J Realistic Fiction

RESTART by Gordon Korman

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When he wakes up, he is in the hospital, surrounded by strangers.  A woman is crying and calling him Chase, but the name doesn’t seem right.  He looks in a mirror and realizes he doesn’t know himself.  After falling off the roof, Chase has lost all memory of the first thirteen years of his life.  What’s even stranger than not knowing people is that people do seem to know him.  And most of them don’t like him–even seem afraid of him.  The more he learns about himself, the more Chase dislikes himself.  But how could that be?  Did the fall change who he was?  Or is Chase the bully still inside him somewhere?  As he grows closer to the people who once feared him, Chase must figure out who he really is or risk hurting the people he cares about most.

A wonderful coming of age story in which a boy is able to rebuild himself, piecing together those parts of him that he likes and discovering a new capacity for compassion.  It gives inspiration to all of us who fall short of our ideal hopes for ourselves and strive to be better friends and citizens.  I highly recommend it to middle grade fans of realistic fiction.

HELLO, UNIVERSE by Erin Entrada Kelly

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Virgil has a problem.  He knows that he and Valencia are destined to be friends. (They have the same initials! It is fate!)  But Valencia doesn’t know he exists, and unlike the brave Filipino heroes in his grandmother’s stories, Virgil is a shy and quiet and too scared to introduce himself.  Fortunately, he knows just who to take his problem to: Kaori.

Valencia has a problem, too.  She has been haunted by nightmares that she doesn’t understand.  Not to mention being tormented by the local bully, Chet the Bull, who mocks her for being deaf.  When she discovers an advertisement for Kaori, the child psychic, she decides to take the risk and make an appointment.  But her appointment is interrupted when Kaori realizes that one of her other clients has vanished, and Valencia joins in the search.

This story of the intertwined lives of four children has just enough intrigue and suspense to keep the reader going.  I wasn’t personally fond of the switching point of views and mixture of first and third person narration, but the story itself is engaging.  I’d recommend it to middle grade readers who enjoy realistic fiction.

A BOY CALLED BAT by Elana K. Arnold 

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Bat got his name because his initials are B. A. T. But it stuck because of the way Bat flaps his arms when he gets excited or overwhelmed. And because of his extra sensitive hearing, which sometimes requires him to wear earmuffs.  It’s okay with him because a bat is an animal, and Bat loves animals.  When he grows up, he is going to be a vet like his mom.  When his mom brings home a newborn skunk kit, Bat is ecstatic.  It will be a perfect pet! There are only two problems.  First, Bat still has to spend Every Other Fridays at his dad’s house, which is bad both because it breaks up his normal routine and takes time away from the kit.  And second, his mom says they have to turn the kit over to a skunk rescue in a month.  Bat can’t change Every Other Fridays, but he embarks on a mission to change his mom’s mind about the skunk rescue.  Step One: contact international skunk expert Dr. Jerry Dragoo.   

A sweet story about a boy’s love for his pet and struggle to find a place in his community.  This novel will be best for readers who have graduated from transitional to full-fledged chapter books (typically grades 3-4). 

GARVEY’S CHOICE by Nikki Grimes

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Garvey wishes his father could accept him for who he is.  He just doesn’t like sports.  He likes reading.  His father’s comments sting, and the only thing that seems to soften the blow is eating.  And eating.  The more weight he gains, the more he is tormented by his father and his classmates.  Can Garvey find a way to connect with his father and love himself?

Told in a series of poems, Garvey’s story tackles the struggle to overcome the judgments of others and find a sense of self worth.  Despite Garvey’s difficult relationship with his father, they do love one another and ultimately will gain a deeper understanding for each other as they grow closer.  Short and full of beautiful language, this new novel from Nikki Grimes will appeal to middle grade realistic fiction readers, poetry lovers, and even reluctant readers who may be encouraged by the short chapters and abundant white space.

GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier

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Cat is not happy about having to move from beautiful, sunny Southern California to cold,  rainy, miserable Bahia de la Luna.  But the weather will be better for her little sister Maya’s health.  Despite her illness and difficulty breathing, Maya is always cheerful and doesn’t seem to mind leaving all her friends behind.  In fact, she almost immediately makes a new friend: a boy Cat’s age who just happens to lead the town ghost tours.  Cat is less than thrilled.  She hates ghost stories.  But things get far worse when the ghosts turn out to be real.  Spirits of the dead hang around in Bahia de la Luna awaiting the Day of the Dead festival, and their presence will force Cat to confront her sister’s mortality.

With an infusion of folk fantasy, this graphic novel tackles the topic of a terminally ill sibling with a realistic range of emotions–from resentment to fear to sadness.  This novel will appeal more to realistic fiction fans than ghost story aficionados, though it has elements of both genres.

THE WARDEN’S DAUGHTER by Jerry Spinelli

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Cammie has always been somewhat famous.  After all, her father is the warden at the prison.  And her mother died somewhat dramatically by pushing Cammie’s baby carriage out of the path of an oncoming milk truck.  Cammie has always gotten by with just her dad in their apartment at the prison.  But the year she is about to become a teenager, she realizes her dad isn’t enough.  While her best friend is obsessed with fashion and getting on Bandstand with Dick Clark, Cammie becomes obsessed with honing a mother figure for herself.  The best candidate: Elosha, the prisoner who cleans their apartment.  

Cammie must come to terms with her mother’s sacrifice through experiencing the sacrificial love of others in this historical coming-of-age novel.  Driven by well-developed characters, the novel will grab middle grade readers who enjoy realistic fiction as well as historical fiction readers. It also has plenty of meat for book group discussions.

THE SWEETEST SOUND by Sherri Winston 

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Cadence Mariah Jolly made a deal with God.  If He found a way to get her the exact digital piano she’d been longing for, she would share the amazing singing ability she’s been hiding by actually singing in public.  It was an easy promise to make because she never in a million years imagined that her dad could afford the piano.  But when he surprises her with it, Cadence knows she has to come through on her promise–and the church gospel choir auditions seem like the perfect opportunity, especially since her two best friends want to audition with her.  First she just has to overcome the crippling shyness that earned her the nickname “Mouse.”  And then maybe she can post the most amazing audition video ever–one that will make her mom, wherever she is, proud enough to come home.  

This sweet story about a girl finding the courage to be herself and open up to her community was a nice gentle read.  Young readers will relate to Cadence’s friendship and family pressures and her fears about the consequences of being vulnerable in front of others.  Of course, her bravery is ultimately rewarded as her loving community accepts her with open arms and she finds her identity independent of her estranged mother.  A nice, gentle read for middle grade realistic fiction lovers.