Every February, the students want books on drugs and child abuse, so I will read anything I can find. Very little of it is appropriate.
Allison Van Diepen's Street Pharm was oddly enthralling, and I would buy several copies in a heartbeat if it didn't drop the f-bomb right and left. Realistic, yes; appropriate for middle school; no. Tyrone is running his father's drug empire while his father is in jail. He has no patience for school, because it is not helpful to him in his business. He devotes a lot of time to working. He doesn't take drugs, he is careful about the people he hires, and he tries to make good decisions. He's a smart kid, and fairly successful in school when he goes, mainly to impress a girl. Soon, however, there are troubles with work, and he stops going to school to deal with these. I loved how Ty really thought he knew how to work the system, and how he thought that dealing drugs really was a successful way to make a living, until everything fell apart. I knew I wasn't going to buy this, but I couldn't put it down because of the suspense.
On the other hand, Louanne Johnson's Muchacho wasn't very interesting. It started out with excessive description of a teacher, and the juxtaposition of her very formal and erudite speech against Eddie's street vernacular was jarring. There was also something very didactic about the anecdotal chapters that was off-putting. If the language were cleaner, this would be one to consider, since Eddie is a "secret reader" and eventually comes to the conclusion that he should better himself, but I wasn't intrigued.
I have a weird ambivalence about Heather Vogel Frederick's The Mother-Daughter Book Club series. If you would like a review and plot summary, here are several good ones:
Books, Movies, Chinese Food
Kiss the Book
Mother Daughter Book Club
On the positive side, I think these are the absolute best covers I have ever seen. Even the spine view is pretty. The connection to classic books is great, and the portrayal of girls with diverse interests in a book club is intriguing. However, I don't really enjoy reading these. The chapters that alternate view points are slightly confusing, the depiction of the mothers is somehow flat and annoying, and so many things go on in the books that I get lost. Yet I buy them, and they circulate occasionally. This volume in particular has some interesting information on the Jean Webster, but perhaps the connection to the uber-creepy Daddy Long-Legs is what left a bad taste in my mouth. I really want to like these!