Tracey’s Favorite Fiction of 2015
Selecting my favorite fiction titles is slightly easier than choosing my favorite picture books—but only because picture books are shorter and I can read more of them.
I read a lot. Staying abreast of new titles is part of my job, and I am fairly introverted, so I do allow myself quite a bit of time each week to read. My Goodreads friends know that I have quite a hefty reading goal each year, and I reached it about three weeks ago. I enjoy most genres of fiction, but I do tend to gravitate toward fantasy and science fiction. And historical fiction. And horror. And, of course, mysteries and thrillers.
And though I do consider myself a book connoisseur, I can be fairly promiscuous in what I actually read. In other words, I am partial to fine dining, though I enjoy a church potluck, too. Rest assured that the titles below are not only excellent, but they are funny and exciting and poignant and romantic and spine-chilling—a veritable reading feast. Enjoy!
What books would you add to the menu?
2015 ELEMENTARY FICTION
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. 9780399162596. 2015. Gr 4-6.
Ally is a super student in math and art, but she has a secret, a secret she has kept at all of the seven schools she has attended in the last seven years. Her tough-girl persona keeps everyone from looking too closely, until a substitute teacher at her new school seems to see right into her.
Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton. 9780525428756. 2015. Gr 4-6.
As the Apollo 11 mission goes to the Moon, Mimi Yoshiko Oliver moves to Vermont. Half-black and half-Asian, Mimi feels out of place in this mostly Caucasian state. Mimi wants to follow her dreams, taking shop class instead of Home Ec in school and entering science competitions. She ultimately wants to become an astronaut, but how can she do that when she can’t even figure out what to answer on a form that asks for her race?
A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord. 9780545700276. 2015. Gr 4-6.
In rural Maine, when Lily’s dog slips his collar, she meets and becomes friends with Salma, the daughter of migrant blueberry pickers. But their friendship is put to the test when both girls decide to compete in a local Blueberry Queen pageant, and people question whether an outsider like Salma should be allowed to participate.
Project Alpha (Voyagers, Book 1) by D.J. MacHale. 9780385386609. 2015. Gr 4-6.
Only four spots are available for Project Alpha, a space mission to find a new power source for the Earth—and eight 12-year-olds are competing to be chosen. This first book of the series focuses on the fierce competition (holographic dinosaur battles and flight simulator video games) and the first tests of the new team as they head to the edge of the galaxy and try to save the world. (Evan G., a young friend of mine in this book’s target audience, has given it five stars on Goodreads. He has shared it with his friends, who can’t wait for the next book in the series.)
The Sign of the Cat by Lynne Jonell. 9780805096835. 2015. Gr 4-6.
Duncan is keeping two secrets. He can understand and talk to cats, which no one else knows. He is also very smart, and he doesn’t understand why his mother tells him to act average and not to stand out…and why he must always keep his head covered. When he gets a perfect score on an important test, the wrong sort of people take notice. Duncan is kidnapped, and with the help of a rescued kitten, discovers a hidden island and a royal secret—and just might find out who he really is.
The Terrible Two (Book 1) by Mac Barnett & Jory John. 9781419714917. 2015. Gr 4-6.
Miles is worried about starting at a new school. He was known as the best prankster in his old town and plans to continue this role at his new school. Dismayed to learn that the school already has a prankster, Miles is determined to unseat his rival. However, his fellow mischief-maker is first-rate—and the epic shenanigans that follow will snag the attention of all but the most reluctant reader.
Woof (Bowser and Birdie, Book 1) by Spencer Quinn. 9780545643313. 2015. Gr 4-6.
Bowser (that’s his new name) has just been adopted by Birdie, and she’s the best! But when her grammy’s stuffed prize marlin is stolen, Birdie is worried—Bowser can tell. Since the police aren’t helpful, Birdie is determined to solve the mystery herself—and Bowser is just the dog to help! The story is told in first person from Bowser’s point of view and, as in the author’s adult Chet and Bernie Mystery series, the voice and behavior of Quinn’s furry protagonist is spot-on.
2015 MIDDLE SCHOOL FICTION
Alistair Grim’s Odditorium (Odditorium, Book 1) by Gregory Funaro. 9781484700068. 2015. Gr 5-8.
