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Journeys through grief

Though each of the protagonists of these middle-grade and middle-school stories navigates grief in her or his own way, their paths to healing are all poignant and relatable.

In Kwame Alexander‘s Rebound, the 1988-set prequel to Newbery Medal winner The Crossover, twelve-year-old Charlie Bell is spending the summer with his grandparents following the sudden death of his father. He finds solace with his extended family — and on the basketball court. This story of realistic family dynamics, a search for confidence, and first romance is propelled by energetic, staccato poetry and elevated by a visceral exploration of grief. Occasional comics by Dawud Anyabwile visualize the fast-paced basketball action, exploding off the page. (Houghton, 10–13 years)

Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes is a story of people struggling to cope with loss, change, and human frailty. Lonely twelve-year-old Amelia befriends Casey during their spring-break week (the novel’s time frame). When they encounter a woman who looks like Amelia’s mother — who died when Amelia was two — the friends begin to imagine the impossible. The week’s cheerlessness morphs into something complex and important as new people enter Amelia’s world, enabling her to better understand herself and those she loves. (Greenwillow, 10–13 years)

When Lucy, protagonist of The Line Tender by Kate Allen, was young, her mother died researching sharks. Now, in the midst of their summer project studying great white sharks, Lucy’s best friend Fred dies in a tragic accident. In her grief, Lucy turns to her mother’s unfinished research and finds a way to strengthen remembered connections among her mother, Fred, and those still present in her life. Fluid writing adds depth to the meticulously drawn characters’ emotional journeys. (Dutton, 10–13 years)

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart follows twelve-year-old Coyote and her father, Rodeo, as they travel the United States in a retrofitted school bus. Five years earlier Coyote’s mother and sisters were killed; now Rodeo refuses to talk about them. When Coyote learns a park where the family once buried a memory box will be demolished, she decides to retrieve the box — without letting Rodeo know. Every mile inexorably brings Coyote closer to confronting her past and its inevitable sadness, but Gemeinhart tempers his protagonist’s grief with triumphant growth. (Holt, 10–13 years)

From the April 2019 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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