Haines, Kathryn Haines. The Girl is Trouble.
3 July 2012, Roaring Brook Press.
In this sequel to The Girl is Murder, Iris is back. World War II is still a constant presence in her life, since her detective father lost his leg at Pearl Harbor, and her Jewish mother committed suicide after finding out he was badly hurt. Or did she? Iris comes across photos in her father's files that indicate that her mother died a bloody death in a hotel room instead of ingesting pills, but even the newspaper sticks with the suicide story. At the same time, Iris' friend Pearl and other students in the school's Jewish group are getting threatening letters, and the leader, Michael, approaches Iris to help them. Add to the complications bad boy Benny, whom Iris likes but is slightly afraid of, Iris' father training her to be a detective but dating their landlord's daughter, and her aunt and uncle, to whom she was once close, trying to reconnect, and you have an interesting noir type mystery set in an intriguing historical period.
Strengths: I love historical fiction, and there seem to be more and more students who do as well-- one of my 6th graders listed Moon Over Manifest as her favorite book, which I still don't quite believe. The mystery fells very high school, but doesn't really have anything objectionable for middle school. Fun.
Weaknesses: The phrase "Boy, howdy" was repeated one too many times-- I would have liked to see some of the colorful slang of the times brought in a little more. Could have used a little more description of what life was like at this time-- I know the details, but my students wouldn't.
Balaban, Bob. The Creature from the Seventh Grade: Boy or Beast
13 September 2012, Viking Juvenile
Charlie Drinkwater is a twerpy little kid who rates, by his own admission, a zero for being cool, on a scale from one to ten. He does have two good friends, the tall Lucille and the goth-wannabe Sam. They are extremely helpful when, in the middle of the school day, he turns into a giant mutant dinosaur! The principal, not knowing what else to do, calls Charlie's mom to take him home. She explains that his grandmother was a giant mutant dinosaur, and she had a perfectly nice life, so Charlie just needs to embrace his differences and get used to it. Being a dinosaur has its ups and downs-- the principal is not happy with him, especially when he has a few incidents, usually involving bully Craig, but Mr. Arkady, his teacher, is helpful and the younger kids in the middle school think he is beyond cool. Charlie does his best to make the best of the situation, especially since Alice, the most popular (and cutest) girl in his grade starts to talk to him. Craig, however, continues to be a problem, and Charlie has to find a way to take care of him.
Strengths: I liked how Charlie's transformation occurred at school, and how the principal reacted. Most middle schoolers feel like they are as awkward as Charlie was, so I can see some kid appeal here, especially with the illustrations. I had an ARC, so am not sure if there will be more illustrations, so this could be more like a notebook novel. I doubt it a bit.
Weaknesses: Evil principal, a bully who gets away with beating kids up and extorting money, and a weird insistence on the existence of cliques with names and application processes detracted from the story for me. I'm sure that these things occur in many schools, but they don't at mine, so my students might not connect with the book as much.