Middle school is hard. If you know someone at that age, I can guarantee you that they’d find a list of feel-good middle grades books useful. They probably won’t tell you that, though. Middle schoolers are like Sour Patch Kids.
Obviously, I’m being a little cheeky, but I’m not lying. A lot is happening in the brains and bodies of middle schoolers. Thanks to the onset of puberty, they’re self-conscious, stressed, and moody. Additionally, they are at high risk for depression and anxiety. Often, this results in risk-taking behaviors like experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
Tweens struggle to parse their own feelings and to interpret the emotions of others. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, during the tween years, kids’ brains produce more gray matter, affecting their prefrontal cortex. The neurons in this area, however, develop connections slowly thanks to all that gray matter. Thus, they literally cannot consistently utilize their still-developing executive functions like organizing, planning, impulse-control, and problem-solving. Their behavior is consequently erratic.
Compounding all that is the fact that today’s tweens have experienced a lot of instability in recent years. In 2020, when the world got scarier I, a full grown adult, couldn’t read for awhile. When I delved back into the written word, I only wanted safe, cozy books. I just couldn’t handle pain on the page when there was so much pain in the present. For middle school kids, processing recent and current events is exponentially more challenging.
Luckily, there were lots of options for cozy books for me to read. Even luckier, there are tons of excellent, diverse options for young people to choose from. I often wish my younger self could read the amazing children’s literature available today. However, since I have yet to develop time travel abilities, I will have to settle for sharing recommendations with the youths of the present.
9 Feel-Good Middle Grades Books
The Best at It by Maulik Pancholy
I read this book with my teacher book club and just loved it. Rahul Kapoor is a rising 7th grade, Indian American boy who lives in small town Indiana. Unsurprisingly, it isn’t exactly easy for Rahul being different. Rahul is a funny, endearing character you can’t help but root for as he navigates middle school, cultural norms, his sexuality, and his neurodivergence. Rahul decides to be the best at something so that he can become cool by middle school standards — even though the things he tries are very much things that he is far from good at. However, with his best friend and supportive grandfather, he figures it all out.
Big Rig by Louise Hawes
This fun new release is sure to offer belly laughs and warm fuzzies. Eleven-year-old Hazmat loves life on the road with her dad. She lives for their adventures and feels completely at home in the passenger seat navigating their journeys. However, when Hazmat’s dad decides it’s time for them to settle down, she hatches a plan to keep their nomadic life intact.
Nimona by ND Stevenson
If your tween isn’t into graphic novels, that will change with Nimona. This is another book from my teacher book club that I wasn’t prepared to like as much as I did. There is so much nuance and layering in most graphic novels and that trait is perfectly exemplified here. Follow a quirky redhead who apprentices herself to a grumpy villain, despite his insistence that he works alone. (I love tropes like the grumpy old one reluctantly learns to love the energetic young one!) Plus, there’s love and mystery and an ambiguously past-future setting.
The Last Fallen Moon by Graci Kim
In this exciting combination of Korean mythology and modern worldbuilding, we meet protagonist Riley Oh. As the last of a divine witch-clan, Riley struggles to live up to expectations. However, it is soon up to her to restore her people’s magic and her own self-confidence. With the help of her sister and a heaven-born friend, she embarks on a perilous adventure. Full of dry humor and heartwarming moments, this is one of the best new feel-good middle grades books of 2022.
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
Lucy Callahan was given genius-level magic skills after being struck by lightning. At 12, Lucy is ready for college, but her grandma insists she try a year of middle school. Naturally, Lucy isn’t eager to go to regular school after being homeschooled safely away from anyone who might tease her about her brainy personality. Of course, a fun romp ensues, full of heart and laughs.
This is Our Rainbow edited by Katherine Locke and Nicole Melleby
This book was a delight to read. Short story collections are always fun because they’re such quick reads, but this one was special. There’s such variety in the stories that there is definitely something for everyone. Additionally, it’s full of queer stories that aren’t all about pain. Meet a queer zombie girl preparing to host her human crush and her parents for dinner or a witch who shapeshifts into a dog to make friends. If you don’t care for fantasy, don’t worry. There are queer kids playing sports, crushing on their friend’s moms, making online friends, and plenty more!
Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani
Here’s an oldie-but-goodie. Pen pals Meena and River are a delight to follow as they build a friendship across miles and cultural barriers. Meena is an Indian immigrant in New York, while River is a Kentucky coal miner’s son. Their relationship is refreshing and touching, perfect for a cozy read.
Mr. Penguin and the Tomb of Doom by Alex T. Smith
Sometimes you just need a silly book. This book is part of an equally silly series of feel-good middle grades books. Starring a penguin detective and his kung-fu spider sidekick, the humorous adventures in these books are paired with lots of funny, two-toned illustrations. Additionally, this entry features a spooky eyeball following Mr. Penguins every move as he tries to find a missing person and avoid cursed treasure from creepy tombs.
My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder by Nie Jun
Don’t let the cover of this graphic novel fool you. While it may look a bit young, the story is perfect for middle schoolers. Yu’er shares glimpses of her life that will feel familiar — chasing big dreams, dealing with bullies, and finding your place. There’s magic, humor, and a super sweet relationship between Yu-er and her grandfather that will warm readers’ hearts.
Do you need more great middle grades suggestions? Check out these related posts:
- 20 of the Best Middle Grade Fantasy Books
- 8 Contemporary Middle Grade Books to Look Out for in 2022
- Books to Boost Young Readers’ Cultural Literacy
- The Best New Middle Grade Graphic Novels
- 8 Inspiring Middle Grade Books About Activism
- 33 of the Top Middle Grade Books on Goodreads
- The Most Popular Middle Grade Comics as Chosen by Students