2022 Summer Reading Guide: The Middle-Grade Novels

June 9, 2022 § Leave a comment

My Summer Reading Guide kicks off with a whopping seventeen fantastic middle-grade novels—my favorites of 2022 thus far. I had to break out graphic novels into another post, so hold tight and you’ll have those soon. After that, I’ll conclude with books for developing readers. So, keep your eyes right here in the coming weeks! (I regret that I haven’t kept up with older teen reading as much as I’d like, but that will change soon. Stay posted to Instagram where I’ll share reviews for those I read and love.)

I also recently did a guest post for Old Town Books, where I’m the kids’ buyer, with tips for keeping your kids reading all summer long. Many of us credit our own childhood summers with igniting a love of reading. Throw in some Sun-In and a rainbow push pop, and spending time in the company of Ramona Quimby or Prince Caspian was a pretty fabulous way to pass hot, lazy afternoons. But how do we convince our kids to follow suit, given today’s busy camp schedules and the lurking enticement of screens? How do we make sure our kids don’t lose the reading skills they’ve been working hard to master during the school year? Even better, how do we translate those skills into a genuine love for reading where our kids will turn to books for entertainment without nudging from us? Check out my tips here.

The below recommendations are arranged from youngest to oldest. For a fun twist, I’ve organized the list into sections by comparative titles. I hope this is helpful!

Finally, if you don’t have an indie bookstore near you, please consider supporting my work by using the links to order through the Old Town Books website. We ship every day!

For fans of Shrek or Max and the Midnights

Once Upon a Tim
by Stuart Gibbs
Ages 7-10

Stuart Gibbs (of the Spy School and Funjungle series) turns his attention to the younger middle-grade crowd with the first title in a new illustrated chapter series, Once Upon a Tim. And it’s a riot. He’s certainly not the first to turn the tables on the fairytale trope—the princess can save herself, the sorcerer is faking it, and the village idiot has all the smarts—but he does it with perfect pacing, snarky humor, and a great affection for alliteration (“dastardly deathfish,” anyone?). Every few pages he throws in and defines an “IQ Booster” word, just so young readers can’t be accused by their parents of fluffly reading.

The story stars Tim the peasant, underdog of the fairytale world. He’s not going for “Happily Ever After”—he’s not completely delusional about his lot in life—but merely “Happy for the Time Being.” And to get there, he jumps at the opportunity to audition for knighthood, after all the regular knights quit and the prince needs reinforcements to chase down the princess’ kidnappers. He’s joined by his best friend, Belinda, who dresses up as a boy for the part. The trouble is: they know exactly nothing about riding horses, wielding swords, or defeating ornery two-headed lions.

For fans of Dory Fantasmagory or Romana Quimby

Just Harriet
by Elana K. Arnold
Ages 7-10

I have a special place in my heart for flawed young girl protagonists, because I don’t think literature has enough of them; too many titles are bent on upholding the idea that girls are always kind, restrained, respectful. Let’s let girls see themselves as they are, please, especially when intention and behavior don’t perfectly align. I can always rely on Elana K. Arnold to come through with crisp writing, intriguing plots, and complex, nuanced characters. Bonus: Just Harriet is a mystery!

With third grade over, Harriet wishes she was spending her summer at the city pool, reading lots of books, and learning to ride a unicycle (OK, she came up with that last one on a whim to make a point to her dad). Instead, she’s all kinds of sad and mad over having to spend two months at her grandmother’s Victorian bed and breakfast on a tiny island off California, leaving her pregnant mom home on bed rest. Harriet has never been away from her parents before, and the only consolation is that she gets to bring her cat, Matzo Ball. Never mind that her grandmother’s dog, Moneypenny, isn’t fond of cats.

Amidst helping Nana care for the inn, showing guests to their rooms, and setting out tea in the afternoons, Harriet finds an ancient key in an old dresser. She’s certain it has something to do with the treasure her dad hinted at before saying goodbye…if only she could find the right key hole. What Harriet doesn’t anticipate is that her search will end up revealing a key to understanding her own father better, including his childhood on the island.

For fans of Wind in the Willows or Cricket in Times Square

Cress Watercress
by Gregory Maguire, illus. David Litchfield
Ages 8-12, younger if reading aloud

Earlier this spring, I dedicated an entire blog post to Cress Watercress, written by Gregory Maguire, who authored the novel that inspired the Broadway musical, Wicked, and lavishly illustrated by David Litchfield. So I won’t repeat too much here, except to say that if you are looking for a family read aloud this summer, look no further.

