I don’t get around to reading as much middle grade as I’d wish to, but I’ve really lucked out so far this year. Every middle grade I’ve read has been so charming and heartwarming. A real highlight has been Rebecca Stead’s Goodbye Stranger, but today I’m bringing you two other 2015 MG’s I’ve really enjoyed.
Author: Pam Muñoz Ryan
A lovely story and beautifully told, this book tells the tales of 3 different children in different times and place in the world all connected by one magical harmonica. Friedrich in pre-WWII Germany is first hand witness to the slow motion horror of Hitler’s rise to power and gradual degradations to his family. Mike in a Depression era orphanage fights to keep his little brother from being adopted without him. Ivy in WWII era California comes up against the harsh racism of segregated education and the horror of the Japanese internment camps. Tieing each story together is a mythical harmonica that comes into the possession of each child through ordinary, but no less magical for its ordinariness, means. Each story is beautiful and wrought with desperation and heartache. And each ends on a wrenching cliffhanger.
This book actually reminded me a little bit of All the Light We Cannot See in that it is a historical novel that tells the interweaving tales of several young people, moving back and forth with them through time against a backdrop of war.. I think if you are a fan of that book this is the type of middle grade that will speak to you. Themes of loneliness, interconnectedness, and the unifying power of music will speak to readers as well.
All three stories are tied together in the end (in a sort of flash forward), but perhaps a little too neatly given how dire the situations are that we leave each of the children in. Ultimately I just wanted a little more from this story, mostly in filling in the gaps between where we leave each of the characters as children and where it ends with them as adults. But all told, this is a moving and gorgeously written historical.
Title: The War That Saved My Life
Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Rating: 4 stars
The War That Saved My Life is the story of nine year old Ada growing up in WWII England, and her fight for love and for acceptance. Born with a clubfoot, Ada suffers terrible abuse at the hands of her mother. Unable to go outside (ever) or attend school, Ada is friendless and bereft in her working poor London community. When Ada and her younger brother are sent to be evacuated to the British countryside it is Ada’s chance to break free from the trauma of her young life.
This book is about overcoming abuse, and about learning to love and to let people in. Ada’s path is strenuous; it’s difficult to overcome the internalization of 9 years of being told you have no worth. And it’s not just Ada who goes through this transformation. Susan, a woman with a closed heart and who has never wanted children, is forced to take on Ada and Jamie as charges. Susan and Ada are two people overcome by grief and heartache. Ada, for the mother who never loved her and Susan for her female partner whose premature death is shadowed ever the more by an age in which such things were never acknowledged and rarely mentioned. Ada and Susan are both outcasts, both suffering from unfair, and unearned stigmas. This book is almost a meditation on the different ways we love and grieve and how we can come together again after all has seemed lost.
If you enjoy sibling stories this one is a must. If you also adore when the heroine learns to love through the aid of an animal friend (I’m talking about some real Meet Felicity level of girl/horse kinship) this is also a must. It’s a beautifully evocative and moving story about overcoming who you were to become someone better , a person you never knew you could be. It’s the very “ordinary” magic of personal transformation.
Do you get to read more middle grade than I do? Are there any you can recommend to me that I must read this year? I’d love to hear your feedback!