Middle Grade Review: Class Act

Class Act by Jerry Craft

Series: New Kid
Genres: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade
Maturity Level: 3 (for mature themes like police violence)
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Eighth grader Drew Ellis is no stranger to the saying “You have to work twice as hard to be just as good.” His grandmother has reminded him his entire life. But what if he works ten times as hard and still isn’t afforded the same opportunities that his privileged classmates at the Riverdale Academy Day School take for granted?

To make matters worse, Drew begins to feel as if his good friend Liam might be one of those privileged kids. He wants to pretend like everything is fine, but it’s hard not to withdraw, and even their mutual friend Jordan doesn’t know how to keep the group together.

As the pressures mount, will Drew find a way to bridge the divide so he and his friends can truly accept each other? And most important, will he finally be able to accept himself?


Wow. I will literally pick up anything by Jerry Craft at this point. This book was just SO OUTSTANDING, I devoured it in an hour. While you don’t have to have read New Kid first, this book (especially the beginning) will make a lot more sense if you do, plus New Kid is amazing, so there’s that.

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Review: Oona Out of Order

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore

Genre: Chick Lit/Women’s Fiction
Maturity Level: 5
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

It’s New Year’s Eve 1982, and Oona Lockhart has her whole life before her. At the stroke of midnight she will turn nineteen, and the year ahead promises to be one of consequence. Should she go to London to study economics, or remain at home in Brooklyn to pursue her passion for music and be with her boyfriend? As the countdown to the New Year begins, Oona faints and awakens thirty-two years in the future in her fifty-one-year-old body. Greeted by a friendly stranger in a beautiful house she’s told is her own, Oona learns that with each passing year she will leap to another age at random. And so begins Oona Out of Order…

Hopping through decades, pop culture fads, and much-needed stock tips, Oona is still a young woman on the inside but ever changing on the outside. Who will she be next year? Philanthropist? Club Kid? World traveler? Wife to a man she’s never met? Surprising, magical, and heart-wrenching, Margarita Montimore has crafted an unforgettable story about the burdens of time, the endurance of love, and the power of family.


This was a concept I was very excited to read about, and the writing was excellent and readable. Unfortunately, one-dimensional characters and pacing problems kept this from being as good it could have been.

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Review: Red Rising

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Series: Red Rising
Genre: Science Fiction
Maturity Level: 5-
Content Warning: Rape (off-the-page)
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. [redacted by reviewer because I feel like this is spoilery]

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.


This is going to be a short review, because I didn’t really connect with this book, but I’m not sure that I fully understand why.

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Review: The Henna Wars

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigird

Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Maturity Level: 3
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.

Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.


In trying to decide upon a rating for The Henna Wars, I think I finally understand why people give half-star ratings. Four stars means “I loved this book!”, and while I did enjoy The Henna Wars quite a lot, it didn’t really stand out enough from other YA romances enough for me to say I “loved” it. But three stars (“I liked it”) doesn’t seem adequate to describe quite how much I enjoyed it either. So, three and a half stars, I guess.

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Middle Grade Review: Meri Suárez Changes Gears

Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Genres: Middle Grade, Fiction
Maturity Level: 3
Content Warnings: Alzheimer’s and Dementia
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family. 


Do you know how sometimes reading about something you have experienced, especially pain, can be cathartic? How reading a character going through something you’ve already been through can make you feel so seen, especially when the writing is good? But you might also be familiar with the experience of something being so authentic that it drags you back to that time and might dredge up old feelings you don’t want. This book was definitely the second for me.

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Review: The Queen of the Night

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

Genre: Historical Fiction
Maturity Level: 5
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

Lilliet Berne is a sensation of the Paris Opera, a legendary soprano with every accolade except an original role, every singer’s chance at immortality. When one is finally offered to her, she realizes with alarm that the libretto is based on a hidden piece of her past. Only four could have betrayed her: one is dead, one loves her, one wants to own her. And one, she hopes, never thinks of her at all.  As she mines her memories for clues, she recalls her life as an orphan who left the American frontier for Europe and was swept up into the glitzy, gritty world of Second Empire Paris. In order to survive, she transformed herself from hippodrome rider to courtesan, from empress’s maid to debut singer, all the while weaving a complicated web of romance, obligation, and political intrigue. 


Half historical fiction, half love-letter to Romantic-era Opera, The Queen of the Night is an unusual and engrossing novel worth the effort of reading.

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Middle Grade Review: Aru Shah and the End of Time

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Series: Pandava Quartet
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she’ll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur?

One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru’s doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don’t believe her claim that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again.

But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it’s up to Aru to save them.

The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?


When Aru Shah was announced three years ago I was *so* excited. I love that Rick Riordan used his influence to find and promote diverse voices to create a wealth of mythological modern-fantasy that he could never have created on his own. I was so excited to hear a new take, a new set of myths that I wasn’t already familiar with, a female perspective. And then I just … never read it? I’m so glad I finally did!

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Review: Ask Again, Yes

Ask Agian, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Genre: Fiction
Maturity Level: 5-
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, two rookie cops in the NYPD, live next door to each other outside the city. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne—sets the stage for the explosive events to come.

Ask Again, Yes is a deeply affecting exploration of the lifelong friendship and love that blossoms between Francis and Lena’s daughter, Kate, and Brian and Anne’s son, Peter. Luminous, heartbreaking, and redemptive, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story, while tested by echoes from the past, is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.


I was surprised by how different Ask Again, Yes, was from anything I had ever read before. I was equally surprised halfway through to find that I was enjoying the book. It was such a low-key enjoyment that I thought I was bored, but eventually I discovered that I was quite attached to the characters.

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Review: Heroine Complex

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

Series: Heroine Complex
Genres: Science Fiction, Romance
Maturity Level: 5
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine. She’s great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss’s epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.

Unfortunately, she’s not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.

But everything changes when Evie’s forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest secret comes out: she has powers, too. Now it’s up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda’s increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right… or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion.


Heroine Complex was completely different from what I was expecting, but still everything I was hoping for. It was exciting, funny, sexy, and full of heart.

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Review: American Royals

American Royals by Katharine McGee

Series: American Royals
Genres: Young Adult, Alternate History, Romance
Maturity Level: 3+
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne.

As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America’s first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life suddenly feels stifling.

Nobody cares about the spare except when she’s breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn’t care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her.

And then there’s Samantha’s twin, Prince Jefferson. If he’d been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.


American Royals was almost exactly what I was expecting, a YA romance with plenty of soap opera style drama. It was fun, escapist, and an enjoyable read despite being a little insipid.

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