A more widely appealing family read aloud you won’t find. A wittier, more darling, more deeply felt story you won’t find. This tale about a bunny named Cress, forced to relocate with her mother and baby brother in the forest after the devastating loss of her father, is about the highs and lows of starting over: of making a home, finding your people, and learning that it’s possible to make do with “good enough” when “good” is out of reach. It’s a story about love, sorrow, creativity, and renewal—and it’s penned with a depth that elevates it above your typical middle-grade animal story.

For fans of A Wish in the Dark or Lalani of the Distant Sea

Solimar: The Sword of the Monarchs
by Pam Munoz Ryan
Ages 8-12

Pam Muñoz Ryan is one of my favorite middle-grade authors, owing to her exquisite language and feisty, richly-spun characters. Her latest, Solimar: The Sword of the Monarchs, is a shimmering page turner: a transportive tale about Mexico, magic, monarch butterflies, and the mightiness that emerges from fighting for what you love.

Solimar is a princess-to-be, whose kingdom of San Gregorio—including the oyamel fir forest where migrating monarchs have sheltered for hundreds of years—is threatened, just as Solimar is preparing for her quinaceañera and official coronation. With her father and brother away on an expedition, and the rest of the castle’s occupants taken hostage, Solimar escapes by boat to travel the perilous Río Diablo and Labyrinth of Caves to warn her father. She is armed with her pet bird, a talking rag doll gifted to her by the local curandera, a treehouse boy she picks up along the way, and a shawl enchanted with the ancestral power of the monarchs that foretells the future…but at a costly price.

A part of Solimar has always resented her position in the kingdom: she yearns to lead, but as a girl she’ll never be king. But her love for family and the precious land they safeguard has never been in question, and fighting for that just might be the perfect opportunity to show her kingdom what she’s made of.

The Last Mapmaker
by Christina Soontornvat
Ages 8-12

From last year’s two-time Newbery Honor recipient, Christina Soontornvat, comes The Last Mapmaker, a gripping, high seas fantasy that asks, how far will you go to secure your footing in a world where status is everything? As apprentice to Mangkon’s most celebrated mapmaker, Sai has mastered the part of the well-bred young lady, en route to a prosperous future. If she plays her cards just right, no one will ever know her home is actually in the slums, her father a low-life con man. In the kingdom of Mangkon, the status of your ancestors dictates your social standing and, henceforth, your future prospects. No exceptions. How far is Sai willing to go to hide her secret?

For starters, she’ll jump at the chance to follow the mapmaker on an expedition to chart the mysterious Southern Seas—a dream come true, not to mention a chance to put more distance between her and her upbringing. But soon after she boards the Queen’s ship, Sai discovers there’s more to this expedition than she was led to believe. There are some who wish to steer it all the way to the fabled Sunderlands, on the other side of the Harbinger Sea, from which no one returns alive. It’s a land of dragons and dangers…and maybe incredible riches.

Along the perilous journey, Sai mixes with a cast of seafarers, including a few harboring their own secrets. The trouble is, ambition can blind, and Sai must unlearn a lot of the rules she has made for herself in order to see people for who they are. Only with a clear and true heart can any of us chart the stormiest seas.

For fans of Harry Potter or Amari and the Night Brothers

The Marvellers
by Dhonielle Clayton
Ages 8-12

Rick Riordan said it: “I want to live in this world!” In her middle-grade debut, The Marvellers, Dhonielle Clayton has penned an immersive, inclusive fantasy about an International magic school in the clouds, brimming with sky-ferries, starposts, sparkling orbs, and sugary treats you can mouth right out of the air. But it’s not all eye candy: she’s also woven in some Black history—specifically, the practice of conjure—as a way to introduce discussions of prejudice into the magic school trope.

Eleven-year-old Ella Durand is the first Conjuror ever invited to attend the prestigious Arcanum Training Institute for Marvelous and Uncanny Endeavors. Hailing from New Orleans and skilled in the practice of shepherding spirits into the Underworld, Ella’s family has historically been forbidden from partaking in marveling, the art of channeling celestial light to manipulate the universe. But Ella can’t wait to begin her training as a Marveller and prove the skeptics wrong. She’s sure that once they see her conjuring up close, they’ll recognize she’s every bit as talented as them. Only she grossly underestimates the deep and troubled past the Marvellian world has with her people.

