Let us remember that middle-grade books aren’t just for children. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi is about courage and destroying monsters. I can only describe it as A Monster Calls meets Angels of America. A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll is a magnificent debut. The story of Addie, petitioning to place a plaque in her local village to remember those persecuted by witch trials. It’s a book with so much heart, and an important Own Voices book about being neurodivergent. The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O'Neill is a graphic novel that warmed my soul. A beautifully told story about dragons who grow Japanese tea. Please look it up.
Many of my favourite novels were ones I chose for TOAST book club: Summerwater by Sarah Moss, House of Correction by Nicci French, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, Summer by Ali Smith, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, and The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld, but allow me to mention a couple more. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is a book that has received a lot of hype and for very good reason. It is an expertly crafted generational story about colourism, following in the footsteps of Passing by Nella Larsen. I’d recommend Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam for fans of the film Parasite. It’s one of the most unsettling books I’ve ever read, where two families are stuck in middle of nowhere, trying to work out if the world has ended. Likewise, Pew by Catherine Lacey is a mixture of Get Out and Shirley Jackson, with the population of one town deciding the fate of a person who has arrived with no identity.
For those who fancy something a little lighter, This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik perfectly balances serious conversations with humour. Bilal is tasked with building a mosque in his sleepy English village, and not everyone is happy about it. Finally, The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow is the perfect reimagining of Pride and Prejudice, told from the point of view of Mary. The audiobook, narrated by Kristin Atherton, will make you smile for hours on end. Her Mrs. Bennet is essentially Alison Steadman from the 1995 BBC adaptation. I listened to Hadlow’s novel whilst painting our flat in January and found myself exclaiming ‘Oh, Mr. Bennet!’ at regular intervals, simply for the joy of it.
This book club roundup was written by the author and poet Jen Campbell, whose latest book is The Girl Aquarium.
Images by Roo Lewis.