Leavitt, Lindsey. Sean Griswold's Head.
Payton's world has been turned upside down-- not only by her father's diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, but by the fact that her family hid this fact from her. She's seeing a school conselour to deal with this, but has quit the basketball team and is constantly at odds with her family. How does Sean's head come into this? He sits in front of her in many of her classes, and when she needs to find an object to focus on to deal with her anxiety, she picks the back of Sean's head. This evolves into getting to know him better, with the dubious and often misguided help of her best friend, Jac. Sean is an avid bicyclist who talks Payton into training for an MS bike-a-thon, but things don't go smoothly with their romance.
Strengths: LOVED how strong Payton was-- she didn't want Sean to think that she couldn't bike up a killer hill, even if she ended up throwing up at the top of it. Very nice romantic scenes. Fans of Sarah Dessen will like this as well.
Weaknesses: Thought that Payton was overwrought, and the drama interfered with what would have been my 4th favorite romance book. While middle school appropriate, I would be leery of giving this to a girl who had a parent with MS, since cases vary so widely, and Payton's father's case has enough bad moments to be scary. Also, don't like the cover or title. Will buy anyway.
Orenstein, Peggy. Cinderella Ate My Daughter.
Not a middle school book, but since I'm working with a Girls on the Run Group where we had to talk about the "girl box", and yet my 7th grader beat a couple of boys on a four mile run and didn't even blink, I had to read this. I was appalled. Disney Princesses apparently started being a big thing in 2000, when said 7th grader would have been two, but we missed this phenomenon entirely. Sure, we read Little Golden Book versions of Sleeping Beauty, but we made sure we gave the queen a name (Thrimbaba), and made sure that all of the princesses had some career training in case the prince thing didn't work out. Seriously. Don't all mothers do this? This book didn't shed much light on how to stop the tide of pink; it was more of a commentary on it. Maybe mothers of younger children don't remember a time when there weren't a lot of choices for women, and they think this is okay.
*Sigh* Yet another way that I feel old!