The best #MeToo novels for middle grade readers

Cathleen Barnhart Author Of That's What Friends Do
By Cathleen Barnhart

The Books I Picked & Why

When You Know What I Know

By Sonja K. Solter

Book cover of When You Know What I Know

Why this book?

This lyrical novel-in-verse tells the story of fifth-grader, Tori, whose uncle does something bad to her on the couch in the basement of her house. The story begins immediately after the incident, which is described very obliquely, and beautifully captures Tori’s shock, shame, anger, and profound sense of brokenness. Adults who should listen to her and help her don’t always come through, and Tori’s shame also causes her to pull away from her closest friends. But slowly, with the help of her mom, her little sister, and her teacher, Tori begins to speak up. I thought Sonja Solter beautifully captured Tori’s grief, her retreat to silence and smallness, and her gradual, incremental healing process. I especially loved Tori’s relationship with her little sister and how it evolves.

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The Ship We Built

By Lexie Bean

Book cover of The Ship We Built

Why this book?

This heartbreaking and powerful novel tells the story of fifth-grader Rowan, who isn’t a girl even though everyone thinks he is, but also isn’t the “right kind” of boy. At night, his dad comes into his room and does things Rowan can’t talk about with anyone. Silenced or ignored by everyone around him, Rowan writes letters expressing his thoughts, feelings, and dreams; he attaches them to balloons and sends them out into the universe. When he befriends a classmate who is as much of an outsider as he is, Rowan slowly begins to open his heart, and to speak up. I loved this novel both because of Rowan’s determination to be who he knows he is and because of the unexpected support he finds on his journey.

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So Done

By Paula Chase

Book cover of So Done

Why this book?

When Tai’s useless, always-high dad touches her best friend, Mila, where he shouldn’t, the girls’ friendship is challenged and changed. Tai, already ashamed of her father, wants to pretend the moment never happened. But, Mila can’t pretend because she lives every day with the fear and shame of that moment. After a summer apart, the two friends struggle to reconnect while also competing for acceptance into the same gifted-and-talented arts program. As both work to be seen for who they want to be, they must also learn to look back together at what really happened. I loved the portrayal of the girls’ friendship and the honesty of a story in which the “happy ending” doesn’t mean a return to the way things were.

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By Kate Messner

Book cover of Chirp

Why this book?

This wonderful new-girl-in-town novel is a mystery and also the story of rising eighth-grader Mia’s #MeToo experience. A talented gymnast, Mia quit gymnastics after a bad fall off the balance beam – and an even more upsetting incident with her coach, which she can’t tell anyone about. As Mia works to help her entomologist grandmother make a go of a cricket farm, and to solve the mystery of who’s sabotaging the farm, she slowly finds the courage to speak up about what has happened to her.

I loved how Kate Messner wove many different #MeToo experiences into this novel. It’s sad but true that such experiences are nearly universal for women (and happen to boys and men as well), but their victims often feel completely alone.

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How to Be a Girl in the World

By Caela Carter

Book cover of How to Be a Girl in the World

Why this book?

Lydia knows her mom’s boyfriend, Jeremy, makes her mom happy. But sometimes Jeremy makes Lydia really uncomfortable, especially when his hugs go on too long. She already dresses in baggy clothing so the boys in her school will stop saying things about her body. What more can Lyddie do? When her mom buys a run-down house, and Lyddie finds a book of magic spells inside, she thinks she has a solution: the right combination of magic spells will keep her safe. But when Lyddie’s spells don’t work against the boys, or Jeremy, she has to use her voice and her courage instead. I loved the way this wonderful coming-of-age novel confronts and challenges the culture of toxic masculinity that too often is used as a cover for bullying.

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