These incredible books for 5th-grade captivate kids and keep them reading until dawn. Check out these awesome tween novels!
Books for 5th grade are totally my jam!
When it comes to my favorite stories, I think books for 5th-grade rock. Gone are the days of easy chapter books with simple storylines. Instead, these novels for upper elementary contain complex plots, characters facing compelling challenges, and nuances on every page. I simply love books for 10-year-olds.
When books for fifth graders are done well, they are springboards for meaningful discussion. Kids can delve into the plots, analyze how they relate to characters, and discuss how they may have behaved in similar situations. Readers can draw parallels to their own families, communities, and lives.
Books for 5th graders act as important windows and mirrors
As Rudine Sims Bishop famously stated, reading is about “windows and mirrors.” Window books give kids glimpses – as if through a window – into the lives of people different from themselves. Mirror books, on the other hand, are stories in which children see themselves reflected in the pages they read.
Books for 5th grade are important windows and mirrors for tweens.
In some of the stories, children will see themselves. Tweens will identify with the children struggling to find their place among friends and family, and even society at large. They will see themselves in the children figuring out who they love, how they identify and where they come from.
And even in those window books with characters and plots that seem so different, kids will nonetheless draw parallels to their own worlds. They find connection and understanding in universal emotions and experiences.
The diverse books for 5th grade on this list will mesmerize your tweens and keep them reading until dawn. So what are you waiting for?
Check out our picks below and help your child find their next favorite story!
Frequently asked questions
Can I say something? Forget the level. We want fifth graders to read anything age appropriate that piques their interest! Middle-grade books are perfect for this age group, and there are so many options to ensure your child finds something he loves. From graphic novels to realistic fiction to fantasy to mystery, the options are endless. Just take them to the library and let them roam and choose! When they feel excited about a particular book, magic ensues.
My biggest suggestion is to give your reader a choice over the books they read for pleasure! Take them to the bookstore or the library and give them free rein. Let them pick what they think looks fun and/or interesting! Choice is so important when it comes to reading for enjoyment, especially as many kids are told what books to read in school. If your child is not already an avid reader, having to slog through a book they aren’t interested in class makes them think reading is boring. Once they realize how many amazing options there are out there, we can begin to change this attitude!
YES! Many young, avid readers have difficulty finding other bookworms with whom they can connect and share their love of reading. Book clubs are phenomenal for fostering a child’s love of reading, encouraging socialization with other readers, introducing kids to new authors and genres, and expanding the way they think about and analyze stories. Did you know we run a virtual book club that connects young readers in grades 5 through 7 around the country? Check out The Dawn Society here!
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Realistic fiction books for 5th grade
On her twelfth birthday, baking-fanatic Zoe makes a shocking discovery — a letter from her father who has been imprisoned for a terrible crime — one he says he has not committed. She wants to write back but has no idea what to say. After all, what does a girl say to a dad she has never met? Zoe eventually responds but is forced to hide their blossoming relationship from her mom. As their connection grows, so, too, does Zoe’s conviction that her father is truly innocent, and it’s up to her to prove he’s incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. This is one of those books for 5th grade I could give to any student and know they will devour it. I love the way it explores social justice and gives tweens an intro to The Innocence Project. I could not put this down!
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RELATED: Looking for more fantastic mystery books for 5th graders on up? Click the link!
This is hands down one of the most important books for 5th grade. This powerful noveI tells the story of Melody, a tween with spastic cerebral palsy who has never spoken a single word. Confined to a wheelchair and barely able to control her body, most people look at Melody and think she is mentally retarded and incapable of learning. But to the contrary, Melody is oh-so-smart, and she longs for a day when she won’t be stuck in her own head. One day, Melody discovers a device that may help her communicate with those around her. But when she discovers her voice, will others be ready to hear it? Touching and triumphant, this is a powerful look at the misconceptions that arise with disabilities and the challenges of living in a “normal” world with physical limitations.
