Warning: I left all of these books at home and may forget details.
Even though my daughter thinks that vampire ninjas are wrong, Mike Lake's Blood Ninja was pretty good. In the Tokugawa period in Japan, Taro and his friend Hiro are taken in by ninjas after Taro's father is killed. It turns out that ninjas are all vampires, and when an injury turns Taro into one as well, the boys have no choice but to help out with a warlord feud. This was certainly bloody, had lots of action, but it's lenghth (369 pages) and dense description of Japanese history would probably give my readers some trouble. Very good, and the research is clear.
Another excellent book was Brian Katcher's Almost Perfect. Logan feels lonely and depressed after his breakup with his girlfriend, until he meets Sage, a new student who was homeschooled. He loves everything about her, but her parents are strict and don't let her out of the house much. Soon, Sage reveals the reason... she's really a boy and has struggled her whole life with the problems that this causes. Her father is desolated, she can't function as a boy in society, but is scared of the violence she might encounter if the truth is known. I can't think of any other books on transgendered individuals, and this was certainly well done. Sage and Logan's emotions are beautifully drawn and hopefully will help people understand the issues and motivations of transgendered people. It is a bit much for middle school, however, but I did enjoy reading it.
I loved Sarah Beth Durst's Into the Wild and Out of the Wild, but I didn't want to read Ice. I apparently have a fear of talking polar bears, which is why I wasn't wild about The Golden Compass. Still, this retelling of "East o' the Sun, West o' the Moon" pulled me in, and I had to finish it. Cassie lives with her father at a polar bear observation station. Her grandmother had told her stories about her mother's death-- her mother was really the daughter of the North Wind, and when she fell in love with a human and would not marry the polar bear king, she was sent far away to live in a troll castle. When the polar bear king comes to claim Cassie for his bride, she goes with him in order to save her mother, and then starts to like him. However, she breaks her promise not to look at him in his human form, and he, too, is sent to the troll castle. Even though Cassie is pregnant, she travels, with much difficulty, to find him. Interesting, well-written, and a great retelling of a classic story, the pregnancy pushes this over the line into high school for me.
The Young Readers Edition of The Omnivore's Dilemma was also too much; not because of the topic, which includes descriptions of factory farming, but because it was too long (298 pages) and there was too much detail. Schlosser's Chew On This delivers the same information about the prevalence of sugar, fat and chemicals in our food in a slightly shorter, punchier package. Still, this would be a good resource for health classes, speech classes that might debate the topic, and students who has a passion for animals rights. Just difficult to pick up for casual reading.