Against the suspicion and derision of fellow classmates and instructors, Ella allies with a fellow misfit trainee from New York City, as well as a boy named Jason who can converse with magical creatures, to challenge the Institute’s conventions. (They could benefit from Potter’s invisibility cloak for all their sneaking around at night!) But when a dangerous criminal escapes from the Underworld prison and kidnaps the one professor who has had Ella’s back from the beginning, Ella really gets the chance to show her true colors.

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief
by A.F. Steadman
Ages 8-12

A page-turning fantasy with a secret island school, elemental magic, and…bloodthirsty unicorns?! (We’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.) Mark my words: many middle-grade readers are going to love Skandar and the Unicorn Thief, the first in a new series by A.F. Steadman that’s perfect for Potter, Percy, and Eragon fans alike.

At thirteen, Skandar Smith is finally eligible to take the Hatchery exam, an annual test identifying a handful of Mainlanders to be relocated to the prestigious Island, where they will dedicate their lives to training and competing as unicorn riders in televised sky battles. But on the day of the exam, things go all kinds of wrong for Skandar. He is selected to bond with a unicorn egg, thereby fulfilling his dream since birth, but not in the way the other recruits are. When Skandar arrives at the Island, he does so in possession of a dark secret—and everything from the strange behavior of his newborn unicorn to the volatility of his own developing water magic threatens to reveal that secret to those with whom he so desperately wants to fit in.

And yet, it turns out Skandar has bigger things to fear. A murderous army of unicorns, born from the unbonded and led by a mysterious figure known as the Weaver, is gathering strength on the Island and threatening to attack the Mainlanders, including the family Skandar has left behind. Allied with his three bunkmates—themselves a sweet, ragtag bunch with their own challenges to overcome—Skandar makes a plan to take on the Weaver. But will his as-yet-partial-training be good enough?

For fans of Percy Jackson

Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor
by Xiran Jay Zhao
Ages 9-13

Give us Percy Jackson—only steep it in Chinese history and culture, overlay modern video game technology, and package it in some of the smartest fantasy writing in the middle-grade genre! Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor, a new series opener by Xiran Jay Zhao, first-generation Hui Chinese immigrant, has just gone and elevated the category that Rick Riordan first exploded. It’s an intense read. It’s a heady read. It’s a funny read. Especially for readers who relish a challenge, it’s a heck of a ride.

Living in New England, twelve-year-old Zachary Ying has spent most of his life avoiding his Chinese heritage. Easy to do, when he can toss the Chinese lunches his single mom packs for him at school and tune into a curriculum that almost exclusively highlights Western history and myths. Out of school, he spends most of his time hooked up to a AR gaming headset. Then, one day, Zack gets the surprise of a lifetime—and it’s not a welcome one. It turns out, he was born to host the spirit of the First Emperor of China, one of history’s most notorious tyrants. Suddenly, Qin Shi Huang is one with Zack’s AR headset, commanding Zack to spearhead a mission to seal the leaking portal to the Chinese underworld before the upcoming Ghost Month blows it open. Why should Zack believe, much less listen to, this serial madman trying to assume a fatherly role in his life? Possibly because Zack has just watched demons hijack his mother’s spirit, and it looks like cooperating with the Dragon Emperor may be the only way to save her.

Zack boards a plane to China where, joined by two other teens being possessed by historical Chinese figures, he learns to wield the Emperor’s water dragon powers to take down demons, break into museums and mausoleums, crash party cruises, and raise armies from the dead—all while straddling the line where history and myth converge. Zack’s wit and warmth make him an easy hero to route for, and the pages fly by.

For fans of Spy School or Enginerds

F.A.R.T.: Top Secret! No Kids Allowed!
by Peter Bakalian
Ages 9-13

Calling all reluctant readers! I fully admit I dismissed this book when the publisher sent it to me, based entirely on the cover. Then, my eleven-year-old daughter devoured it and told she’d never read anything quite like it. So I’m here to report that I was thoroughly entertained by F.A.R.T.: Top Secret! No Kids Allowed! The hilarious, graphics-filled text is the manifesto of a teen who discovers his parents are part of a secret society called Families Against Rotten Teens, bent on brainwashing teens into obedient, chores-loving, homework machines.