Grubb works as a chimney sweep for his mean and abusive master, until he stows away one day in a coach owned by Mr. Grim, the mysterious creator of the Odditorium. This magical building is home to magical objects and strange beings, and Mr. Grim takes Grubb on as his apprentice. Grubb barely makes a dent in all he needs to learn before the Odditorium is attacked by the wicked Prince Nightshade and his minions—and it is up to the simple chimney sweep to save the day.
Battlesaurus : Rampage at Waterloo (Battlesaurus, Book 1) by Brian Falkner. 9780374300753. 2015. Gr 7-10.
I didn’t expect this book to be as exciting and well-done as it is—after all, Napoleon and dinosaurs?! This alternate historical fiction posits that Napoleon won the battle of Waterloo, and that he used a secret weapon to defeat the English and Prussian armies. Now he is on track to conquer the world, and only one person, a magician’s young son, knows how to defeat these secret weapons—dinosaurs! Falkner adds plenty of detail to the battle scenes in this entertaining alternate historical fantasy (fantastical history?); enjoy it before the bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo. (Evan G. really liked this book, too!)
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. 9780439874021. 2015. Gr 5-8.
Otto was lost in the woods when three sisters, trapped there by a witch’s curse, promise to help him if he helps to break the curse. He must carry their spirits out of the woods in a mystical harmonica, and then pass the instrument along. When he does, this special harmonica links three children in their struggles as outcasts during difficult times in the 20th century: the rise of Nazi Germany, the Great Depression, and World War II. Playing the harmonica helps each of them find the courage to overcome their obstacles.
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead. 9780375990984. 2015. Gr 6-9.
Bridge and her two best friends have promised that they will never fight, but they are finding that difficult in all the changes that are happening to them in seventh grade. Told from several points of view—including one mystery narrator—this book handles middle school angst about everything from friendship, love (of all kinds), and bad decisions and their consequences.
Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai. 9780062229182. 2015. Gr 5-8.
Mai’s grandmother wants to go back to Vietnam, where she hopes to find out what happened to her husband during the war. Mai is fine with that, until her parents tell her that she must give up all her summer plans and accompany her grandmother. But her fuming slowly wanes as the allure of this strange country and her strange relatives with their strange customs begins to grow on Mai.
Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff. 9780399164064. 2015. Gr 5-8.
During a hockey game, Trent hit the puck, which punched into the chest of another player who had an undiagnosed heart condition—killing him. Seven months later, Trent still cannot play any sport and has panic attacks. He acts out until everyone is angry with him, which he feels he deserves. When scarred Fallon starts spending time with him, he begins to come to terms with the accident and his behavior.
Nightfall by Jake Halpern & Peter Kujawinski. 9780399175800. 2015. Gr 6-8.
The sun is about ready to set on Marin’s island, which happens once every 28 years. The islanders will be sailing away before sunset, because no one can survive the frigid Night. Shortly before the ships set sail, Marin’s friend disappears. She and her brother search for him…but they are already too late. They are about to find out that more than the cold comes out at Night.
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt. 9780544462229. 2015. Gr 6-9.
Jack’s parents take in a new foster boy, fourteen-year-old Joseph, who has spent time in juvenile prison. Joseph also has a new daughter named Jupiter that he has never seen. Despite their differences, Jack and Joseph learn to understand and befriend each other as they search for Jupiter. Read this book with tissues!
Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George. 9781619634312. 2015. Gr 7-10.
American cousins Dacia and Lou knew little about their Romanian relatives, the Florescus, before traveling to Romania after their 17th birthdays. There, they learn about the family secrets known as the Claw, the Wing, and the Smoke, and a centuries-old bond with the royal Dracula family. So when their grandmother orders Dacia and Lou to help Prince Dracula, they must decide if they will accept their inheritance or fight to break free.
2015 HIGH SCHOOL FICTION
The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith. 9780525426530. 2015. Gr 10-12.
A story about summer camp, a refugee who was the only survivor of an attack on his village and is now adopted by an American family, a ship wrecked in the Arctic ice, and a schizophrenic suicide bomber. If you’ve read Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle, you’ll understand that sometimes his work is difficult to describe—but always worth the ride. For mature teens. (And if your students like realistic fiction and have read Smith’s Winger, they will also like the sequel, Stand-Off. There—I sneaked in an extra 2015 title!)
Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein. 9781423183105. 2015. Gr 9-12.
Delia and Rhoda are best friends and stunt pilots in the 1920s, each with a small child—Teo and Emilia. When Delia dies in a plane accident, Rhoda raises Delia’s African-American son as her own, but racism in the U.S. makes her decide to take the family to Ethiopia, where Delia’s husband was from. There they are caught up in the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. The story is told through documents written by the young teens—essays for school, stories created together, flight logs.
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. 9780061134111. 2015. Gr 9-12.
Caden suffers from schizophrenia. In the real world, he goes to high school, participates in track, and struggles with his obsessive-compulsive behaviors. In his fantasy world, he is the artist on a pirate ship, heading to Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the ocean, and debating whether to join the sullen crew in a mutiny. He is paranoid in both worlds, and when they start to collide, his parents must decide how best to help him. (Read my full review here.)
An Ember in the Ashes (Book 1) by Sabaa Tahir. 9781595148032. 2015. Gr 9-12.
In the brutal Martial Empire, absolute obedience and loyalty are requirements. When Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, she makes a pact with the rebels: she will spy for them in the Empire’s military academy, and they will try to rescue her brother. At the school, Laia meets Elias who, though he is the school’s best and fiercest soldier, dreams of freedom and escape. They both struggle to survive in this excellent fantasy. (Marie Lu confessed that, while reading the last few chapters of the book at the airport, she missed her flight!)
Illuminae (Illuminae Files, Book 1) by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff. 9780553499124. 2015. Gr 7-12.
Kady just broke up with her boyfriend Ezra, and now her small planet has been attacked. Both she and Ezra escape on separate ships, but now the AI on one of the ships has gone crazy, and enemy ships are closing in. Kady and Ezra want find the truth behind the attack and save their ships. Kady is a hacking genius, and her tale is told through emails, IMs, and military files, and schematics. In spite of the size of the book, it is a quick read.
Losers Take All by David Klass. 9780374301361. 2015. Gr 7-12.
Jack comes from a family of athletes, but has never been good at or interested in any sports. When the principal at his high school declares that every student must play a sport, he and his non-athletic friends decide to start a soccer team. They call their team the Losers, and they decide to lose on purpose to protest the school’s jock culture. They are not prepared, however, for the popularity of the team in the media, in school, and from the fans. An excellent book whether or not your students are sports fans.
Slasher Girls & Monster Boys by April Genevieve Tucholke. 9780803741737. 2015. Gr 9-12.
I prefer novels to short stories, but this is an excellent anthology of short horror stories. Each one is based on one or more novels, short stories, songs, TV shows, or movies, and every one of them is thrilling, scary, or disturbing—or all three. Read with the lights on!
There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake. 9781619634404. 2015. Gr 9-12.
Shelby has been overprotected by her single mother for as long as she can remember. But after a car accident, her mother steals her from the hospital and away from the city. Finally answering Shelby’s questions, her mother reveals that she has been lying to Shelby. Her father is not dead, but is a violent man who had promised to hunt them down. But is this really the truth now?
A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston. 9781484722275. 2015. Gr 9-12.
My issue with the original story of Scheherazade is that her prize for staying alive is to remain married to a murderer! Here the ruler, Lo-Melkhiin, has been possessed by a demon, and his bride stays alive long enough to realize that Lo-Melkhiin was not always cruel, and that he might also be in need of saving. This is not a typical romance, but it focuses more on the love of family and of community. And I found it intriguing that the only person who was given a name is Lo-Melkiin.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik. 9780804179034. 2015. Gr 10-12.
Uprooted’s Dragon is not a creature of scales and flame, but rather a wizard whose power keeps the evil Wood from taking over the valley. In return for his help, every ten years he takes one young girl to serve him in his remote tower. This time around he chooses Agnieska, who is not his typical choice at all. It turns out that Agnieska has some magic of her own—wilder but no less powerful than the Dragon’s—and it will be needed in the battle with the Wood. This dark fairy tale is original, fast-paced, and surprisingly funny in places, with a not totally unexpected romance.
And finally, a hope for a happy and blessed New Year from your friends at Mackin.
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