What To Read Next: Percy Jackson

If your patron base, ages 7-18, is anything like mine they are either on the giant reserve list for one of your library’s copies of The House of Hades or already dying to talk about every single detail with you.  If your patron base is like my patron base they are already fiend’ing for the next Rick Riordan book and their bleary-eyed parents are staring at you with wild-eyed desperation, asking, “Please.  Please something … anything … else.” (and this is a feeling I totally understand because, oh my, how I absolutely adore these amazing books.  Rick Riordan, thank you for making me feel 12 again and thank you for the wonder.)

And so, for every parent and librarian who has been asked that very thing, I bring you my What To Read Next guide for Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus series.

This list is divided into a few categories for ease.  By and large, these recommendations are focused on Percy fans ages 8-15.  If you have older teens who love Percy there are even more read-alikes and, hey, maybe I’ll make an epic post of those too!  Meanwhile, some of these books may be a good fit, but I’ve matched my recommendations with the bulk of my Percy readers.  These are the titles I most frequently recommend and have the most success with.

Please feel free to share this list widely!  You can make displays, make brochures, and encourage all the “what next” fans in your life to give these books a shot. Let’s start with my favorites!

My Top Three Percy Jackson Read-Alikes

These are really great read-alikes that are also truly well-crafted, interesting, and engaging books that can gateway readers into whole new directions.  I’d love these four even *without* Percy and I bet most of your readers will too.

Savage Fortress

The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda

Excuse me but did you say there is a slightly nerdy English-Indian boy who loves video games who turns out to be chosen to save the world from the rise of the Ravana, the demon king from Hindu mythology? YOU DID? And the HINDU GODDESS KALI IS ALSO THERE AND A BAD-ASS?  Really?  And there’s a sequel OUT TODAY that’s blurbed by Rick Riordan?! Can this be real life??!!  Love this series, love Ash, love the action, love the use of Indian mythology, love everything about this – a superb Percy read-alike featuring a POC lead.  Oh wow, true love.

shadow

The Cronus Chronicles: The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu

First in the The Cronus Chronicles this is the story of two cousins who save the world from a deranged demigod and discover that Greek gods are real.  There are adventures in the Underworld, angry Greek gods, and Prometheus too.  One thing great about this series is that the Olympians aren’t so kindly inclined to humankind – which changes the whole feel and pacing and gives our heroes new stakes and challenges. And, also, it’s written by the incomparable Anne Ursu so the prose and craft is beyond compare.

city fire

 City of Fire by Laurence Yep

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND RIGHT – BUY THIS SERIES! This series is criminally under-rated and it deserves a huge audience. First in the City Trilogy this is the book that proves if you’re as talented as Laurence Yep there is literally nothing you can’t do.  THIS is the book that shows the lie of “well, you can’t mix genres or mythologies and you probably shouldn’t write about other cultures if you’re not a member of that culture and god make sure it’s not historical, kids hate that and, and, and…” because this series does all that and it does it well and it’s wonderful and engaging and exciting and original and OMG IS PELE IN THIS?  AND THE SILK ROAD?  AND POLAR BEARS?  AND MAGICAL ARTIFACTS? AND A DRAGON IN DISGUISE WHO IS A PINKERTON AGENT?! (hyperventilates).  It’s an alternate-historical fantasy with magic and myths colliding and combining in all kinds of exciting and interesting ways.  There’s a ragtag crew who come together to discover their strengths and save the world.  These books are not just unbelievably well-crafted and radically creative but also reader-pleasing-whizz-bang page turners.  On so many levels, they are a perfect fit for your Percy fans and a great gateway for them to all kinds of other titles. Get these books for your library!  You’ll love them and, more importantly, your readers will love them!

OLDIES BUT GOODIES

The Chronicles of Pridyan and The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander

There is no writer who means more to me than Lloyd Alexander.  Many of his books are Percy read-alikes but surely the best fits are The Arkandians, his frothy Greek adventure involving the Oracle of Delphi and The Chronicles of Pyridan, which offer readers a glimpse at Welsh mythology.

