You Go First (hardcover)
by Erin Entrada Kelly
You Go First is told from multiple perspectives. Charlotte is a middle school girl with a best friend who suddenly turns on her for no reason, leaving Charlotte lonely, confused, and deeply hurt by her betrayal. To top it off, her dad just had a heart attack, and she is worried about him. Ben is also in middle school, and he is bullied by “cool” kids because he is geeky and awkward, but he doesn’t report the offenses to anyone else, and continues to strive for a position on student council. His parents are in the middle of an amicable divorce, but he is angry and confused by it all. He, too, is lonely. Charlotte and Ben play Scrabble online together and occasionally talk on the phone, but never relay their troubles in an honest way, though both are struggling with similar situations. They are both struggling with very relatable middle school issues while searching for who they really are inside.
What I liked about this book is how relatable it is. I love the way she writes… as if she were just in middle school herself, but can see things much clearer now. I remember feeling left out, hurt by friends, wishing to start over each year and create a new identity… it brings back these feelings for me as an adult, and I can guarantee most students will be able to relate to these two characters because of the way she describes them and their situations so vividly.
What I didn’t like about this book was that the bullies never got their punishment. But do they ever, in real life? I can guarantee the girls who tortured me in sixth grade don’t remember my name, and I’m sure they didn’t get any sort of retribution for the names they called me, or the tears I cried because of what they said and did to me. The fact that they weren’t called out just adds to the relatability of the story.
Book 16 of 20 (summer goal)
(Book 62 of 2018)
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl (ebook)
by Stacy McAnulty
I didn’t know anything aboutThe Miscalculations of Lightning Girl other than people were talking about it all over Twitter, so I decided to read it, in case it’s a Newbery contender. Lightning Girl is Lucy, a seventh grader who was struck by lightning when she was 8. The strike damaged her brain, making her a savant when it comes to numbers and calculations, as well as giving her a form of OCD that causes her to do “odd” things like sit stand sit stand sit each time she tries to sit down in class or the car and recite the numbers of pi when she’d stressed. Lucy is sent to public school, despite already completing high school online, and she becomes unlikely friends with a go-getter named Windy and an outcast named Levi. They join together on a community service project and learn the meaning of friendship and trust.
What I liked about this book was the voice that the author gave Lucy. I feel like Lucy was coming from somewhere the author has experience, whether it is OCD or math. Even if the reader cannot relate to either issue, he or she can certainly relate to the characters’ struggles with middle school relationships and finding your place. I don’t know anyone who didn’t get picked on by a bully or popular kid, feel uncomfortable in social situations at least once, or struggle with wanting to be normal or average. My students will certainly be able to relate to an aspect of this story.
What I didn’t like about this story was that we didn’t find out what Lucy’s choice was in the end, school-wise. I’m okay with that, and I think the reader can make his or her decision.
Book 14 of 20 (summer goal)
(Book 60 of 2018)
All’s Faire in Middle School
by Victoria Jamieson
All’s Faire in Middle School is the story of Imogene’s journey through the first few months of middle school. Remember when you first started middle school and you didn’t know who you were yet? I personally remember buying clothes and shoes that looked like everyone else’s, and being embarrassed of my family, although they weren’t any better or worse than my friends’ families. I knew who the popular kids were and aspired to be friends with them, and looked down on the awkward ones. These are the struggles that Impy faces when she starts Middle School after being homeschooled for all of elementary. Impy’s parents aren’t rich, and they aren’t like her friends’ parents in that they are a part of the local annual Renaissance Faire. Although Impy loves being part of the Faire, she isn’t sure if being herself is the right thing to do. She finds herself hurting people she cares about and making a fool of herself to impress people she doesn’t really care about in the first place, and she has to find her way out of this very relatable situation without making everything worse.
What I liked about this book is that it’s very relatable. It’s been awhile, but I can remember the sting of being embarrassed in middle school when what other people thought was the most important thing. I remember my parents offering to buy me running shoes when I joined the cross country team, but I wouldn’t let them, because the running shoes were neon and ugly, and I only wanted the suede shoes with the star on the side (Converse). I left the shoe store disappointed. In this graphic novel (that is perfect for my sixth graders, by the way), Impy makes some choices that she has to live with, and that is a very important thing to expose sixth graders to.
What I didn’t like about this book was the angst I felt. Regardless of the choices Impy made, not everything was her fault, and that irritated me the way it would irritate a middle schooler. There was a situation where Impy faced consequences when others at fault were not caught! Ugh- the frustration of being a tween came back to me. That is a sign of good writing if it can bring out those emotions after so many years!
Book 34 of 40
P.S. This is book 82 of 2017! But who’s counting?
Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life (hardcover)
by Rachel Renee Russell
The Dork Diary author, Nikki Maxwell, is a middle school girl living a not-so-fabulous life, including bullies, an annoying little sister, and embarrassing parents. She keeps a diary to document everything in her life. In this first book (of a 12 book series, I think?), Nikki is being bullied by the most popular girl at school, who is rich and beautiful and blatantly mean. Nikki thinks a lot of things in her head, but doesn’t say any of them out loud, much like I think a lot of us with self-control do. I could relate to her wanting to tell people off or say what she was thinking, but instead, keeping her mouth shut. Nikki ends up making friends with two girls who support her and come through for her at the end when the bullying takes a turn for the worst and Nikki doesn’t want to come to school.
