Amazing New Queer Middle Grade Reads

Quarantine hasn’t really be that great for my reading, honestly. But early in it, when I was more motivated, I read these fantastic, recent queer middle grade releases that warmed my heart. I’m so excited to share these with my middle school students when I start teaching next year!

As far as I can tell, this is the first #ownvoices book with a gay boy of color lead in middle grade…AND it takes place in Indiana! Plus, the story is well-paced and engaging, with the overall plot tracking Rahul trying to impress his family (particularly his grandfather, based on a story told about his grandmother) by finding something he can be the absolute best at. Cue shenanigans involving trying out for the football team and going on an audition for a local commercial. Meanwhile, he’s dealing with the pressure of his aunts and uncles joking about him and his best friend, Chelsea, getting married, a bully who seems to have caught onto something about himself he isn’t quite ready to say, and a cute boy he wants to be…or maybe be with. Despite some intense drama and plot points, Rahul eventually comes to a better understanding about who he is and what he can do, and that’s something middle schoolers can relate to and learn from.

Disclaimer: I received an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley.

I’ve been a fan of Rebecca Stead since I myself was in middle school and became obsessed with the expertly-crafted, Newbery-winning When You Reach Me. This book is a little younger than that one and Goodbye Stranger, following ten-year-old Bea who tells us the story of her fifth grade year (and some of her third grade year, because it’s important to her current situation as it was when her parents divorced), the year her dad is getting married to his boyfriend, who also has a daughter exactly her age, and she’s ALWAYS wanted a sister!

I love the way Stead crafts her stories. The chapters are short and immerse you in Bea’s mind, as it is truly her telling you the story. She has so much love and heart for her family, but she worries a lot and is holding inside a secret that’s causing her so much guilt. I loved Bea and her big heart, her family, and her Star Trek: The Next Generation watches with her soon-to-be aunt, and I think readers of all ages will fall in love with her, too.

Disclaimer: I received an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley.

Unfortunately, this book was pushed from an April release to June, but it’s definitely worth the wait. In the Role of Brie Hutchens is another true middle school read, with eighth grader Brie lying to her mother to prevent her from seeing her laptop’s screen where she has Googled her favorite soap actress and found some NSFW pictures that she can’t stop looking at. Then the lies continue to to spiral as she tries to make what she told her mom a reality–crowning Mary at an important 8th grade ceremony at the end of the year, which leads her to seek help from her English teacher and the top student, a cute girl named Kennedy. But she can’t stop keeping THE secret of why she was looking at the pictures from her mom. Meanwhile, she wants to audition for a drama school, but her parents are strapped for cash since her dad was laid off, and the school play auditions don’t exactly go to plan.

This book stands out as one of the few I’ve seen to tackle religion not just in its trappings (Catholic school), but in its characters’ discussions of faith as well. Brie isn’t very attached, but she sees how important faith is to her mother, and has a great conversation about it with Kennedy. I also loved the integration of technology and how it helped Brie with her identity, a very realistic element for teens. In trying to find an audition monologue, she finds herself down a YouTube rabbit hole of soap opera coming-out scenes and compulsively makes a list. Brie also makes a great case for how she isn’t “too young to know” her sexuality, and how coming out isn’t a one-and-done deal, but something she’s going to have to do again and again throughout her life.

There are dramatic plot points–but more realistic and grounded than the soaps Brie loves–and during the last half I was compelled to keep reading to find out what would happen. Brie isn’t always the most likable person, but that makes her realistic. The ending is satisfying and sweet. I can’t wait to recommend this book to middle schoolers!

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