The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer

I know,  you don’t want to think of this as an “oldie” but it came out seven years ago.  Set in 793 and using real historical events (Viking raids on Britain) these feature Jack, an 11 year old boy who discovers all the myths he’s grown up hearing are all true in this awesome trilogy featuring trolls, mermaids, elves, hobgoblins, dragons, and Norse gods and goddesses.

The Akhenaten Adventure by P.B. Kerr

A seven book series began in 2004, this  is about two twins who discover they’re actually descended from a long line of djinns with magical powers.  Throughout the series they learn about their powers and the responsibilities and tasks of djinns throughout history.  Their adventures take them through history and myth and everywhere from ancient Egypt to Bablyon.  This one is still popular at my library and Percy fans like the magical powers, the wacky adult mentors, and, of course, the myth and legend elements.

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers

With their connection to Egypt and Ancient Egyptian mythology, the Theodosia series (four books) now has extra appeal for Riordan fans.  The first title was published five years ago (before author LaFevers broke into the YA world with the epic His Fair Assassin series) and this is a fun series set in 1906 and featuring Theodosia Throckmorton – who has a dry sense of humor to match Percy’s and his same sense of daring bravery.  There’s Egyptian curses and artifacts, dark magic and spells, and plenty of secret societies and big  battles between good and evil.

Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff

For older, more sophisticated readers – Sutcliff is a treasure.  Of her many books, this is a standout.  It’s a evocative, powerful retelling of The Odyssey, perfect for readers who want a realistic look at Ancient Greece.  And baby, if you can get a reader hooked on Rosemary Sutcliff – they’re set!

SOURCE MATERIAL

Riordan’s next series will be a retelling of the Greek myths and that’s sure to be a hit but in the meantime, I’ve had plenty of kids ask me for the “real” myths and the “true” stories.  This is definitely a subject they don’t mind digging into it.  (Riordan’s incorporation of even obscure myths/mythological figures encourages this, really)  So, it’s always good to have some of these on hand, especially when they have cool new covers.

The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles by Padraic Colum

One of the very first Newbery Honor books, this one focuses mainly on Jason and the Argonauts and dovetails perfectly with Percy’s adventures. The prose is a little GRAND but it was originally written for children, so it’s not as dense and obscure as other mythology titles.  It uses Jason as a frame story for lots of action and stories, which helps.

Tales of the Greek Heroes by Roger Lancelyn Green

Green is one of the first scholars to retell these myths in accessible ways.  Here’s what you really need to know about this: buy the 2009 Puffin Classics edition of this.  It has an intro from Rick Riordan.  Tell the kids that these are some stories Rick Riordan loved/read when HE was a kid.  This book will circ.

The Goddess GirlsHeroes in Training by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams

The gods/goddesses/characters from myth all attend middle school together.  Yes, really.   The Goddess Girls has 11 titles so far – with a super special – and more forthcoming.  Heroes in Training is four with more forthcoming. Both series are rarely, if ever, on our shelves.  I know, this might make the purists among you clutch your pearls, but kids love them. And the simpler text and glossy covers make these perfect for younger readers of the Percy series.

Treasury of Greek Mythology by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Christina Balit

A real treat for your visual learners, this lushly illustrated, oversized volume is another good intro to even the details of Greek myth. There’s a commitment to artistic style here that’s really engaging and an awesome connection to astronomy as well.  It’s simply gorgeous and perfect for Percy fans to sink right into and pour over and over and over and …

The Olympians by George O’Connor

I honestly don’t know if this graphic novel series is EVER on my shelves. There are five volumes so far (Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades, Poseidon with Aphrodite coming in December) and each one traces the exploits of the titular God.  The illustrations are top-notch, the stories are tightly paced but still full of detail.  This is a surefire hit for your graphic novel fans and even older readers will be pulled in by O’Connor’s design.

