Have you ever read a book that haunts you? Follows you around like an eager puppy, sticks to you like a cobweb? Do you find yourself thinking about the story while you work or drive or do laundry? Do you see the characters in the grocery store, on the street, at the gas station?
I love books like that, the ones that weave themselves into the fabric of my life and force me to turn the words over in my head until I’ve looked at them from every possible angle.
The main character, Wren, has experienced the trauma of moving to a new city and finding her life and family utterly unfamiliar. What happens next is a spiral brought on by bad decisions and desperation, right to rock bottom. Whisked away to eight weeks of desert survivalist camp, Wren must decide who she wants to be and how she wants to live. Her journey is both heart breaking and inspiring and I held my breath for her until the very last page.
Van Draanen takes the difficult topic of drug addiction and presents it without preaching or passing moral judgments. She simply and beautifully givers us a story of struggle.
Which got me thinking.
With empathy and fearlessness, middle grade authors regularly wade into the troubling issues kids face in today’s complex world. These authors reflect the challenges a child might be experiencing or offer a window into the struggles of classmates and friends, all while telling a compelling story. This is no small feat.
I can’t possibly cover them all but here are some of my current favorites:
While this novel has some fantastical elements (wish granting fish, for example), it deals with the heroin crisis currently all too familiar in many parts of the country
This poetic story, told from the perspective of a boy and his pet fox, illustrates the ravages of war to human and animal kind with a subtle and deft hand.
Edgar Award winning author King offers the story of an ‘eccentric thirteen-year-old social oddity’ who desperately wants to fit in. When Daniel gets caught up in solving a mystery, he illustrates just how he might learn to survive and thrive with behavior seen as outside of ‘normal’.
Kat Greene struggles to manage her mother’s worsening OCD, a job well above the pay grade of a child. This novel deftly illustrates the importance and courage of asking for help when a situation goes too far.
This transgender narrative, written for and about kids, shows a child’s journey from despair to courage. It is at once funny and inspiring.