Winner of the 2020 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, this mind-blowing story leaves you heartbroken and hopeful at the very same time. King is a twelve-year-old Black boy, who is still reeling from the sudden death of his older brother, Khalid. King wishes he could spend time with his best friend Sandy, but just before Khalid died, Khalid made a grave statement to King: King should not hang out with Sandy, or others would begin to believe that King, like Sandy, is gay. King abides by Khalid’s warning until the day Sandy goes missing. And King’s anger at himself for abandoning his friend, as well as his explosive feelings that he is struggling to understand, leave him reeling. Then the two boys reunite… and the result is a testament to love, authenticity, and truth.⠀This one shook me to my core, and it’s one of my must-read books for 5th-grade mature readers.
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Thirteen-year-old Annabelle finds herself struggling academically at the end of seventh grade. Yet when she dives into the water, her swimming skills earn her an A+. In fact, Annabelle is the fastest girl on her middle school swim team, and due to her speed and talent, she is asked to join the high school team over the summer. This is when Annabelle’s world changes tremendously. Annabelle makes new, older friends, and her newly developed body attracts the attention of one very handsome high school boy. She wants to fit in with these older kids desperately, but after a prank she’s a part of goes disastrously wrong, the boy drops her like a hot potato, and an injury sidelines her from the pool. Who is Annabelle without swimming, and how will she figure out where she belongs? Morrison brilliantly handles that precarious time between childhood innocence and teenage confusion. For our full review of Up For Air, click here!
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This is one of my favorite timely and important books for 5th grade! Efren’s parents, his Ama and Papa, are Efren’s superheroes. But they are also undocumented immigrants, working long and hard days to make money in the United States. After all, they must take care of American-born Efren and his younger twin siblings, Max and Mia. But one day, Efren’s worst fear comes true. Ama doesn’t come home from work, and Efren learns she has been deported to Tijuana. Efren will stop at nothing to reunite his family, even if it means facing a harrowing journey all on his own. Evocative, important and heart-wrenching, this book sensitively tackles family separation at the border through a compelling plot and authentic characters.
I absolutely loved this book, told in alternating perspectives by two tween boys who suck you in from the first few pages and don’t let go. Brian struggles with anxiety, and after some trauma on the home front, he and his little brother are placed in foster care and left wondering whether life will ever be the same again. Popular Ezra knows Brian from the basketball team and wants to help him, but he worries that his friends will notice that he feels differently about Brian — more than just “friends.” Will Brian survive a mom struggling with mental health and a dad on the run? Will Ezra be accepted if his friends learn he is gay? This is one of my favorite LGBTQ books for 5th grade on up!
This book has a unique and captivating plot, told through the eyes of best friends Cora and Quinn. Well, they were best friends, but they haven’t spoken since the horrible day a year earlier when Quinn’s brother killed Cora’s sister in a shooting at their high school. The two live next door to one another, and on Cora’s 12th birthday, Quinn leaves a box on her doorstep. Maybe, just maybe if they can figure out a way to go back in time, Quinn can stop her brother from performing the hateful act that will destroy their lives forever. Will the two reconcile and find a way back in time? Or will their friendship be just the thing that saves them both from the hurt and devastation they have both experienced? This book is stunning, with two beautiful voices interweaving to create one compelling and important story about family, friendships, and the things we choose to believe to save ourselves and those we love.
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It’s no secret that Mallory Moss is at the top of the middle school popularity chain. After all, she knows that the most important rule for any kid her age is that you have to fit in if you want to survive. But when Jennifer Chan moves to town and is Mallory’s new neighbor and classmate, Jennifer defies all the rules. She just doesn’t care what she’s supposed to or how she’s supposed to act – she is simply, unabashedly, herself. And the craziest thing? She believes in aliens. When Jennifer suddenly goes missing, Mallory and her friends are in for a rude awakening. Could their actions have caused her to run? Is Jennifer simply on a hunt for aliens? Either way, her disappearance causes a lot of soul-searching, and Mallory must look within herself to confront some harsh truths about friendship, bullying and what it means to grow up.
