From time to time, when I receive proofs via my role as a youth reviewer for my local bookshop, or if I’m lucky enough to get a copy from a publisher, I receive a middle grade title. Generally my preferred genre is YA, and it’s by and large what this blog is devoted to (or so I hope people have noticed), but I still really want to be able to share my opinions on the middle grade books that I’ve been reading. So I’m going to be starting a new feature on my blog, middle grade reading wrap ups, where I discuss the books from the genre that I’ve read recently, and what I thought of them. I’m not sure how regular they’ll be, as I never know how much middle grade I’ll end up reading, so I’d say to expect irregularity with this. I hope you enjoy them nonetheless!
Today I’m going to be talking about The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson, The Road to Ever After by Moira Young, and Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird. While these aren’t the three most recent middle grade titles that I’ve read (I read them all in about two days during my WiFi break), they are the most recently released ones, so I’ve decided to prioritise them.
I began with The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson, a book I won from Scholastic in a giveaway run over at the Maximum Pop Books twitter. I had heard so much about it, even about how the cover was developed at the Scholastic Bloggers’ Book Feast, and so I was very keen to read it.
This book is about a boy named Matthew, who is suffering with OCD. However, Matthew is also the last person to see a toddler staying on the avenue before he goes missing. The book centres on Matthew’s journey as he tries to confront his problems to help the cause of the toddler.
I thought this book was truly wonderful. It allows younger readers to access more complex ideas, such as concepts about mental health and OCD, and weaves it in with an entertaining whodunit mystery. I think my criticism of this book would be that Matthew got down to the heart of his issues so quickly that I found it a tad unrealistic. However, bearing in mind that it is a book targeted at younger readers, this is probably the best way to go about it, as it doesn’t overcomplicate things too much.
Next up was Moira Young’s The Road to Ever After, which I received a proof of via My Kinda Book/Macmillan Children’s Books, so a big thank you to them of course. I actually hadn’t heard anything about this book before I picked it up, so I was definitely intrigued (and on reflection, I think it might have been wise to read it over Christmas, as the book is set in the run up to Christmas).
The book centres on Davy David, a boy who is homeless and something of an outsider in his town. His life is transformed when he is asked by Elizabeth Flint, another outsider in the town, to escort her to her childhood home, which is her location of choice for her death.
To be honest, I didn’t really like this book. I found the extremes within the town, with Davy as so pure and moral compared to the rest of the town, who all victimised him, rather irritating. Davy was also a bit inconsistent – he was too moral to take a library book when told he could, but then suddenly would steal cars at Elizabeth’s command – and I found it very confusing. On the whole there were elements I found amusing (such as the book references from Elizabeth, where she said he could write a book about his experiences, but it would have to be fiction or else no one would believe it) and the ending was sweet, but I ultimately didn’t like it.
And finally we have Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird. This was one I was really excited to get started on, and overall it was my favourite of all the three books (although The Goldfish Boy was a close second).
The book is on a very important and topical matter: refugees and civil war in Syria. Omar and his family lead a relatively normal life in Syria, but all too quickly, things change and their country is plunged into civil war, culminating in them having to become refugees.
I thought this book was utterly commendable for putting such an important topic into a format which can inform and educate younger readers, allowing them to gain understanding contemporary issues. It was also such a touching and humanising book, and I came away from it feeling as if I had more insight into the refugee crisis. I also loved how Laird crafted Omar’s family – Musa, his brother, had cerebral palsy, but that didn’t hold him back; he was passionate and intelligent nonetheless. Eman, his sister, wants to be a teacher, and acts as a testament to the importance of education for women. On the whole, there was definitely more to this book than just enjoying it; there was so much to take away from it than just the story.