The best middle grade books about loss

Rebecca Thorne Author Of The Secrets of Star Whales
By Rebecca Thorne

Who am I?

As a children’s novelist, I believe there’s nothing more important than showing kids it’s okay to experience emotion. Nothing is more powerful than watching someone rise to the occasion, and showing vulnerability in the process. Plus, middle-grade books are just fun—they let us create these fantastical ways to show very grounded, human needs. Rockets become friendships? Jellyfish offer understanding? Sign me up! It’s my pleasure to recommend these novels to kids everywhere (even the adult ones)!

I wrote...

The Secrets of Star Whales

By Rebecca Thorne,

Book cover of The Secrets of Star Whales

What is my book about?

On the small space station Azura, Maxion Belmont is constantly torn between his two passions—engineering and music. Both are hobbies handed down from his father, who died two years ago. While his hydrodriver is great for repairing starship parts, every chord played on his father’s old instrument tugs at the latent grief Max hides from his mom and classmates. When a foreign starship appears on the horizon, Azura welcomes its first tourist in years. But there’s something weird about Mr. Hames, the stranger-turned-substitute-teacher. As Max and the rest of Mr. Hames’s class-turned-starship-crew begin to uncover the mysteries of the star whales, they discover they aren’t the only ones looking for the elusive creatures—and not every whaler has good intentions.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Thing About Jellyfish

Why did I love this book?

I have to start the list with my favorite of favorites, The Thing About Jellyfish. This novel is just… wow. An absolutely beautiful introspection of losing a dear friend after a terrible fallout. When her ex-best friend drowns, Suzy becomes obsessed with proving that a rare jellyfish sting caused the accident—and her journey is the most poignant thing I’ve ever experienced. The way Suzy experiences grief is real and raw, and any child (or adult!) reading this book will be able to relate. 

By Ali Benjamin,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Thing About Jellyfish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's peculiar how no-words can be better than words. How silence can say more than noise, or a person's absence can occupy even more space than their presence did.

Suzy is twelve when her best friend, Franny, drowns one summer at the beach. It takes two days for the news to reach Suzy, and it's not something that she can accept: Franny has always been a strong swimmer, from the day they met in swim class when they were just five. How can someone all of a sudden, just no longer be there?

Suzy realizes that they must have got…

Last Day on Mars

By Kevin Emerson,

Book cover of Last Day on Mars

Why did I love this book?

Last Day on Mars was an absolute pleasure to recommend. Set on Mars, which is months away from destruction via a superheated sun, the final remnants of humanity are boarding a spaceship destined for an Earth-like planet far away. Have you ever run for the last flight in an airport? This whole book felt exactly like that—with a pair of main characters who had me shouting, “Hurry up! Get on the ship!!” With the loss of their solar system, their families, and maybe their lives, this science-fiction adventure is everything I love in a novel! 

By Kevin Emerson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Last Day on Mars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Last Day on Mars is thrillingly ambitious and imaginative. Like a lovechild of Gravity and The Martian, it's a rousing space opera for any age, meticulously researched and relentlessly paced, that balances action, science, humor, and most importantly, two compelling main characters in Liam and Phoebe. A fantastic start to an epic new series.” —Soman Chainani, New York Times bestselling author of the School for Good and Evil series

“Emerson's writing explodes off the page in this irresistible space adventure, filled with startling plot twists, diabolical aliens, and (my favorite!) courageous young heroes faced with an impossible task.” —Lisa McMann,…

Book cover of The Girl Who Owned a City

Why did I love this book?

This book was my childhood favorite, by far. The Girl Who Owned a City is an exploration of life after adults: when every adult suddenly dies, the world is left to their kids… and not everyone will survive. Determined to keep her younger brother alive and the memory of their parents close, Lisa somehow creates a community that becomes a safe haven for miles around. As a main character, Lisa absolutely steals the show; her resourcefulness and grit are unmatched, and stuck with me for years after reading this book. There’s also a graphic novel version, for anyone who prefers that format! 

By O. T. Nelson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Girl Who Owned a City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A deadly plague has devastated Earth, killing all the adults.

Lisa and her younger brother Todd are struggling to stay alive in a world where no one is safe. Other children along Grand Avenue need help as well. They band together to find food, shelter, and protection from dangerous gangs invading their neighborhood.

When Tom Logan and his army start making threats, Lisa comes up with a plan and leads her group to a safer place. But how far is she willing to go to protect what's hers?

Clues to the Universe

By Christina Li,

Book cover of Clues to the Universe

Why did I love this book?

I finished this novel in a day, simply because of its incredible portrayal of emotion. Clues to the Universe follows Ro and Benji, two kids who couldn’t be more different. And yet, through circumstances of loss (and a class partnership), they find solace in a new friendship. Although it’s set firmly on the ground—based in the 1980s, on the heels of the Space Race—this book would appeal to the dreamers everywhere, the scientists and artists alike. Ro and Benji have a great dynamic, and while they lost their dads in very different ways, the grief is shared. A truly wonderful read!   

By Christina Li,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Clues to the Universe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This stellar debut about losing and finding family, forging unlikely friendships, and searching for answers to big questions will resonate with fans of Erin Entrada Kelly and Rebecca Stead.

The only thing Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves more than watching NASA launches with her dad is building rockets with him. When he dies unexpectedly, all Ro has left of him is an unfinished model rocket they had been working on together.

Benjamin Burns doesn’t like science, but he can’t get enough of Spacebound, a popular comic book series. When he finds a sketch that suggests that his dad created the comics,…

The Giver

By Lois Lowry,

Book cover of The Giver

Why did I love this book?

I have to finish this list with a classic. The Giver is a startling novel about how far society will go to avoid pain and suffering. In today’s world, nothing could be more appropriate than the loss of feeling, and this book portrays the downfalls of that perfectly. As Jonas wrestles with the weight of a whole community’s history, we’re pulled on a journey of discovery that is nothing short of spectacular. I think a novel like this is a necessity for any child’s reading list!

By Lois Lowry,

Why should I read it?

17 authors picked The Giver as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE GIVER is soon to be a major motion picture starring Jeff Bridges, Katie Holmes and Taylor Swift.

Now available for the first time in the UK, THE GIVER QUARTET is the complete four-novel collection.

THE GIVER: It is the future. There is no war, no hunger, no pain. No one in the community wants for anything. Everything needed is provided. And at twelve years old, each member of the community has their profession carefully chosen for them by the Committee of Elders.

Jonas has never thought there was anything wrong with his world. But from the moment he is…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in dystopian, grief, and survival?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about dystopian, grief, and survival.

Dystopian Explore 483 books about dystopian
Grief Explore 66 books about grief
Survival Explore 163 books about survival

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Into the Wild, Anne of Green Gables, and A Clockwork Orange if you like this list.