“The guys who run amusement parks won’t tell you this, but all the really good rides have a secret exit just before you get on them. It’s true. They call it a “Chicken Hatch,” and it’s for people who lose their nerve at the last minute. Me, I think it’s wrong to call people “chicken” because they don’t want to vompedo their lunch on some roller coaster. That’s why I’m offering you a chance to exit this diary right now. I’m serious. I’ve kept this journal in case something should happen to me, but the detours and trapdoors that follow could easily scramble your eggs. But before you leave, consider this: F.A.R.T. wants you to take this exit.”

Our narrator calls an emergency assembly of the Only Onlys—his best friends since preschool, with code names Popcorn, Crabapple, Apricot, and Banana—to make a plan to infiltrate F.A.R.T. and take them down. Trouble is, it’s worse than any of them can imagine.

For fans of From the Desk of Zoe Washington or Front Desk

New From Here
by Kelly Yang
Ages 8-12

Most parents aren’t ready to relive the early days of the pandemic, but our children are proving to love reading about one of the most defining events of their lives. Based on Kelly Yang’s own family, New From Here begins in January, 2020, when our biracial narrator, ten-year-old Knox Wei-Evans, relocates from Hong Kong to California with his mom, older brother, and younger sister, in order to escape the virus. Knox’s dad stays behind for his job. Of course, the pandemic quickly catches up to them, as does the ensuing anti-Asian rhetoric. As she does in all her books—you know her from the hugely popular Front Desk series—Kelly leans into this racism, educating and empowering her young readers to consider its damaging implications and the small but significant ways they can stand up to it.

For many of us, those early weeks of lockdown were characterized by fear, confusion, and uncertainty, but they also held memorable moments of sweetness, as families came together, teachers problem solved, and neighbors looked out for one another. Knox captures all of this, from makeshift classrooms in living rooms to toilet paper shortages, even as he navigates his recent ADHD diagnosis, a nagging worry that his older brother doesn’t like him, and the prospect that someone in his family might fall ill before their mom secures a job with benefits.

Even as it tackles serious subjects, the story never veers from its infectious optimism. The world will be okay, Kelly Yang implies, so long as children keep being their bright, resourceful, compassionate selves. And so long as their adults listen to them!

A Duet for Home
by Karina Yan Glaser
Ages 9-13

You know Karina Yan Glaser from her Vanderbeekers series—one of our family’s favorite series EVER—but did you know she has a new standalone novel? The story may not be related to the brownstone on 141st Street, but it’s filled with the same New York energy, punchy dialogue, perfect pacing, rich character development, and themes of community and social justice. (Yes, there’s a dog. And classical music. And a grumpy neighbor to win over.)

A Duet For Home moves between two young protagonists, whose lives intersect while living at a homeless shelter. June is new to Huey House, arriving on page one with her younger sister and mother, after being evicted from their home on the heels of her father’s death. She’s sure the stay is temporary, only her mother has stopped speaking…to anyone. To make matters worse, the shelter forbids musical instruments, and June’s ticket to a better future has always been through the music she painstakingly works to master on her cherished viola.

Tyrell, on the other hand, has been at Huey House for three years. He knows its inner-workings like the back of his hand—all the better for the pranks he plays on its villainous director. His fear-come-true is that his best friend will move out before Tyrell’s mother can hold down a job. Tyrell relies on Jeremiah to keep him in line with his schoolwork, and the two make a great team ruling the roost.

Neither June nor Tyrell is looking for a new friend, but that’s exactly what they find in one another (after a rocky start involving a fruit punch dispenser). Tyrell shows June the upsides of life at the shelter, including a secret room for practicing her viola, and she joins him in standing up to city council over a new government policy that threatens the long-term families at the shelter. Prepare to fall in love with both of these feisty, vulnerable characters.

Answers in the Pages
by David Levithan
Ages 8-12

David Levithan’s Answers in the Pages is a timely, poignant story about a classroom text that is challenged by parents for its potentially queer protagonists. At a time when book banning is on the rise, this is a must read for kids—not to mention parents and teachers. Levithan has filled his prose with immensely helpful language for understanding the (misguided) love where book challenges can originate—and how to refute those challenges because they deny the world our children live in.

