Book Reviews

Middle Grade Books That Made Me Nostalgic

I’ve been in a middle grade kind of moment recently. They’ve been making me wish I was in the age group not only to escape adult problems, but because of the depth and diversity in stories these days. I wish I had been able to read these growing up! Keep reading for mini reviews of Tessa Miyata is No Hero, Just a Pinch of Magic, Where the Lockwood Grows, Tethered to Other Stars, and The Secret of the Dragon Gems.

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Tessa Miyata Is No Hero by Julie Abe

Tessa Miyata has never fit in. When she and her two sisters are told they will be staying with their grandparents in Japan, Tessa is thrilled. A summer in Japan could be her chance to go on an adventure worthy of impressing her classmates back home.

Her hopes are quickly dashed when she realizes her sisters are old enough to go into Tokyo, while she can’t even go to the corner store by herself. Plus, her grandparents want her to stay home with the neighbor kid, thirteen-year-old Jin Uehara, who’s made it clear he’s too cool to spend time with a weirdo like her.

When Tessa is finally allowed to go to Tokyo, it’s only to join her grandpa’s retiree aerobic class with none other than Jin. Their disastrous forced hangout comes crashing to a halt when Tessa and Jin break the Miyata family’s precious heirloom—accidentally releasing the malicious samurai god Taira Masakado and discovering a hidden part of the city where gods and mythological creatures walk among humans—including their new companion, a mythical nine-tailed fox who may be more trouble than he is help.

Tessa and Jin must now work together to stop Taira Masakado before he traps them—and the rest of Tokyo—under his command, forever.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

Julie Abe is a middle grade queen. I’ve loved all of her middle grade series like Alliana, Girl of Dragons and Eva Evergreen. From the beginning, I loved the sister and family bonds in Tessa Miyata Is No Hero. It’s a family of love, support, and also that feeling when you feel so alone. That you don’t fit in. And it’s a thread Abe continues to weave and pull. If you love those main characters who don’t feel like they could be the hero, this is for you.

In our world, who becomes the chosen one? With cute training scenes, Tessa Miyata Is No Hero is perfect for a middle grade reader you know who may not have always felt like a hero. To know that it’s important to continue to do good, to fight for good. We cannot search for approval and value in others. And that the journey of finding a piece of ourselves in a moment, in home, is so important. Find Tessa Miyata Is No Hero on Goodreads, Storygraph, Amazon,, & Blackwells.

Where the Lockwood Grows by Olivia A. Cole

Twelve-year-old Erie has never lived life fully in the sunlight. After destructive wildfires wreaked havoc on the world around her, the government came up with a plan—engineer a plant that cannot burn. Thus, the fire-resistant lockwood was born. The lockwood protects Erie and her hometown of Prine, but it grows incredibly fast and must be cut back every morning. Only the town’s youngest and smallest citizens can fit between the branches and tame the plant. Citizens just like Erie.

But one evening, Erie uncovers a shocking secret that leads her to question the rules of Prine. Alongside her older sister, Hurona, she’ll journey from the only home she’s known and realize that the world is much more complicated than she’d ever imagined.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

Where the Lockwood Grows is an emotional middle grade about family, borders, and ethics. This science fiction middle grade is packed with layers. From the very premise of having to fight for sunlight each day, of a world trying to keep kids small for child labor, you can tell Where the Lockwood Grows is going to be complicated and emotional. And Cole doesn’t even stop there. This book examines boundaries and identification papers, classicism and technical exploitation, and family secrets.

In just a few chapters this world unfolds before your eyes in a multi-layered kaleidoscope. Where the Lockwood Grows is about secrets ranging from lies we tell each other, to the last words we keep from our family, to the ones we bury and fight to hide. I was able to listen to the audiobook which not only made me nostalgic for when I listened to middle grade books on tape, but also felt like such a joy. Madeline Curry does a fantastic job at infusing this experience with heart, fear, and love.

This is one of those middle grades I want to have everyone read because of how many important conversations need to be had. It’s one I’ll be gifting to all the MG readers in my life. Find Where the Lockwood Grows on Goodreads, Storygraph, Amazon,, Blackwells,, and Google Play.

The Secret of the Dragon Gems by Rajani LaRocca & Chris Baron

Eleven-year-olds Tripti Kapoor, a feisty “word nerd” from Massachusetts, and Sam Cohen, a shy, imaginative, budding geologist from California, are both miserable at Camp Dilloway, a summer camp in upstate New York. On the last night of camp, they follow a shooting star to a quiet creek. There they find two silvery rocks glowing in the night. They each take one home, and their long-distance friendship begins.

