For the middle grade to young adult reader on your holiday gift-giving list, here are eight recommended books, several with a Southern connection.
‘Gertie’s Leap to Greatness’
Georgia author Kate Beasley stirred up a publishing bidding war with her humorous and heartfelt debut Gertie Foy, as spunky as the star of Beverly Cleary’s “Ramona” books. Gertie’s estranged mother skipped out when Gertie was a baby but still lives on Gertie’s bus route. Now that her mother is moving away from their Alabama town, Gertie’s determined to show her what’s what by becoming the greatest fifth-grader ever. Gertie keeps telling herself she doesn’t need one, but “somewhere along the way, she’d started to want a mother.” (Ages 8-12. Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. Farrar Straus Giroux. $16.99).
Clara, 12, believes destiny led her to the mall to discover a “Please, we need help!” note inside a new purse’s zippered pocket. Yuming, 13, is among 22 kidnapped kids forced to work endlessly in a purse factory in China; it is she who daringly tucked the note (and a photo) into that purse. Is being rescued possible? Should Yuming and other enslaved children escape? This deeply felt novel unfolds in alternating chapters told by each girl. (Ages 8-13. By Ami Polonsky. Disney Hyperion. $16.99).
‘Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas’
“Indiana Jones” meets “The Goonies” in this fast-paced mystery that balances bandits, kidnapping and an ancient treasure with high humor, a far-away jungle, archaeological high adventure, one very smart seventh-grade hero and his likable cohorts. This is the fiction debut of an established Hollywood screenwriter. Addison Cooke’s escapades are just beginning. (Ages 8 and up. By Jonathan W. Stokes. Philomel. $16.99).
Set in 31st century in the Faeregines dynasty that arose after a world Cataclysm, it’s a new era for humankind in which females rule. As he did in his Tapestry series, author Henry H. Neff deftly blends fantasy with history, science fiction, mythology and magic. Leading a host of intriguing characters and creatures are 12-year-old Hazel Faeregine, outcast triplet in line for the throne, and commoner Hob, 13, sent to spy on the royals. (Ages 8 and up. HarperCollins. $17.99).
‘Go South to Freedom’
One stormy night in the 1830s, led by a grandfather called “the African,” a small slave family escapes a Georgia plantation. With no stars for guidance, they mistakenly trudge South. They are helped by Seminole Indians and later by free blacks in Mobile, Ala. Based on a real event, Frye Gaillard’s illustrated novella (by Anne Kent Rush) has it all: danger, toil, tragedy, suspense, courage and a huge heart. The storytelling is both brisk and elegant. Gaillard presents a family program Jan. 16 at the Atlanta History Center. (Ages 10-13. NewSouth Books. $17.95)
‘Girl on a Plane’
It took author Miriam Moss some 45 years to dig into “all that fear” and write about what really happened to her on Sept. 9, 1970. Traveling alone at 15, she was returning to boarding school with 105 passengers on a flight from Bahrain to London. The jet was among five hijacked that week by Palestinian guerrillas. Hungry, hot, dehydrated, exhausted and terrified, Moss was held captive for four days in the Jordanian desert. This is her fictionalized account and it’s riveting – as in throat-clutching. It’s also beautifully written. (Ages 12 and up. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $17.99)
‘We Know It Was You’
During halftime, a student wearing the private school’s wildcat mascot costume runs erratically off the football field, through the woods, onto a bridge, then jumps into the Chattahoochee River. Three days later, the “bloated and purplish sack” contained a corpse is still bobbing downstream, eluding authorities. Author Maggie Thrash grew up in Atlanta and produced last year’s hit graphic memoir, “Honor Girl.” She again exhibits an uncanny grasp on the drama and interplay among teens. This fast-paced whodunit with well-drawn characters marks the start of Thrash’s “Strange Truth” series. (Ages 14 and up. Simon Pulse. $17.99)
From Jesse Andrews, author of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” this hip, hilarious band-on-the-run from jazz camp novel follows two teen boys who join with fellow rebel camper, Ash. It’s her SUV that helps them sneak away and head South. They leave their phones behind, because things being hard is the whole point, says Ash. The mission: to book their band anywhere possible as they flee to Tennessee, then on to Mississippi. Constantly inventive, “The Haters” bursts with authentic dialog, cool cultural references and relatable teen angst. Some profanity and sex. (Ages 15 and up. Amulet/Abrams. $18.95)