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  • Writer's pictureThe Fiction Fox

Middle-Grade and YA Favourites (Updated 2024)

It’s no secret that I’m an avid lover of children’s books, even as an adult, and I truly believe that reading together with your kids can be such a powerful tool of connection. Even if you don’t have any kids or teens in your life, these books still hold plenty of value and depth for adult to enjoy them too. Consider these my top 10 favourite middle-grade- and Young Adult novels respectively, as well as some honourable mentions. You will notice some themes (specifically disability, grief and coming of age), that you might have come to expect from me…

Note that these are not just my personal childhood-favourites (released when I was a child); that’s a separate list entirely… The majority of these I’ve read as a teen or in my early twenties, and have stood the test of time- and reread as all-time favourites. All titles will be linked to their respective Goodreads pages for your ease of navigation.

Middle-grade (age 10-14 approximately):

  1. A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness Genre: magical realism For the longest time, this was my number one all-time favourite book... Heartfelt ánd heartwrenching; this book helped me through a lot, dealing with a situation that had some overlap with the protagonists. I still cannot re-read it without a pack of tissues nearby... At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting - he's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It's ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth.

2. This Appearing House – Ali Malinenko Genre: horror Again, another book that has a very personal connection to an experience I lived through. Books about childhood cancer are rare, let alone books that portray a child surviving cancer, without being paraded around as an inspirational hero for others to gawk at. This Appearing House offered that much-needed representation in the best way possible, whilst combining it with an approachable haunted house horror-tale too. For as long as anyone could remember there wasn't a house at the dead end of Juniper Drive... until one day there was. When Jac first sees the House, she's counting down to the five-year anniversary of her cancer diagnosis, when she hopefully will be declared NED, or "no evidence of disease." But with a house appearing, and her hands shaking, and a fall off her bike, Jac is starting to wonder if these are symptoms--or if something stranger is happening. Two classmates dare Jac and her friend Hazel to enter the House. Walking through the front door is the way in. It's definitely not the way out. There's something off about the House; Jac can feel it. The same way she knows it's no coincidence that the House appeared for her five-year marker. It wants something from her. And she won't be able to get out until she figures out what.

One of the coziest and most heartwarming stories about family and community-support I've ever read. Bonuspoints for having the best pet companion (a ghostdog named Kirby). Imagine an America very similar to our own. It's got homework, best friends, and pistachio ice cream. There are some differences. This America has been shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not. Some of these forces are charmingly everyday, like the ability to make an orb of light appear or travel across the world through rings of fungi. But other forces are less charming and should never see the light of day. Elatsoe lives in this slightly stranger America. She can raise the ghosts of dead animals, a skill passed down through generations of her Lipan Apache family. Her beloved cousin has just been murdered in a town that wants no prying eyes. But she is going to do more than pry. The picture-perfect facade of Willowbee masks gruesome secrets, and she will rely on her wits, skills, and friends to tear off the mask and protect her family.

4. The Secrets of Haven Point - Lisette Auton Genre: fantasy, disability

This book had everything I could've wanted in a middle-grade novel, in my disability-fiction and more. A lovable full cast of disabled but very capable heroes, a sea-side adventure with a sprinkle of mermaid-magic, and beautiful underlying message about friendship, found-family, love and acceptance. When Alpha Lux first arrived at Haven Point, washed up ashore as a foundling baby, it was nothing more than an abandoned lighthouse surrounded by ramshackle empty houses. Raised by a mermaid and a maverick sea captain with a kitten in his beard, Alpha has seen Haven Point grow into what it is now; a refuge for disabled kids like herself in need of place to belong. When Alpha spots a strange light on the headland one day, she discovers their safely isolated community might be in danger of being discovered by Outsiders. With their home under threat, she and her fellow Wrecklings must decide what kind of future they want . . . and what they're willing to do to get it.

