If, like me, you don’t mind wallowing in despair, as long as a good story has led you there, try one of these new works of juvenile literature. Eye-opening and morally challenging for middle-grade readers, and equally moving for adults, these two novels and one biography will be read through tears.
The Dog, Ray by Linda Coggin
Dog books are notoriously sad, and this one is no exception. However, instead of doggie death coming at the end of the story, in this book tragedy occurs right at the beginning – 12-year-old girl Daisy is killed in a car crash, and her soul returns to Earth in the body of a dog. A mistake has been made, though, that allows her to recall her previous life as a girl while living her new life as a dog. Daisy’s one goal is to find her former home and return to living with her parents, but as their dog.
This intriguing concept plays out in a story that is heartbreaking but also sweet and humorous at times. Daisy finds that “the responsibilities of a dog are enormous” and though her life may be heading in a completely new direction she can’t control, there is meaning and love and hope in store for her.
The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero by Patricia A. McCormick
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German minister who conspired with others to assassinate Hitler at the height of the Holocaust. Long a crusader for social justice, Bonhoeffer was one of the earliest critics of the Nazi regime. At first, he sought the support of other church leaders in condemning Nazism – few did. Later, Bonhoeffer graduated to espionage, traveling widely outside Germany to share news of the horrors being leveled against Jews – almost no one believed him. Finally, Bonhoeffer determined that he had no choice but to take part in a daring scheme to end Hitler’s life.
This juvenile biography raises fascinating moral and ethical questions; through reading, we are privy to Bonhoeffer’s decision to turn to violence, despite his religious convictions and commitment to pacifism and nonviolent social change. Bonhoeffer’s courage and willingness to stand alone is breathtaking; readers will relish this page-turning volume that exposes little-known history.
The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz
To escape gang violence in their small Guatemalan village, 12-year-old Jaime and his cousin Angela embark on a risky journey north, through Mexico and across the border to Texas and safety. The drug-trafficking gang that controls their town has killed their cousin and promises they’ll be next; their impoverished family, terrified, scrapes together the money needed to finance their escape. Along the way, Jaime and Angela are locked in a sweltering boxcar for days, dodge murderous gangs as well as the police, endure hunger, and put their lives in the hands of strangers.
This morally complex book is an important read at a moment when immigration is a hot topic around the world. As USA Today reported, in the first 11 months of the 2016 fiscal year, 54,052 unaccompanied minors made the trek from Central America into the United States. Based on true events, this novel is the tense, heartfelt story of two of these children, for whom an incredibly dangerous journey is their only hope for the future.