This is a clever book. It looks like a regular novel-- same size, same heft, same sort of cover-- but on the inside, the font is about 14 point, with an inch and a half of white space on the side. There are cartoons illustrating various vocabulary words in some of this space. Right away, students will pick this up. Nothing kills interest faster than miniscule font.
As for the story: Derek is looking forward to a summer of highjinks, until his parents sign him up for Learning Camp, where he will have to read three books AND not go to Martha's Vineyard with his best friend. There is a mystery involved, spurred by an old newspaper article that Derek finds, and this comes perilously close to being "meaningful", but is saved by Derek's energy and humor. I was also a little concerned that Bodi the dog would die; I was sure it would happen before the end of the book, but Bodi survives! This is a great choice for students stuck in certain series and reluctant to move on, and once they read this, perhaps they can be enticed with The Gospel According to Larry, which I adore, and which has the same level of middle school appropriate, realistic goofiness going on.
Willner-Pardo, Gina. The Hard Kind of Promise.
Marjorie and Sarah have been friends for years, but when they hit 7th grade, Sarah starts to notice that Marjorie's quirks are not only causing others to make fun of Marjorie-- her "weirdness" is rubbing off, and Sarah hears herself refered to as a "loser". The two girls start to develop interests and friends of their own, and grow further apart. Even though they clearly miss each other, they come to realize the inevitability of not being best friends forever. This rings true on so many levels, and middle school girls will certainly relate to it. Since I was Marjorie in middle school, I told my own girls that it was a good bet they would lose at least one good friend in middle school, which is why I enjoyed this line "Maybe it's [losing a friend] just supposed to happen. Like getting taller," Marjorie said. "Only no one told us."
This lost a little steam for me when Sarah takes off for a protracted choir trip, and I find it hard to believe that there is anywhere in the US where middle schools still have Cotillion style dance lessons, but it is still a strong book.
Benway, Robin. The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May and June.File this one under the inexplicable difference between middle school and high school books. It sounded really good-- "Sisters April, May, and June, dealing with their parents' divorce and a move to a new town, recover special powers they had in childhood to help them through a difficult year, but when April, who can see the future, has a vision of disaster, the girls must somehow save the day."-- but I just couldn't get into it. The print is tiny, and the tone was more introspective. When I read the reviews more closely today, the book is billed as grades 9-12, and "Mature elements include teen drinking, drug use, impaired driving and casual sex." Just as well it had that teen vibe going for it.