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Updated by Jen Blair on Dec 07, 2023
Headline for Winter Break 2023 - End of Year Best Books - Middle School
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Winter Break 2023 - End of Year Best Books - Middle School

Here is the list of the best books I’ve read since this summer. You can add them to your TBR right now. [Hint: you can click on the title to see more about each title on GoodReads.]
Winter Break and READING begin now!

Manslaughter Park (Jane Austen Murder Mystery, #3) by Tirzah Price | Goodreads

Manslaughter Park - Tirzah Price

I love this series so much. How can you resist anything that is a combo of Jane Austen books and the very best of detective mysteries? Answer: I can’t.

From the publisher:
Aspiring artist Fanny Price is an unwelcome guest at her uncle Sir Thomas Bertram's estate. But then Sir Thomas dies in a tragic accident inside his art emporium, and Fanny finds evidence of foul play that, if revealed, could further jeopardize her already precarious position.

Edmund, her best friend and secret crush, urges Fanny to keep quiet about her discovery, but Fanny can't ignore the truth: a murderer is among them.

Determined to find the killer, Fanny's pursuit for justice has her wading into the Bertram family business, uncovering blackmail, and brushing with London's high society when Henry and Mary Crawford arrive at Mansfield Park with an audacious business proposal. But a surprising twist of fate--and the help of local legends Lizzie Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy--brings Fanny more complications than she ever expected and a life-altering realization about herself she never saw coming.

Champion of Fate (Heromaker, #1) by Kendare Blake | Goodreads

Champion of Fate - Kendare Blake

Heroes. Women Soldiers. Horses. The author wanted to call this book “Jedi Amazons,” which I think is all you need to know.

From the publisher:
Aristene are an order of mythical female warriors. Though heroes might be immortalized in legends, it's the Aristene who guide their paths to victory. They are the Heromakers. Raised by the order after being orphaned, Reed grew up surrounded by her future sisters-in-arms and the incredible stories of their quests. She's been counting the days until her initiation, and now one final test stands in her way: shepherding her first hero to glory on the battlefield. Succeed, and her place in the order is secured. Fail, and she'll be cast out of the only home she's ever known. But Reed didn't count on Hestion, her assigned hero, being both infuriating and intriguing. When their strategic alliance turns into something more, it forces Reed to question the cost of becoming an Aristene. As battle looms and fate hangs in the balance, Reed must make an impossible choice: her hero or her order.

Author video:

Didn't See That Coming by Jesse Q. Sutanto | Goodreads

Didn’t See That Coming - Jesse Q. Sutanto

Romance with feminist bite. Girl gamers have it hard. Just don’t mess with Kiki.

From the publisher:
Kiki Siregar is a fabulous gamer girl with confidence to boot. She can't help but be totally herself... except when she's online.
Her secret? She plays anonymously as a guy to avoid harassment from other male players. Even her online best friend--a cinnamon roll of a teen boy who plays under the username Sourdawg--doesn't know her true identity. Which is fine, because Kiki doesn't know his real name either, and it's not like they're ever going to cross paths IRL.
Until she transfers to an elite private school for her senior year and discovers that Sourdawg goes there, too.
But who is he? How will he react when he finds out Kiki's secret? And what happens when Kiki realizes she's falling for her online BFF?

Gone Wolf by Amber McBride | Goodreads

Gone Wolf - Amber McBride

In a world where many peoples’ history is being erased, this is a novel that explores a dystopian world where history has been erased, and a young woman is brave enough to ask questions about why that is.

From the publisher:
In the future, a Black girl known only as Inmate Eleven is kept confined -- to be used as a biological match for the president's son, should he fall ill. She is called a Blue -- the color of sadness. She lives in a small-small room with her dog, who is going wolf more often - he's pacing and imagining he's free. Inmate Eleven wants to go wolf too--she wants to know why she feels so Blue and what is beyond her small-small room.

In the present, Imogen lives outside of Washington DC. The pandemic has distanced her from everyone but her mother and her therapist. Imogen has intense phobias and nightmares of confinement. Her two older brothers used to help her, but now she's on her own, until a college student helps her see the difference between being Blue and sad, and Black and empowered.

