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Barely Floating

Lilliam Rivera (Kokila)

While trying to achieve her dream of one day joining the L.A. Mermaids, a synchronized swimming team, middle schooler Nat must overcome challenges stemming from others’ anti-fat bias, her parents’ disapproval, and her own intense feelings. Rivera’s love letter to passionate girls empathetically centers—without judgment—a protagonist who is often disparaged for her body type and frequent emotional outbursts, resulting in an uplifting interrogation of being oneself and supporting others.


The Bawk-ness Monster

Sara Goetter and Natalie Riess (First Second)

In this riotous graphic novel series opener by Goetter and Riess, middle schooler Penny and her friends search for the Bawk-ness Monster, a half-sea-serpent, half-chicken that Penny claims once saved her from drowning. Psychedelically saturated full-color illustrations, which overflow with energetic movement and monster-hunting shenanigans, depict earnest dialogue and heartfelt friendships, while the madcap premise, which boasts evil scientist intrigue and an expanding cryptid encyclopedia, sets the stage for subsequent volumes.


Ellie Engle Saves Herself

Leah Johnson (Disney-Hyperion)

After middle schooler Ellie Engle somehow brings her dead pet fish back to life, she struggles to balance her developing superpowers and romantic feelings for her best friend in this series starter. Tackling themes surrounding the pains of growing up—changing bodies, shifting bonds, early crushes, and defining oneself on one’s own terms—Johnson warmly renders a speculative, necromancy-oriented origin story with a contemporary arc about a girl learning to believe that she’s anything but ordinary.


The Eyes and the Impossible

Dave Eggers, illus. by Shawn Harris (Knopf and McSweeney's)

High-spirited narrator Johannes—an “unkept and free” dog entrusted by three penned Bison to be the “Eyes” of the park where they all live—proves an ebullient braggart, a faithful and intrepid operative, and a drolly humorous reporter in this exuberant illustrated novel. Harris contributes illustrations of Johannes amid full-page classical art reproductions, while Eggers crafts a rousing tale of community, joyful self-reliance, and the pleasures of running very, very fast.


The Manifestor Prophecy

Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray)

Twelve-year-old Nichole Blake, hoping to be trained in her inherited magical ability, learns the truth about her family and the fantasy books she loves in this action-packed kickoff to the Nic Blake and the Remarkables series, which is suffused with Thomas’s trademark voice. Rooted in a mixture of African diasporic myth, biblical references, and U.S. history, this elaborate supernatural read features brave and sweetly vulnerable characters with unflappable senses of humor, and boldly confronts fantasy tropes and questions of forgiveness.



Lisa Graff (Philomel)

McKinley O’Dair is excited to celebrate 1993 during her town’s annual Time Hop—a party thrown every June to commemorate a single year in history—until she finds herself transported to the real 1993. In this immersive, laugh-out-loud time-travel novel, Graff employs snarky, youthful prose and abundant nostalgic early 1990s callbacks to explore issues surrounding fate, destiny, and connection via one 12-year-old’s yearning to find a place—or time—where she truly belongs.


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