The Usual Suspects by Maurice BroaddusFeaturing: best friends Thelonius Mitchell and Nehemiah Caldwell, two prank-loving, so-called delinquents from Mr. Blackmon’s seventh grade special education class.
What happens: After a gun is found near the school, the principal is eager to blame the special ed kids, prompting Nehemiah and Thelonius to search for the real culprit.
Why you might like it: If you’ve ever felt boxed in by unfair labels and rules, you might relate to the characters in this honest, realistic read.
Zenobia July by Lisa BunkerWhat it’s about: After a family tragedy, transgender tech geek Zenobia starts over in a new town, where she finds quirky new friends, an unexpected mystery, and the freedom to finally be herself.
Why you might like it: Though Zen is dealing with some tough stuff, she’s still funny and determined -- coders will especially enjoy how she uses her skills to expose a hacker.
Try this next: M.G. Hennessey’s The Other Boy or Dana Alison Levy’s It Wasn’t Me.
Queen of the Sea by Dylan MeconisWelcome to: the kingdom of Albion in the 16th century, where young orphan Margaret lives among the nuns in a tiny island convent.
What happens: When exiled Queen Eleanor arrives on the island, Margaret finds herself questioning everything she knows about her home, her past, and her country.
Who it’s for: This historical graphic novel (inspired by the true story of England's Queen Elizabeth I) will intrigue sophisticated readers in search of dramatic events and detail-rich illustrations.
Up for Air by Laurie MorrisonWhat it’s about: Although 13-year-old Annabelle has trouble keeping up in school, she’s the fastest girl on the swim team. Naturally, she jumps at the chance to swim with the high school team for the summer. But is fitting in with her new teammates worth letting go of her old friends?
Why you might like it: Annabelle is a realistically confused character, and you might see something of yourself in both her triumphs and her mistakes.
Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse by Susan VaughtWhat it’s about: Jesse Broadview -- a clever, capable girl on the autism spectrum -- is having a stressful week: her dad’s been accused of stealing from the school and there’s a tornado heading for their town. But with support from her new friend Springer and her talented Pomeranian Sam-Sam, Jesse’s ready to face both challenges head-on.
Read it for: an entertaining mystery (who did steal from the school?) alongside Jesse’s memorable descriptions of living with an “itchy” brain.
For Fans of Raina Telgemeier
Be Prepared by Vera BrosgolExpectations: Frustrated misfit Vera hopes that she'll finally fit in among the other Russian kids at a Russian American summer camp.
Reality: From mean girls to a terrifying outhouse, camp is nothing like Vera expected.
Why Raina fans might like it: Just like Raina often writes about her own life, this relatable graphic novel is based on the summer camp woes of author Vera Brosgol.
All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria JamiesonStarring: homeschooled 11-year-old Imogene "Impy" Vega, who’s just been promoted to squire at the Renaissance Faire where her parents work.
What happens: Impy’s ready for a quest, and going to public school seems like just the thing. But will it transform her into a brave knight or a spiky dragon?
Why Raina fans might like it: This tale of friends and "faire-mily" is just as amusing and authentic as Drama, Smile, or Sisters.
All Summer Long by Hope LarsonWhat it’s about: With her best friend Austin ignoring her texts while he’s away at soccer camp, Bina has a lot of free time for playing her guitar and hanging out with Charlie, Austin’s surprisingly cool older sister.
Why Raina fans might like it: All Summer Long's expressive cartoon art and truthful take on friendship are a good fit for fans of Raina's realistic books.
Series alert: Keep an eye out for sequels -- there are two on the way!
The Witch Boy by Molly Knox OstertagWhat it’s about: Now that he's 13, everyone expects Aster to shape-shift like the other boys in his magical community. Aster's true skill, however, is witchcraft...which is taught only to girls.
Why Raina fans might like it: With colorful art and characters you'll root for, this graphic novel fantasy will grab readers who love Raina’s Ghosts.
Series alert: This series opener is followed by The Hidden Witch and The Midwinter Witch (due out in November).
Short & Skinny by Mark TatulliWhat it’s about: In the summer of 1977, scrawny, bullied 7th-grader Mark abandons his plans to bulk up in favor of a new goal: making a spoof of the new hit movie, Star Wars.
Read it for: exaggerated cartoon illustrations, inventive homemade props, and hilarious, true-to-life awkwardness.
Why Raina fans might like it: Similar to how Raina writes about being a comics-obsessed kid, author Mark Tatulli offers a peek into how he made his first big creative project.