Huda F Cares? by Huda Fahmy | Goodreads

Huda F Cares - Huda Fahmy

Further hilarious adventures in the companion to Huda F Are You? as Huda as her family takes a road trip to Florida to visit amusement parks. Fart jokes, embarrassing families, and sister rivalries all receive Fahmy’s signature sly and witty treatment in this graphic novel.

From the publisher:
Huda and her sisters can't believe it when her parents announce that they're actually taking a vacation this summer . . . to DISNEY WORLD! But it's not quite as perfect as it seems. First Huda has to survive a 24-hour road trip from Michigan to Florida, with her sisters annoying her all the way. And then she can't help but notice the people staring at her and her family when they pray in public. Back home in Dearborn she and her family blend right in because there are so many other Muslim families, but not so much in Florida and along the way.

It's a vacation of forced (but unexpectly successful?) sisterly bonding, a complicated new friendship, a bit more independence, and some mixed feelings about her family's public prayers. Huda is proud of her religion and who she is, but she still sure wishes she didn't care so much what other people thought.

I'll Tell You No Lies by Amanda McCrina | Goodreads

I’ll Tell You No Lies - Amanda McCrina

I would make a horrible spy. I can’t lie to save my life. Fortunately for her, Shelby is able to hold it together in the face of car accidents, poisonings, guns, and other liars. Another brilliant Cold War Era thriller from McCrina.

From the publisher:
New York, 1955. Eighteen-year-old Shelby Blaine and her father, an Air Force intelligence officer, have just been wrenched away from their old life in West Germany to New York's Griffiss Air Force Base, where he has been summoned to lead the interrogation of an escaped Soviet pilot. Still in shock from the car accident that killed her mother barely a month earlier, Shelby struggles with her grief, an emotionally distant father, and having to start over in a new home.

Then a chance meeting with Maksym, the would-be defector, spirals into a deadly entanglement, as the pilot's cover story is picked apart and he attempts to escape his military and intelligence handlers--with Shelby caught in the middle. The more she learns of Maksym's secrets, including his detention at Auschwitz during the war, the more she becomes willing to help him. But as the stakes become more dangerous, Shelby begins to question everything she has been told, even by her fugitive friend. Allies turn into enemies, and the truth is muddled by lies. Can she trust a traitor with her life, or will it be the last mistake she ever makes?

Impossible Escape: A True Story of Survival and Heroism in Nazi Europe by Steve Sheinkin | Goodreads

Impossible Escape: A True Story of Survival and Heroism - Steve Sheinkin

From the master of young adult nonfiction, the true story of two prisoners of Auschwitz who managed to escape so that they could share with the world the horrors that they witnessed.

From the publisher:
It is 1944. A teenager named Rudolf (Rudi) Vrba has made up his mind. After barely surviving nearly two years in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, he knows he must escape. Even if death is more likely.

Rudi has learned the terrible secret hidden behind the heavily guarded fences of concentration camps across Nazi-occupied Europe: the methodical mass killing of Jewish prisoners. As trains full of people arrive daily, Rudi knows that the murders won't stop until he reveals the truth to the world--and that each day that passes means more lives are lost.

Lives like Rudi's schoolmate Gerta Sidonova. Gerta's family fled from Slovakia to Hungary, where they live under assumed names to hide their Jewish identity. But Hungary is beginning to cave under pressure from German Nazis. Her chances of survival become slimmer by the day.

The clock is ticking. As Gerta inches closer to capture, Rudi and his friend Alfred Wetzler begin their crucial steps towards an impossible escape.

Just Do This One Thing for Me by Laura Zimmermann | Goodreads

Just Do This One Thing for Me - Laura Zimmermann

Drew is a teenager used to shouldering the burden of being the responsible one in the family, but this time? The pressure is overwhelming. Not a happy premise, but Zimmermann’s trademark humor makes this one zing.

From the publisher:
"Just do this one thing for me." Drew's mother says it more often than good morning. Heidi Hill has been juggling shady side hustles for all of Drew's seventeen years, and Drew knows that "one thing" really means all the necessary things her mother thinks are boring, including taking care of her fifteen-year-old sister and eight-year-old brother. In fact, Drew is the closest thing to a responsible adult they've ever known. When their mother disappears on the way to a New Year's Eve concert in Mexico and her schemes start unraveling, Drew is faced with a choice- Follow the rules, do the responsible thing, and walk away--alone--from her mother's mess. Or hope the weather stays cold, keep the cons going, and just maybe hold her family together.

