Middle Grade Review: Maya and the Rising Dark

Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena Barron

Series: Maya and the Rising Dark
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Twelve-year-old Maya is the only one in her South Side Chicago neighborhood who witnesses weird occurrences like werehyenas stalking the streets at night and a scary man made of shadows plaguing her dreams. Her friends try to find an explanation—perhaps a ghost uprising or a lunchroom experiment gone awry. But to Maya, it sounds like something from one of Papa’s stories or her favorite comics.

When Papa goes missing, Maya is thrust into a world both strange and familiar as she uncovers the truth. Her father is the guardian of the veil between our world and the Dark—where an army led by the Lord of Shadows, the man from Maya’s nightmares, awaits. Maya herself is a godling, half orisha and half human, and her neighborhood is a safe haven. But now that the veil is failing, the Lord of Shadows is determined to destroy the human world and it’s up to Maya to stop him. She just hopes she can do it in time to attend Comic-Con before summer’s over.


Maya and the Rising Dark is a Middle Grade fantasy novel based on West African mythology in the same vein as the Rick Riordan Presents imprint. It’s fun, upbeat, and easy to read.

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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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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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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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Middle Grade Review: Roller Girl

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Genres: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade
Maturity Level: 2+
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆

Twelve-year-old Astrid has always done everything with her best friend Nicole. So when Astrid signs up for roller derby camp, she assumes Nicole will too. But Nicole signs up for dance camp with a new friend instead, and so begins the toughest summer of Astrid’s life. There are bumps and bruises as Astrid learns who she is without Nicole…and what it takes to be a strong, tough roller girl. 


I started reading middle grade as an adult a little more than a year ago, and this is the first book I’ve read that I’m really disappointed didn’t exist when I was a young person. I think 10-year-old me would have loved it so much, and adult-me sure as heck did. Definitely one of my new favorite graphic novels!

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Middle Grade Review: Front Desk

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Series: Front Desk
Genre: Middle Grade
Maturity Level: 3 (Content warnings: Violence against women, racism, unjust policing policies)
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?


I picked up this book because on my very first day as a librarian an extremely passionate, well-spoken young lady told me this was her favorite book and asked if I’d read it. She told me she liked to read it over and over again. And, on the one hand, I see why because WOW. But on the other hand, what kind of ten year old enjoys reading something so difficult? I mean, most of the other kids still think Goosebumps is the height of literary achievement.

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Middle Grade Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.


THIS BOOK!!! WOW!!! I mean, what can I even say?, it won every award there is pretty much, and deserved it. It’s just so fabulous.

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Middle Grade Review: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Maturity Level: 1
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆

In the valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.


Wow. I don’t even know what else to say about this book other than that it’s amazing and perfect and should be in every classroom, school, and child’s library. I mean, just, WOW.

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Middle Grade Review: The Strangers

The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Series: The Greystone Secrets
Genre: Middle Grade, Science Fiction-ish
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating: ⋆⋆

The Greystone kids thought they knew. Chess has always been the protector over his younger siblings, Emma loves math, and Finn does what Finn does best—acting silly and being adored. They’ve been a happy family, just the three of them and their mom.

But everything changes when reports of three kidnapped children—who share the same first and middle names, ages, and exact birth dates as the Greystone kids—reach the Greystone family. This bizarre coincidence makes them wonder: Who exactly are these strangers? Before Chess, Emma, and Finn can question their mom about it, she takes off on a mysterious work trip. But puzzling clues left behind lead to complex codes, hidden rooms, and a dangerous secret that will turn their world upside down.


I don’t know that I enjoyed this book at all, and I’m not really even sure why? It’s a really difficult book to talk about or explain, so sorry if this review is vague.

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Middle Grade Review: Stay

Stay by Bobbie Pyron

Genres: Middle Grade, Fiction
Maturity Level: 3-
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Piper’s life is turned upside down when her family moves into a shelter in a whole new city. She misses her house, her friends, and her privacy—and she hates being labeled the homeless girl at her new school. But while the shelter, Hope House, offers her new challenges, it also brings new friendships, like the girls in Firefly Girls Troop 423 and a sweet street dog named Baby. So when Baby’s person goes missing, Piper knows she has to help. But helping means finding the courage to trust herself and her new friends, no matter what anyone says about them—before Baby gets taken away for good.


Wow, talk about a book that was designed with every possible mechanism to make adult readers cry. Poverty and homelessness, mental illness, a dog, girls working together for the better of people other than themselves, seeing the best in life. It would be a bald-faced lie to say I didn’t boo-hoo my way through this book.

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