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.
I admit I don’t read many retellings of classic fairy-tales. They just don’t tend to interest me that much. But when I saw this steampunk retelling of Cinderella, I was all over that! I love me some steampunk feminism! And let’s be clear, this book is nothing like Cinder, and I do think this book suffered some from coming out close to the same time as that super popular series. These two retellings have nothing in common except their source material. Our MC in this book, Nicolette, is an inventor, she makes amazing things in the workshop her mother left behind. It’s her one source of solace in a home where her step family have diminished her to a life of servitude, bereft of love. I love the idea that Nicolette isn’t looking for anyone to rescue her. She makes plans to get out and live a life of her choosing free of her step family and follows through on it. It has a very strong message for young women on not needing a man to complete you, and the power of female friendships. The book has a delicious bitter sweetness to it for the most part that I liked, but overall the book felt incomplete with too many loose ends that were so interesting! And when those plot points didn’t actually get explored, it made the rest of the book feel boring and other subplots feel tacked on with little regard to the story as a whole.
“Furthermore” feels like a mesh between The Secret Garden and an Alice in Wonderland retelling, something only compounded by the main character being named Alice, as well. In the land of Ferenwood, everyone is blessed with an abundance of bright colors, from their eyes, to their hair, to their skin, and the more color they have, the more magic they can command. Alice is almost completely white, except for a bit of brown around her eyes. She has always hated this; hated that she wasn’t as colorful as everyone else. And when her father vanishes (three years ago from the story's start) she hates her lack of color and her talents even more. With a mother who ignores her and seems to not like her, and with a town that rejects the talent she offers them, Alice runs away with her “friend” Oliver to bring the only person who ever understood her and loved her just as she was back: Father.
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