by Afoma Umesi
It’s easy to pretend that children’s books should be free of hard themes like mental illness, suicide, and substance abuse. However, real life begs to differ. Many kids are grappling with these tough issues every single day. Thankfully, middle grade is catching up quickly. These middle grade books about addiction and alcoholism are honest, realistic, and yet sensitive enough that they don’t horrify children who read them. They create empathy and make kids whose families have been impacted feel seen and understood.
Life in the Balance
Jen Petro-Roy’s book about 12-year-old Veronica whose mom has to go to rehab for alcoholism will resonate with all readers. Veronica’s complex emotions about her mom and her dwindling interest in softball, their family sport, make this an engaging read.
Bringing Me Back
In this novel by Beth Vrabel, Noah is dealing with being separated from his mother, who has been imprisoned for driving under the influence of alcohol. Noah’s stepfather becomes his guardian for the period and things get even worse when Noah is caught shoplifting. This book handles several tough issues and still makes room for plenty of heart.
Where We Used to Roam
When Emma’s teen brother, Austin begins misusing opioids, her parents send her off to a family friend in Wyoming as Austin goes to rehab. This novel is unflinching in its depiction of dealing with addiction in the family as well as friendship issues in middle school.
Genesis Begins Again
Genesis has a lot on her plate. First off, she does not like the color of her skin. Second, her parents can’t seem to find a place to live long-term, and on top of that, her dad is addicted to gambling (with their rent money). When they finally find a place where Genesis enjoys her schoolmates and teachers, everything begins to fall apart again.
The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade
Maverick’s mom has issues with alcohol and cannot seem to hold down a job. Her current boyfriend is also abusive. Between such an unstable home condition and bullies at school, Maverick tries to cope by being a hero to others who need the help. He even carries along the plastic Sheriff’s badge his late father gave him as a present. When things get tough, Maverick finds that community can make a difference. No one does serious and funny like Sonnenblick.
Sunny Side Up
It’s 1976 and Sunny Lewis’s parents have shipped her off to the retirement community in Florida where her grandpa lives. While she does make a new friend as she adjusts to living with old folks, readers and Sunny quickly learn about Sunny’s older brother Dale and his issues with substance abuse aka the reason why Sunny had to go away. This graphic novel is perfect for lovers of this format.
Violets are Blue
Barbara Dee’s forthcoming middle grade book features 12-year-old Wren whose parents are divorced. Wren loves special effects makeup and is hoping for a fresh start when she and her mom move to a new town. But things go awry when her mom starts napping a lot and having trouble at the hospital where she works.
Sure Signs of Crazy
Sarah Nelson’s mother tried to drown her when she was only two, because of her mental illness. Now Sarah lives with her dad alone, but sometimes he drinks too much. This middle grade book will make your heart ache, but also, few characters will tug at your heartstrings like Sarah will.
The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins
Another historical novel by the late Gail Shepherd, this one is about Lyndie, a history aficionado whose dad hasn’t been the same since he returned from the Vietnam war. Her dad is drinking more than usual and Lyndie’s grandmother is not pleased. Thankfully, Lyndie soon finds a mystery to keep her occupied as her family finds a way to heal.
Mostly the Honest Truth
When Jane’s dad goes back to rehab, she is sent to temporary foster care and begins living in a community called the Three Boulders. Jane is sure that this will be a super short stint, but life doesn’t quite go as she plans.
The Mending Summer
Georgia’s summer isn’t going as planned. Her mom is too busy studying for her biology degree and her dad is struggling with alcoholism. But when Georgia is sent off to live with a mysterious great aunt, things take an interesting turn. There, along with a new friend, she discovers an enchanted lake that seems to help at first, until things begin to spiral out of control.
Across the Desert
Dusti Bowling’s forthcoming middle grade title centers young Jolene who finds comfort in the library and chatting online with a tween airplane pilot, Addie Earhart. At home, her mother is grappling with an addiction to narcotics. But when Addie’s plane crashes over the desert, it’s up to Jolene to go on a rescue mission.