While I really do believe that the death of a parent when one is young is probably the hardest death to cope with, I do wish that SOME middle grade parents be allowed to live. No such luck with the following two books.
Han, Jenny. To All the Boys I've Loved Before.
April 15th 2014
by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Lara Jean loves her close knit family: doctor father; older, in control sister Margot, and slightly annoying, much younger Kitty. Her mother has been gone several years, and Margot has gotten the family organized and operational. Now that she has graduated from high school and is going to college in Scotland, Lara Jean isn't sure how she will cope, especially since Margot breaks up with neighbor and long-time boyfriend, Josh. Lara Jean always liked Josh; in fact, she had written a letter to him and to her four other "serious" crushes. She's kept the letters in a hat box from her mother, but one day finds that the letters have been mailed to her crushes! Josh is flattered, and the other letters don't cause much of a ripple, but a letter to 7th grade crush Peter Kavinsky leads to an interesting situation-- he's just broken up with the "love of his life", Gen, and wants to pretend to date Lara Jean to make Gen jealous. Lara Jean is leery of her feelings for Josh, so she plays along. Things get complicated, as romance in high school generally does, and Lara Jean has to figure out what she really wants out of a boyfriend... and out of life.
Strengths: Lara Jean is an interesting character with very real emotions. I especially like the fact that she is half Korean but tired of being asked "what she is". Her ethnicity plays a small part in the story-- really just perfect. The strong family ties and the enduring friendships are interesting as well. I enjoyed this tremendously but am debating appropriateness for middle school.
Weaknesses: While there is nothing instructional, there is some discussion of "people having sex". There is also one f-bomb, but since it is used to dramatic effect at a crucial emotional moment... I can almost excuse those. So, is it okay for 6th graders to pick this up and just read that Josh and Margot had sex. If there's not much more discussed? There is also a friend, Chris, who's rather crude. This would be perfect for an 8th grader, but I can't control who picks up books in my library, so still thinking about this one.
Pakkala, Christine. Jasmine and Maddie.
April 1st 2014
by Boyds Mills Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Jasmine has a very difficult life. Her father has died from cancer, and after she has an issue with stealing from a family who is trying to help her, her mother takes a job as a school custodian in a town near and aunt and uncle. Since money is tight, they live in a trailer park, and Jasmine is ashamed of this. Maddie rides on the same bus, but has a loving and supportive family, although she feels that she is not as popular or, ironically, as well dressed as Jasmine, who was given a lot of fancy clothes by the family in the other town. Maddie doesn't make the travel soccer team, and her friends are distancing themselves from her, and Maddie also misses her grandmother and is tired of being compared to her older sister Lexi. Maddie and Jasmine start a tenuous friendship, but when Jasmine gets it into her head that she could get money for her mother by trading rings with Maddie and selling Maddie's, a lot of trouble begins.
Strengths: There are not many books that address the issue of social class distinctions, or especially trailer parks, and I thought this was well done. This would be good for girls in the seventh grade who want sad books.
Weaknesses: So sad. So very sad. There's the painful issue of dealing with the deceased father, but then really the only other thing we hear about is school work, especially a poetry project. Is it worse to have to do poetry homework or read about other people doing poetry homework? My girls inform me that the only time they want to read about homework is if it is MAGIC homework.