The Mighty 12: Superheroes of Greek Myth by Charles R. Smith, illustrated by P. Craig Russell

Perfect for even the youngest fans, this book features energetic poems about 12 Greek god, each accompanied by exciting, full color illustrations.  A quick read, of course, but an interesting way to approach it and good for kids looking for more visual engagement.

ANCIENT ADVENTURES & RETOLD TALES

These are stories that have elements of the Percy Jackson canon – either retold Greek legends or stories with similar action, adventure, and mood set in ancient times.  Retold tales are, of course, a staple of YA and Greek myth is no exception – so a lot of these stories might skew a little older, but that’s not all bad.  I’ve avoided many of the more romance-y/contemporary ones in favor of titles that might have a little more direct appeal to Percy fans.  You can match some of these with older readers – maybe even some that are looking for a gateway into YA.

King of Ithaka by Tracy Barnett

One of my favorite retellings, period.  This is the story of what it would be like to grow up as Odysseus’s son.  The outsider POV really lets you into the story of The Odyssey while also giving you a chance to see it in a totally new way.  Odysseus’s son, Telemachos, is a great character who is figuring out who HE is while living with the burden of myth and prophecy – just like Percy.

Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline Cooney

A teen girl comes along for the ride when Helen runs off with Paris in this book that looks at the Trojan War and, of course, contains elements of The Iliad.  Again, I liked it because of the POV: the outsider/teen POV really works in making the story accessible.

The Stickman Odyssey by Christopher Ford

There are two volumes in this graphic novel series so far and I’ve already had to repurchase the first one because it was worn out from repeated use.  This is, as you might guess, a reinvented/retelling of The Odysessy using stickman figures.  Yes, it’s as silly as you imagine.  Yes, it doesn’t quite hew exactly to the original Homer.  But, boy, it is a hoot.  This one is sure to provoke giggles.

Snakehead by Ann Halam

A rip-roaring retelling of the myth of Perseus, Percy’s name sake and fellow demi-god, who is charged with cutting off Medusa’s head.  (and, as Riordan cleverly lets readers know, he’s the only hero to have a happy ending). Snakehead is quite good and I think it deserves a much a wider audience.  Perseus really develops/learns here as a character in the way he does in myth.  Andromeda is also a fully-realized character here, another big bonus.

Gods and Warriors by Michelle Paver

First in a new series from the super talented Paver, this book is set during the Bronze Age and has lots of Percy hallmarks like magical animals, sea adventures, powerful magical artifacts, and a boy and girl duo who bicker/banter and find a way to work together.  Love this one and can’t wait to see where this series goes.

Quicksilver and Quiver by Stephanie Spinner

I am guessing there are only two of these because they didn’t sell, which is a shame because they’re both great. Quicksilver is about Hermes and Quiver is about Atalanta. What I like about these is that they aren’t just retellings – they’re also explorations of the myths/Gods in specific situations and from their own perspectives.

MYTHICAL ACTION IN THE HERE & NOW

And now the books with perhaps the most in common with the Percy series: mythical adventures from all kinds of cultures that crash into the life and destiny of contemporary kids.   This genre is certainly where we’ve seen the most expansion in publishing and they are often the easiest sells to your kids looking for read-alikes.

Loki’s Wolves by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr

From YA writers Kelly Armstrong and Melissa Marr, this is the first in a series about a group of kids wh0 all know they are descended from Norse gods (Norse mythology is where it’s at!) but are surprised to discover Ragnarok is coming and they’ve been chosen to stop it, this is a really great Percy read-alike for the group dynamics, the wisecracking, and the end-of-the-world action intensity.