Stay in your lane. It’s a popular phrase these days, but not one many of us want to hear. Especially not a mixed boy who often finds himself walking a tightrope between his two identities. Stephen always thought he could do everything his friends do. But suddenly, he begins to realize that’s not the case – especially as he notices strangers treating him differently than his white friends. As Stephen tries to navigate the unspoken rules between his two worlds, he has a hard time figuring out which lane is actually his – and which friends will stick by his side no matter what. Stephen’s voice is pitch-perfect, and his struggle to become more self-aware as he grapples with issues of identity and racism is powerful. This is a great entryway for discussions and teachings on antiracism and allyship for all children!
This is a unique portrayal of a tween with sensory processing disorder – a tween who is terrified of loud noises, big crowds, and even high fives. Lou also has a mother who isn’t quite fit to care for a child, and when Lou crashes their pickup truck on a dark and snowy night on the way to pick up her mother, Lou and her mom are separated by child services. Lou is sent to live with her aunt and uncle and is forced to start life all over in a normal house and a ritzy private school so different from any she has known before. Even among her new circumstances, though, her SPD is always lurking, threatening to hinder her relationships at all times. With the help of her school counselor, a new friend and her caring aunt and uncle, Lou finds that maybe her mother was right — Lou may actually have the singing voice of an angel, and music may be the very thing that saves not just Lou, but her mom, too. This is a wonderful and unique book for 5th grade!
Will a tween be able to survive middle school with only one eye open? Unfortunately for Ross Maloy, he’s about to find out. When Ross is diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer, he knows that blending in with the rest of the kids in seventh grade is out of the question. Instead, Ross will have to battle hair loss, eye medicines, radiation, and weird hats, all while fighting to overcome his illness. This is a brilliant look at a middle schooler with cancer, and it is filled with enough humor and hope to make a tough subject accessible and relatable for kids. The story includes Ross’s black and white cartoon drawings which capture his creativity and all the angst that come along with not just being in middle school, but his unique circumstances as well. This one is not to be missed, and it is one of the most beloved books for 5th grade at school!
This unique is told by four very different tweens on opposite sides of the country, each of whom is longing to discover who they are in the midst of their families and the communities in which they live. Libby is one of these tweens, and though she comes from a family of bullies, she wants nothing more than to be different. One day, she sends a note to a stranger she thinks could use a pick me up: you are amazing, it says. And that note begins a chain reaction of kind actions that help these four kids recognize that they are not alone and have the power to change their circumstances. From what it means to be accepted as transgender to how we treat and respect others to how we treat and respect our own selves, this is one of our favorite books for 5th grade that tackles pressing topics as well as what it means to be kind to others — and ourselves, too.
RELATED: Looking for more fantastic LGBTQ books for middle schoolers? Don’t miss this list!
Chase doesn’t remember falling off the roof. In fact, he doesn’t remember much of anything. He wakes in the hospital one morning with his memory gone and no recollection of who he is or what happened to him. He has to learn life all over again, including his very own name. Chase eventually goes back to school, where he quickly discovers that some treat him like a hero whereas others seem awfully angry with him. Who was he before the accident? And does he still want to be that person? This is a wonderful take on starting over, the harm of bullying, and the possibility of redeeming ourselves after prior poor choices.
If you have kiddos who enjoy “whodunit” mysteries, they will love this great book about six savvy kids who find themselves in the midst of a crime! Millie Ashford wins a contest and, with it, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She and five other girls from around the country get to spend the night in Amelia Earhart’s house! But while they are there, Amelia’s famous flight goggles go missing, and Millie was the last to see them. Now, Millie is a prime suspect in the crime. There is finger-pointing both among the kids themselves and the staff working at the house. It becomes up to Millie and her new friends to declare the kids’ innocence, find and return the stolen goggles, and discover the thief, too. This is such a fun book, filled with great information about fierce, female pilots — and it’s an awesome tribute to Amelia Earhart as well!