Kingdom of Without by Andrea Tang | Goodreads

Kingdom of Without - Andrea Tang

Part Bladerunner, part Legend, part Cinder, part Six of Crows, this is the sci-fi heist novel you need.

From the publisher:
When Zhong Ning'er takes the job, she expects a smash-and-grab burglary she's doing to make rent and help out a friend. What she doesn't expect: a sad-eyed army boy who dreams of insurrection, a former rebel leader trapped inside a secret lab, a group of aspiring revolutionaries who are first collaborators, then compatriots, and then, perhaps, friends.

As a Sixth Ring girl who watched previous uprisings crushed brutally by the court, Ning'er isn't much of an optimist, and she's certainly no revolutionary. But that might not be up to her--as the stakes get higher, the time for passivity is quickly running out, and she must decide if she wants to sit idly in her cynicism, or embrace the breathless, terrible possibility of hope.

Lights (Sheets, #3) by Brenna Thummler | Goodreads

Lights - Brenna Thummler

The last book in the Sheets trilogy, this is the story of how Wendall died and became a ghost. Poignant and riveting.

From the publisher:
Marjorie Glatt's life was forever changed the day she discovered a group of ghosts hiding in her family's laundromat. One of those ghosts was Wendell: a lonely phantom turned Marjorie's best friend. When he and Marjorie are joined by ghost-enthusiast Eliza Duncan, the three friends band together in friendship, bravery, and all things paranormal. Wendell died far too young and now must wander the Land of Humans with nothing more than a sheet for a body. He knows how he died--a tragic drowning accident--but lately he's grown curious about his past life. He wants to know more about why he died, not just how he died. It's not easy, though, since Wendell's memory of his human life has grown increasingly blurry. With Marjorie and Eliza's help, they set out on a journey to find out more. When they hear a rumor about Wendell's death, they wonder if it might not have been an accident after all. Meanwhile, Marjorie and Eliza's friendship is tested when Marjorie starts to befriend the very people who used to bully Eliza. In the third and final installment of the 'Sheets Trilogy,' Wendell will finally uncover the truth of his human life. Marjorie and Eliza will learn that some people really can change. Most of all, they start to see that everything can cast shadows, but if you look hard enough, you can find the light.

Book trailer for Delicates (Book 2 in the Sheets Trilogy):

Mabuhay! by Zachary Sterling | Goodreads

Mabuhay - Zachary Sterling

Siblings, JJ and Althea, just want to fit in. But as children of Filipino immigrants, their lunches smell weird and they have to work at their parent’s food truck on nights and weekends. Kids at school find lots of reasons to make fun of them. But what no one realizes is that the Bulan family lore of magic and power has some hidden truths. Just don’t read this book when you’re hungry…

Mexikid: A Graphic Memoir by Pedro Martín | Goodreads

Mexikid - Pedro Martín

I included this on my summer list, but couldn’t resist adding it again here. Truly, one of the best books I’ve read all year. I can’t say enough good things about this book. A rollicking adventure that brings back all the best memories of growing up in the 1970’s.

A Multitude of Dreams by Mara Rutherford | Goodreads

Multitude of Dreams - Mara Rutherford

Princess Imogen and her sisters are trapped inside a castle with a mad king and a deadly plague raging outside. It’s not like you think things are going to go well, right? But then the secrets start to come out…and evil monsters threaten to come in. Whew, boy.

The Only Girl in Town by Ally Condie | Goodreads

The Only Girl in Town - Ally Condie

What would you do if you woke up alone and everyone in your town has disappeared? July finds herself with only her cat as a companion. But there is someone out there. Someone who is leaving her messages. July will have to confront the mistakes of her past in order to find her way out.
Please read this soon so we can talk about it. Stat.

From the publisher:
What would you do if everyone you love disappeared? What if it was your fault?

For July Fielding, nothing has been the same since that summer before senior year.

Once, she had Alex, her loyal best friend, the one who always had her back. She had Sydney, who pushed her during every cross-country run, and who sometimes seemed to know July better than she knew herself. And she had Sam. Sam, who told her she was everything and left her breathless with his touch.

