As a first-year eighth grade English teacher, my mind has been working nonstop to plan, to organize, to prepare. I've envisioned my first day of class activities for virtual and hybrid learning to foster community and trust, I've researched strategies to strengthen my students' vocabulary and reading comprehension skills, and I've been building a classroom library. This last task has been the most rewarding, humbling, and exciting project of the summer, and I've been overwhelmed with gratitude for all of the donations and suggestions that I've received. I've built a modest library of diverse books that I can't wait to share with my students, and I'm always searching for the next title to add to my wish list.
Finding books for eighth graders is deceptively difficult. They can view themselves as being too old for middle-grade novels, but they are just a little too young for some of the mature themes, language, and content that some YA titles have included. I've found great joy in revisiting my old YA favorites, but I've found even greater joy in discovering new titles that I and my students will love. The Blameless by E.S. Christison is my latest middle school recommendation, and I'm so grateful for Belle Isle Books (an imprint of Brandylane Publishers, Inc.) for gifting me with an eARC and asking me to be a part of their blog tour!
The Blameless has all of the components of a well-beloved middle school book: the pacing is perfectly balanced with dialogue, action, and suspense, the characters are funny, courageous, compassionate, and excellent role models, and the world-building is totally immersive. Readers will feel themselves transported into a realm where magic is possible in those with selfless hearts. These "Blameless" individuals are gifted with powers from the earth, air, and/or sun gods, and their varying powers are utterly enchanting for lack of a better word. Some Blameless can turn themselves invisible, some can conjure beautiful and useful objects to aid others, some can control the weather, some can create protective shields, and some powerful individuals can demonstrate many of these abilities. I love that each act of magic must be done for a selfless reason, but the novel is not preachy about virtue or compassion. Rather, the characters repeatedly demonstrate through their actions how acts both great and small can bring joy and solace to friends and strangers.
However, no story can exist without conflict, and The Blameless wastes no time launching into the central problem: thirteen-year-old Princess Briana is the only surviving royal in the rebellious overthrow of Alderstone. Saved by a loving and comical trio of loyal Blameless, Briana comes to discover that she has immense power within her. As she learns from the Blameless and is accepted into a large, supportive, and loving family unit, Briana's life becomes happier each day. That is until the dangers of rebellion threaten her throne yet again...
The novel can easily be read within the span of a day, and I appreciated that there were so many light moments focusing on the relationship between Briana and her newfound family. Through snowball fights, long afternoons drinking hot chocolate, and a series of playful training exercises, Briana is able to feel at home in her new surroundings. I love that the family she finds is an untraditional one consisting of a brother raising his five orphaned half-sisters with his new wife, a man disowned by his family, and two brothers who are as thick as thieves. The different dynamics that Briana has with each of her new "uncles" is touching, and it is completely heartwarming to see how each family member uniquely expresses their affection. In many books I would find that these fluffy moments detract from the plot, but I find that the opposite is the case here. The Blameless feels like a warm hug, your coziest sweater, your favorite blanket right out of the dryer. It is sinking into a bubble bath or eating a chocolate chip cookie minutes after it's finished baking. After reading a series of heavy books, this was exactly the story I needed.
For more information about The Blameless, please check out E.S. Christison's website .