This classic story about Jess and Leslie is one of those books that stands the test of time – perfect for children in upper elementary school. Jess is determined to be the fastest runner in fifth grade. On the first day of school, however, the new girl, Leslie, beats him. Despite her win, the two quickly become friends, spending many of their days in the woods behind Leslie’s house where they invent a magical land called Terabithia. But one morning, when Leslie goes to Terabithia without Jess, tragedy occurs. This enduring classic has been cherished for more than forty years for its tenderness, exploration of grief and loss, and the way it speaks so authentically to children.
Fantasy books for 5th graders
Amari is a tween from the housing projects who believes her big brother, Quinton, is still alive — even if no one else agrees. When Amari one day discovers a ticking briefcase in Quinton’s closet containing a nomination for her tryout to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she suddenly knows there is a lot to discover behind his sudden disappearance. Was there more to her brother than meets the eye? Is there more to Amari herself? Most importantly, is magic actually real? Amari is a strong Black girl who is witty, persistent and smarter than she realizes. Her story brilliantly tackles issues of racism, classism, poverty, and profiling, all wrapped up in a fast-paced fantasy that leaves you turning pages with a ferocity you never knew. This is one of my very favorite middle grade fantasy books!
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Winner of the 2021 Newbery Award, this is the story of a girl, her ill grandmother, and a magical tiger. And friends, it is breathtaking! When Lili, her mom and her older sister move in to care for Lili’s halmoni, Lili begins seeing a tiger straight out of the folktales Halmoni used to tell Lili and Sam. And Lili doesn’t just see the tiger — she talks to her, too. It seems that Halmoni stole something from the tiger many, many years ago, and now the tiger wants it back. Lili has always learned from Halmoni’s stories that she must never strike a deal with a tiger, but the tiger says it will heal Halmoni if Lili complies. Will Lili make a deal — and if so, will she have the courage to keep up her end of the bargain? A beautiful, intergenerational story of courage, the healing power of stories, and the love of family, this one is an absolute treasure!
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In this Newbery Award winner, a town is haunted by an annual tradition: a Day of Sacrifice, one that involves leaving the eldest baby born that year in the woods. Why? To appease a witch who threatens to destroy the village if her commands are not obeyed. Thus begins the story of one baby who is taken and “enmagicked,” the families from whom babies are taken, a witch who is anything but, a very tiny dragon, and a tale looming before a village that may or may not actually be true. In this stunning novel, Barnhill presents a spring point for conversations about truths versus lies and how adherence to certain stories can become the very foundations on which societies are built and even maintained. An absolutely spellbinding read. For our full review of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, click here!
Touted by some as a Hispanic Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, this is the story of a young boy who loves the stories Abuela tells him of the monsters who haunt children’s imaginations across Central and South America. While Charlie was always sure the stories were myths, he starts to question pretty much everything when he begins having creepy bodily manifestations that sound way too familiar to Abuela’s stories. Suddenly, the mythical beings he’s learned about from folklore have invaded his real life. Charlie is caught up in an ancient battle between La Liga, a secret society of mythical beings seeking to protect the Land of the Living, and La Mano Negro, a group of evil spirits determined to rule man. Can Charlie figure out what’s happening to him, save his parents, and save the world too? This is one of our favorite books for 5th grade – complete with magic, adventure, and a great story!
This is a fabulous Thai fantasy inspired by Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. It is the story of the magical light in Chattana, all brought to the city by the Governor after a Great Fire. It is also the story of Pong, a boy born in Namwong Prison, who looks upon the magical lights as his ticket to freedom. When Pong escapes from prison, he realizes that life on the outside can be just as cruel as life on the inside. He becomes a fugitive, marked by his prison tattoo, and hunted by Nok, the prison warden’s daughter who is desperate to restore her family’s good name. But as Nok searches for Pong, she discovers truths about her family that threaten her very world and safety. Set among the magical, bright orbs of the wealthy and the grim and gloomy underworld of the poor, this stunning novel of darkness and light, justice and law, is fast-paced, complex, and a unique take on social justice. One of our favorite books for 5th grade that your child will love!
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RELATED: Looking for more fantastic middle-grade fantasy books? Don’t miss this list!
