Click here to see all of the current Quick Picks nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.
Free Lunch by Rex Ogle
Norton Young Readers / W.W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Rex’s sixth grade year is characterized by the poverty he’s grown up in, as well as the abuse he suffers at the hands of his parents. The young adolescent narrating the story observes stark contrasts in adults’ expectations and their actual treatment of him. In addition to the trauma he buries at home, he faces trying to fit in like any teenager would, deciding what to hide or reveal to his peers about his personal life.
The silhouette and typeface on the cover is stark and eye-catching. At just under two hundred pages, the book appears to be a manageable read for a reluctant reader. Taboo topics (i.e. poverty and domestic abuse) are quickly introduced and will be a huge draw to young readers who want to know more and/or identify with Rex’s situation. Themes of fitting in with peer groups will resonate with young readers who all deal with similar issues.
For fans of high drama stories/memoirs such as A Child Called “It”, Go Ask Alice and younger adolescent coming of age stories like New Kid by Jerry Craft.
Manning Up by Bee Walsh
West 44 Books / Enslow Publishing
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Jack faces pressure on the football field and with himself, as he battles an eating disorder that he exacerbates by taking steroids.
This novel in verse tackles a tough topic in an easy to read and understandable way. Reluctant readers will come for the football and doping scandal, but stay for the intensity of what Jack is feeling and going through that leads him to make a decision that could cost him his future. The spacing of the words within the white space is easy on the eye and the verse flows well. A short but impactful read about a topic teens face more often than is widely known and which is not typically seen in YA fiction.
Hand this novel to fans of sports, novels in verse, or football dramas like the CW’s All American or Last Chance U on Netflix.
Clean Getaway by Nic Stone
Crown Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House
Publication Date: January 7, 2020
“Scoob” joins his Grandmother, G’ma, for an adventurous road trip across the south. On the road, they revisit places his grandparents traveled in 1968 as an interracial couple relying on the “Traveler’s Green Book” for safe locations during that time. What began as a trip reliving his family’s history results in new mysteries with G’ma’s behavior and Scoob wonders the real reason for the trip.
This story combines the complications of family, an adventure, humor, and important people and places from the Civil Rights Movement. The relationship between Scoob and G’ma is honest and fun. Stone’s writing touches on some serious racial issues; however, the focus on family – multi-generational, single parent, interracial – is the soul of the story. Every character has dimension with Scoob questioning his understanding of “good” and “bad.” This is a sweet, subtle middle grade novel focused on family and the history of racial issues in America. It also includes comical illustrations.
Readers interested in humor and love being at the heart of a family will enjoy Clean Getaway. This focus on positive adult-child relationships, and that families can vary from the traditional mother and father, is similar to The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley and the writings of Lynda Mullaly Hunt. For those who want a middle-grade introduction into serious issues, similar to Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson, Stone covers the Civil Rights Movement respectfully and age-appropriately.