Maybe our teachers do an outstanding job teaching this title, but it is a perennial favorite. I had a student once who didn't want to read anything else. I've spent a lot of time analyzing what students are wanting, and last night I came to the conclusion that it's not gangs so much as the camaraderie that is exhibited by the gangs.
This is why Charles R. Smith's Chameleon will be one that students will like. Shawn is growing up under somewhat difficult circumstances-- his mother is working and in school, his parents are divorced, his neighborhood is not great, and he is "babysat" by a depressed, alcoholic aunt who frequently is embarrassingly drunk. Still, he has friends who try hard to stay out of trouble (they check themselves for gang colors before going to play basketball) and with whom he has some great times. He has parents who encourage him academically and ask questions when he seems to be out of line. Shawn's biggest concerns are whether or not to go live with his dad, leaving his friends but going to a better school; avoiding gang related fights (not always successfully); and surviving puberty. There is some frank discussion of health issues, but since they are handled in an informative way, I think this is appropriate for middle school students. This is a somewhat long book (377 pages), but I think that this one will be popular. The cover is especially attractive and reminscent of some 1960s art.
An example of a book that did not quite work for this topic was Stork's Behind the Eyes. I liked the story of a boy sent to a reform school to protect him from a gang after his brother's death, but it was lacking the feeling of a group helping young people making their way against difficult circumstances. The family is absent, the school is bleak, and the feeling of support was not the main focus of this story.