To ruminate on love is almost always a hackneyed endeavor, in which this most human of aspirations is reduced to banal metaphors and trite generalisms, at once oversimplified and overdrawn. Yet year after year, lifetime after lifetime, we return to reflections on its abundance or scarcity, its expression or repression, its cause or preservation. Perhaps because it is as imperfect as it is essential, we can't stop philosophizing. And, well, we're not about to stop now. So, here are five books for readers who are passing through that difficult time when love is often either absent or unwieldy: middle school. These books teach empathy, compassion, patience, and gratitude - age-old symptoms of love - with fresh characters and narratives.
1. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Born with a terrible facial abnormality, ten-year-old August Pullman has been home-schooled by his parents his entire life, in an attempt to protect him from the cruelty of the outside world. Now, Auggie's parents are sending him to a real school. Can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, underneath it all? Narrated by Auggie and the people around him whose lives he touches, Wonder is a frank, funny, astonishingly moving debut.
“We carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness.”
2. Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life. That is, until her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd and endearing girl's journey to find a diverse surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.
"When you care about other people, it takes the spotlight off your own drama."
3. El Deafo by Cece Bell
When Cece starts at a new school, she is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that helps her hear her teacher but also seems to repel potential friends. Then Cece makes a startling discovery: with the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school. This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it's just another way of feeling different, which is the exact opposite of what Cece wants.
"Any difference can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers."
4. Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
It’s the start of fifth grade for seven kids at Snow Hill School. There’s Jessica, the new girl, smart and perceptive, who’s having a hard time fitting in; Alexia, a bully, your friend one second, your enemy the next; Peter, class prankster and troublemaker; Luke, the brain; Danielle, who never stands up for herself; shy Anna, whose home situation makes her an outcast; and Jeffrey, who hates school; each of whom has a different perspective on what makes Mr. Terupt, their new and energetic teacher, so special.
"If you love someone, you don't quit on them just because they make a mistake."
5. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
In the valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli's mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune.
“Fortune was not a house full of gold and jade, but something much more.”