The Secret of the the Sirens by Julia Golding

First in The Companions Quartet, this volume follows Connie as she discovers that not only do mythical creatures exist but that there’s a secret society dedicated to bonding with them and protecting them: Society for the Protection of Mythical Creatures.  Better still, Connie is the only universal companion and she has a great destiny.  This is a well-loved series at my library and I too LOVE it: true middle grade, wonderful, subtle messaging about the importance of protecting and enjoying the natural world around us, and tons of cool mythical creatures and adventures. YES.

The Colossus Rises by Peter Lerangis

A group of teens must save the world and their own lives by tracking down mystical artifacts contained in the seven wonders of the Ancient world.  This is not only from an already popular writer of The 39 Clues series but blurbed by Riordan, which makes it fly off my shelves with very little booktalking.  These circulate quite well at my library.

The Flame of Olympus by Kate O’Hearn

First in a trilogy, this British import is about a girl who discovers a Pegasus on the roof of her building and gets involved in the quest to return him to Olympus and save the the Gods. It’s blurbed by Rick Riordan, a surefire hit.

Middleworld by J&P Voelkel

In an adventure trilogy using Mayan and Central American myth and legend as the set-up, a teen boy must brave the Mayan world of the dead to save his parents and stop the Lords of the Dead from taking over our world.  This one has been popular with my Percy fans who want lots of action.

Now’s your turn! What Percy Jackson and Rick Riordan read-alikes have I missed?  What are some titles you recommend to your Percy fans?  What other types of titles in this (sub)genre would you like to see published?  How have you successfully interacted and booktalked with your Percy fans?

And if you liked this post/found it useful: what kind of read-alike or genre guides would you like to read next?

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Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann: a review and a GIVEAWAY!

Quick: how many books have you read where the main character has autism or autism spectrum disorder?

Now: how many of those books were written by an author who openly speaks about their own autism spectrum disorder?

For me, I realized that while I could come up with a few titles answering the former question, I couldn’t think of one answering the latter.  Then I was lucky enough to read the essay Lyn Miller-Lachmann wrote for Young Adult Review Network (YARN) talking about the origins of her book Rogue and her own experiences having Asperger’s Syndrome.  This is an amazing piece that helps really personalize what it feels like to have Asperger’s and looks at Miller-Lachmann’s decision to write a book featuring a character that also has this disorder.

rogueThat character is the unforgettable Kiara Thorton-Delgado, an eighth grader with Asperger’s who yearns for people to understand her and genuinely tries to connect with them. Rogue opens with Kiara determined that her new next door neighbor Chad, unlike all the other new kids who quickly reject her, will become and remain her friend.  But Chad is from a seriously troubled home, so her focus on becoming part of his world leads to more complicated situations that she originally bet on.  But Kiara is convinced this is her chance to have a friend and to belong.  Now, however, she’ll have to figure out what “being a friend” actually means and if she really is prepared for it.

This sounds like a trite premise, I know, but Miller-Lachmann takes the story to a thousand interesting and new places because of her deep understanding of Kiara.  Here’s the thing: I have just described to you a universal premise, a familiar story.  But when the character in this familiar story has Asperger’s, suddenly we are hearing a voice we have never heard before and seeing things we have not seen before.  It does not make this story less universal; instead, it turns Kiara’s struggles, complete with her Asperger’s, into something universal.  There’s something both epic and accessible about this, something that can’t be discounted.  This is why good writing about disability matters, this is why diversity in our characters counts – when the writing is as good as Miller-Lachmann’s is here it reminds us (and helps younger readers see) that characters with disability are part of universal stories too.

Kiara’s universal story is the heart and soul of Rogue.  Rogue wasn’t just a book I genuinely loved and enthusiastically recommend for advanced middle grade readers it was also a book I felt like (and this part is really important to me) I’d never read before.  It felt new, fresh, and challenging.

