Middle school is the time of greatest change for teens. It is when you go from from 11 to 12-years-old to becoming an actual teenager. It is a time changing friendships and changing bodies, becoming more aware of yourself and of others. It is a time when identity is being explored, but also a time of growing empathy and sense of social justice. Books about the middle school experience are tricky to categorize, some speak to the younger side and some to the older, and choosing books for middle schoolers can be difficult because they are reading everything.
The halls of the actual middle school are often the perfect setting for a story about these early teen years. So much of what kids are exploring are those external relationships outside of the home. Here is a list of recent books for younger teens that explore the middle school experience.
Alan Cole Is Not A Coward By Eric Bell
Seventh-grader Alan Cole isn’t ready to be outed as gay. His older brother has discovered that he has a crush on another boy, and to keep his secret attempts blackmails Alan into doing a ruthless list of nearly impossible tasks.
All’s Faire in Middle School By Victoria Jamieson
Imogene, who has been homeschooled, is attending public school for the first time. Used to the community and environment of the Renaissance Fair where she and her family spend most of their days, she has to learn to navigate the halls and relationships of Middle School.
Armstrong and Charlie By Steven Frank
Set in the 1970s in Los Angeles, California, Armstrong, an African American from South Central L.A., and Charlie, white, Jewish, and from the Hollywood Hills, meet in middle school when Armstrong starts attending Charlie’s school as an effort to bus in students from other neighborhoods. After a rough start, the two strike up a friendship that explores issues facing them around racism, bullying, and grief.
Brave By Svetlana Chmakova
Jenson wants to be a hero, but is usually the target of the school bullies. Always picked last, and struggling in math, Jenson remains hopeful. Soon he is pulled into the world of the Berrybrook Middle School’s newspaper’s social experiment, and what starts off as a story about someone not fitting in, turns to a hopeful way of finding your place in the world.
The First Rule of Punk By Celia C. Pérez
Malú is starting seventh grade in a new school in a new city, and taking her love of all things punk with her. She would give anything to be back in Florida with her father and his record shop close by instead of the cold and dreary Chicago with just her mother who is always trying to push her Mexican roots on Malú. School gets off to a rocky start when she immediately get into trouble for violating the dress code with her dyed hair. A book about finding yourself and your voice.
Halfway Normal By Barbara Dee
Norah Levy is entering seventh grade after a two year hiatus from school while she was in cancer treatment. Norah very much wants her peers to notice her for her talents, and not as “Cancer Girl,” but her parents restrictions, though well intentioned, keep her from feeling that she can integrate back into a “normal” world, and be a “normal” girl.
Patina By Jason Reynolds
Patina, nicknamed Patty, is navigating several new situations. She is one of the newbies on a track team, where she is dealing with coming in second place – even though she is the fastest, being the new student at an elite private middle school, where everyone seems vapid, and being adopted by her godparents after her father’s death and her mother becoming a double amputee due to complications from diabetes.
Posted By John David Anderson
After cell phones are banned at the middle school, what harsh words about other classmates that were once passed around via text, are now more overt with comments now being posted around the school via sticky notes. Eighth grader, Frost feels secure within his established circle of all-boy friends until a new girl comes to their circle and tries to join their group.
The Stars Beneath Our Feet By David Barclay Moore
Seventh-grader Wallace, a.k.a. Lolly, is trying to pick up the pieces after his brother’s gang related death. After being given two large bags of Legos from his mother’s girlfriend, Lolly embarks on a creating a Lego city at this nearby Harlem community center – one where he can imagine a better world.
Things That Surprise You By Jennifer Maschari
Emily is facing her parents’ divorce, her sister’s struggles with anorexia, her dad having a new girlfriend and starting middle school where girls are starting to wear makeup and talk a lot about boys. There are just too many changes, and Emily isn’t quite sure where she fits into all of them.
The Way to Bea By Kat Yeh
Seventh grade has found Beatrix (Bea) Lee without her group of friends now that a new girl has taken her place in their ranks. Bea has always found solace in writing haiku, but now writes it in invisible ink leaving notes for her former best friend. Oblivious to the fact that there are others around her that admire her, Bea feels alone. She starts spending her lunches in the school’s newspaper office where she meets Will, another loner.
Well, That Was Awkward By Rachel Vail
Cyrano de Bergerac for the middle school set. Gracie and Sienna are best friends. AJ. and Emmett are also best friends. And they have all been friends together for pretty much their whole lives. But 8th grade is making things weird. Gracie kind of likes AJ. AJ likes Sienna and Sienna kind of likes AJ, but has no idea how to talk to him. So Sienna and Gracie hatch a plan – Gracie will answer AJ’s texts, without telling him it’s her. That way she can help her best friend, and help her friend AJ, and everyone will be happy. What could possibly go wrong?
–Danielle Jones, currently reading Calling My Name by Liara Tamani