The first one is called "The Monster on the Road is Me" by J. P. Romney. It's about a 15 year old boy named Koda. He lived in a small town in Japan with his elderly parents who are shiitake mushroom farmers. Koda can not imagine a fate worse than being a mushroom farmer, but it looks like that's where he's headed. He loves video games, doesn't like school and he doesn't have many friends, mostly the kids at school pity him. Koda was diagnosed with narcolepsy awhile back and so his parents insist that he wear a helmet so when he rides his bike, if he falls asleep, at least his head will be protected. One day, a girl at Koda's school kills herself and Koda starts to think that, even though they weren't friends, she was trying to send him a message. At her funeral, he has a narcoleptic episode and meets a girl who looks a lot like the one who killed herself. The new girl, Moya, accuses Koda of being a thief and then asks him to go and steal a memory. There are more deaths but Koda starts to think that maybe he can stop them. What's great about this book is the characters and the dialogue. I laughed so hard at some of the dialogue that I had to put the book down and was then deeply dismayed that there wasn't anyone that I could share this with. What's difficult about this book is the amount of Japanese language (I have zero Japanese language skills and about the same amount of knowledge of Japanese culture) and Japanese cultural references. Some of it was an easy leap and some of it was hard. I'm not sure how many kids will be patient enough to keep reading when it starts to feel like you're guessing at the actual meaning of the words. I liked the characters and dialogue enough to keep going. The story itself seems to be based on a folk tale (and since I have no background knowledge of Japanese culture, it's only a guess) and parts of it are very scary and very creepy. I don't normally like that kind of a story, but I keep going back to parts of it and thinking about what it means and how funny parts of it were. I hope kids find this one as great as I did.
The second one is called "The Great American Whatever" by Tim Federle. Federle has written several middle grade novels, which I'm afraid I have not read. This one, FOR SURE, is YA. It's about Quinn who is struggling at a vortex of all the bad things that could happen to a kid. He's 17 (already difficult), his dad has left the family, he's gay and struggling to come out to his friends and family, and his older sister was killed in a car accident 6 months ago. Quinn is an aspiring screenwriter and part of the problem is that he and his sister would make movies together. Since she died, he can't quite put things together any more and is coming to believe that maybe she was the better part of this dynamic duo. His mother is also in deep despair and struggling to cope but his friends are trying to rally around him and pull him out of his depression. Quinn has a terrific voice and I loved hearing about his life, in spite of how depressing it was. There is a small amount of sex in this book so I'm not sure if it would work in school library (for sure not my elementary school library) but it's really a great story about growing up. This one would also be a great one for kids who love films because Quinn talks a lot about different films and why they are great so that could be a terrific topic of debate. I thought this one was really good. Here's a video of Tim talking about the book.