Measuring Up follows 12-year-old Cici who moves from Taiwan to the US with her parents, leaving behind her beloved A-ma (her grandmother). Thankfully, the adjustment period isn't too hard on her. She makes friends quickly and her English is already pretty good. However, she and her parents struggle with American culture, like sleepovers, fireplaces, and she quickly stops bring Taiwanese food to lunch, preferring instead to learn to make American food, so she can blend in. Although Cici and her parents want to bring her grandmother over for a visit at least, they can't afford to yet. Cici misses her A-ma with whom she used to go to the market and cook. So when she stumbles upon a kid cooking contest, it feels like the perfect opportunity to earn $1000. The only problem is that Cici can only cook Taiwanese dishes. Fortunately, she's paired up with an Italian-American girl, Miranda, whose father runs a restaurant (and who practically grew up working in a restaurant). Halfway through the contest though, each contestant has to compete alone.
Serena Says was high on my list of anticipated middle-grade books this fall. It was also the first time I read anything by author Tanita Davis. Serena's best friend JC has to take a break from school for a kidney transplant, and Serena is looking forward to visiting her in the hospital after the surgery, as school ambassador. But when she catches a cold, her hopes are deflated as another girl Lani is sent instead of her. After the visit, Serena notices that Lani and JC have developed a friendship, and her relationship with JC seems to have diminished in intensity. Throughout the story, Serena works on finding a good place in her friendship with JC while balancing working with Lani, Harrison, Cameron, and the other kids in her school and senate.
One Last Shot follows 12-year-old Malcolm who has an anxious streak and never feels good enough, especially for his dad. It doesn't help that his parents are always arguing, and Malcolm is typically caught in the middle. Malcolm's father loves competitive sports (especially baseball) and is disappointed when Malcolm decides to stop playing because he isn't good at it and does not enjoy it. But he finds some respite when Malcolm becomes interested in miniature golf -- and actually enjoys it. As usual, Malcolm's father goes overboard, hiring a coach called Frank and signs Malcolm up for a tournament. The book alternates between the events of the tournament day and past events leading up to the tournament as Malcolm and Frank forge a sweet friendship, Malcolm befriends a smart girl named Lex, and his parents relationship deteriorates.
In her graphic memoir Smile, Raina is just trying to enjoy being a sixth grader when an accident severely injures her two front teeth. Thus begins an unending series of visits to dentists and different treatment options. Throughout this process, Raina still has middle school to tackle. Her friends are sometimes insensitive toward the things that matter to her and she's finding herself newly developing crushes on boys, even as she's too embarrassed to smile, thanks to the braces, head gear, retainer, and other contraptions she has to wear throughout the course of this book. Smile follows Telgemeier from sixth grade until high school as each attempt to rectify the situation with her teeth is stumped and doctors are forced to try a different route.
In Stick with Me, Izzy and Wren, two very different 12-year-olds are unwittingly brought together at just the right time in their lives. Izzy, a sweet, creative artist with a love for stickers lives in Boston with her parents and older brother Nate. Her best friend, Phoebe is now friends with popular, not-so-nice girl, Daphne, and only hangs out with Izzy because their mothers who are best friends, make them. Wren, on the other hand, is a determined figure skater whose little sister, Hannah has epilepsy.
Olive is excited to be going to summer camp this year, especially since her best friend Willow is also going. She's looking forward to doing camp things and making new friends. As soon as the girls arrive, Olive jumps right into the friend-making and activities, but Willow is as adept as making friends and instead wants to follow Olive everywhere. Worse still, she tries to hold Olive back from making other friends or joining different activities, becoming sulky and giving her the silent treatment when she does. At first, Olive handles things well, making compromises and forgoing opportunities to hang out with other campers just to keep Willow happy. Eventually, though, things start to get to her and the girls' friendship becomes strained.
Fourth grader Mya Tibbs is excited for Spirit Week! She has made plans to partner with her best friend Naomi Jackson. Mya's life seems pretty good with her brother Nugget, his best friend affectionately known as Fish, and her other friends, identical twins Starr and Skye. The one scary part is Mean Connie Tate, who everyone knows is the biggest fourth-grade bully. So, you can imagine Mya's terror when she's partnered with Connie and Connie refuses to trade partners. On top of that, Naomi is mad at Mya for not trying harder to trade partners. Even the twins who agree on everything are getting torn apart because Skye wants to stay friends with Mya, while Starr is on Naomi's side. But as Mya works with Connie, she realizes that things aren't as she's thought.
