Book review: Middle Grade fantasy books with strong girls

Here’s part II of my new series reviewing speculative fiction books for kids that feature strong female characters. Last week, I introduced books for younger middle grade readers (ages 8-10). This week, it’s all about the tweens. Check back; I plan to update this list regularly, particularly with more culturally diverse authors and protagonists.

Middle Grade Ages 10-12

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

This Newbery-medal winning novel blew me away. This exciting adventure begins with a village, shrouded in despair, that must leave its youngest baby in the forest for a witch in order to ensure another year of survival. Of course, one mother does not give her child willingly, setting off a chain of events within the village. When we meet the witch, and the baby she collects, delightful surprises involving moon-magic, a tiny dragon, and a poetic swamp monster propel events toward an inevitable reunion/conflict between the village and those who would try to control its people.

The language, the surprising plot, and the engaging characters entranced me. I loved the witch who is considered a healer in one town and evil in another; the village elder with the vicious heart of a tiger; the apprentice witch who doesn’t know her own power; and the gentle, creative male “hero” who is rescued by the women that form the core of this story.

Subtly subversive, beautifully written, and deeply engaging–I cried!–this is an amazing book. It does have elements that sensitive readers might find disturbing (the willingness to sacrifice babies, and the gentle death of a beloved character). But I would recommend this book highly for kids and adults.