Gephart, Donna. How to Survive Middle School.
This realistic fiction title is worth buying for the cover alone, but it is also a rare story of a BOY having problems fitting in to middle school and arguing with friends. There's plenty of gross moments (the number of bacteria in an armpit) to keep the boys reading this tale of David's troubled entry into middle school, complete with dress code violations, food fights, and the fact that his mother has left his father to live on a farm in Maine. The viral video of Hammy the Hamster and David's subsequent local notoriety stretch credibility a bit, but this will be enjoyed by younger students. All in all, a good read, and a GREAT cover.
Ingold, Jeannette. Paper Daughter.
I love this author's Hitch, and she clearly excels at historical fiction. This book goes back and forth between a young Chinese immigrant in the 1930s, and the modern day story of a high school journalist whose father is killed in a drive-by accident. The story of the young immigrant, who comes with his sister on forged papers, is riveting, and could easily have held the story on its own. The mystery surrounding the father's death adds too much information to an already full story, and there are some questions that remain unanswered. I liked this book, and will probably buy it for the information about the Chinese Exclusion Act, but I would have liked it better if it had been set firmly in the 1930s.
Hoxter, Holly Nicole. The Snowball Effect.
This was a good example of a book more suited to high school: "Having lost her stepfather, grandmother, and mother in the span of a year, seventeen-year-old Lainey unexpectedly reconnects with long-lost relatives, copes with her brother's behavioral problems, and endangers her long-term romance when drawn to a young man with an unexpected connection to her mother." The mother's death is a suicide, and the story is very sad in an introspective way that may not resonate with my students.
Saenz, Benjamin Alire. Last Night I Sang to the Monster.
Always on the lookout for drug/alcohol/gang books, and they are so rarely appropriate. " Eighteen-year-old Zach does not remember how he came to be in a treatment center for alcoholics, but through therapy and caring friends, his amnesia fades and he learns to face his past while working toward a better future." This is another lyrical, introspective book; however, my students who want to read about such topics are looking for spare prose and a little more action.
Dowell, Frances O'Roark. Falling In.
I'm a big fan of this author's realistic fiction (The Secret Language of Girls, the Phineas L. MacGuire books, Where I'd Like to Be), but this fantasy book didn't quite do it for me ("Middle-schooler Isabelle Bean follows a mouse's squeak into a closet and falls into a parallel universe where the children believe she is the witch they have feared for years, finally come to devour them.") It had an odd tone to it that I disliked-- a smirky, overpresent narrator that was distracting to me. Isabelle was also a quirky character whom I wanted to smack. I think that this title might be more successful with younger students-- it wasn't bad, I just couldn't think of any particular students who would want this. (Maybe readers of Buckley's Fairy Tale Detectives?)