Middle Grade Fiction
by Denise Deegan
Plot: This novel unfolds at exactly the right pace—details are revealed organically as the plot progresses, pulling the reader along with the story. The main plot point—a girl disguised as a boy on a pirate ship—doesn’t overwhelm the narrative. Instead, the real story is about how an orphan finds herself at home with what she originally considered a bloodthirsty group of pirates.
Prose: The author’s use of the present tense has the potential to be distracting, but instead it lends a surreal sense of urgency to the text and heightens the supernatural scenes when Jess uses her fortuneteller gift. This book is rife with rich descriptive passages and lovely, nuanced writing.
Originality: While the initial premise is reminiscent of that of the Bloody Jack series, that’s where the similarities end. Jess’s moral objection to being part of a pirate crew wars with her recognition of the humanity of those on the ship—this adds an element of emotional tension that is new and exciting. Jess’s abilities as a fortuneteller and the danger this ability puts her in also add a new element to the pirate ship trope.
Character Development: On the pirate ship Constance, “ugliness sails with beauty.” Although the characters use what might be considered stereotypical pirate-speak, there’s nothing stereotypical about these pirates—they’re nuanced individuals. As the characters slowly unfold and their personalities are revealed, both Jess and the reader learn that most people are complex and have both good and bad inside of them.
Blurb: Lovely descriptive imagery combined with complex, nuanced characters make this story about an orphaned girl disguised as a cabin boy not only a rollicking pirate adventure, but also an emotional story of home and family.
by Mary Bleckwehl
Plot: This plotting here is spot on. Readers will be engaged from first page and will identify with Zach's worries and challenges.
Prose: This middle-grade book has excellent, tight prose. The author peppers the story with sharp images, bringing Zach's challenges to life.
Originality: The creation of Zach's imaginary brother, Sam, shapes this poignant novel into an original story sure to engage and delight readers.
Character Development: Zach is a well-developed original character. His honesty is refreshing and captivating. Readers will love him.
by Lena Lingemann
Plot: A blend of delightful fantasy and rich, true-life substance, Lingemann's book offers great appeal to horse-loving preteens looking for a smart story about brave girls—and little of the usual fluff. Lingemann's fine world-building makes Winged Horses seem downright feasible, but it is the deeper plot about family and sisterhood and overcoming adversity that gives this novel its admirable, and absorbing, complexity.
Prose: Lingemann's highly polished prose is the work of a true craftswoman, with each word earning its place in the fluid narrative. Emotionally rich and thoughtfully nuanced, the dialogue captures the complex relationship between foster sisters and the harrowing distress of an abused child trying not to be a burden on those reaching out to help her.
Originality: This tale of Winged Horses stabled on an ordinary ranch, and the ranching family who takes in a young woman from a troubled background, is wholly original and admirably executed. The reader can set aside any preconceived notions she may have about the material and simply immerse herself in a world in which horses can fly and struggling preteens can find a loving home.
Character Development: Protagonist Tamara is a scrappy, thoroughly likable heroine, and her struggles with jealousy as her parents dote on her neglected friend Mavis are nuanced and highly realistic. Though middle-grade fiction tends to caricature parents as either clueless grown-ups or evil stepmother types, Lingemann's portrayal of Tamara's folks as good people trying to do the right thing and apologizing for their emotional missteps is a breath of fresh air.
Blurb: A blend of delightful fantasy and rich, true-life substance, Lingemann's book offers great appeal to horse-loving preteens looking for a smart story about brave girls. Emotionally rich and thoughtfully nuanced, Promise of Wings is a novel of admirable, and absorbing, complexity.
by Alane Adams
Plot: This charming and brilliant novel is superbly plotted and will win over readers.
Prose: Phoebe’s voice is dead on and authentic, as are those of her friends. The author's masterful prose and style serve the story instead of merely taking center stage.
Originality: This unique novel manages to breathe fresh life into an orphaned child, New York City, and the Greek pantheon.
Character Development: Phoebe Katz—orphan, wise ass, and, as we are soon to discover, Greek God—is a fully developed and wonderfully compelling character.
Blurb: This author and novel are ready for prime time and the big time.
by Ketevan Alexander
Plot: With hints of Greek mythology and fairy tales, this simplistic but heart-warming and well told story will draw in young readers. The author may want to consider organizing the narrative into short chapters to further appeal to this demographic.