I adore the way Kiara learns to shine using her own set of strengths and abilities.  Kiara is often toting around a camera and filming things: she uses this as a way to cope with her Asperger’s but also discovers it can be a way to share her vision with people.  Rogue is the story of how Kiara tries to fit in and, more than that, it’s the story of how she figures out what “fitting in” really means and is really worth.  I love this.  I love that this is a story about finding “your people” by finding yourself and I love that this is also a story about accepting that “fitting in” might not be possible for everyone, not just because of disability, but because of their own personalities and beliefs.  This is BIG THOUGHT stuff for middle grade, which as most of you know, is the exact thing I think middle grade should be tackling.

Now for a bit about the title: Rogue, of course, has multiple meanings.  One of the main ones, however, is Kiara’s love for the superhero Rogue, a member of the X-Men.  Rogue, of course, is the mutant who cannot touch people because she saps their powers with contact.  Kiara finds real resonance in Rogue’s literal inability to connect and another thing I love about this book is that Miller-Lachmann takes this seriously.  I LOVE books that treat fandom as an important and maybe even life-saving element of people’s existence.  Yes – that’s what it can be like.  Not nerds, not haha how socially inept, but the joy of finding connection and recognition in a fictional world … Miller-Lachmann completely nails how that’s special, how that can mean so much.  Kiara knows it, knows the way she feels about Rogue, knows what it means to see herself in her.

Though Kiara is an eighth grader, Rogue is definitely on the higher end of middle-grade and actually acts as a good bridge read to young adult fiction.  I highly recommend it for grades 6-9  and particularly for readers who are drawn to stories of outsiders.  There are some really intense topics covered in the book (Kiara’s fractured family and, especially, Chad’s familial situation) and Miller-Lachmann is honest and frank about Kiara’s anger and her struggles, complete with setbacks and outbursts.  Kiara isn’t always the most likable character and yet you, as a reader, are still drawn to her.  You want to know more about her story and, well, you’re rooting for her.  You feel the universality in Kiara’s story and yet you know her personally.  That’s what makes her story fly and that’s what makes her story stick.

Thanks to Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s awesome kindness, you have a chance to win an autographed copy of Rogue! All you have to do is leave a comment on this post by Tuesday, July 2 and I’ll choose a random winner.  If you don’t win, Rogue is on sale now. If you can’t buy a copy, check one out from your local library.  If they don’t have it, request they add it to their collection.

(NOTE: I reviewed this title from an ARC Lyn sent me and I volunteered to host this giveaway on my site because I loved it so much.  A few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Lyn at ALA at a super-cool YALSA event for small publishers.  She was there promoting her amazing book Gringolandia, which is STILL on my Best Books for High School Readers list.  Talk about an original, daring, and insightful young adult titles – Gringolandia is all that and more. If you haven’t read it, go get it right now!)

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The Center of Everything by Linda Urban Tween Tuesday

center of everything“The hole is what lets it change.”

What a moment it is – the moment of recognition, the moment when you feel like someone has seen you.  For me, this moment of connection sends an almost physical jolt through me.  One of the things I loved the most about Linda Urban’s artfully crafted, painfully beautiful book The Center of Everything is how accurately it captures that moment of recognition and belonging. There is a moment when our main character, the unforgettable Ruby Pepperdine, is surrounded on both sides both physically and mentally by the love and support of two friends and you, as the reader, feel as embraced as Ruby.  You are able to stop and listen even as you are reading.  I felt that jolt of recognition in this text in this wonderful moment and, maybe even better, I felt a jolt of pleasure too.

