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Just South of Home

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  354 ratings  ·  107 reviews
Cousins Sarah and Janie unearth a tragic event in their small Southern town’s history in this witty middle grade debut novel that’s perfect for fans of Stella by Starlight, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, and As Brave as You.

Twelve-year old Sarah is finally in charge. At last, she can spend her summer months reading her favorite science books and bossing around her younger b
Published May 7th 2019 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
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Karen Strong Middle-grade is my first love as a writer. I love that characters are just trying to figure out who they are separate from their families. These kids …moreMiddle-grade is my first love as a writer. I love that characters are just trying to figure out who they are separate from their families. These kids are striving to see what they want to believe and how they want to be seen in their new, widening world. For Sarah in JUST SOUTH OF HOME, she is starting that journey.(less)

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Average rating 4.15  · 
Rating details
 ·  354 ratings  ·  107 reviews

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Rachel Reads Ravenously
I think this book is everything a middle grade novel should be. A story filled with family, friendship, compassion and history. I love that the main character was a girl who loved science. I also think this book presented what is a tough subject in a gentle but truthful manner. Only criticism (and why 4 not 5 stars) is some editing issues, at one point a character was addressed by the wrong name and it was confusing. Also the same information was presented as new information a couple times.
Full of heart and hope, this is a must read for anyone who loves stories about family. I also loved the theme of remembering the past because it shapes our future.
Remy Lai
Mar 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What a great book!

Sarah's cousin Janie has come over to stay. They stumble into an old church and cemetery, and Janie "steals" a cameo, causing a haint to follow them. What follows is a perfect balance of realism and the supernatural.

What I love most is the relationship between Sarah and Janie. While the cousins do not get along at first, they start to discover they have more in common than they thought. I also love the complex relationship between Sarah's mom and grandma.
Ms. Woc Reader
Nov 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In Just South of Home, Sarah is finally old enough to stay home by herself with her little brother Ellis during the day instead of spending the summer at her grandmother's house doing chores. However cousin Janie is threatening to ruin that when she joins the family for the summer while her mother runs to California for auditions. Janie is bored of their small Southern town and decides they should visit the remains of a church that was burned down by The Klan. The site is known for being cursed ...more
Stephanie Fitzgerald
Jan 19, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Middle-grade readers
I must agree with one of my favorite Goodreads reviewers about this one. It would have been a much better read if the ghosts had been left out. I enjoyed the coming-of-age parts, the portrayal of strong family bonds, and the historical aspects. Had the “ haints” not been included, I probably would have given this a four or maybe five-star rating.

Memorable Quotes:
(Pg.41)-“Warrenville was somewhere I belonged. I liked the way everyone knew my name and family. You always felt like you were home .”
Joshua Levy
May 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed JUST SOUTH OF HOME--the characters at the heart of the story are so lovable and so compelling. And as someone who really enjoyed spooky stories as a kid, JUST SOUTH OF HOME hits all the right notes. Kid'll love it! (Grown-ups too.) ...more
Shaye Miller
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
Just South of Home is a very suspenseful middle grade novel that explores the racist history of the South. Astronomy-loving Sarah Greene, her brother Ellis, and Ellis’ best friend Jasper all live in Werrenville, Georgia. When they suddenly receive news that their difficult cousin, Janie, will be coming down from Chicago to stay with them (while her mother auditions for a film in Hollywood), they aren’t excited in the least. Janie hates their town and wants nothing to do with her cousins. Meanwhi ...more
Kristin Crouch
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Just South of Home is the best of a child's summer: family, friends, mystery, and adventure!
Responsible Sarah is finally old enough to be in charge of her little brother, Ellis, for the summer. This means that instead of toiling away under the hot sun following her emotionally distant grandmother's orders, she can read all the books she dreams of! What Sarah didn't plan on was her cousin, Janie, being included in these plans. Janie dislikes Sarah's country life, and misses both her mom and the
Dec 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, kids
Beautifully written and perfectly paced, JUST SOUTH OF HOME will keep you turning the pages as you fall in love with the characters. These characters! Sarah, the main character, is a terrific kid. Janie, her cousin is struggling—but at the same time you feel for her and are rooting for her. But Sarah’s little brother is my favorite—he’s adorable! And their grandmother is unforgettable, I can absolutely hear her voice in my head. I don’t want to give away the plot but I will just say GHOST story, ...more
Laura Gardner
Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟/5 for JUST SOUTH OF HOME, a debut novel by @karenmusings (#KarenStrong); thanks to @simonkids and YSBRMA blog for sharing this; will share with #kidlitexchange next!
"...we can't change the past, but we need to remember it. We need to acknowledge it and not hide it." This debut middle grade novel about coming to terms our racist past is a must-buy for every elementary and middle school library! I sped through this book in one day and simply loved it.
Sarah, a Black pre-teen in rura
Quiet, gentle story about belonging, family, and old traumas. Very internal— very soft, for something about the scars left by lynching. A great introduction to the history (for those who wouldn't know), and about healing (for those who would know). The ending kinda wraps everything up very fast, but still an excellent Middle Grade.

