Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
While I don’t necessarily read a lot of middle grade books, I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed Breaking News by Frank Morelli! The book switches POVs between two main characters; Anthony Ravello and Liberty Lennon, middle school students at the Ridgewood Arts & Technical School, and journalists. The two seem to be enemies after $1,000 is stolen from a school fundraiser, and they are reporting the incident from separate newspapers, but as events unfold they might have to team up to capture the whole story.
So, I will be the first to admit that I rarely read middle grade books because I feel like I’m usually disappointed in one way or another, but very surprisingly, I adored Breaking News! First off, the entire book is told through newspaper articles, diary entries, and notes on an investigation. We never actually hear the story directly, which is a huge factor in this narrative. This book would be absolutely perfect to teach kids about biases in the news. As a reader, you realize that all the accounts you’re reading might be inaccurate, and you have to decide for yourself what is likely true, and what is a little deceptive.
In fact, the author explains in the acknowledgements that part of the inspiration for this story stems from the fact that we cannot rely on newspapers nowadays to report the truth. The truth is a huge theme throughout the book, and I appreciated the ways in which Morelli showed how it can be morphed, or just blatantly cast aside in favor of entertainment. Not only is this an important message for everyone in the world, but Morelli conveyed this message in a way that can be easily understood by a younger audience.
Finally, the most compelling aspect of the story was the characters! Both characters had a lot of depth, and Tony’s overall personality took me back to the days when I wrote for my middle school’s newspaper. Overall, they were simply fun and loveable.
Going back to what I said earlier, I almost always have issues with middle grade books, but Frank Morelli basically solved my biggest problem in two words: Liberty Lennon! So many middle grade books either don’t have female protagonists, or the female protagonists are portrayed as submissive, shy, nervous, blah, blah, blah. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are girls and women that have these attributes, in fact, most girls and women have at least some of them, but too many middle grade novels make the male protagonists something amazing to aspire to, and the female protagonists are like footnotes.
Liberty Lennon is the opposite! She is loud, boisterous, creative, demanding, outspoken, opinionated, determined, focused, and so many more positive attributes that are usually lost in female protagonists in middle grade books! Morelli did a wonderful job with her personality in general, and I think Liberty is the kind of girl that we should want young girls looking up to.
On top of that, Morelli also shows that Liberty sometimes has doubts, i.e. that she is human! I would say that Liberty can definitely be described as confident, but with all the crazy events going on in the novel, she ends up having doubts, but instead of this being seen as a character flaw inherent to Liberty, it is portrayed as part of life, and is experienced by both main characters.
Furthermore, I thought Liberty’s Dad and Grandpa Joe supported her in a way that didn’t take away from her value as a person and as a girl. They did not sweep in to save the day, they did not fix everything for her, but they were there and they believed in her. Young girls need to know this more than anything else; that when they fall down they have the strength to pick themselves up, but they aren’t alone.
As a whole, I was truly impressed by Breaking News by Frank Morelli! I hope he, and other middle grade authors, continue writing strong and empowered girls in their stories!