January 5, 2016 Debuts: Middle Grade

One of the best and most rewarding aspects of being a debut-author-to-be has been getting to know so many fantastic, enthusiastic, supportive, and talented writers in the Sweet Sixteens debut group. I've also had a chance to learn about and read a whole bunch of their books, across all kinds of genres, and I am so excited to be able to recommended them as they're released over the course of the year.

The first of the 2016 debut books launch today: five books in all different genres, from adventurous sci fi to historical fiction to steampunk fantasy to contemporary YA. Starting today I'll be making posts every Tuesday to provide information and links for all the Sweet Sixteens debut books being released that day. If I've read the book, I'll include my own review as well.

There are so many incredible books coming out this year, written by so many incredible people. I hope everybody can find something to read week to week, month to month. 2016 is going to be a fantastic year for books.

I'm kicking the 2016 debuts off below with two wonderful and very different middle grade novels, both of which I have read and adored and look forward to having on my shelves.

In the tradition of Michael Vey and The Unwanteds, twelve-year-old Jasper and his friends are forced to go up against an alien society in this first book in a brand-new adventure series!

Thirteen years ago, Earth Force—a space-military agency—discovered a connection between brain structure and space travel. Now they’ve brought together the first team of cadets, called Bounders, to be trained as high-level astronauts.

Twelve-year-old Jasper is part of this team being sent out into space. After being bullied back on Earth, Jasper is thrilled to have something new and different to do with other kids who are more like him. While learning all about the new technologies and taking classes in mobility—otherwise known as flying with jetpacks—Jasper befriends the four other students in his pod and finally feels like he has found his place in the world.

But then Jasper and his new friends learn that they haven’t been told everything about Earth Force.  When they discover the truth about why Earth Force needs them, they are faced with a choice: rebel against the academy that brought them together, or fulfill their duty and protect the planet at all costs.

While the story raises its share of ethical questions, it shines in its depiction of neurodiverse characters, especially Cole and Mira, as Tesler uses familiar SF conventions to show that kids with ADD, autism, or other conditions can be as heroic as anyone else.

--Publisher's Weekly Review

My review of Bounders:

If somebody had told me before I read BOUNDERS that Monica Tesler had managed to write a middle grade novel in which the entire premise is built on an understanding of quantum entanglement, I probably would have laughed in their face. But she did! There's some great science fictional world-building in here, but most of all it's SO MUCH FUN. 

There's a little bit of Ender's Game-style alien contact in here, a little bit of Harry Potter-style boarding school shenanigans, and the combination is a delightful space adventure story about a group of neurodiverse kids who come together thinking they are training for one kind of life, only to realize the world they're growing up into is very different and a lot more complicated than they ever knew. 

Jasper and the other kids are a delight--I especially love how their different ways of thinking and experiencing the world slowly evolved from being points of conflict to being the glue that holds their team together. I am intrigued by the hints of where the larger arc of the story can go in the future, especially with regard to the larger science fictional questions it asks about the ethics of exploration and first contact. But that makes it sound heavy and serious, and it really isn't. This is a fun book full of adventure and mischief and kids getting themselves into trouble--and, usually, getting themselves out again.

A moving debut novel about a girl whose family is relocated to a Japanese internment camp during World War II--and the dog she has to leave behind.

Ten-year-old Manami did not realize how peaceful her family's life on Bainbridge Island was until the day it all changed. It's 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Manami and her family are Japanese American, which means that the government says they must leave their home by the sea and join other Japanese Americans at a prison camp in the desert.

Manami is sad to go, but even worse is that they are going to have to give her dog, Yujiin, to a neighbor to take care of. Manami decides to sneak Yujiin under her coat, but she is caught and forced to abandon him. She is devastated but clings to the hope that somehow Yujiin will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again. It isn't until she finds a way to let go of her guilt that Manami can accept all that has happened to her family.

A superior story of survival and love set during this dark time in American history.

--School Library Journal starred review

Hardships, injustice, and the emotional truth of Manami’s camp life are thoughtfully portrayed through simple and heart-rending prose... This historical debut speaks volumes of love and longing. 

-- Kirkus starred review

My review: 

I had a chance to read an ARC of PAPER WISHES, and I found it to be absolutely stunning from beginning to end. 

It's a beautifully told story that is both heartbreaking and hopeful, dealing with one of the most shameful periods of U.S. history in a careful, thoughtful, well-researched manner. It's also a story about a family--loving, complicated, and so very real--trying to do everything they can to continue to survive in country that is treating them so poorly, and a young girl searching for ways to understand a world that has been turned upside down. The writing is wonderful, sometimes stark, sometimes poetic, always clear and beautiful. 

Very highly recommended!