5. The Girl from Earths End – Tara Dairman Genre: magical realism/fantasy, disability/illness

Gifted gardener Henna embarks from her island home to search for the plant that might save her papa’s life in this story of love, grief, and growth. Twelve-year-old Henna loves living with her two papas and cultivating her beloved plants on the tiny island of Earth’s End—until Papa Niall grows seriously ill. Now Henna is determined to find a legendary, long-extinct plant with miraculous healing powers, even though the search means journeying all the way to St. Basil’s Conservatory, a botanical boarding school rumored to house seeds of every plant ever grown. At St. Basil’s, Henna is surrounded not only by incredible plants, but also, for the first time, other kids—including her new roommates: wisecracking, genderfluid P, who gleefully bends every rule they come up against, and wealthy, distant Lora, who is tired of servants doing everything for her, from folding her clothes to pushing her wheelchair. But Henna’s search for the fabled healing seed means she doesn’t have time for friends—or so she thinks.

6. Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea – Ashley Herring Blake Genre: contemporary, grief/trauma/mental health

A novel about a girl navigating grief, trauma, and friendship, that perfectly bridges the gap between middle-grade and Young Adult. Hazel Bly used to live in the perfect house with the perfect family in sunny California. But when a kayaking trip goes horribly wrong, Mum is suddenly gone forever and Hazel is left with crippling anxiety and a jagged scar on her face. After Mum's death, Hazel, her other mother, Mama, and her little sister, Peach, needed a fresh start. So for the last two years, the Bly girls have lived all over the country, never settling anywhere for more than a few months. When the family arrives in Rose Harbor, Maine, there's a wildness to the small town that feels like magic. But when Mama runs into an old childhood friend—Claire—suddenly Hazel's tight-knit world is infiltrated. To make it worse, she has a daughter Hazel's age, Lemon, who can't stop rambling on and on about the Rose Maid, a local 150-year-old mermaid myth. Soon, Hazel finds herself just as obsessed with the Rose Maid as Lemon is—because what if magic were real? What if grief really could change you so much, you weren't even yourself anymore? And what if instead you emerged from the darkness stronger than before?

7. Mathilda – Roald Dahl Genre: magical realism

It's a modern classic for a reason, and deserves its place on my list. What was once my childhood-favourite novel stands the time as a tale of resilience, finding your strength and making the best of a suboptimal situation. Matilda is a little girl who is far too good to be true. At age five-and-a-half she's knocking off double-digit multiplication problems and blitz-reading Dickens. Even more remarkably, her classmates love her even though she's a super-nerd and the teacher's pet. But everything is not perfect in Matilda's world... For starters she has two of the most idiotic, self-centered parents who ever lived. Then there's the large, busty nightmare of a school principal, Miss ("The") Trunchbull, a former hammer-throwing champion who flings children at will, and is approximately as sympathetic as a bulldozer. Fortunately for Matilda, she has the inner resources to deal with such annoyances: astonishing intelligence, saintly patience, and an innate predilection for revenge.

A boy called Christopher is visiting his reclusive grandfather when he witnesses an avalanche of mythical creatures come tearing down the hill. This is how Christopher learns that his grandfather is the guardian of one of the ways between the non-magical world and a place called the Archipelago, a cluster of magical islands where all the creatures we tell of in myth live and breed and thrive alongside humans. They have been protected from being discovered for thousands of years; now, terrifyingly, the protection has worn thin, and creatures are breaking through. Then a girl, Mal, appears in Christopher’s world. She is in possession of a flying coat, is being pursued by a killer and is herself in pursuit of a baby griffin. Mal, Christopher and the griffin embark on an urgent quest across the wild splendour of the Archipelago, where sphinxes hold secrets and centaurs do murder, to find the truth—with unimaginable consequences for both their worlds. Together the two must face the problem of power, and of knowledge, and of what love demands of us.

