia, Kaori, and Gen band together in an epic quest to find and rescue him.”
Keep it Together, Keiko Carter! by Debbi Michiko Florence Hoopla – Middle school romance, changing friendships, and a bit of dealing with casual racism blend with Keiko’s love of both chocolate and dogs to make a sweet read with a solid heart.
Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds Libby – Ten kids walk home from school, all on the same day, their stories intertwining in unexpected ways.
The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert Libby – Two girls with different backgrounds bond over being the only two Black girls in their seventh-grade class. But when they discover a box of old journals in the attic, everything they thought they knew about their town changes.
So Done by Paula Chase Libby – When Tai’s best friend Bean comes back to the city after spending some time with family out of town, Bean is changed – more interested in ballet than in going along with the adventures Tai planned for them, and wanting to go by her real name, Jamila. Can Tai figure out what happened to drive them apart and fix it?
The Stars Beneath our Feet by David Barclay Moore Libby – “Unable to celebrate the holidays in the wake of his older brother’s death in a gang-related shooting, Lolly Rachpaul struggles to avoid being forced into a gang himself while constructing a fantastically creative LEGO city at the Harlem community center.”
Strange Birds: a Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers by Celia C. Pérez – “After Ofelia, Aster, Cat, and Lane fail to persuade a local girls club to change an outdated tradition, they form an alternative group that shakes up their sleepy Florida town.”
Tight by Torrey Maldonado Libby – “After his quick-tempered father gets in a fight and is sent back to jail, sixth-grader Bryan, known for being quiet and thoughtful, snaps and follows new friend Mike into trouble.”
Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright – Maureen and Francine are twins who have always had the same best friends as well. But when they start middle school, Francine starts pulling away, leaving Maureen struggling to make her own way. Before she quite knows what’s happening, they’re running against each other for class president.