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.
I fell for The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling just for its name alone. Thankfully, the premise is equally as captivating. Anna Chiu is a high schooler who has her hands full caring for her little brother and sort of watching over her younger teen sister. Their father runs a restaurant in a nearby town (about two hours away by car) and their mother is so depressed, she hasn't gotten out of bed in weeks. When Anna convinces her dad to let her work at their restaurant on weekends, she starts a relationship with Rory, the new delivery boy. As Anna gets to know Rory (and his own mental illness struggles), things at home go from bad to worse. Anna's mother gets out of bed, but begins acting erratic and her relationship with her sister, as well as their father becomes strained as Anna has to step in to provide her mother the support she needs.
Today’s pick is Hena Khan's most recent middle-grade book More to the Story, a retelling of the beloved Little Women. I've never read Little Women, but I adored this book, which was one of my best books in 2019. Sisters Jameela, Bisma, Maryam and Aleeza are distraught when their father has to move abroad for work -- and then one of the sisters falls ill. This is a truly heartwarming, feel-good book featuring a Pakistani-American Muslim family. If you or your kids loved this book, here are more books like More to the Story.
In The Code for Love and Heartbreak, Emma Woodhouse, math genius and co-president of her school's coding club creates dating app for her classmates. Emma has poor social skills and doesn't read social cues as well as her peers, although it's never specifically mentioned whether she is on the autism spectrum. She genuinely believes that math and compatibility based on interests will help people find romantic partners. At first, the app is working well, and the entire coding club is on board to present their work at a competition later in the year. But then things start to go downhill.
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.
Twig and Turtle are two sisters whose parents have just moved into a tiny house! The family has done some major downsizing -- the kids even had to choose just five toys they could keep, and now they have to clean up after playing with their toys. Both girls are also adjusting to a new neighborhood and new school. Turtle, the younger girl, seems to be adjusting well at school, making friends and having a good time. But for the older girl, Twig, things are a bit harder. She's self-conscious about having few clothes in rotation and being new in general. Twig is also missing their Great Dane, Bo, whom they had to leave at their Grandma's because of the tiny house. Twig decides that the she will convince her mother to let Bo move in with them again.
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.
I know that many parents and teachers prefer books that model positive sibling relationships (less backbiting, more love) and I'm all for that as well. Most of the books on this list feature sweet sister relationships, while the rest feature difficult relationships that significantly improve by the end of the story. As life can be, a few of these stories are a bit sad and feature the death of a sister, or a sister with a serious illness. But many others are adventure-filled or feature families coping with financial insecurity, the end of a marriage, and other challenges. Overall, though, I've only chosen books with a focus on the relationship between two or more sisters. Twins, big sisters, little sisters, close in age, far apart -- it's a sister party!