Donovan is enjoying the action-packed thriller they’re reading in class—chapters are interspersed throughout so we can draw our own conclusions—until his mother finds it, skips ahead to the ambiguous last sentence, and declares it inappropriate reading material. She goes on to file a complaint with the school, rallying other parents to join her. As the challenge plays out, we see its effects on the children in the class, their beloved teacher—himself a gay man—and the parents themselves. What will perhaps be most interesting (and valuable) to young readers is the way in which the children move from asking the question, “Are the two characters in the book really gay?” to “Does it matter?”

In addition to Donovan’s narrative, and the excerpts from the book in question, we get a third plot line to contrast the conjecture raised by the fictional story. This one’s an actual romantic relationship between two boy classmates, and its presence in Levithan’s novel underscores the truth of gender and sexual identity: “We are who we are…And we’ll be who we’ll be. A book can make us *feel* that, but it can’t *invent* that. It’s already inside us.”

For fans of Wonder (new illustrated version here!)

Those Kids From Fawn Creek
by Erin Entrada Kelly
Ages 10-14

Have you ever dreamed of becoming someone else? Meet my favorite read of 2022 (so far). Those Kids from Fawn Creek, about a seventh-grade class in a tiny Louisiana town, is realistic fiction at its best. Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly has taken an ensemble cast and woven in such rich detail about her characters’ inner and outer lives that we feel like we are inhabiting the pages alongside them. I would’ve loved this book as a middle schooler, trying to define myself against a thousand competing pressures.

Every day in Fawn Creek is exactly the same, including the same cliques year after year: the Fawn Creek Royalty, the self-proclaimed God Squad, the Jocks, and the Misfit Besties. Until Mr. Agosto’s seventh grade class gets a new student named Orchid, who hails from Paris by way of other exotic places, and sports a flower in her wild hair like she’s oblivious to landing in a town whose entire industry revolves around a giant chemical plant. Even more surprising, Orchid seems genuinely curious and caring about each of her new classmates. And when seen through her eyes, they begin to see themselves differently.

What if plain, predictable Dorothy could surprise people? What if popular Janie refused to do her best friend’s bidding, when her best friend is the meanest, snobbiest girl around? What if Grayson stopped letting the nickname Gay-son bother him? And what if everyone stopped questioning their own selves long enough to realize Orchid has a secret of her own? An absolutely gorgeous novel about friendship, deception, and being true to yourself in a world doing its best to fit you into a tidy little box.

Jennifer Chan is Not Alone
by Tae Keller
Ages 10-14

Tae Keller follows up her Newbery winner, When You Trap a Tiger, with Jennifer Chan is Not Alone, a completely different but equally extraordinary story about the costs of popularity and the work of reparation. It sports some serious “Mean Girls” vibes (yes, I recently saw the musical and am obsessed), which should make it mandatory reading for young people. And they won’t be able to put it down.

The novel opens with a missing person: Jennifer Chan, a new student in a tiny Florida town nicknamed Nowhereville by our protagonist, Mallory Moss. Certainly, Jennifer going missing doesn’t have anything to do with last week’s bathroom Incident that Mallory is doing her best to pretend didn’t happen, right? Because Jennifer and Mallory have some history. As neighbors, they struck up a friendship over the summer, spurred by Jennifer’s obsession with extraterrestrial life and her determination to prove its existence. But Mallory always knew that when school began, she’d have to forgo contact with the odd, head-in-the-clouds girl in order to preserve her BFF status with queen bee, Regan. She never expected things would spiral out of control.

As Mallory’s first-person narration alternates between the present mystery of Jennifer’s disappearance and flashbacks to the preceding weeks, her guilt is quickly eclipsed by her theory that Jennifer has been abducted by aliens—and Mal might be able to find her.

Can we even know ourselves if we’ve only ever focused on the way we’re perceived by others? This is the question that haunts Mallory from the moment Jennifer comes into her life, a girl so unapologetically herself that her confidence threatens the unspoken rules Mal has lived by. This is a story about bullying, bystanding, and their devastating after effects. But it is also a story about second chances, about owning up and righting wrongs, and about what it means to forgive yourself as you ask it from others.

