The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson.
Complex and challenging, once you get hooked he switches voices! And you almost put it down, but you can't, and you're glad you don't. A completely different take on historical fiction circa the run up to the Revolutionary War. The author's note encourages further investigation but leaves no doubt about his painstaking research in support of this stellar story. The ending begs to be continued. On to Volume Two!
Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbaleister.
Okay, who could resist such a title? And the cover art and end papers? The entire tone of this collection of short stories by some of the heaviest hitters in YA fiction is smart and wry. Loved the first story, got mostly through the second and did not think I could get away with it in 7-8. High school, I think. Too bad. My son loved it. The censors, likely not.
Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson.
Heavy hitter Patterson of Maximum Ride fame takes on the Wimpy Kid and, well, falls short. Part of the pleasure of Kinney's character is the comforting normality, even banality, of his life, against which the tortures of school are bearable. Here we have a protagonist so marginalized that, at grade seven, he still talks to his imaginary friend. And home? Single struggling mom, unemployed abusive boyfriend, hardscrabble existence - stop!
It's challenging to pull off humor under these conditions. See The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbra Robinson for an excellent example of how to accomplish this. If you've grown up in a traditional Catholic household you will laugh until you cry.