(And the transition from enemies-cousins to ride-or-die family who have each other's backs was SO satisfying.)
Emily Polson
Tis the season for middle grade books about ghosts!! This one is set in Georgia and features haints, root magic, and the unresolved murders of Black people at the hands of white supremacists. May sound heavy for the target audience, but Strong manages these topics with age appropriate care, without sidestepping the harsh realities of American history.
Ms. Yingling
Feb 27, 2019 rated it liked it
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sarah is thrilled that she and her brother Ellis are going to be allowed to stay home by themselves over the summer, rather than spend time with their uptight and controlling grandmother, Mrs. Greene. Sarah loves space, and has a research project planned, while the younger Ellis plans on constructing model cars. When their cousin Janie's mother wants to go to Hollywood and leave Janie with Sarah's family, Sarah struggles to make the best of the situation, especial
Sep 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is such a well written, wonderful book. I love the themes of family, friendship, redemption, healing, and second chances. Middle grade readers will love to shiver at the creepy 'haints' that haunt this story but also really relate to the trials and tribulations of navigating family and friendships. More importantly, the story doesn't shy away from the racist history of the Klu Klux Klan and the way in which whole communities were terrorized. And yet the story is still subtle and age-appropr ...more
Kristin Thorsness
Dec 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Karen Strong’s middle grade debut opens with red velvet cake, and it just gets better from there. JUST SOUTH OF HOME is an absolute delight. I fell in love with the spunky cast of characters right away and found myself both laughing and crying as I moved through the story with Sarah, Janie, Ellis, Jasper, and yes, even Mrs. Green. Without giving any spoilers, I’ll say the expertly woven plot has something for everyone: fractured friendships, tense family relationships, late night adventure, secr ...more
Shauna Holyoak
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I love everything about this book, especially the spunky, true-to-life characters. This perfectly paced ghost story will draw in young readers as they learn about a town's dark history and the ability of resourceful and empowered kids to effect change. The strong and authentic voice is reminiscent of Jason Reynold's BRAVE AS YOU and Kate DiCamillo's BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE. Make room on your shelves, because this one is a keeper! ...more
Jen Vaughn
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A YA book that deftly handles a lot of challenges facing kids today (and many yesterdays) like racism, family responsibilities, small towns vs large cities. Great for kids and adults.
Jenna (Falling Letters)
May 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc, middle-grade, 2019
Review originally published 6 May 2019 at Falling Letters. I received a free copy from the publisher.

The last middle grade title I reviewed features Black kids in a small town and a speculative fiction plot; I called it “a fun summer read” (review of The Last Last-Day-of-Summer ). Those descriptors also apply to Just South of Home, but these two books are quite different from each. Sarah’s meant to supervise her younger brother and big city cousin over the summer when they find themselves ta
Jan 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Sarah is finally old enough to stay home during the summer instead of doing all the chores Mrs. Greene (aka Grandma) asks of her. All she wants to do is read and study science. But when her wild-child cousin ends up staying with them, she has to find a way to keep them all out of trouble so her free summer isn't revoked.

But when they stumble on a tragic secret that haunts the town and her very own family, trouble finds them.