9. The Healer of the Watermonster – Brian Young Genre: magical realism, mental health

One of the most underrated books on this list: a fantastic, heartfelt and own-voices magical realism story with deep roots in Navajo mythology. When Nathan goes to visit his grandma, Nali, at her mobile summer home on the Navajo reservation, he knows he’s in for a pretty uneventful summer. Still, he loves spending time with Nali, and with his uncle Jet—though it’s clear when Jet arrives that he brings his problems with him. One night, while lost in the nearby desert, Nathan finds something extraordinary. A Holy Being from the Navajo Creation Story—a Water Monster—in need of help. Now Nathan must summon all his courage to save his new friend. With the help of other Navajo Holy Beings, Nathan is determined to save the Water Monster, and to help Uncle Jet heal from his own pain.

Last but not least, consider this a place-holder entry to this authors entire ouvre. I've loved every single novel I've read from Ali Standish and consider her a favourite within the genre. How to Disappear Completely is probably her most underhyped one; hence why it get's a shout out. Don't let that stop you from checking out the rest of her backlog though! While her grandmother was alive, Emma’s world was filled with enchantment. But now Gram is gone, and suddenly strange spots are appearing on Emma’s skin. Soon, she’s diagnosed with vitiligo—a condition that makes patches of her skin lose their color—and the magic in her world is suddenly replaced with school bullies and doctor appointments. But when Emma writes one last story in the journal she shared with Gram, something strange happens. Someone writes back to her, just like Gram used to. Who’s writing to Emma? And just what is her story going to be, now that everything is so different?

Honourable Mentions:

Some books I personally loved growing up, that didn't quite make the list...

  1. Amari and the Ghost Brothers - B.B. Alston Genre: fantasy You may have expected Harry Potter to make an appearance on this list. It didn't for multiple reasons. First, you don't need me to tell you about that series. Second, why recommend it when there's a series that gave me very similar vibes with more inclusivity and without the author behaving badly... Amari and the Ghost Brothers is a must-read for those in need of another magic school narrative, but with more of the nuances and sentiments relevent to the twenty-teens and twenty-twenties...

  2. Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne Genre: fantasy, classic We all know the big, yellow bear and his stuffed animal friends. These stunningly drawn books still contain a lot of wisdoms for kids and adults alike...

  3. Little Sophie and Lanky Flop – Els Pelgrom Genre: magical realism, disability/illness Yes, it's another childhood cancer narrative. This one makes the list because it's the one that was available for me at the time and helped me through some things... If This Appearing House had been around back then, I feel I would've prefered that, but Kleine Sofie en Lange Wapper (translated as Little Sophie and Lanky Flop) still make for a worthy addition to the list.

  4. Departure time - Truus Matti Genre: magical realism Another Dutch book that did a lot for me as a kid, and has since been translated into English. The translation is slightly choppy, but the story at its core is near and dear to my heart.

  5. Hour of the Bees - Lindsay Eagar Genre: magical realism, disability/illness Having a grandparent with dementia is an experience that many children will unfortunately experience. If you're ever on the hunt for a book to open up that conversation with your child; Hour of the Bees might be a perfect entryway to do so.

  6. Not Quite A Ghost - Anne Ursu Genre: horror In very similar fashion to This Disappearing House, Not Quite A Ghost combines a haunted house-narrative with representation of (chronic) illness. As my most recent read, this hasn't had time to cement itself in my heart as strongly as the "full entries" on the list, but it might me a strong contender for the future.

  7. The Girl Who Drank the Moon - Kelly Barnhill Genre: fantasy Wildly and Widely beloved by many, this magical modern fairytale of found-family and magic is a classic in the making.

  8. Ronia the Robbers Daughter - Astrid Lindgren Genre: fantasy adventure Finally, this one is purely to satisfy my own nostalgia. I grew up on the adventures of Astrid Lindgren's characters, and Ronia and Birk were my favourite duo. With the re-emergenge of "cottage-core" among adult readers, I feel this book is duo for a second-era overseas.


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