Novels in verse for 5th graders
This book left me emotional for days and is one of the single most important books for 5th grade – both boys and girls. When Ellie was just five years old, she wore a whale swimsuit to a party and made a big splash in the pool. Ever since then, she has been bullied and fat-shamed about her weight. While she has a set of “Fat-Girl Rules” that she lives by every day, Ellie feels free only in the pool. There, she’s weightless, and she can take up all the room she wants, unlike how she feels at school and even in her own house. School is hard enough, but her classmates aren’t the only ones that make Ellie feel bad about her weight. Her mom is on her too, believing that if she criticizes Ellie enough, Ellie will be motivated to diet. Yet this is not the “support” that Ellie needs. With the help of her dad and a wonderful therapist, Ellie may learn just what she needs to be her very best self — no matter her size.
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In this suspenseful novel in verse, 12-year-old Maddie and her friends come up with the perfect scheme for a secret sleepover at her grandparent’s summer apartment. But when her friends have to cancel last minute, Maddie ends up at her grandparent’s alone – and she wakes up to a world that has been utterly abandoned by society. Her hometown has been evacuated, and she is living in a nightmare with no one to rely on except a Rottweiler and a whole lot of books. Maddie eventually learns to trust her own instincts and ingenuity, creating unique ways to survive in a deserted world. But will she be alone forever, or will she eventually be reunited with her family? If your reader likes dystopian fiction or books like Hatchet, this book for 5th graders is perfection!
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What happens when a hero becomes anything but? When a star on the football field becomes trapped by the dark side of the sport that propelled him to fame? In this powerful novel in verse, ZJ’s dad used to be a fan favorite and football superstar – but he suddenly falls from grace. He’s having trouble remembering things, he’s angry all the time, and one day, he can’t even recall ZJ’s name. ZJ’s mom said it’s due to all the head injuries he sustained while playing football, and ZJ has to come to terms with his father’s brain injury and the brutal realization that glory days don’t last forever. Though his father seems to be slipping away, ZJ’s family and friends rally around him, and the result is a poignant, beautiful story that touches upon a significant issue in the sports world. Moving, heartbreaking and hopeful, ZJ’s story will grab hold of readers and stick with them long after the final page is turned.
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This is the poignant story of Reha, a thirteen-year-old first-generation Indian American who feels torn between two drastically different worlds — school, where she is the only Indian American amidst a sea of blond hair and hazel eyes, and home, where life is grounded solidly in her family’s customs and traditions. Reha feels torn between her mother’s strict expectations for her and her own conflicting desires … until the day her Amma is diagnosed with leukemia and Reha’s life will never be the same. It is in this moment Reha vows to be the perfect daughter if that’s what it takes to save her mother’s life. If you have a tween who loves realistic fiction, this is a must-read. Reha grapples with so much- her identity, her family, her culture — and her story will resonate with any young reader trying to discover where she belongs and how to find a place among two totally different cultures. It is also a meditation on grief, loss, and the power of love to heal the most painful wounds.
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Nurah’s family moves from Pakistan to Peachtree City, Georgia, and she just wants to be invisible. With her kurtahs and her dark skin, Nurah always feels excluded. But once she discovers the community pool and tries out for swimming, Nurah not only meets Stahr, but rediscovers her desire to stand out. She wants to be a champion in the pool, and she wants to do better at competitions than her cool older brother. Yet, in a moment of sibling rivalry, Nurah makes a decision that affects everything — especially her brother’s well-being. Will Nurah learn to discover her voice, stand up to bullying and find a place in her new home? We love this beautiful novel in verse!
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This is a beautiful story, a novel in verse inspired by Thanhha Lai’s experiences as a refugee fleeing Vietnam. Saigon was all Ha ever knew, but when it falls, she and her family boarded a ship for America and immigrate to Alabama. Ha becomes an outcast upon arrival. After all, she has come to a strange new world where she struggles daily and no longer feels like the smart child she was in Vietnam. Yet, despite her heartbreak and longing for home and friends, Ha’s journey is also filled with humor and hope, all told through stunning free verse poems.
