Here are two books perfect for the fall season! Both of these have already been nominated for the Cybils Award this year – standard disclaimer about my opinion not reflecting that of the committee as a whole applies here.
Let the Monster Out
by Chad Lucas
Read from a library copy.
Ebook and audiobook on Libby.
Bones Malone has always had a hard time fitting in and behaving, and moving to tiny, mostly-white Langille, Nova Scotia (famous for the high tech company that moved its headquarters her a few years ago) hasn’t helped. The only other Black family in town is that of Coach Robeson, a former pro baseball player who’s now coaching the AAA team, and his wife and kids. Also on the team is Kyle, who’s homeschooled because of his extreme difficulty fitting in in social situations.
After an initially rocky start to the relationship, Bones and Kyle both find themselves suspicious – key adults in their lives have started acting like zombies, while Bones’s reporter mother was being blocked whenever she tried to report on the company before she went zombie. When they rescue a drowning man who begs them to keep his notebook safe, they think they might have a clue. But it’s kids against adults – both the obviously evil ones, and the ones who just want to keep them safe – as well as bullies and their own darkest fears. Let the Monster Out has some truly terrifying elements, like shared nightmares with recurring polar bear attacks and beloved adults’ personalities changing, wrapped in a fast-moving plot with a great cast of kids. At the same time, it addresses some serious issues – Bones and his family are learning to move on after leaving his abusive father and Kyle would like to learn more about what makes him different, while his parents want to avoid labeling him. This is a satisfyingly scary mystery that still addresses important and relevant topics – another winner from the author of Thanks a Lot, Universe.
Secret of the Shadow Beasts
by Diane Magras
Dial Books, 2022
Read from a library copy.
12-year-old Nora, who is white, has never questioned her father’s decision to keep her at home, rather than sending her off to train to be a knight at age 7, when it was discovered that she was one of the rare children who was immune to the venom of the Umbrae. The terrifying shadow beasts rise from the ground at nightfall, with bites lethal to all adults. Her father, though, died years ago, and when Nora is able to save her mother from an Umbrae attack when they are out late one night, she calls the local office to report the attack and is quickly talked into joining the knights herself. It’s hard to leave her mother alone on their tiny farm, though, and perhaps even harder to leave her best friend Wilfred, who is Black, and with whom she spends all her free time playing an epic fantasy video game.
Once at the castle of Noye’s Hill, though, Nora starts to wonder what she’s signed up for. She does terrifyingly well on the entrance tests, and is expected to join a tightly-knit order of knights and head out to battle Umbrae with only a week of training. Playing video games may have given her very quick reaction times, but it doesn’t prepare her emotionally, nor does it endear her to the older members of her order, some of whom very much resent having such a newbie replace the beloved member Nora is replacing. And no matter how hard they fight, the Umbrae keep multiplying, with fewer and fewer knights to fight them. Here, Nora’s inexperience may be her best weapon, as she asks questions that those raised within the system haven’t asked, questions that may also partly explain why she came in at such a high skill level.
Nora’s order is filled with a diverse array of people, including a trans girl and people whose ancestry would translate to South Asian (and the delicious foods of those cultures) and African. Despite the grimness of the battles (which, fine, will probably be a selling point for many readers), there is also lots of warmth here, from the lilt of Nora’s traditional fiddle tunes and ugly-cute knitting to the excitement of both the video games and the video game-like reality that is being a knight, as well as the close bonds of her Order as they relax together between battles. Give this to any kid who loves battling monsters and tales of tight-knit teams.