Just finished two MG novels that I highly recommend!
WONDER, a debut novel by R. J. Palacio, is the story of Auggie, a boy with a congenital facial deformity who, as a fifth-grader, goes to school for the first time. That mini-synopsis may not make it sound like a fun read, but it was so captivating, I couldn't put it down. The story is told in the first person from multiple POVs. Over the course of the novel, we hear from Auggie, his older sister, the sister's boyfriend, the sister's ex-best friend, a girl from Auggie's school, and a boy from Auggie's school. I felt that several of the characters sounded alike. Even so, I think the variety of perspectives worked well for this story. WONDER is being mentioned as a possible Newbery contender, though it does have its share of critics. Some feel that the characters behave too much like older teens. They are savvy and precocious, and some are experimenting with boy-girl relationships--but, honestly, that's the reality of fifth grade for many kids. Other critics suggest that the book is unsubtly manipulating readers' emotions (though I'm not going to tell how, for fear of spoilers.) All I can say is that while I was reading, I did not feel manipulated. I cared about Auggie and the other characters, and was anxious to find out what would happen to them. The ending was a little arbitrary, I will admit, with an award bestowed for no real reason. But Wonder is an amazing book that deserves the Newbery buzz it has generated. Give it a try--I predict you won't be able to put it down either.
LIAR AND SPY, the third novel by 2010 Newbery winner Rebecca Stead, is also a realistic, contemporary MG with a boy protagonist. Seventh-grader Georges (named after Seurat) is having a rough time--he's bullied at school; his family just had to give up their house and move to an apartment; and his mom isn't around much. Things get interesting when his home-schooled neighbor starts training him to be a spy. I started this one with a bias. I figured there was no way it could possibly live up to WHEN YOU REACH ME; the bar was set too high. Luckily, LIAR AND SPY turned out to be a real page-turner. The characters are quirky, authentic, and very likeable, and there's a bit of a mystery. Apparently I checked my analytical skills at the door, because I devoured the book like a kid, and not like a writer. It seems straightforward, but be forewarned: All is not as it seems. When the muddy waters start to clear (which, for me, happened 17 pages from the end) I couldn't believe I hadn't seen it coming. All in all, LIAR AND SPY is a wonderful story, and I highly recommend it.
I'm a sucker for heartwarming novels with a ragtag bunch of flawed characters who band together and learn the meaning of true friendship.