Soul-Searching Books for Sweltering Days: Middle Grade Summer Reads

By Alena Rivers

In a recent blog post, we featured picture books that speak to the summer experiences of young readers. This week’s books are summer-themed tomes fit for the elementary and middle-grade reader. These older children are embarking on a new level of self-discovery and finding their place in the world amongst their family and friends. Slow summer months can be full of opportunities for older children to do some soul-searching and to confront issues in their lives. The children in the stories featured here explore bigger themes in their lives such as adoption, death and divorce. Their experiences may be challenging but their stories are interlaced with touching, humorous and revelatory moments that lighten their moods. When given the space and the freedom that summer vacation can often provide, children can take another step into maturity by discovering that elusive balance between accepting their circumstances and doing something about them.

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, 2016)

Twelve-year-old Genie and his older brother Ernie are spending a month with their grandparents in North Hill, Virginia while their parents spend time together sorting out their fading marriage. Genie is distraught knowing that his parents are on the brink of divorce so his time away from them has him more anxious than usual. Shortly after they arrive at their grandparents’ home Genie learns that his grandfather is blind. This revelation, and adapting to an environment unlike his home in Brooklyn, only adds to Genie’s anxiety. Country life offers a quiet and industrious place for Genie to roam, think and get to know his grandfather. All of these experiences deepen his understanding of his family history and help him discover more about himself and his role within the family. Readers will empathize and laugh with Genie as he braves new territory learning about grits, sweet tea and family secrets. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Just Like Me by Nancy Cavanaugh (Sourcebooks, 2016)

Julia is an eleven-year-old girl who has been encouraged by her parents to attend a week-long, overnight summer camp to bond with her “Chinese sisters.” Julia, Becca and Avery are not exactly sisters, but they were adopted from the same adoption agency in China and their families get the girls together occasionally. Julia is not excited about spending more time with Becca and Avery who identify more with their Chinese heritage than Julia. To add to her frustration, within minutes of checking into their camp cabin, Julia realizes that all six cabin-mates are not going to get along well. Through narrative text and periodic journal entries, Julia shares her week-long experiences as she tries to navigate contentious relationships while still enjoying proverbial summer camp activities. Julia’s concerns about her adoption story and her periods of reflection provide readers with thoughtful examples of how taking risks can help us find answers. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Summerlost by Ally Condie (Penguin Random House/Dutton, 2016)

Nearly a year ago, twelve-year-old Cedar Lee suddenly lost her father and youngest brother in a car accident. Cedar, her mother and her remaining younger brother, still feeling the pain of their loss, move to their mother’s home town for the summer where Cedar finds an unexpected friendship, mystery and a summer job at the Summerlost theater festival to keep her busy. Despite her new distractions, the loss of her loved ones leaves a void not easily filled. Cedar’s time over the summer is spent building relationships, bravely taking on new experiences and learning how to find strength through the recovery process. A heart-felt exploration of the growth we hope to find after losing loved ones. Recommended for ages 9-12.