The first one is called "Running on the Roof of the World" by Jess Butterworth. It's about a girl named Tashi who lives with her parents in a small rural community in Tibet. Tibet is occupied by Chinese soldiers and life is difficult for Tibetan citizens. Tashi's dad is often mysterious about some of the things he's doing-he's a writer for the local newspaper, which is a bit of a misnomer, because the government gives him the stories to write. One day, things change. In the name of political protest, a man sets himself on fire. Tashi is horrified and when she talks with her parents about it, they agree that they must leave Tibet and go to India. This one is very fast paced, with all the urgency of someone fleeing. Lots of things happen to Tashi and some are good and some are not so good. It gives an excellent picture of why someone might feel the need to flee their home (as many are doing from all over the globe) and why that whole passageway can be fraught with peril. I think this is an excellent book for any upper elementary or middle school student. The fact that you could use this one as a teaching tool is an extra added bonus to the fact that it's really great story.
The second one is called "The Key to Everything" by Pat Schmatz. This one covers so many different social issues, its hard to know where to start. The story is a bit confusing at first. There are only three characters to start with-Kevin, Cap'n Jackie, and Tasha (and my apologies-I don't know how I ended up with two completely different stories where the main characters have virtually the same name). Tasha is the child, Kevin is her guardian and Cap'n Jackie is someone who loves them both. Tasha is very angry with both Kevin and Cap'n Jackie because they decided to send her to camp for the summer. Tasha seems to have some issues with anger control because they talk about her "ragers". Anyway, this story has a jailed parent with issues of substance abuse, families split over gender identity, families who come together out of luck or compassion, elder care, as well as basic friendship. It's a lot. But it's a compelling story and the kids at my school tend to like stories about sad things, and this one certainly fits that bill.