Why I Love This Book

Craft.  Craft.  Craft.  Craft.  This is, without a doubt, one of the most well-crafted children’s novels I’ve ever read.  Yes, but what does that mean?  For me, that means that everything in The Center of Everything is deliberate; that great thought and careful work has gone into weaving the story together so that it forms a unified, powerful  narrative, a story where all the threads come together in a way that is subtle and moving on several levels at once.  Craft, to me, means that this is a story that moves you without pushing you.  Craft is the way this story uses circles, math, and physics as a narrative device about learning and healing and the way the story simultaneously uses the simple, physical shape of a doughnut – the shape of, you guessed it, a circle – to represent connection and unity.  Craft is the way none of this SHOUTS at the reader, the way, instead, it just all fits together, works together, and makes each other element richer and more resonant.  Craft is the structure of sentences, the use of point of view, both of which are stylistically advanced.  And craft is the very artful way Urban chooses to make the chapters short and move the action in them between the present and recent past, thus making the reader feel the sting of pain and the breathless yet hopeful confusion that Ruby herself feels.   This is a well-crafted story and it shows on every page.  Young readers might not pick up on every one of these subtleties but that’s part of the  beauty of this craft – young readers don’t have to analyze it, they’ll just enjoy it and be completely enchanted by it.

The Center of Everything is very much Ruby Pepperdine’s story: the story of how she is dealing with grief in the wake of her grandmother’s death, the story of how she is navigating new and old friendships, and the story of how she’s trying to figure out what she believes in and why.  BUT The Center of Everything is *also* the story of a place, a very specific place, a small-town in New Hampshire called Bunning.  Bunning is a place where everyone knows your name, where there are acapella groups, amateur stargazing groups, and yearly essay contests about the town’s founder for schoolchildren.  Bunning is the type of town where you can have friends for your whole life and things like parades are whole-town-wide shebangs. Because of all this, Bunning is as much as character in this story as Ruby and the lessons she learns about loving and understanding your place are essential to her healing AND her sense of identity.  I live in a place like Bunning, so this was ESPECIALLY special to me (“That’s my town,” I wanted to shout over and over,) but I think you could live anywhere and still connect to Bunning and recognize it as as a fundamental element of this story’s success.

The Center of Everything is on sale now.  If you can’t buy a copy, check one out from your local library.  If they don’t have it, request they buy a copy.  I think The Center of Everything skews a little bit younger than some middle-grade books (Ruby has just turned 12) but I think it still has lots of appeal to more sophisticated readers because it is so well-written.  It reminded me of Gary Schmidt’s work: thoughtful and really emotionally moving.  I highly recommend this for readers aged 9-12 and, particularly, the readers you have (oh, you know the ones) who hunger for books that are more – the readers who want books that will jolt them with moments of recognition.

The Center of Everything made me cry.  It also made my heart flutter with happiness as I saw all the pieces of it come together with such deliberate plotting and, yes, such love.  The Center of Everything is a lovely piece of art for many reasons but perhaps most of all because it’s a book about how the hole, the thing you think is missing, can be the thing that not just turns your life inside out but also shows you everything strong, good, and kind in your world.

And in you.

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Tween Tuesday: Doll Bones by Holly Black

dollbonesWhat’s the scariest thing you can think of?  A thing that is almost universally feared?  Spiders?  Clowns?  Public speaking?  What about … creepy dolls?  You know the kind, the kind that have heads that seem to sit uncomfortably on their cloth shoulders, the ones with porcelain arms and legs that bend in unnatural ways, the ones with too big smiles for their soft fabric faces, the ones with shiny eyes that blink slowly closed when you lay them down yet somehow still seem to be watching you?  Oooh, did you feel that little shudder?

Yup, that’s scary.  You know what’s scarier though?  What’s the scariest thing I can think of?  Middle school.

Many years ago during a high school assignment, my English class was given a piece of paper and told to draw pictures about our impressions of our life through four stages: before entering school, during elementary school, during middle school, and during high school.  We worked in solitude and then compared pictures.  Everyone had different drawings for before school and elementary school, though most of the “before school” pictures were just colors or flowers and hearts.  Our high school sections, naturally, had the most detail and even writing but they were all different too.  Only one thing was the same: our middle school sections.  Independently the whole class, from the most popular kids to the most nerdy, had colored their middle school section with black marks, scribbles, red Xs, scrawls and jumbles of the angriest, darkest, ugliest colors.  We laughed about it at the time but I never forgot that – for all of us middle school was a jumble of darkness, a scrawl of deep unhappiness.  All these years later this is still so revealing to me.

