Alexander, Kwame Booked
314 pp. Houghton 2016. ISBN 978-0-544-57098-6
Nick is a wordsmith, thanks to his linguistics-professor father, but he would rather be shining on the soccer field. He’s blindsided when his parents separate; things worsen at school, too, as he and best friend Coby are targeted by the racist Eggleston twins. With accessible forms and appealing formatting, this novel in verse offers sports action combined with spot-on portrayals of middle-school life.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Books and reading; Sports—Soccer; Behavior—Bullying; Friendship; Schools—Middle schools; Poetry; English language; Divorce; Race relations
Baker, Kim Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School
236 pp. Roaring Brook 2012. ISBN 978-1-59643-765-4
Illustrated by Tim Probert. Using a pickle-making club as cover, narrator Ben handpicks his crew for the P.T.A. (Prank and Trick Association). The elation everyone feels after a successful trick is balanced by the stress of keeping a secret, especially when the pranks don’t turn out as planned. Baker writes with a light, lively hand, depicting a realistic urban setting peopled with engaging characters from various ethnic backgrounds.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Jokes; Clubs; Schools—Middle schools
Berry, Julie The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place
354 pp. Roaring Brook 2014. ISBN 978-1-59643-956-6 Ebook ISBN 978-1-59643-957-3
This airy confection is part murder mystery, part girls’-school story, part dark drawing-room comedy. In 1890 England, seven students — our heroines — attempt to solve the murder of their headmistress and her ne’er-do-well brother while concealing the deaths to remain together at the school. Berry takes her madcap seriously, never breaking character when it comes to the old-timey setting or details. An entertaining, smart, and frothy diversion.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Murder; Schools—Boarding schools; Mystery and detective stories; Humorous stories; England; Victorian England
Grimes, Nikki Planet Middle School
155 pp. Bloomsbury 2011. ISBN 978-1-59990-284-5
Upon starting middle school, twelve-year-old Joy feels self-conscious about being thought of as a tomboy. She and her best friend are also growing apart. Through breezy prose poems Grimes explores the tension between individuality and gender-role conformity and takes on concerns such as changing friendships and the shift in boy/girl relationships. Her realistic novel has solid middle-school appeal and avoids preaching.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Friendship; Family—Siblings; Sports—Basketball; Poetry; Schools—Middle schools; Self-perception; Gender roles
Johnson, Varian To Catch a Cheat
248 pp. Scholastic/Levine 2016. ISBN 978-0-545-72239-1 Ebook ISBN 978-0-545-72241-4
Jackson Greene (The Great Greene Heist) has retired from his con-man antics. Until…someone floods Maplewood Middle School, and a video surfaces incriminating Jackson and his diverse set of friends. Blackmail? Revenge? To clear their names, Jackson and “Gang Greene” are back in action. The smart, complicated mystery caper is reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven, Mission: Impossible, and The Westing Game. Sheer fun.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Mystery and detective stories; Schools—Middle schools; Adventure and adventurers; African Americans
Miller, Ashley Edward and Stentz, Zack Colin Fischer
235 pp. Penguin/Razorbill 2012. ISBN 978-1-59514-578-9
After a gun goes off in the cafeteria, fourteen-year-old Colin Fischer is determined to figure out who brought the gun to school; having an autism spectrum disorder proves both help and hindrance to the young detective. Readers will appreciate the snappy dialogue, Colin’s notebook entries, and the footnotes describing the kind of details that fascinate him in this smart and humorous mystery.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Disabilities, Mental—Autism; Guns; Schools—High schools; Mystery and detective stories
Myers, Walter Dean The Cruisers
126 pp. Scholastic 2010. ISBN 978-0-439-91626-4
The “Cruisers,” a group of friends at a gifted and talented middle school in Harlem, are assigned the task of negotiating peace in a school-wide historical re-enactment of the Civil War — before the war starts. Protagonist Zander’s breezy narration lends accessibility to Myers’s consistently solid writing and thought-provoking themes.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Harlem (New York, NY); Schools—Middle schools; African Americans; Peace; History, American—Civil War; Newspapers
Paulsen, Gary Flat Broke: The Theory, Practice and Destructive Properties of Greed
119 pp. Random/Lamb 2011. ISBN 978-0-385-74002-9 LE ISBN 978-0-385-90818-4
His allowance discontinued, middle-school entrepreneur Kevin (Liar, Liar) is desperate for money (mostly to impress a girl). Kevin sees himself as kingmaker: he’ll create projects for others and take a cut of the profits; his enthusiasm for fame, fortune, and free enterprise is infectious. This is an undemanding read with a nicely underplayed moral, a solid investment for reluctant readers.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Moneymaking projects; Friendship; Family; Humorous stories; Behavior—Honesty; Dating; Schools—Middle schools
Stead, Rebecca Goodbye Stranger
289 pp. Random/Lamb 2015. ISBN 978-0-385-74317-4 LE ISBN 978-0-375-99098-4 Ebook ISBN 978-0-307-98085-4
Seventh grader Bridget nearly died in an accident when she was eight. A nurse’s comment that she “must have been put on this earth for a reason” confounds her still; Bridget’s eventual, happy discovery of that reason is believable and moving. Stead’s intricately crafted story explores various configurations of love and friendship. This astonishingly profound novel is not your average middle-school friendship tale.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Friendship; Schools—Middle schools; Family; Accidents; New York (NY)
Telgemeier, Raina Drama
238 pp. Scholastic/Graphix 2012. ISBN 978-0-545-32698-8 PE ISBN 978-0-545-32699-5
Seventh grader Callie loves musical theater, but she isn’t much of a singer, so she works as a set designer for the school drama club. Her second year on stage crew is fraught with drama, on and off the set. Telgemeier gets her middle-school characters just right, and her graphic artist skills make this novel a pleasure to read and re-read.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Graphic novels; Cartoons and comics; Theater; Dating; Schools—Middle schools; Clubs
Yang, Gene Luen and Holmes, Mike Secret Coders
92 pp. Roaring Brook/First Second 2015. ISBN 978-1-62672-276-7 PE ISBN 978-1-62672-075-6
Stately Academy looks more like a haunted house than a school — at least to twelve-year-old newcomer and narrator Hopper. But she finds a like-minded ally in basketball star Eni. Nosing around campus, the two find programmable robots and pages of code. This graphic novel is an inspired mash-up of computer science and mystery, thanks in part to well-thought-out explanations and, more importantly, visuals.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Cartoons and comics; Graphic novels; Computers; Schools; Friendship; Robots; Mystery and detective stories
Yoo, David The Detention Club
300 pp. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray 2011. ISBN 978-0-06-178378-4
On their first day of middle school, sixth-grader Peter Lee and his best pal Drew discover their popular elementary-school antics (e.g., speaking in robot voices) are “so fifth grade.” Determined to be among the “kings of the school” again, Peter brainstorms a series of schemes. Yoo adds diverting subplots and realistic conflict to his laugh-out-loud, spot-on portrayal of middle-school life.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Family—Siblings; Behavior; Schools—Middle schools; Korean Americans; Humorous stories
From the August 2016 issue of What Makes a Good…?: “What Makes a Good School Story?” For more recommended school stories, see “From the Guide: First-Day-of-School Picture Books” from the September/October 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.