It’s always fascinating to read the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction finalists, which include both contemporary and historical middle grade fiction. I’m not quite sure why I hadn’t gotten around to reading Tae Keller’s latest, which was definitely on my radar. I have also written a review of Yonder by Ali Standish, but since it’s published by HarperCollins, I looked into their union strike more deeply than I had, and am now withholding that review until they reach a settlement.
Air by Monica Roe
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022
Read the ebook on Libby.
“What other people think I can or can’t do doesn’t matter. These are the things that matter. I’m Emelyn Ethrige. I’m twelve and a half years old. Alejandra Che is my best friend.
I like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
And I love speed.”Air by Monica Roe, 2022
Emmy’s skateboarding father taught her to do tricks with her own wheels. Since her mother died, though, he’s gotten a lot more cautious about her using the skating setup he built in their yard, and too busy with work and night classes to spend time with her. Emmy is undeterred. She and her best friend Ale have made their own online business, selling both natural things like pinecones and Spanish moss from the surrounding woods, but also Emmy’s custom wheelchair bags. They’re almost halfway to their goals: a custom sports wheelchair for Emmy and new, fancy beekeeping equipment for Ale. Then, a mishap at school brings Emmy to the new principal’s attention, and suddenly he wants the school to raise the money for her wheelchair – and for Emmy to have a personal aide at school instead of doing things on her own, as her mother had worked so hard for her to do. Even though her friends at school are excited to help, something just doesn’t feel right. Emmy’s journey includes relationships with family, friends, a developing crush, lots of wheelchair tricks, and tons of Emmy’s firecracker personality. Pair this with 2019 Cybils Finalist Roll with It by Jamie Sumner and Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly for other stories of kids more limited by others’ perceptions of their disabilities than by the disabilities themselves. As I was writing this review, on a snow day, my daughter picked up my e-reader and finished the whole book before I got it posted.
Jennifer Chan is Not Alone
by Tae Keller
Random House, 2022
Read from a library copy.
Before Mallory met Reagen, she was filled with anxiety, capable of fainting at the most embarrassing moment. Now that she, Reagen and Tess are best friends, Mallory feels like she has a place and a handle on the rules to follow to stay popular rather than being a middle school target. But right before eighth grade, a new girl moves in across the street. Jennife Chan believes in aliens so wholeheartedly that Mallory is drawn in, even as she believes that going to school talking like that and wearing t-shirts about aliens rather than trying to look cute would be social suicide both for Jennifer and for Mallory, if she’s seen with her. So when Jennifer Chan goes missing – at the very beginning of the book – Mallory is forced to reckon with the role she might have played in Jennifer’s disappearance, and work with both her current best friends and the ones she left behind when she became popular to figure out what might have happened.
Middle grade books where the MC must overcome bullies are tediously common. This story flips that narrative around, with a rare sympathetic portrait of a girl who never meant to be a bully and who only realizes in retrospect that that’s what she’s become and sets out to fix it. It’s as impressive as I’d expect from Tae Keller, whose How to Trap a Tiger was a personal favorite as well as a Newbery winner.
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