Middle school is supposed to be time in a child’s life when they just enjoy being a kid. A time when they start to form a sense of identity and when they start to discover who they are and what things they like outside of their parents’ and caregivers’ opinions. But sadly, that isn’t always the case—no matter how badly we wish it were. Sometimes middle school means just surviving the horrors of everyday life, and facing issues we sometimes delegate to “adult problems”. These stories are often sad and heartbreaking, but they are just as important as any other kind. We have put together a list of books of children who have survived hard times and faced tough issues, showing resiliency, strength, and a fighting spirit. [Fair warning, some themes of survival, death, grief, violence, abuse, and healing can be triggering.]
by Dusti Bowling
One year since she lost her mother to a random shooting, Nora and her father are exploring a slot canyon deep in the Arizona desert. They like to stay far away from other people now, or at least Nora’s father does. Nora has been working with a therapist to try to heal, and she longs to have a normal life again, to be “just an ordinary girl” like she was when her mother was still alive.
But when she and her father reach the bottom of the canyon, a flash flood rips past them, sweeping away Nora’s father and all of their supplies. Nora finds herself lost and alone in the desert, facing dehydration, snakes, scorpions, and, worst of all, the beast who has terrorized her dreams for the past year. To survive, Nora must find the courage to save herself and her father…or be consumed by her grief and her fear.
by Melanie Conklin
Maddy Gaines sees danger everywhere she looks: at the bus stop, around the roller rink, in the woods, and (especially) by the ocean. When Maddy meets a mysterious boy setting booby traps in the North Carolina woods, she suspects the worst.
Maddy is certain she’s found Billy Holcomb-the boy who went missing in the fall. Except, maybe it’s not him. It’s been six months since he disappeared. And who will believe her anyway? Definitely not her mom or her stepdad . . . or the chief of police.
As Maddy tries to uncover the truth about Billy Holcomb, ghosts from her own past surface, her best friend starts to slip away, and Maddy’s world tilts once again. Can she put the pieces of her life back together, even if some of them are lost forever?
by Sonja K. Solter
When you know what I know, you’ll wish you didn’t.
It’s not the kind of thing you can talk about at school, or at the park, or anywhere, with a new friend or an old one, or even with your sister. (She’s too little.)
But it’s everywhere once you know, once you can’t not know. In your face, under your eyelids. If you turn your back on it, there it is anyway.
One day after school, in the basement on the couch, Tori’s uncle did something bad. Afterwards, Tori did the right thing, and told her mom. But even if it was the brave thing to do, her mom still didn’t believe her at first. Her grandma still takes his side. And Tori doesn’t want anyone else—even her best friend—to know what happened.
Over the course of the following year, Tori finds herself battling mixed emotions—anger, shame, and sadness—as she deals with the trauma. But with the help of her mom, little sister Taylor, her best friend and others, Tori will find a way to have the last word.
by Tony Abbott
Life hasn’t been great for Jeff. He was forced to leave his school, St. Catherine’s, for public school, which he hates. He’s no longer speaking to his former best friend Tom Bender because of that girl Jessica. But worst of all, his family is changing, and it’s not for the better.
When his mom comes home announcing that she’s lost her job, Jeff begins to worry about things far beyond his years—how will they pay the rent? Will his absentee dad step up and save the day? Will his mom get the help she needs? And ultimately, where will they live?
by Sarah R. Baughman
Twelve-year-old Addie should avoid Maple Lake. After all, her twin brother Amos drowned there only a few months ago. But its crisp, clear water runs in her veins, and the notebook Amos left behind, filled with clues about a mysterious creature in the lake’s inky-blue depths, keeps calling her back. She never took Amos seriously when he was alive, but doesn’t she owe it to him to figure out, once and for all, if there’s really something out there? When she’s offered a Young Scientist position studying the lake for the summer, Addie accepts, yearning for the cool wind in her hair and that sparkle on the lake, despite her parent’s misgivings.
Addie promises her parents that she’ll remain under the scientists’ supervision and stick to her job of helping them measure water pollution levels, but she can’t resist the secrets of Maple Lake. Addie enlists Tai, the son of one of the visiting scientists, to help her sneak off and investigate Amos’s evidence of the creature. The more time Addie spends out on the water, the more she discovers the same deep-down feeling Amos had about the magic in Maple Lake. But when the scientists trace the pollution to surrounding dairy farms, including the one run by her beloved aunt and uncle, Addie finds herself caught between her family’s interests and Maple Lake’s future and between the science she has always prized and the magic that brings her closer to her brother.
by Kurt Kirchmeier
In the small town of Griever’s Mill, eleven-year-old Ben Cameron is expecting to finish off his summer of relaxing and bird-watching without a hitch. But everything goes wrong when dark clouds roll in.
Old Man Crandall is the first to change—human one minute and a glass statue the next. Soon it’s happening across the world. Dark clouds fill the sky and, at random, people are turned into frozen versions of themselves. There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and no one knows how to stop it.
With his mom on the verge of a breakdown, and his brother intent on following the dubious plans put forth by a nameless voice on the radio, Ben must hold out hope that his town’s missing sparrows will return with everyone’s souls before the glass plague takes them away forever.
by Ali Benjamin
Everyone says that it was an accident…that sometimes things “just happen”. But Suzy won’t believe it. Ever. After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy was a rare jellyfish sting. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory—even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy’s achingly heartfelt journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe…and the potential for love and hope right next door.