Historical fiction books for 5th graders
Three seemingly separate stories all merge in beautiful ways Refugee. Josef is a young Jewish boy living in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. With the horrific threat of concentration camps on the near horizon, he boards the St. Louis with his family, seeking refuge on the other side of the world. Isabel is a Cuban girl, and her story is set in 1994 as riots and unrest plague her community and her country. She and her family set out on a scrappy raft for Miami, hoping for freedom and safety. Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. When a bomb strikes his home and his entire world is torn apart by violence, he and his family begin a harrowing journey to Europe. All three kids are driven from their homes due to extreme danger, and all embark on unimaginable voyages toward refuge and freedom. The characterization was stellar and though the stories shared many similarities, the uniqueness of each journey was made evident through the author’s meticulously researched details. This is a must-read book for 5th graders — for learning about world history, for providing windows into the harrowing experiences so many children face, and for recognizing that, despite our differences, we all long for the same things: safety, security, and a welcoming homeland in which to establish our roots.
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This is a fantastic and gut-wrenching novel about Jerome, a twelve-year-old black boy who is shot and killed by a white police officer who mistakes Jerome’s toy gun for a real one. As a ghost, Jerome sees the devastation and chaos his death has caused, with his family and community at the heart of it. While his family protests what they believe is an unjust killing, Jerome meets another ghost — that of Emmett Till, a boy who lived decades earlier and experienced the same destructive injustice — as well as Sarah, the police officer’s daughter, who is still alive. Together, Emmet and Sarah help Jerome process his death. Deftly weaving history with today’s pressing issues, this story is a haunting beauty, one that has a place of importance on every tween bookshelf and in every school collection. Though this is undoubtedly a tough topic, Ghost Boys is age appropriate and expertly written.
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This is is the story of Hanna, a half-Asian girl who desperately wants to go to school and make friends in the heartland in the 1880s. The problem? The deep-rooted racism against Asians on the frontier. With only her protective father by her side, Hanna must navigate her new hometown and the racial tensions within it, all while determined to get an education and forge new relationships. But will her “otherness” keep her from fitting in and pursuing her dreams?Hannah faces rejection at school, repeated microaggressions, and even assault – yet she never loses sight of her goals. She is such a well-rounded character, so real and nuanced, and I fell in love with her from the very first page. Poignant, haunting, and empowering, this is one your tweens will not soon forget.
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In this wonderful work of historical fiction, life is frightening for Jews in Poland. Esther’s father flees to Cuba to escape Nazism, in the hopes that he will be able to send for his wife and children to join him shortly. Esther becomes the second member of her family to go to Cuba, traveling alone and by sea before she reunites with her father. The trip, however, is not easy, and Esther is devastated to be separated from her sister, Malka. Upon arriving, Esther finds solace in chronicling her new life in Cuba for Malka, including her discovery of a talent that will help raise money for the rest of her family to join them in Cuba. Esther’s newfound dressmaking abilities astound members of her new town, but antisemitism doesn’t escape Esther and her father, even in Cuba. This beautiful story of resilience is based on the author’s family and showcases ingenuity, courage, and identity. Esther’s spirit will delight tween readers who will learn from her perseverance and her continued determination to thrive despite the adversity she faces as a Jewish young woman.
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Holy WOW was this book about two tween girls who form an unexpected friendship after the explosion at Chornobyl fantastic! Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko are classmates, and their fathers work at the same power plant, too. But the girls are not friends — in fact, they are more like enemies. After all, Valentina and her family are Jewish, and as far as Oksana knows from her family, Jews are liars and cheaters and cannot be trusted. But one Spring morning, the plant where their fathers work explodes, their dads are critically injured, and the two girls find themselves forced together on a train without their mothers, fleeing their hometown and traveling to stay with Valentina’s estranged grandmother. As the girls face the unknown and cope with the traumatic explosion, they each have only one person to turn to — the other. This moving story masterfully shows the girls working through and moving past preconceived notions, offering a powerful look at the way the judgments and bias shaping our narratives are extraordinarily harmful.
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