The Best Books of 2019 for ages 12-14
2019 was a great year for books for just-teens. From fantasy, to coming of age a wide variety of writing showed up on the bookshelves.
For fantasy lovers, Kwame Mblalia’s Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky fuses a 13-year old’s quest for glory in boxing with a fascinating fantasy element when he stumbles into magical land peopled by West African deities and characters from African-American folklore
Another one for the sports fans is a charming book – Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt. Carter Jones is a bit troubled, as is his family. Carter and his sister have lost a brother and their father has been sent off on military deployment. And mom’s not coping very well. Enter the butler. Yes, an honest-to-goodness real English butler, bowler hat and all show up on the doorstep. With a little guidance, lots of empathy and lots more of cricket, the butler gently helps them get it all together.
Cricket plays a role in this year’s Peek A Book Children’s Choice Award-winning Across the Line by Nayanika Mahtani. Inaya is from Rawalpindi; Jai from Delhi. It is not likely that their paths will ever cross. But they do. And when that happens the past catches up with the present in the most unexpected ways. An unusual book that touches upon the partition and how it touched the lives of those that lived through it.
Touted as one of the best middle-grade graphic novels This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews is a beautifully rendered graphic novel of a quest and of friendship. On the night of the autumn equinox, the townspeople gather to float paper lanterns down the river. But where do the lanterns end up? A group of boys set off on their bicycles to follow the lanterns and the river to discover as much about themselves as the lantern’s final destination.
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee takes us to 1890s Atlanta where Chinese-American Jo Kuan works as a ladies maid by day. But she’s accidentally found herself a new job as an anonymous “agony aunt” for a failing newspaper. This cleverly written column quickly becomes a showcase for her voice that addresses many forms of prejudice.
While on the subject of historical fiction, I must mention Being Gandhi by Paro Anand. This one is quite a short book but has no qualms about touch on difficult topics like the 1984 riots after PM Indira Gandhi was assassinated. The hero Chandrashekar has no real idea to do a project on Gandhi, he hardly knows anything about him, but come October 2 he is expected to trot out the mandatory “Gandhi” project. But soon enough the riots occur and he begins to understand not just the man, but for what he stood for. Award-winning Paro Anand has yet a winner on her hands.
Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds is a fascinating collection of 10 short stories that follow a group of children as they leave school to go home. The journey home could well be one of navigating life – showing all the different directions a walk home can take.
The Lies We Tell by Himanjali Sankar is more towards the 14-year-old end of this list’s readers. A beautiful emotional foray into the life and mind of a teenager who’s break up with his girlfriend sets him off on a road spiraling down into depression. This is excellent writing, with interesting characters as well as empathy leaping off the pages.
By Lubaina Bandukwala, Curator Peek A Book Literature Festival for Kids