I don’t know about anyone else, but middle school was pure hell for me. That said, I don’t think enough credit is given to how formative middle school can be. A lot of things happen during those three years. And these things tend to be overlooked even when they have lasting impressions on your life, because people have this whole mentality that at that age, kids are still “just kids.” They overlook the fact that there you’re also passing over a bridge of sorts, and that is the pre-teen bridge. Which is still a milestone in and of itself. I’d be willing to bet if you sat down and thought about some of your middle school experiences, you’d find out a significant portion of the person you are now is based on what happened then.
I know, a lot of times the media wants to show how hard high school is, and I think that is because that is where you actually move from being a teenager to a young adult. And that’s fair. But still, that’s not giving enough credit to those three years that are the bridge between elementary and high school.
Middle school can be tricky because everything changes here. You go from being the big fish in the pond, to the smallest one in the lake. And, on top of that, there are other fish from other ponds swimming around that you may have never encountered in your elementary years. People start testing out who they really are and will go through various changes in their personality. This may lead to changes in some friendships and developing new ones. You may be introduced to a different type of person you had never met before. Or you can find out that you’re braver than you thought you were. Either way, these books are good guides to read for how to navigate the tricky waters that middle school can be, especially nowadays.
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Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes
This delightful novel in verse is about the changes that Joylin goes through when she and her two best friends move onto middle school. Suddenly, her clothes don’t seem right, her best girlfriend is flirting with best guy friend Jake, and she finds herself changing for the new boy Santiago. A perfect example of first crushes and the pre-teen years.
Confessions of a So-Called Middle Child by Maria T. Lennon
Middle child Charlie is constantly struggling to not be overlooked, which leads to her becoming a prankster. When one prank goes too far, she is tasked by her therapist to turn over a new leaf in school and become friends with the most bullied girl in school. As she navigates mean girls and clique politics, Charlie finds out what true friendship really is. A good novel for shattering societal expectations and marching to the beat of your own drum.
Restart by Gordon Korman
After a fall from the roof, Chase returns to school with no memory of how he previously was. Unfortunately for him, the kids he bullied relentlessly and his comrades in terror are quick to remind him of who he used to be. But Chase finds himself not wanting to be that way anymore and works on bettering himself and mending bridges he previously burned down. This topical but humorous book shows that, if you’re willing and able, you can always turn over a new leaf.
More to the Story by Hena Kahn
Jameela is over the moon to be picked as a feature editor of her middle school newspaper. If only her editor-in-chief would stop assigning her fluff stories, such as interviewing the new British boy in school. When her father is sent overseas, Jameela becomes more determined to write a story to make him proud. But when one of her younger sisters falls ill and her desire to become a famous writer may cost her a friendship, she has to wonder if it is worth it? This wonderful modern retelling of Little Women is all about learning how to be adaptable especially when it comes to life.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee
Shayla is a girl who likes to avoid causing waves, so she tries to follow the rules and stay neutral. When her sister Hana gets involved in BLM, she holds back until she is part of a powerful protest. After that, she starts being more assertive and taking stands, including wearing an armband in solidarity with the movement, causing division between her and her friend group. This is a good novel about what it means to take a stand, even if it means losing people along the way.
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Harriet wants to be a spy when she grows up and is constantly observing and writing down everything around her. The snag is she isn’t always kind with her observations, which comes back on her when her journal is suddenly made public. This is a story that shows that words can hurt, no matter the intention behind them. There is a reason this story is still a classic.
The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez
Punk lover Malú violates the dress code with said style of clothing, annoys the queen bee of the school, and manages to disappoint her mother, all on the first day of school. Taking the advice of her father, who now lives a thousand miles away, she leans more into her love of punk and creates a band in the process. Malú will do whatever it takes to keep punk alive, including standing up to the school administration. Perfect for anyone who has ever felt like a misfit in school.
Alan Cole is Not a Coward by Eric Bell
Alan has trouble standing up to his bully big brother Nathan and can’t seem to escape disappointing his dad. He also can’t tell the cute boy across the cafeteria he has a crush on him. When his brother finds out and threatens to out him (not cool) Alan is determined to meet the challenges that are presented to him and show his brother and dad how exceptional he is. There are CW/TW for the forced outing aspect but this book is a good example of being true to yourself, no matter what anyone, including your family, says.