It’s soon clear that these are no ordinary rocks. They seem to move on their own, get strangely hot, and even take over Tripti and Sam’s thoughts! Inspired by their mutual love of their favorite book series, The Dragon Gems, they dub the rocks Opal and Jasper, after the Dragon Gems in the books.

But others are interested in the stones too–including the owner of Camp Dilloway, who hides a secret of his own. Tripti and Sam must crack the Dragon Gems’ code and keep them out of Dilloway’s clutches, all while navigating the rocky road of middle school friendships and learning to stand up for what is right.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

The Secret of the Dragon Gems is a middle grade story that celebrates friendship and intention. Beginning with a summer camp, I thought the narration between Tripti and Sam was precious. It’s made up of text messages, drawings, and more. As someone who never went to camp, I loved watching their characters open up to each other. To see the ways we can find and cultivate middle grade friendships. It can be so isolating to leave home, to be away from what we know.

Finding camp friends can feel like a life raft. The Secret of the Dragon Gems introduces a shared love for books, science, and good intentions. There’s a subtle sense of ‘otherworldly’ from the beginning and as a future gift for a bookworm middle grade reader, this is perfect. It’s a lesson in finding out who our friends are which is such a crucial and essential lesson for middle graders to learn. Find The Secret of the Dragon Gems on Goodreads, Storygraph, Amazon,, & Blackwells.

Tethered to Other Stars by Elisa Stone Leahy

Seventh grader Wendy Toledo knows that black holes and immigration police have one thing in they can both make things disappear without a trace. When her family moves to a new all-American neighborhood, Wendy knows the keep her head down, build a telescope that will win the science fair, and stay on her family’s safe orbit.

But that’s easier said than done when there’s a woman hiding out from ICE agents in the church across the alley—and making Wendy’s parents very nervous.

As bullying at school threatens Wendy’s friendships and her hopes for the science fair, and her family’s secrets start to unravel, Wendy finds herself caught in the middle of far too many gravitational pulls. When someone she loves is detained by ICE, Wendy must find the courage to set her own orbit—and maybe shift the paths of everyone around her.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the author. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

Tethered to Other Stars is a middle grade book that swept me away. It was like one of those waves which builds into a book about activism, family, and friendship. At the beginning, Wendy is in survival mode just trying to keep her head down. As the book progresses, Wendy has to re-examine her and her family’s choices to be silent. Silent about the undocumented woman taking refuge in their neighborhood, about the racism her classmates perpetuate, and her own family secrets.

Tethered to Other Stars is about protection, solidarity, and speaking up. About difficult conversations with our family, our friends, and ourselves about what we are willing to do or say. At times while reading I felt this simmering rage at the treatment of Wendy and her classmates, but also the hope of what it could be like. How individuals can make a change. Find Tethered to Other Stars on Goodreads, Storygraph, Amazon,, & Blackwells.

Just a Pinch of Magic by Alechia Dow

Wini’s family of enchanters runs a little bakery, but with the prices of magical ingredients skyrocketing, they’re going under. Desperate to save her family’s business, Wini takes a risk by casting a (sort of illegal) spell that would allow them to gather their own supply of their most needed magical ingredient: Love. But the spell doesn’t work. And Wini soon discovers that it didn’t just not work, it backfired. Badly. Now the whole town is in danger, and the Enchantment Bureau is sniffing around for whoever cast the wayward spell.

It’s just been Kal and her dad for as long as she can remember. They’ve weathered everything together, including Kal’s mental health struggles. But just as they’re about to move to a new town for a fresh start, Kal’s grandfather—who mysteriously vanished years ago—has suddenly reentered their lives with a desire to make amends. He joins them in opening their bookstore in the new town, but Kal can’t help but wonder if he has anything to do with the whispers around her new home about wicked magic. And it’s not just the whispers of the magical books in their shop.

When Wini and Kal cross paths—both hoping for the chance to finally make a friend without worrying about their family histories following them—the girls bond over being fellow outcasts. Together they search for the solution to fixing the magic gone awry in their beloved town—and just maybe get their dads to go out on a date.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

As a long time fan of Alechia Dow, I’ve been looking forward to this middle grade debut. As my resident baking inspiration, I knew Dow’s middle grade would be full of delectable treats including recipes. I’m trying one of them tonight! Just a Pinch of Magic is this dual POV delightful story about friendship. It’s about Wini’s attempt to save her dad’s bakery, to help people, but the unintended consequences and side effects. Just a Pinch of Magic has the perfect salty and sweet balance of spooky and precious.

Beginning from characters who feel alone and isolated, Just a Pinch of Magic resonates. Are we responsible for our worst mistakes? For the (mis)conceptions people have of us? And what we will do for our friends, for friendship? Find Just a Pinch of Magic on Goodreads, Storygraph, Amazon,, & Blackwells.


What middle grade book would you give for the holidays?

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