Real Friends is Shannon Hale's graphic memoir of her middle school experience with real friends -- and girls who weren't quite friends. Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends since Shannon came out of her shell in early elementary school. She had earlier been the shy middle child who never felt like she quite fit in anywhere. But with Adrienne, it was like she could finally exhale. But when Adrienne starts hanging out with the popular girl, Jen, Shannon suddenly doesn't know where she fits in anymore.
Twelve-year old Sara Martinez is a hacker bouncing from foster home to foster home in Brooklyn, New York. After getting arrested for hacking into the NYC foster care system to expose her foster parents as criminals, she meets a man named Mother who is not a lawyer but convinces her to take on her case. Mother somehow wins and Sara gets released only to join a team of kid spies operating out of a base in Scotland.
Twins Maureen and Francine Carter have always done everything together, but things have changed as they're starting sixth grade. For one, they have nearly all their classes apart from each other, and Francine is dressing differently, trying to stand out from her twin Maureen The girls are still figuring out their new dynamic when Francine decides to run for student council, and by some stroke of fate, her shy, terrified-of-public-speaking sister is also running for president. Despite the ground rules laid by their parents, things get a bit messy as both girls try to establish their personal identities while fighting to reconcile their relationship as twins and sisters.
In Not Your All-American Girl, Lauren is Jewish and Chinese. It's the 1980s and Lauren and her best friend -- who's blonde with blue eyes -- do everything together. So when they don't have any sixth-grade classes together, they're bummed! They decide that they will audition for their school's musical so that they can at least have that time together. Lauren's audition goes swimmingly, and she's obviously the better singer than Tara (even better than any of the other kids), but when the cast list is released Lauren is only part of the ensemble and Tara is cast as lead. Upon confronting the director, she explains that Lauren's half-Jewish, half-Chinese looks don't match the role of "all-American girl" in the "all-American town" depicted in their musical.
Fizzy is the daughter of divorced parents. Her father has remarried and her mother is in a serious relationship. Fizzy is also an excellent cook -- so good that she's entering the Southern Living cook-off. But she has other struggles to contend with. At school, she doesn't have any real friends, and then her mom announces that she's marrying her boyfriend, Keane (whom Fizzy dislikes). Fizzy also has to shuttle between both parents' homes, and she's constantly feeling like the "leftover" child since both her parents are moving on and forming new families.
Maryam (Mimi) has a thousand questions for her dad who left her and her mother when she was younger, but her mom seems to have moved on and won't talk to her about him. Her mother Samia is an artist and money is often tight for both of them in the city. One summer, Mimi's mom decides they will take a trip to Pakisan (!) where Mimi's grandparents live. Imagine how thrilled she is to learn that her dad (globe-trotting journalist) is also currently in Karachi.
When Life Gives You Mangoes is set in a small island village, Sycamore Hill. Clara can't remember anything that happened in the last year and readers can immediately tell that everyone around her is concerned about this and about her in general. She spends most of time with her best friend Gaynah, playing games sometimes with the other island children. We learn that she used to surf, but she's now terrified of the water and won't even dip her toes in. But then, a new girl, Rudy, comes to their small village, where no one ever visits. As she tries to befriend Clara, a few secrets are revealed.
In No Vacancy, Miriam Brockman's family -- who are Jewish -- has just moved into a motel they bought in upstate New York. On top of the change from city to small town, Miriam has to work with her parents and uncle (who comes to help) to renovate the motel. Her parents are also struggling because the motel is in poor financial state, contrary to what the sellers had initially told them. This jeopardizes their plan to renovate and then sell the motel so they can buy a home. Next door to the hotel is a diner owned by a Catholic elderly couple, whose granddaughter, Kate, befriends Miriam. Miriam also begins working at the diner, peeling grapes for grape pie. In a bid to help draw customers to the motel, both girls create the illusion of a Virgin Mary apparition in a local abandoned drive-in. Their plan works, and customers start flooding the motel, but Miriam can't shake the guilt, even as she explores other questions about religion and disability.