Is there a worse horror than middle school?  In Doll Bones, one of the most resonant and truly creepy middle grade novels I’ve ever read, Holly Black expertly uses the conventions of ghost stories and horror stories to argue that no, no there’s really nothing scarier than middle school.  Not even the ghost of a girl trapped in the body of a very, very creepy doll. But don’t get me wrong – that’s pretty scary too.  And thus so is Doll Bones, an ingenious and heartbreaking middle grade book about the powers of story and the pressures of growing up.

Doll Bones is the story of three friends, Zach, Alice, and Poppy.  They’ve grown up together playing “the game” – an elaborate make-believe game that uses their dolls and action figures to tell an extensive adventure story.  But now they’re in middle school, about to be teenagers, and Zach calls off the game.  It feels over … until Poppy tells Zach that the eerie, bone-china doll who ruled over the game as the Great Queen is really possessed by the ghost of a dead girl and the Poppy, Zach, and Alice must bring the game to an end with one last adventure: burying the Great Queen.   The three of them set off on a quest and an adventure that will change everything.

So, I think what you’ll hear about Doll Bones in reviews is that it’s scary and atmospheric.  That’s absolutely true, it’s creepy in the best way, the kind  you can’t shake, the kind that crawls up your skin and gives you gooseflesh.  I think you’ll also hear a lot about how Doll Bones is about the power of storytelling.  This is also absolutely true, it’s a narrative that, in the best ways, tells readers that imagination and play are important, can change your life, and have real value.

But what *I* want to tell you about Doll Bones isn’t just all that – it’s that this is a story about the rigid boxes of gender expectations our society tries to force us into and how the scariest part of adolescence can be trying to break out of those boxes.

You see, Zach doesn’t just call off the game – he calls of the game because his father throws away Zach’s players in the game.  His … well, his dolls.  Even though Zach is a popular basketball star, his father thinks he’s too old to be playing with dolls.  12 year old boys, after all, well they shouldn’t.  Without the dolls, the action figures, Zach can’t play.  And here’s a really nice touch: Zach is too ashamed to even admit this to his friends.  He’s been twice-shamed – for playing the game and caring deeply about it and for having to admit that his father thinks doing this makes him less.  And it’s more than just the dolls – it’s clear that what Zach’s father is also really talking about it PLAY.  The clear implication is that Zach, that boys, shouldn’t be playing make-believe and telling stories, which is exactly the kind of play and pastime encouraged by dolls and action figures.   That’s feminine which makes it weak and thus bad.  It’s these gender binaries and their associated societal punishments that will really grind your bones to dust and give you nightmares.  They are the scariest things of all.

I know!  This is some transgressive, brave, and quite frankly brilliant storytelling and plotting.

Doll Bones is an incredibly rich novel because of this and it’s also a lifeline to all the middle-schoolers, boys and girls, who are struggling with trying to fit into the boxes society creates for us about “girls do this” and “boys don’t this” and “this is the right way to talk to boys” and “this is the right way to be friends with girls.” Without ever being didactic and sentimental about it, Doll Bones says “It doesn’t have to be just one way.  It can be any way you want – it can be any story you want to tell.”

Doll Bones is out today!  You can purchase it from your favorite local indie bookseller or check out a copy from your library.  If your library doesn’t own a copy, suggest they purchase one.  Of course, it is highly recommended as first purchase for middle school and public libraries and is the perfect book to booktalk to 6-8 grades in the lead-up to summer reading!   Also, I hope this is going to be in serious Newbery discussions this year.  It’s so finely crafted it really deserves to be.

Doll Bones isn’t just one of my favorite novels of 2013 – it’s one of my favorite middle-grade novels ever.  It makes the most of the potential of this genre; the way middle grade should use this confusing and overwhelming time of life to tell a story that young readers who connect with will keep with them always.   Doll Bones is that kind of adventure and that kind of story.

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