Sarah is a strong, smart, likable mc. She isn't perfe
Sep 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
It’s summer in Georgia, and Sarah’s mother has agreed to let Sarah and her little brother stay home alone, rather than suffer the tortures of their strict, chore-crazy grandmother, aka Mrs. Greene. All seems well, till their uppity city cousin arrives. Janie has a nose for trouble, and before long she’s drawn Sarah into scary, forbidden territory: old Creek Church, the scene of past racial atrocities. They unsettle restless haints, which pursue them all the way home. Sarah believes in science, n ...more
Aug 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
A truly exceptional book with amazing twists and turns that I loved! It is a superb book and I would love a sequel to it, in fact one of my deepest desires since a finished this book is to have a sequel to it.💟
Thistle & Verse
Ghost story with supernatural elements. Contradictions of family- loving them when they're difficult and that they may be difficult for a reason. Fake friends. Historical memory. ...more
Mar 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite 2018 reads was THE PARKER INHERITANCE by Varian Johnson. If you, too, were a fan of the way he wove together the past and present, the heavy and the light-hearted, into a fascinating and compelling historical mystery—boy, have I got the book for you!

I first "met" Karen Strong when we both entered #dvpit in spring 2016. I was immediately drawn in by the pitch for her spooky middle grade mystery, and I've been impatient to get my hands on JUST SOUTH OF HOME ever since it sold! I
Josephine Sorrell
Nov 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: newbery-2020

Twelve-year-old Sarah Greene Is all about moon, stars and the planets. And aspires to be an acrobiologist. Cousin Janie from Chicago is all about movie stars and mansions. Janie is 11 and is a thief!

She is staying with her family in their small, country town of Warrenville, Georgia, for the summer and continuously uses her “five-finger discount” whenever she wants.

Janie is also a meddler and one day disturbs the town’s haints, restless spirits with unresolved business on this spiritual plane,
Cindy Mitchell *Kiss the Book*
Just South of Home by Karen Strong, 310 pages. Simon and Schuster, 2019. $18.

Content: PG (ghosts and spirits)



Sarah, 12, has her summer plans upset when her Aunt Gina gets a small part in a movie and will spend most of the summer in Paris. It was bad enough that Sarah put up with her cousin Jane for two weeks, but now – even longer? Jane has a talent for getting in trouble – shoplifting, encouraging Sarah’s little brother Ellis to do dangerou
Mar 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved everything about JUST SOUTH OF HOME—most of all how it embraces the importance of family, friends, and having a community. At the start of the story, Sarah is trying to understand the distance her best friend has placed between them at the same time she (not so excitedly) welcomes her cousin for the summer. The exploration of these friendships (and Sarah’s relationship with her wonderful, hilarious, loveable brother Ellis) alongside their discovery of the ghosts of Warrenville, weave tog ...more
May 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Love middle-grade mystery, plus some spookiness? Come on down to Warrenville. Sit a spell and enjoy this fabulous tale of how some adventurous kids face their own fears and unearth some long-held community secrets to help the ghost of a child who was tragically killed many years ago. Karen Strong deftly weaves in themes that are timely and relevant to middle-grade readers: changing friendships, power of families, importance of history, the many kinds of prejudice, and even how to balance doing w ...more
Sep 13, 2019 rated it liked it
This book started well but then lost steam. It will be a tough book to sell to the students in my school because it classifies as a scary book but it isn't scary enough to capture readers who are after a scary ghost story. There is a lot of focus on family and friendships and the 'big reveals' fall a bit flat. It is nice to have a book with a diverse cast of characters, but it is not one that will fly off the shelf at my library. ...more
Rajani LaRocca
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A spooky southern story about Sarah, a smart 12-year-old, her hilarious little brother Ellis, their annoying cousin Janie, and mysterious happenings in their little town. Full of humor, heart, and chills, this story will appeal to young readers who like ghost stories and family stories. A fun read!
Jul 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mg-books
Do you like a bit of creepiness in your reading? Then you should pick up JUST SOUTH OF HOME by Karen Strong. I loved the characters & the setting. The adventure & suspense had me reading non-stop. Excited to share with students who are always looking for a fright!
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Karen Strong is the author of the critically acclaimed middle grade novel Just South of Home, which was selected for several Best of Year lists including Kirkus Reviews Best Books and the forthcoming Eden’s Everdark.

She is the editor of the young-adult anthology Cool. Awkward. Black. publishing in Spring 2023. Her short fiction appears in From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back and

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Dhonielle Clayton is a YA author, a 2018 Goodreads Choice Award nominee, and the chief operating officer of We Need Diverse Books, a...
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