What I liked about this book is that is has my kids reading. That is always a plus! They are fun and engaging, entertaining and positive. I bought them at the request of my students, and I got a good deal on them used from Thriftbooks, my go-to for used books. I’m not sure how good a deal they were, but $3.75 for a used $12 book is good enough for me! They won’t stay on my shelf now. My biggest readers? My boys. Maybe they will take the information and it will come in handy when they have crushes on girls next year in seventh grade.
What I didn’t like about this book is I expected it to be more similar to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but the Wimpy Kid books are awesome and clever and I loved them, and the Dork Diaries were just okay. That kind of bummed me out, but I also had unrealistic expectations. This series is clever and entertaining, but not for me, which is totally fine, because kids are reading!
Book 23 of 40
by Svetlana Chmakova
Brave is about a seventh grade boy named Jensen who is an easy target for bullies- he’s overweight, he doesn’t have many close friends, he struggles in school, his mom is busy, he daydreams often, etc. He thinks he’s a part of the Art Club, but his “friends” forget to include him in group texts and projects. He is friends with several from the newspaper, but they really just ask him to do little projects FOR them. He is forced to do a group project, and doesn’t have a partner, until a jock volunteers to work with him, and eventually protects him from bullies. There are a few blatantly mean boys who pick on Jensen, and these are the boys the reader wants to squish between the pages. Jensen has to learn about standing up for himself, and what it means to be a real friend.
What I liked about this book is the message. I’m a sucker for a book with a good moral. Jensen has so douchey people in his life, but he also has some that are kind and strong and teach him to stand up for himself. They are willing to be role models and help him make good choices for himself. I think seeing a situation with obvious examples of bullying (like Yanic) and less-obvious examples (like most of the Art Club) is good for students who are unclear.
What I didn’t like about this book isn’t something I didn’t like, exactly, but something that was upsetting when applied to students. In the beginning, the book was kind of boring. I was getting annoyed that it was just about this wussy kid who let others walk all over him. It bothered me that Jensen didn’t realize he was being bullied. He accepted his treatment as normal, or just the way people are treated. The turning point for me was when his newspaper friends gave him the survey and he started to realize that it was bullying. Exclusion is a subtle example of bullying, but often more painful than being pushed around. Loneliness is why people hurt themselves. I would really like to see this in the hands of my students, bullies and victims alike.
Book 20 of 40
Wolf Hollow (audiobook)
by Lauren Wolk
AR Level 4.9, 9 points
Wolf Hollow is the second book I’ve read by Lauren Wolk, although I liked Beyond the Bright Sea better. Both are mysteries, but this one seemed to have less action. It follows Annabelle, an almost 12 year old girl living in a farming town during World War II. Annabelle is an average girl, but is full of grit and compassion, except for when it comes to Betty, the school bully. Betty is relentless when it comes to bullying Annabelle and her brothers, but when she throws a rock that hits Annabelle’s friend in the eye (causing her to lose the eye), Annabelle can’t stay quiet, especially when Betty blames a local strange homeless man, Toby. Toby soon has to go into hiding when Betty goes missing, but Annabelle is certain Toby didn’t take Betty. She has to prove Toby’s innocence while protecting him from being found.
What I liked about this book was that it got me emotionally involved. First of all, I really had a lot of questions that needed to be answered. I needed to know where Betty was, and I was anxious to find out what would happen with Toby. I had to see this story through to the end, even if there were slow parts.
What I didn’t like about this book was how many slow parts there were. Oh my goodness… If I had been reading and not listening to the audiobook, I might have put this book down. While it is really well-written and a great example of small moments, it is like an Oscar movie, where I can see why it won an award (Newbery Honor), but it didn’t keep me entertained. It was almost artsy.
Book 18 of summer 2017!
by Gordon Korman
AR Level 5.1, 9 points
Imagine coming out of a coma and learning you were the most hated, feared, and worshipped person at school. Chase Ambrose fell off a roof, and when he woke up, he’s horrified to learn that he, the star quarterback, used to beat people up, break the law, steal, tease, and it got so bad, one kid even moved to a boarding school. Chase, who had a serious head injury, now wants to change his life. He enjoys spending time with the elderly in a retirement home, and makes friends with an old war hero. He joins the video club, despite his former friends making fun of him and his new friends. Chase is put into several situations that prove while he has changed, he is still not perfect. He is, however, taking advantage of his second chance, as though he has gotten a “restart” in life.
What I liked about this book was that it was told from multiple perspectives, but it didn’t repeat the same situations. For example, if something happened through Chase’s perspective, the story picked up from someone else’s POV after that situation. There was no overlap in narration. I, as an adult, felt for Chase’s character, so I’m sure that students will also be able to relate to either being bullied or the remorse of being the bully themselves. I think it has a good message.
What I didn’t like about this book was that his friends didn’t get what was coming to them. It bothered me that his friends were so awful, yet Chase kept his mouth shut and didn’t let them get what was coming to them. It was kind of hard to believe that 13 year olds could be that evil without getting themselves into more trouble that they did. Surely kids with that kind of record get caught. That may be my thinking as a teacher and an adult. I’m sure it’s more believable to child readers.
Book 16 of summer 2017!