These books tackle the challenge of getting past the death of a friend. The topic has become prevalent in middle grade realistic fiction, so finding nine well-written books was an easy task. My personal favorites are 2018 releases and certain to be Newbery contenders: The Truth As Told By Mason Buttle and Denis Ever After.
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
When Franny drowns, Suzy is convinced it must have been caused by a rare, tiny jellyfish. She becomes obsessed with jellyfish and she stops talking. Through flashbacks we come to understand the evolution of their friendship from best friends to barely speaking. Now Franny is gone and Suzy is trying to cope.
The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor
Mason Buttle is an easy target for the school bully. He’s large for his age, sweats like a pig and has dyslexia. Even Lieutenant Baird finds it easy to blame Mason when his best friend dies in a fall from their treehouse. Fortunately, Mason has a family to envy, the best dog, and a knack for building forts.
Denis Ever After by Tony Abbott
Denis died under dark circumstances when he was 7-years-old. He’s in the afterlife, 5 years later, trying to move on to eternal peace. He can’t until his family lets go. Now his twin brother Matt has uncovered a police report and all his grief is resurfacing. Denis’ ghost returns to help his family retrace the events leading up to his death so they can have closure. Emotionally intense.
The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish
Ethan is still struggling with the death of his best friend Kacey. He blames himself because he was the one who dared her to climb the tree. His parents think a change of scenery will help, so they move in with his grumpy grandfather in Georgia. Ethan finds a new friend in Coralee, who has her own issues. Moral: Hiding the hurt only makes it stay and fester.
Fadeaway by M. E. Stokes
Sam and Regan are more than a force to be reckoned with on the basketball court. They are best friends. When Regan unexpectedly dies from heart failure on the court, Sam is devastated. She can’t focus on school. She doesn’t want to play basketball anymore. Then Reagan’s ghost shows up to give her the push she needs to get back in life.
Distance to Home by Jenn Bishop
Quinnen considers her older sister to be her best friend. Now she has a boyfriend and things are changing. She’s not the sister she used to be and Quinnen lets her know it. Then Haley unexpectedly dies and Quinnen is devastated. She can’t play baseball anymore because her sister isn’t there to watch. Chapters alternate between the summer before her death and the summer after.
Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes
Before she dies in a car accident, Olive writes in her journal that Martha is the nicest girl in her class. When Olive’s mother gives the page to Martha, she must come to terms with the fact that a girl she barely knew, obviously thought a lot of her. While on vacation at her grandmother’s, Martha thinks about Olive and with the help of her grandmother figures out what’s important in life.
The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richards Jacobson
When Lowen’s family wins a house for a dollar, they relocate and set about rehabbing the house and building a meat pie business. They struggle to make the business profitable to afford the house renovations. Meanwhile, Lowen draws comics to help him deal with the shooting death of his friend.
Summerlost by Ally Condie
Cedar’s father and autistic brother were killed in a car accident and she’s missing them. Her mother has just bought a summer home and Cedar meets the friend she needs to help her move on emotionally. Together they work at the summer Shakespeare theatre and become obsessed with the town’s legendary actress.