Hi everyone, this week’s post will discuss my next favourite genre, Realistic or Contemporary Fiction. These stories will also take you on a journey of a different nature; one into the lives of tweens today. Be prepared with either tissues or a handkerchief when you read these…
The ten titles in this post discuss several issues tweens face in today’s world. With the explosive content of diverse stories out there I had quite a job of narrowing down my selections. These ten are titles that kept me engaged, inspired and reaching for the box of tissues often.
Homelessnes was an issue that was new to me. When I grew up I hadn’t encountered it at all, but it was only after our move to New Zealand that I learned about it.
It was Joan Bauer’s Almost Home that introduced me to this topic. We meet twelve-year-old Sugar Mae Cole and her mother after they’ve lost their home journeying to Chicago in search of a job. When her mother has a serious breakdown, Sugar Mae and her rescue dog, Shush, are put into foster care. Although this book describes feelings no child should have to endure, the way Sugar Mae copes with it made me feel hope. I really loved that Sugar Mae’s old teacher had an impact on her life going forward and helped her understand that home is a place that you carry in your heart!!
Not long after reading this, I would stumble upon many other books under the same theme. The most recent one I’ve read that still pings in my memory is The exact location of home by Kate Messner. Our young protagonist Kirby or Zig to his friends, finds himself without a home and he and his mom end up in a shelter for the homeless. His latest find, a GPS unit, gets him interested in geocaching and when he stumbles on one with a unique sound to it, Zig is convinced it’s his dad leaving them for him. A truly heartfelt story on the themes of family bond, friendship, loyalty and bravery. Kate Messner has worked her usual style of magic into this story and given us another important story of love and hope.
The theme of grief and loss is another one that’s fairly popular. It’s sad that young children have to encounter such emotions, but as I mentioned in my June posts, they do seem to have more resilience and strength. One such read that had me reaching for the tissues often was Us minus mum by Heather Butler. George and Theo’s mum is really ill and they’re main job is to keep her smiling. This lovely and moving story tells of the boys’ adventures with their adopted dog Goffo while their mother fights for her life. Touching on issues of bullying as well as bereavement, this poignant story delivers in many ways. Did I mention you need tissues for this one??
School stories with many diverse themes ranging from bullying to racism will always pique my interest. As there are literally hundreds, maybe thousands, of titles out there I couldn’t decide on one. Instead I thought I would feature a contemporary read that featured many aspects of life for tweens. Fast break by Mike Lupica is a story that reads a bit like the movie The Blind Side but ever so slightly flipped. Twelve-year-old Jayson Barnes is a troubled boy who used to be blazing fast on the basketball court. With his mother gone, he is fostered out to a successful African American family where he joins the local school and ends up beating his old basketball team!! Although I felt out of my depth with all the basketball jargon, I ended up liking the story and characters!! I’m pretty sure any sports fans out there will enjoy it too!!
Diverse stories that take us from every corner of the globe can be found on shelves in libraries and shops worldwide. Almost all the various cultures on Earth are now being represented in tween stories. The Tiffin by Mahtab Narsimhan is one such story that takes the reader to the vibrant city of Mumbai where thousands of dabbawal delivery men transport thousands of freshly prepared lunches in tiffin boxes. Separated from his mother and forced to work as a slave in a cafe, Kunal is sure the answer to his problems lie with the tiffins. Filled with many aspects of Indian culture this book takes a look at a somewhat darker side of life there. A little bit of guidance for younger readers would be helpful.
My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman is a hilarious take on mixed families and cultures. You will meet young Tara Feinstein on the cusp of studying for her bat mitzvah while she questions her Indian culture and upbringing. While I felt for Tara’s dilemma, I couldn’t help but laugh at the dramas that she had in her school life!! This is one of those books that take a good hard look at the role identity plays in the life of a mixed-race tween.
In Gaby, lost and found by Angela Cervantes readers will be faced with an important and serious topic. That of deportation of undeclared immigrant parents. What I found mesmerising was not just the descriptions of the local animal shelter, but that of the strength of young Gaby Ramirez Howard as she navigates life without her mother by her side. To say I cried would be an understatement. This award-winning emotional read opened my eyes to this issue that many young tweens have to endure. Angela Cervantes has used her magical way with words to bring this heavy topic to our knowledge!!
Contemporary reads wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of reads that center around the natural disasters that tend to plague our continents these days. Another kind of hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith is a story about Hurricane Katrina. This debut novel by Tamara Ellis Smith takes us into the lives of two very different boys as their stories intersect from the mountains of Vermont to the hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. A poignant and heartwarming read, this story will take you on a wild journey from every page!!
Another story that is a bit closer to my part of the world is Lyla: a novel by Fleur Beale. Lyla has started her second year of high school when a magnitude 6.3 earthquake shakes her home in Christchurch to pieces. What follows is a gripping and personal story of one girl’s experience of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake and its aftermath told by one of New Zealand’s finest writers for children!! As part of the Through my eyes series, this story is told from young Lyla’s perspective and gives us a unique story on this tragic event.
Family stories are somewhat the go to when it comes to contemporary fiction for me. Believe me I’ve read so many of these that they run as a movie almost in my mind. On Orchard Road by Elsbeth Edgar is one that stood out for me as it took me not just to Australia, but to a little town outside of Melbourne, to a different sort of family. Jane McConachie ends up making friends with a mysterious old lady, a curious boy, and helps make an amazing garden despite her separation from her mother. An inviting and evocative read, this story on family and friendship will surely delight anyone. I really liked this story as it flowed at a gentle pace with some lovely descriptions!! Well, there you have a small selection of contemporary reads that I have found engaging and inspiring over the short time I’ve indulged in tween stories. I would love to hear from you about your choices sometime soon.
Stay safe and keep reading