I'm not a fan of CSI-type crime shows, but the Alane Ferguson forensic mysteries about Cameryn Mahoney are excellent. The Christopher Killer, Angel of Death, Circle of Blood, and now, The Dying Breath all kept me on the edge of my seat, and even though these are all fairly graphic in the descriptions of dead bodies during investigations and autopsies, they are done in a didactic and factual way that makes the books seem educational rather than gross. Cameryn certainly sees her work that way-- she wants to be a forensic investigator, so approaches the clues in a purposeful and driven way, even when she herself is in danger. Her former boyfriend and psychopathic serial killer, Kyle, is after her, and is responsible for three more deaths in the community. Accompanied by deputy Justin (who is more of a romantic interest, although the difference in their ages-- 4 years-- is addressed carefully), she manages to track down Kyle, solve the method of murders, and escape with her life. This feels like it might be the last in the series, but I hope it's not. The tone and organization of these novels makes them okay for middle school, but they are forensic mysteries. I also love Ms. Ferguson's Overkill and the National Park Mysteries. (Done with her mother, Gloria Skurzynski. Which is just cool!)
Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver have 16 books out in the Hank Zipzer series. They are slightly young for middle school, since Hank is in 4th grade at the beginning, but so fast-paced and somehow charming that they do work. Not necessarily plot-driven, they are more anedoctal, with Hank getting caught in snafu after snafu. In I Got a "D" in Salami, Hank has to bring home a report card with all D's, so when the card gets thrown into a grinder and made into a batch of salami, he doesn't mind-- until he finds out that the salami is headed to a business owner who is interested in giving his mother's deli a huge contract. He tries to save the day, with catastrophically humorous results. Hank's learning difficulties are addressed, and these books are at a good level for students who might be struggling with similar problems. It was hard for me to buy these, since they are written by Fonzie, but Winkler brings his directorial talents to these books-- they do move along like a movie.
I picked up Jennifer Brown's The Hate List, since I have seen such positive reviews of it, and while it was very intriguing, I don't think it is a book for middle school. It is very intense, but it is also told in a somewhat confusing fashion via flashbacks. Again, I've been struggling with what makes a book more generally appealing to middle schoolers, and while books like Myers' Shooter or Strasser's Give a Boy a Gun are popular, the combination of factors (length, style, language, philosophical bent) make this one more of a high school book.
Since this is an important and well-done novel about school shootings and bullying, here are some glowing reviews about the book:
School Library Journal
Life in the Thumb
Karin the Librarian