“The Urban Boys” follows five friends in high school who, after one night in a preserve their families have forbidden them from going into, are gifted with heightened senses in order to protect a luminous supernatural race, and by proxy, all of mankind. But for such high stakes, the boys thankfully can save mankind by simply protecting their idyllic town from the evil-doers that have taken over a neighboring town. Stuck in a conflict that has been simmering for twenty years, it’s up to these five friends to keep strong, and save their town when no one else is capable of doing so. This is a story that attempts to cover a lot, especially with such a large cast of characters, and it’s a book I think is far better suited for middle-grade book lovers. If you go into it with that mindset, I think you’ll enjoy the “Urban Boys” a great deal.
“Candlewick 13: Curse of the McRavens” is the whimsical story of Valor McRaven, a Sorcerer in hiding on an island nation full of “normal” witches. These witches despise Sorcerers, mainly due to the fact that the Grim Warlock has placed a spell over the nation to ensure that the Knight of Night can’t undue the dastardly plans that he’s trying to enact. Early in the story, Valor and his entire family are tossed into a sanatorium-like prison, where dark forces are constantly trying to get rid of Valor, all ahead of the unwinnable tournament that Valor has been selected to partake in. With the help of his adopted sister, Doomsy Gloomsy, and a group of misfits, Valor must accept his role as the leader of their coven, and stop the Grim Warlock before he can enact his plan for the terrible Thirteenth Hour. But first, Valor has to survive this tournament. It’s an exciting Middle Grade fantasy adventure for sure, but I struggled with the story.
I honestly didn’t know that Middle Grade science fiction thrillers were a thing until I started “Frozen Secrets”, which follows young Max in a futuristic setting where the nations of the world are colonizing space. Max has a knack for trouble as any burgeoning teenager would, especially as Max really loves adventure and really wants to be a super-spy. He’s often the ring-leader with his friends, getting them to go along with his exploits, because if Max smells something even vaguely like a conspiracy or a new place to explore, this young man is going to insert himself into it, consequences be damned! It’s a very endearing story, and I think MOST actual middle grade readers will enjoy it.
“Seacity Rising” is a sweet, middle grade novel that follows a group of four aquatic animals on a quest to save their pond from a prophecy that promises doom in the near future. Babak is the only frog left in Seacity, and as such, he is the first to truly believe the prophecy and want to set out and find a solution to this impending doom. He is joined by princess turtles, and a genius fish who travel far from their pond to discover what is coming, and what they can do about it. While the main premise is a quest to save the home they love, the themes of friendship, caring for the environment and its animals, and avoiding climate catastrophe is strong and beautiful—without feeling sanctimonious. This would make for a great read aloud book for a parent and their young child!
I was a big fan of Mafi’s narrative style in Furthermore, and I am so pleased that Whichwood follows a similar style, with a narrator retelling the story of these children almost like an omniscient reporter. It’s such a fun, and whimsical voice that I love seeing in her middle grade books. And while you don’t necessarily HAVE to read Furthermore before Whichwood, I would highly recommend you do as many of the characters from Furthermore make an appearance in Whichwood, making this book, often times, feel like a continuation of Alice’s story, just as much as Laylee’s. That being said, Laylee’s story is dark and tragic. When your main character is a thirteen year old girl, alone, washing the dead in all manner of decay, you have to expect this to be a darker story than Furthermore, even if that book also had its moments of fear and sadness. But Laylee’s story is… different, and that’s why I don’t think it’s truly a middle grade book.
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