Ten Middle Grade Read-Alikes for John Green Books by Angie Manfredi
When I went to our local middle school to do class visits this May, there was one author that all the kids knew: Rick Riordan. And, by that same token, there was one book they knew: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. One of the books I brought to booktalk was This Star Won’t Go Out by Esther Earl. These are the diaries of the sixteen-year-old girl who inspired Green’s book. As soon as I held it up and said her story and her name, all tween eyes locked right on me. They wanted to hear more. They knew this story.
This pattern continued throughout the summer when The Fault in our Stars was never on our shelves. I noticed that, almost without fail, the two biggest audiences for this title over the course of this past summer were adults of all ages and middle school aged readers.
Now, I don’t mean to suggest high schoolers aren’t reading John Green. They obviously are – but they always have been, is the thing. Middle school readers – grades 6-8 – are the newest John Green converts. They want more, more, more. The problem is that while there are plenty of great YA read-alikes for John Green’s work, it’s harder to find middle grade read-alikes.
And I think it’s important to make sure our middle grade readers aren’t rushed into YA. Not just because they might not be ready for it and not just because YA is richer and more resonant when the reader is the right age but because there is just so much great middle grade fiction. We should be promoting it and sharing it with our patrons. You might also be working in an elementary or middle school library that doesn’t/can’t carry YA – but you still want to connect with your patrons who are tuned into popular culture and reading widely.
When we can make middle grade read-alike connections to YA books kids already love and know, we not only develop a stronger reader’s advisory relationship we help students expand their reading options and horizons.
Here are ten middle grade titles I think are great read-alikes for the works of John Green. I’ve made specific connections to how each fits with his books: feel free to use this language in booktalking them and displays. Try them out with your middle grade readers and see what they have to say!
Marco Impossible by Hannah Moskowitz
Best friends Stephen and Marco came out in seventh grade. Now they’re about to graduate eighth grade and head to high school. But before they do, they decide to pull off one last caper – get Marco on stage at the high school prom to confess his crush on Benji. Hijinks, complications, and revelations ensue. This is a sweet romantic comedy with two openly gay middle school leads, a true rarity. For fans of Green’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Looking for Alaska.
Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick
Steven is an average eighth grader: he plays drums in the school band, has an unrequited crush on the wrong girl, and gets very annoyed with his five-year-old brother. But when his brother is diagnosed with leukemia, Steven’s whole life flips upside down and he learns some hard lessons about what really matters. This is an emotional, funny, romantic, smart well-written tear-jerker. For fans of Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska. (See also the sequel: After Ever After)
Dear Anjali by Melissa Glenn Haber
Meredith is so angry with her best friend Anjali. How dare Anjali die? In this smart, funny, book twelve-year-old Meredith writes the late Anjali letters to help her work through her grief and confusion about Anjali’s sudden death and how life is moving on even though the pain. For fans of Green’s Fault in Our Stars. (Also published under the name Your Best Friend, Meredith)
Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel by Diana Lopez
Erica “Chia” Montenegro’s entire life is thrown into a tailspin when her beloved mother is diagnosed with breast cancer. This book follows her whole family’s struggles as they cope with the illness. Chia herself grows as she learns about her own strengths. A great #WeNeedDiverseBooks selection for fans of Green’s The Fault in our Stars.
After Eli by Rebecca Rupp
Daniel is trying to figure out what “kind” of death his older brother Eli had – was it a heroic death or an accidental one? Daniel creates his own Book of the Dead to figure death out but it’s not as easy as he thought. With a main character who believes he can analyze his way through his feelings and lots of tears jerked this is for fans of Green’s An Abundance of Katherines and The Fault in our Stars.
See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles
Twelve-year-old Fern feels like the one member of her family who doesn’t quite fit in OR stand out. When a tragedy throws her whole family into grief and uncertainty, Fran suddenly appreciates and understands the relationships and bonds in her life much more. Because of the emotional loss, sweet romance, and presence of a queer supporting character this stellar book is good for fans of all of Green’s work.
Vanished by Sheela Chari
When eleven-year-old Neela’s prized veena – a traditional Indian instrument – goes missing, Neela is determined to find it. Her hunt for her instrument involves delving into the emotional mysteries in her own family, misleading clues, and connections to a famous dead musician. This thoughtful mystery, driven by an unforgettable lead with a big heart, is for fans of Green’s Paper Towns.
My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman
Tara Feinstein barely has time to prepare for her upcoming Bat Mitzvan with everything else happening in her life including the thrill and confusion of potential crushes to problems with friends. This funny multicultural book with hints of romance and loads of personal identity development is good for fans of Green’s An Abundance of Katherines.
After Iris by Natasha Farrant
Blue is sure that no one in her eccentric family can possibly miss her twin sister Iris as much as she does. Iris’s death has left a hole in Blue’s life and twisted her family apart. But a Bosnian nanny and a new neighbor are about to shake things up. This funny, romantic, bittersweet British import uses different formats (film transcripts and diary entries) to chart one family’s enormous loss and healing. For fans of Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska. (Hopefully we’ll see US publication of the sequel – Flora in Love.)
Warp Speed by Lisa Yee
Marley has always been the quiet, nerdy kid who blends into the background. But all that changes with a BANG in the seventh grade when he becomes the target of the school’s biggest bully and must decide if he’s ready to stand up for himself and make a change. This funny, fast, boy-driven, school-centered plot where kids solve their own problems that also deals with friendship and pop culture is good for fans of Green’s Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, as well as his story in Geektastic.
And, of course, there are others! As you’ll see, I’ve matched the books to specific Green titles – a good place to start this reader’s advisory is to try to find out what in his works draw in your readers and match from there. Don’t be afraid to get creative – after all, you never know what book could end up being your kid reader’s own An Imperial Affliction.
Angie Manfredi is the Head of Youth Services for the Los Alamos County Library System. She has signed copies of three of John Green’s books, which she uses to impress teens. She loves middle grade books, books with female leads (especially if they have swords), and chatting on Twitter. You can find her there @misskubelik and at her website www.fatgirlreading.com