The Top 10 Young Adult and Middle Grade Books to Read This Winter 

By Amani Salahudeen

January/February 2023

With daylight savings times happening, the days are shorter and the nights longer, which means it’s the perfect time of the year to read a good book. 

When it’s cold out, there’s nothing better than grabbing a fleece blanket and a good book. This winter there are so many options to pick from, both Young Adult (YA) and Middle Grade (MG) fiction and nonfiction books that can be read by anyone (for the age listed and above). 

I read each book listed below. They will appeal to different readers. Graphic novels are included for those who prefer them. 

As Long as The Lemon Trees Grow (Zoulfa Katouh)

This YA novel is about the situation in Syria after the ‘Arab Spring’ and the ensuing civil war. A young Muslima’s life is turned upside down by the war. The story depicts how life was before, during and after the war. When Salama’s sister-in-law Layla gets pregnant, Salama needs to make the difficult choice to leave Syria to keep everyone safe. 

This book, an eye-opening and compelling debut, is good for tenth graders and up.

Bhai for Now (Maleeha Siddiqui)

Pakistani-American Maleeha Siddiqui enjoys telling unapologetically Muslim stories for people of all ages. “Bhai for Now” is a Parent-Trap inspired MG book with twin boys Ashar and Shaheer. As Shaheer and his father are always on the go — the latter ends up working in many places — Shaheer stops believing he can find someplace to call home and just be in one place. 

Ashar and Shaheer are complete opposites. When they meet on Shaheer’s first day of school, the resemblance is astonishing. It doesn’t take them long to figure out that they’re twins, separated at birth. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to get to know the missing parent, even if it means switching places. This is a book about two long-lost brothers who hate each other but eventually acknowledge how much they need each other. The two boys’ personalities clash. 

Punching the Air (Ibi Zobi and Yusuf Salaam)

Told in novel verse, the authors tell the tale of sixteen-year-old Amal, an aspiring artist with a bright future — until he’s imprisoned for getting caught in a fight. The book highlights how the odds were always stacked against him and that he’s living in an unsympathetic and prejudiced world.  This is for ages 14-17 and above.

Queen of the Tiles (Hanna Alkaf)

Hanna Alkaf’s newest book is a mystery with a Scrabble competition featuring protagonist Najwa Bakri, a talented Muslim player determined to win this year’s annual championship. When her best friend Trina dies during a match, the death is presumed to be due to natural causes. But when Najwa returns for next year’s competition, she realizes there was more to it than she’d been led to believe. Moreover, if she can’t figure out what happened, she could be next! This fast-paced page turner will keep you up reading from the very beginning to the end. 

This book, set in Malaysia, is perfect for ages 14 and up. 

Love from Mecca to Medina by S.K. Ali

“Love from Mecca to Medina,” the sequel to the author’s “Love from A to Z,” follows the story of Adam and Zeyneb, a married couple. Adam is in Doha, making plans for Umrah and worried about where his next paycheck will come from, and Zeyneb is a stressed-out grad student living in Chicago. But then they are given a marriage gift: to attend Umrah together during Thanksgiving break. The trip, which is nothing like they expected it to be, will test their faith and marriage. Can they make it work? 

This book is ideal for ages 16 and up. 

Grounded (ed. Aisha Saeed)

This anthology contains contributions from Aisha Saeed, Jamilah Thompkins Bigelow, Huda Al-Marashi and S.K. Ali. After a thunderstorm strands Feek, Sami, Nora and Hanna at an airport, Hanna persuades the other three to help her find a lost cat. This is a zany middle grade adventure with a group of Muslim characters. I loved its family dynamics. 

This book, which comes out on May 9, 2023, could be the perfect Eid gift for young children or teachers to add to their classroom libraries.

Ayesha Dean: The Istanbul Intrigue (Melati Lum)

Ayesha Dean is perfect for Nancy Drew fans. During a trip to Istanbul with friends, Ayesha uncovers a note about a treasure that has been missing for years. Unfortunately, she isn’t the only one looking for it. Even worse, her vacation is about to get more dangerous than she had anticipated. 

This is for ages 10-13 and up. It was recently announced that this book, one of the first I’ve read set in Turkiye, will be adapted into a manga publication.

Huda F Are You (Huda Fahmy)

This graphic novel was written and illustrated by Huda Fahmy, known as @yesimhotinthis on Instagram. She tells the story of how after Huda and her family move to Dearborn, Mich., Huda realizes she’s not the only Muslim at school anymore — a realization that causes an existential crisis. This graphic novel is a hilarious exploration of self-discovery and what it means to be a Muslim. 

“Huda F Are You” is perfect for high school students and up.

You Truly Assumed (Laila Sabreen)

Sabreen’s debut novel follows three African American Muslimas as they make a digital space for others and break common stereotypes on their online You Truly Assumed blog. This is a heartbreaking and eye-opening book. When one of the girls is threatened, they have a hard call to make: shut down the blog they’ve worked so hard on, or stand up for what they believe in, even if it means endangering themselves.

“You Truly Assumed” is for ages 13 and up. 

Squire (Sara Alfageeh and Nadia Shammas)

This graphic novel, set in the Ottoman Empire, follows Aliza, a young girl who has an epiphany: Battlefield glory is not as glamorous as she thought it would be. It’s also a story about creating a home with strangers who eventually become a close-knit family to her. 

This novel, which also includes bonus scenes, is perfect for middle and high school students. 

Amani Salahudeen (BA, The College of New Jersey, ‘20) is pursuing a master’s degree in education from Western Governors University.

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