Kevin Delecki

Donovan didn’t mean to leave the book on the kitchen table. Gideon hadn’t planned to ask the new boy, Roberto, to be his partner for their school project. And Rick didn’t know that the courage Oliver displayed on their latest adventure would make him realize “just how deeply he loved Oliver.” In acclaimed author David Levithan’s Answers in the Pages, these boys’ stories—separate but inextricably connected—intertwine to explore the impact of a book challenge in a small community.

When Mr. Howe passes out copies of a book called The Adventurers to Donovan’s fifth grade language arts class, Donovan accepts one without much thought and leaves it on the kitchen counter after reading the first chapter. It’s only when his mom asks him about the book and then goes to see the principal the next day that Donovan begins to realize something might be amiss. The situation spirals quickly as Donovan’s mom begins a campaign to remove the book from the curriculum because of its supposedly inappropriate themes.

Answers in the Pages unfolds in three skillfully balanced threads: There’s Donovan’s first-person narration, as well as amusing chapter-length excerpts from the fictional Adventurers novel, which follows the exploits of Rick and Oliver as they make daring escapes, track down evildoers and save the day. Finally, third-person chapters introduce Gideon and Roberto, two boys who don’t quite know where they fit in among their peers until they find each other. Each thread would be compelling on its own, but Levithan pulls them together in the book’s conclusion to create an ending even more moving than the sum of its individual parts.

As long as books have been written and published, efforts have been made to restrict the ability of readers—particularly young readers—to access them. With nuance and grace, Answers in the Pages explores the dramatic impact that such restrictions can have on the readers who need those books the most. Notably, the novel refuses to villainize Donovan’s mom, instead depicting her actions as the result of a misplaced sense of care. “I know you’re on my side,” Donovan tells his mom. “Just not this one time. This one time you thought you were on my side, but you got it wrong.”

Answers in the Pages is an uplifting portrait of the strength it takes to fight for your story. It’s an important book with an essential perspective on a vital, timeless question.

David Levithan's Answers in the Pages entwines three narrative threads to explore the wide-reaching impact of a book challenge in a small community.

Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone, Tae Keller’s first book since winning the 2021 Newbery Medal for When You Trap a Tiger, begins at “the end of everything” for friends Mallory, Reagan and Tess. During a middle school orchestra concert, Reagan’s phone buzzes with a text message from Pete, whose dad is the sheriff of their small town of Norwell, Florida: Jennifer Chan ran away. The news spreads quickly through the Gibbons Academy chapel, but only Mallory, Reagan and Tess have any idea where Jennifer might have gone or why.

Mallory never felt she fit in until sixth grade, when Reagan moved to town, became her best friend and taught her the secrets of middle school popularity and “how the world worked.” So when Mallory meets Jennifer, the new girl in their seventh grade class, and learns that Jennifer has no interest in following Reagan’s unspoken rules, Mallory knows that befriending her is a terrible idea. But Jennifer is a very hard person to say no to, and Mallory finds herself swept up in Jennifer’s epic mission to become the first person to contact aliens. As Mallory’s new friend and best friend clash, Mallory is caught between them—with devastating consequences.

Shifting back and forth in time between Jennifer’s arrival in Norwell and the aftermath of her disappearance, Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone depicts the difficult choices many young people face. It takes courage to be yourself instead of fitting in, to do the right thing instead of what feels good, even when you know it’s wrong. Middle school can be the hardest years of a child’s life, and Keller honestly explores many of the reasons why, including bullying, racism and the fear that one false move can bring your whole life tumbling down.

Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone is a frank, thought-provoking, sometimes painful but ultimately uplifting story about looking outside yourself to discover who you really are.

In Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone, Newbery Medalist Tae Keller explores the difficult choice between doing the right thing and doing what feels good, even when it’s wrong.

For many kids, it would be the ultimate dream come true: to unexpectedly gain superpowers and be able to save the world! Unless, of course, your dad won’t let you.

In Sort of Super, the debut graphic novel by Eric Gapstur, 11-year-old Wyatt Flynn was covered in glowing space dust, doused with nuclear waste and electrocuted—all during a rapid sequence of accidents on “Bring Your Kids to Work Day.” Now he has a ton of amazing abilities, including flight, superspeed, superstrength, super tough skin and invisibility. He also has an overprotective father who will under no circumstances allow Wyatt to be a superhero until he’s at least 36 years old.

After Wyatt, his little sister, Adeline, and their father move in with Wyatt’s grandmother, Wyatt must navigate the ordinary challenges of a new school year while concealing the fact that he’s now, well, a pretty extraordinary kid. It all goes (mostly) smoothly at first, but when animals in town begin mysteriously disappearing, Wyatt enlists the help of un-superpowered but extremely smart Adeline to discover who has been stealing them and why.

Filled with over-the-top action and slapstick humor, Sort of Super is a fantastic graphic novel for younger middle grade readers. Perfect for kids who have moved on from Captain Underpants and Dog Man but are not yet ready for Marvel, DC and other adult superhero comics, Sort of Super introduces many tropes of the genre (hidden identities, secret villains, sidekicks who are better prepared than the superhero, expansive universes) without being trite or condescending toward the reader.

Wyatt and Adeline succeed because of their strength of character and their trust and belief in each other, and Gapstur surrounds them with wonderfully supportive adults. His art is bold and colorful, and it perfectly complements his storytelling and on-point dialogue. Sort of Super is a funny, engaging book that will leave readers eager for more adventures with Wyatt, Adeline and their extraordinary family.

Filled with over-the-top action and slapstick humor, Eric Gapstur’s Sort of Super is a fantastic graphic novel for younger middle grade readers.