Prose: Clever, warm, and direct writing makes this narrative a delightfully confectionery that will appeal to readers.
Originality: Gentle reminders about the importance of open-mindedness and unprejudiced rationale elevate the formulaic narrative, but could be louder. To fully compete with similar middle grade novels, the author must offer readers a more in-depth view of Betrees’s world and her place within it.
Character Development: Kindhearted, willful, and self-assured, Betrees is a well crafted and compelling character. Secondary characters feel dynamic, though readers only catch brief glimpses of their actions and beliefs.
by Andrea Ruygt
Plot: This novel starts strong, with fantasy elements that readers will immediately appreciate. The plotting, at times, seems formulaic. The pacing is solid, except for the abrupt ending.
Prose: Despite vivid details and believable dialogue, the writing is inconsistent. Parts of the manuscript are structured very well, while others feel rushed and less polished.
Originality: The idea of walking through dreams is a familiar one, but Ruygt does an excellent job with worldbuilding. The conversations between the various characters are entertaining and creatively imagined.
Character Development: Both Jody and Harvey are complex, believable characters. But the rushed ending makes it impossible to really appreciate how much Jody grows over the course of the adventure.
by Cheryl Carpinello
PLOT: The author crafts a exciting fantasy story richly informed by folkloric history. Some underdeveloped plot points and vague elements prevent the story from rising to its full potential.
PROSE: Other than a few instances of overwriting, Carpinello's prose is solidly constructed and develops a vivid sense of time and place.
ORIGINALITY: By focusing on the life of Guinevere over King Arthur, Carpinello offers a refreshingly new perspective on Arthurian legend.
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Though Guinevere is the titular character, the real star of the story is Guinevere’s best friend, Cedwyn, whose coming-of-age journey and internal conflicts deserve more attention. Guinevere, meanwhile, though brave and compelling, emerges as more of an iconic figure from legend than as a distinctive individual.
by Pat Frayne
Plot: The plot meanders at the start and takes a while to find it's groove. At times, plot threads get taken up and then either dropped or resolved with little difficulty. Once the plot settles into the rescue mission, however, things develop nicely and conclude satisfactorily.
Prose: Overall, this novel is well-written. It uses appropriate language for the age range and flows well. While the descriptions are generally well done, there are some moments of overwriting that break the flow and take readers out of the narrative.
Originality: This novel develops an interesting world, creating creatures and beings that are either totally new or fresh takes on established ideas. And the plot tends to stay away from many of the norms of fantasy, giving this book a different feel from others in the genre.
Character Development: On the one hand, we get to know the major players well enough to fully appreciate their struggles. However, there are also quite a few instances in which characters seem to either act out of character or change opinions with little persuasion. These moments could have been developed further.
by Dean Ammerman
PLOT: This fourth book in a humorous sci-fi series is an episodic adventure that takes its two adolescent protagonists on a journey to save the universe. Story asides come across as underdeveloped, due in part to events that have unfolded in the series previously. Obstacles are too rapidly resolved, diffusing much of the narrative's potential tension.
PROSE: The story is told from the alternating perspectives of the quirky and appealing main characters, though Ammerman's periodic breaking of the fourth wall begins to distract readers from the story, rather than enhance it.
ORIGINALITY: Ammerman offers a fresh take on intergalactic catastrophe, featuring quick-talking protagonists and ridiculously delightful details.
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: The tone of the chapters doesn't vary significantly enough between Alice and Wilkin, making it at times difficult to distinguish between the two characters. Regardless, Ammerman has a knack for crafting ludicrous and inventive circumstances and taking both his characters and readers for a wild ride.
by Lynn Yvonne Moon
Plot: The exaggerated plot of this novel is a problem. Its over-the-top nature dilutes the book's message and prevents readers from truly buying into the narrative.
Prose: The prose is solid, but not memorable. It does little to detract from the book, but also doesn't work to draw readers into the novel.
Originality: The themes and plot of this novel will be familiar to readers. And while that issue could be dealt with via a new or unique approach, this novel doesn't offer one aside from the exaggerated nature of the plot. And that fails to feel fresh, new, or engaging.
Character Development: The author needs to focus more on developing her characters. With the focus on the over-the-top plotting, the characterization suffers.