For fans of The Only Black Girls in Town or A Good Kind of Trouble

In the Key of Us
by Mariama J. Lockington
Ages 10-14

What would a Summer Reading Guide be without at least one story with a sleepaway camp setting? Granted, Harmony Music Camp is a specialty camp, but there are plenty of socials, cabin competitions, and overnight camping trips to elicit the sleepaway camp experience. But Mariama J. Lockington’s lyrical ode to summer camp doesn’t stop there, because In the Key of Us is also a gentle, joyful exploration of first love.

Eighth-grade bunkmates, Andi and Zora, are initially convinced the only thing they have in common is their distinction as the only two Black girls at camp. But, as the summer goes on, the two begin to share secrets about their complicated pasts. Andi, a trumpet player, is grieving the loss of her mother in a car accident, while struggling to fit in with her aunt and uncle, who are getting ready to welcome a child of their own. Zora, on the other hand, appears to the world like she has it all figured out, while inside she’s suffocated by the pressure her mom puts on her to be a flute prodigy, when what really makes her heart sing is dance.

The girls find an ear in one another, but their attraction quickly begins to extend beyond friendship. Alternating perspectives, while sensitively navigating topics like body image, mental health, grief, and racial and queer microaggressions, this coming-of-age story reminds us of the endless possibilities of summer.

For fans of The War That Saved My Life or Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Freewater
by Amina Luqman-Dawson
Ages 10-14

Amina Luqman-Dawson has penned a triumphant tribute to Black resiliency in her debut novel about a fascinating part of Black History now coming to light in the work of archaeologists and anthropologists. Did you know there were secreted, thriving communities of Black people deep inside the (presumed uninhabitable) swampland of the American South, raising children among hidden doors, sky bridges, and houses on stilts? Some of these children might go their entire lives without laying eyes on a white person, mere miles from the plantations where their parents were once enslaved before escaping. Informed by research, this is a story of what some of those lives might have looked like.

Freewater opens with twelve-year-old Homer, fleeing the Southerland Plantation with his younger sister after their mother has turned back to free another. The search dogs run Homer and Ada deeper into the swamp, until a mysterious boy named Suleman, with rope-like hair down his back and a bow with flaming arrows, comes to their rescue, then leads them on a two-day trip to a secret community called Freewater.

In addition to Homer, who is hopeful about life within this joyful, nurturing community in the trees while also determined to find his mother, we are immersed in the inner lives of others. Sanzi, an impulsive child, has lived her entire life in Freewater but is daringly curious about the world beyond. Anna, Homer’s best friend back at the plantation, is the one whom his mother has returned to free. And Nora, the youngest daughter of the plantation owner, is preparing for her older sister’s wedding, while beginning to question the status quo around her. And that’s just a few. At 398 pages, the novel covers an immense amount of ground, with an ensemble cast and a multitude of perspectives. A powerful reminder of how, as Amina says in her Author’s Note, “[e]nslaved women, men, and children found a multitude of ways big and small to resist and escape bondage.”

I Must Betray You
by Ruta Sepetys
Ages 12-adult

Ruta Sepetys has done it again, shining light on less-known corners of history to inform, enrage, and inspire her teen audience. (Not to mention the adults who devour her books!) Influenced by her extensive pursuit of primary and secondary sources, I Must Betray You tells the fictional story of one Romanian boy in the weeks leading up to the 1989 student-led revolution that set into motion the country’s freedom from communist rule. It’s part mystery, part thriller, and—as we’ve come to expect from Sepetys—filled with complex, richly-spun characters.

Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu dreams of being a writer, but it’s hard to imagine any dream coming true in a country where every governance is designed to promote isolation and fear. The tyrannical dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu functions by stripping food and electricity from its people, denying access to information, empowering invasive surveillance, and igniting near-constant suspicion among loved ones. On what begins as an ordinary day of high school, Cristian is summoned to the director’s office, where he is blackmailed by the secret police: he must become an informer—obtaining and delivering information about an American diplomat’s son, who has recently become friendly with Cristian—or risk watching his beloved grandfather die.

Lying to his family and friends, including the girl he has had a crush on since forever, feels almost unbearable, but Cristian holds out hope that he might be able to use his oppressive position to creatively undermine the authorities tasked with denying him and his countrymen their freedom. But will his incredibly dangerous plan work? How much of a difference can one teenager make? With time running out and a surprising twist around every page, will Cristian succeed before he does irreparable damage to himself and his relationships?


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