The Line Tender by Kate AllenStarring: Twelve-year-old Lucy, who inherited a fascination with sharks from her late mother, a marine biologist.
What happens: After a second tragic loss leaves Lucy devastated, her summer project -- an illustrated field guide to her coastal hometown -- becomes her lifeline.
Who it’s for: anyone looking for sensitive, honest stories about finding hope during tough times.
Orange for the Sunsets by Tina AthaideWhat it’s about: It’s 1972 in Entebbe, Uganda, and the friendship between Yesofu, an African boy, and Asha, an Indian girl, is pushed to the breaking point after the president’s announcement that Indians will be forced to leave the country.
Why you might like it: Told in the voices of both Asha and Yesofu, this stirring tale offers a kid's-eye view of a turbulent moment in history.
Try this next: Veera Hiranandani’s The Night Diary.
The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali BenjaminWelcome to: the tiny, tumbledown Mitchell School, where goats trim the soccer field and newcomer Caitlyn’s arrival is overshadowed by the unexplained absence of Paulie Fink, a legendary seventh-grade prankster.
What happens: Caitlyn becomes the judge in a contest to decide who will replace Paulie as the person who makes school memorable.
Why you might like it: This 2nd book from the author of The Thing About Jellyfish is deep, offbeat, and as funny as Paulie himself.
Apocalypse Taco by Nathan HaleWhat it’s about: While on a late-night fast food run for the school theater crew, Ivan, Axl, and Sid suddenly find themselves battling tentacled taco monsters in a gross, goopy, alternate reality.
Art alert: Bright pops of nacho cheese orange highlight the detailed illustrations in this graphic novel.
Who it’s for: readers who like freaky, fast-paced science fiction served with a side of horror.
Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy StrangeWhat it’s about: World War II turns life upside down for Pet, a British lighthouse keeper’s daughter.
What happens: After her German-born mother is unfairly imprisoned, Pet is filled with fear -- and questions. Why are her Pa and her sister acting so secretive? What are those strange lights in the fields? And how does it all relate to an age-old local legend?
Read it for: haunting, multi-layered mysteries and an unforgettable heroine.
Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring BlakeWhat it's about: Twelve-year-old Ivy is reeling after her family's home is destroyed by a tornado, her treasured private sketchbook goes missing, and she starts crushing on a girl in her class. Then someone begins anonymously returning her drawings -- along with notes encouraging her to come out.
You might also like: Lisa Jenn Bigelow's Drum Roll, Please, another authentic, relatable story about a girl finding the courage to be herself.
Felix Yz by Lisa BunkerStarring: Felix Yz, a human middle-schooler fused with a fourth-dimensional alien called Zyx.
What it’s about: As he awaits the risky procedure that will separate him from Zyx, Felix pours his feelings into a blog, describing (with frequent interruptions from Zyx) his quirky family, his crush on classmate Hector, and his fears about the future.
Who it’s for: anyone looking for stories that are imaginative, inclusive, and unapologetically weird.
Hurricane Child by Kheryn CallenderStarring: Caroline, an unlucky 12-year-old who's abandoned by her mother, bullied at school, and stalked by the spirit of a woman in black.
What happens: Caroline finds her first friend (and first crush) in new classmate Kalinda, who joins Caroline's search for answers about her mother, as well as the truth about the spirit who stalks her.
Read it for: well-drawn characters and a vivid, magic-tinged setting in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Pants Project by Cat ClarkeWhat it's about: Liv knows he's transgender, but he hasn't told anyone yet -- a situation that's more difficult at his new middle school, where they see him as a girl and require him to wear a uniform with a skirt.
Why you might like it: You'll be rooting for the likable, determined Liv as he and his moms challenge the school dress code.
Try this next: Lisa Moore Ramée's A Good Kind of Trouble, another story about a brave kid shaking things up at school.
The Other Boy by M.G. HennesseyWhat it’s about: Twelve-year-old Shane is a baseball player, a graphic novel artist, and a trans guy. He keeps that last fact private from his sixth grade classmates, but when someone shatters his privacy, Shane is forced to deal with people’s reactions.
Don’t miss: the snippets from Shane’s sci-fi graphic novel, which reflect his real-world situation.
Further reading: For a different (but no less encouraging) take on life as a trans middle schooler, try Ami Polonsky’s Gracefully Grayson.