During times of war, every person must make their own choices—and their own sacrifices. In Great or Nothing, a creative retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women co-written by Joy McCullough, Caroline Tung Richmond, Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood, Meg, Jo and Amy March face choices and sacrifices after their sister Beth dies and the United States enters World War II.

The novel opens a few months after Beth’s death. The remaining March sisters have had a bitter falling-out and are scattered across the world. Jo has given up writing and moved to a big-city boardinghouse to work in an airplane factory. Amy has set aside her art, lied about her age and, without telling her family, joined the American Red Cross in London, where she serves as a Clubmobile girl. Meg has remained at home with Marmee to teach high school English and wait for John Brooke to return home from the war.

Each sister struggles with her choices and who she is growing up to become. Amy wrestles with the secret life she’s living, which becomes a bigger issue when she encounters Jo’s friend Laurie in a hospital in England. Jo yearns to write again and to understand how she feels about her adventurous reporter friend, Charlie Yates. Meg feels like she isn’t doing enough for the war effort, isn’t strong enough to hold her family together after Beth’s death and wonders whether marrying John, whom Amy has dismissed as a “boring old fuddy-duddy,” will make her happy. And Beth, who contributes sections in verse from beyond the grave, longs to intervene and wonders whether the choices she made in life were the right ones.

Great or Nothing will be enjoyed equally by devotees of Alcott’s classic novel and by readers who are completely unfamiliar with it. Alcott fans will delight in the creative ways the tale has been adapted to its 1940s setting, and the novel is full of clever Easter eggs.

Impressively, Great or Nothing also tells a cohesive, complete story through four distinct voices in four separate narrative threads, each written by a different author. By the end, readers will feel unique connections to each sister and their motivations, heartbreaks and joys. This is a compelling and tender historical coming-of-age novel with wide appeal.

Great or Nothing, a retelling of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, explores the choices, heartbreaks and joys of Meg, Jo and Amy March after their sister Beth dies and the U.S. enters WWII.

Flicker is pretty good, but flare is what everyone really wants, because in Fire Becomes Her, the world runs on flare. The magical substance has made the country of Candesce rich and powerful, but Candesce’s political elite decide who deserves access to the precious resource and who will be left in the dark. 

Like flicker, the illicit, bootleg version of flare, a good education and social connections not enough for 17-year-old Ingrid Ellis. Wealth and power are what she truly desires. Ingrid yearns to leave behind her impoverished childhood, forced to scrape by on bits of flicker just to keep warm. She longs for a life full of the magic, power and opulence available only to those with unlimited access to pure flare. Senator and presidential candidate Walden Holt’s son, Linden, seems to be the perfect way to get there.

As Ingrid pursues and (maybe, she thinks) falls in love with Linden, she is desperate to win his father’s approval. After she makes an impressive but unexpected display of magical strength during a raid at an underground flicker club, Ingrid is invited to join Senator Holt’s campaign. She offers to embed herself as a spy among the opposition and to pass along information that might ensure Holt’s victory. Things become complicated, however, as Ingrid gets to know the policies and ideals of the candidate she’s spying on. Along the way, her own worldview is shaken to its core.

In their second novel, author Rosiee Thor masterfully blends a fantasy setting inspired by the Prohibition era and a plot dripping with political intrigue. Fire Becomes Her thoughtfully explores complex themes including inequality, social hierarchies, families both found and chosen, and the possibility of redemption. Thor takes every opportunity to let these characters be uniquely themselves, and the range of gender identities and sexualities represented, as well as the nuanced forms of attraction and love depicted, are impressive and will be, for some readers, revelatory.

Fire Becomes Her is an imaginative, glittering tale about what it’s like to hold the kind of power that can truly change the world.

Rosiee Thor’s second novel masterfully blends a fantasy setting inspired by the Prohibition era and a plot dripping with political intrigue.

Have you ever had one of those days where absolutely everything seems to be going wrong and there’s nothing you can do to change it? In Amber Smith’s Code Name: Serendipity, 11-year-old Sadie has been feeling this way all year. Her best friend, Jude, moved to Utah, she’s made an enemy of the meanest girl at her bus stop, her older brother has started acting like “a total butthead,” and something seems off about her grandfather, who recently moved in with Sadie’s family.

Then one day, while walking through the woods behind her house, Sadie hears a small voice in her head calling for help. She follows it and discovers Dewey, a stray dog with whom she somehow has a telepathic connection. Sadie knows that Dewey is just as lost and lonely as she is, so with help from her Gramps, she sets out on her greatest mission ever: convincing her moms to let her adopt Dewey. What Sadie doesn’t know is that this mission will accomplish so much more than she could ever imagine.

Beneath Code Name: Serendipity’s straightforward prose and grounded, almost ordinary conflicts lies a powerful and emotional story. Sadie is a remarkably realistic protagonist, and the challenges she faces are, for the most part, the relatable stuff of everyday life. She’s just received a processing disorder diagnosis and is starting an individualized education plan at school. She’s adjusting to a long-distance friendship with Jude. And she’s worried about all the small ways that her beloved Gramps seems to be changing. Although Sadie and Dewey’s supernatural quest to win over Sadie’s moms propels the plot forward, Smith’s nuanced, reassuring portrayal of Sadie and her family as they navigate a period of uncertainty is what sets this book apart.

Code Name: Serendipity is a warm, appealing novel about a girl who learns that even though it might seem like everything is going wrong, a bad day—or year—can always change for the better.

Amber Smith’s middle grade novel offers a reassuring, emotional story about a girl and her family navigating an uncertain time in their lives.

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