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.
In Turning Point, we reunite with the Pirates Cove gang (minus a few) -- mostly Mila, Mo, Sheeda, and Tai. This book focuses on Monique (Mo) and Rasheeda (Sheeda)'s friendship and how it changes over a summer when both girls are drawn into different pursuits. Mo is off at a ballet intensive with Mila, while Sheeda is stuck at church (with her church "friends") feeling like she has no life.
It's My Party and I Don't Want to Go is quite the mouthful, but the quirky title encapsulates this book's nature. Ellie is a young Jewish girl with undiagnosed social anxiety. She gets physically sick -- sweaty, lightheaded, shaky, fainting at times -- at the thought of being the center of attention, and even worse when her worst fear actually happens. Her latest anxiety trigger is the thought of her fast-approaching bat mitzvah.
Lupe Wong Won't Dance is Donna Barba Higuera's debut middle-grade novel. Her protagonist Lupe is a Mexican-Chinese girl who loves baseball. Her Chinese father died several years ago, so she lives with her Mexican mom and her brother Paolo. However, both her abuela and her Chinese grandparents are very present in their lives. Lupe is excited to get all A's this year because her uncle has promised her a meeting with baseball star Fu Li Hernandez, who's Chinacan/Mexinese like her if she does. But all of a sudden, there's a new development in her gym class: Coach wants them to do square dancing instead of like, actual sports. And guess what? Lupe does not dance.
This middle-grade book follows Lucy, a short Chinese-American girl caught between two cultures. Lucy plays basketball (very well) and would choose mac and cheese over most Chinese dishes. Her older siblings seem to fit the "perfect Chinese child" stereotype more than she does. Regina, her older sister started a Chinese club in high school and speaks flawless Chinese, while her brother Kenny, although a bookworm loves and eats all Chinese food and is a Math whiz. Still Lucy perseveres with interests, eagerly anticipating her sister's move to college so she can have their room all to herself, but that is not to be.
In Tune It Out, Lou and her mother live in their truck. Her mom believes Lou has a gift (her voice) and is determined to make it big with her. So she makes Lou sing everywhere from cafes to karaoke bars to street corners. This is extra challenging for Lou because she hates the bright lights and the sound of applause is physically painful. She also hates physical contact and is bothered by the texture of certain clothes on her skin. Lou gets some respite from the malnutrition and homelessness when an accident leads to her being taken in by Child Protective Services. Fortunately, she is sent off to live with her aunt and her husband in Nashville, Tennessee where she begins a new life until her mother can get her back.
I've had Solving for M on my TBR for a long time now! Mika and her mom are used to things just being the both of them because her parents divorced when she was a baby. Her dad remarried soon after, and her mom hasn't yet. She's a new middle schooler and is enjoying her math class, although the new pod system in their school means she isn't in the same group as her best friend. Their math teacher is very engaging and asks the kids to keep a semi-private math journal for the math problems they will do during the school year. All is well until Mika's mom discovers a spot on the back of her leg, which turns out to be a melanoma.
Although I have zero professional dance experience, I love middle-grade books about dance! Sadly, though, new middle-grade books about dance are far and few in between. However, in this list of best middle-grade books about dance, I hunted down a few other excellent recommendations. Not all the books here are about ballet -- some feature hip-hop, square dancing, and even one about a Mexican dance. The books all feature dancing as a central theme, and protagonists who either love dancing or at least come to appreciate it by the end.
Serenity and her brother, Danny, have to move in with their grandparents after her mother's death. Their father is nowhere to be found and the kids have to deal with their grief while adjusting to a new lifestyle -- new school, new friends, new routines -- with their mother's parents. Their grandfather is a preacher and both grandparents are ardent churchgoers. The story is told from Serenity's point of view as she tries to make sense of life through her poetry in English class.