Now, July is alone. Every single person in her small town of Lithia has disappeared. No family. No Alex or Sydney. No Sam. July's only chance at unraveling the mystery of their disappearance is a series of objects, each a reminder of the people she loved most. And a mysterious message: GET TH3M BACK.

The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich by Deya Muniz | Goodreads

The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich - Deya Muniz

For fans of The Prince and the Dressmaker, this is the feminist version with a princess who wants to avoid marrying a man as the kingdom’s rules require.

From the publisher:
Lady Camembert wants to live life on her own terms, without marriage. Well, without marrying a man, that is. But the law of the land is that women cannot inherit. So when her father passes away, she does the only thing she can: She disguises herself as a man and moves to the capital city of the Kingdom of Fromage to start over as Count Camembert.

But it's hard to keep a low profile when the beautiful Princess Brie, with her fierce activism and great sense of fashion, catches her attention. Camembert can't resist getting to know the princess, but as the two grow closer, will she able to keep her secret?

Remember Us by Jacqueline Woodson | Goodreads

Remember Us - Jacqueline Woodson

Memory fades. Words and actions that seem inconsequential at the time become indelible. Changing fate and futures. But friendship and love outlasts it all.

Told in prose, but reading like poetry, these are Sage’s memories from growing up in a tough neighborhood in the 1970’s. Her memories become ours to treasure.

From the publisher:
It seems like Sage's whole world is on fire the summer before she starts seventh grade. As house after house burns down, her Bushwick neighborhood gets referred to as "The Matchbox" in the local newspaper. And while Sage prefers to spend her time shooting hoops with the guys, she's also still trying to figure out her place inside the circle of girls she's known since childhood. A group that each day, feels further and further away from her. But it's also the summer of Freddy, a new kid who truly gets Sage. Together, they reckon with the pain of missing the things that get left behind as time moves on, savor what's good in the present, and buoy each other up in the face of destruction. And when the future comes, it is Sage's memories of the past that show her the way forward.

Listen to the author read from her book:

Sunshine: A Graphic Novel by Jarrett J. Krosoczka | Goodreads

Sunshine - Jarrett J. Krosoczka

The sequel to Hey, Kiddo, this is the continuing story of Jarrett as a teen when he worked at a summer camp for seriously ill children. Yes, I cried. Hard. But this is one of the most life-affirming books I’ve ever read.

From the publisher:
When Jarrett J. Krosoczka was in high school, he was part of a program that sent students to be counselors at a camp for seriously ill kids and their families. Going into it, Jarrett was worried: Wouldn't it be depressing, to be around kids facing such a serious struggle? Wouldn't it be grim? But instead of the shadow of death, Jarrett found something else at Camp Sunshine: the hope and determination that gets people through the most troubled of times. Not only was he subject to some of the usual rituals that come with being a camp counselor (wilderness challenges, spooky campfire stories, an extremely stinky mascot costume), but he also got a chance to meet some extraordinary kids facing extraordinary circumstances. He learned about the captivity of illness, for sure but he also learned about the freedom a safe space can bring.

What the River Knows (Secrets of the Nile, #1) by Isabel Ibañez | Goodreads

What the River Knows - Isabel Ibañez

I Love. This. Book. I loved everything about this book: the Indiana Jones vibes, Ancient Egypt knowledge, anti-colonial message, impossibly perfect romance, witty dialogue, with a breakneck pace that made it impossible to put down. So I didn’t. Very late in the book there is a plot twist that almost destroyed me…and then the cliffhanger ending? I need book two NOW.

From the publisher:
Inez has everything a girl might want, except for the one thing she yearns the most: her globetrotting parents--who frequently leave her behind.

When she receives word of their tragic deaths, Inez inherits their massive fortune and a mysterious guardian, an archeologist in partnership with his Egyptian brother-in-law. Yearning for answers, Inez sails to Cairo, bringing her sketch pads and a golden ring her father sent to her for safekeeping before he died. But upon her arrival, the old world magic tethered to the ring pulls her down a path where she soon discovers there's more to her parent's disappearance than what her guardian led her to believe.

With her guardian's infuriatingly handsome assistant thwarting her at every turn, Inez must rely on ancient magic to uncover the truth about her parent's disappearance--or risk becoming a pawn in a larger game that will kill her.