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.

The books I picked & why

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The Thing About Jellyfish

By Ali Benjamin,

Book cover of The Thing About Jellyfish

Why 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. 

Last Day on Mars

By Kevin Emerson,

Book cover of Last Day on Mars

Why 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! 

The Girl Who Owned a City

By O. T. Nelson,

Book cover of The Girl Who Owned a City

Why 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! 

Clues to the Universe

By Christina Li,

Book cover of Clues to the Universe

Why 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!   

The Giver

By Lois Lowry,

Book cover of The Giver

Why 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!

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