Great Reads for Teens and Tweens!

Helping you make an informed decision about that book

Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff by Jennifer L. Holm

Title: Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff

Author: Jennifer L. Holm

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers      Year: 2011

ISBN-13: 978-1442436633

Genre: Fiction

Age: 8 and up

Awards: ALA Notable Children’s Books, Beehive Award Master List (Utah), Booksense Children’s Pick, BookPage Notable Title, Charlotte Award Ballot (New York), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award Master List (Vermont), Lone Star Reading List 2008-2009, NAPPA Gold Award Winner, Publishers Weekly Starred Review, South Carolina Book Award Nominee, 2007 New York Public Library‘s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list

Themes / Subjects: Middle School, growing up, girls, friendship, education, family, relationships

Plot Summary:

Ginny Davis begins her seventh grade year with a list of items to accomplish. None of these items, however, include accidently turning her hair pink, or losing the lead role in the ballet recital to her ex-best friend. If anything could go wrong this school year, then it will.

As readers follow Ginny’s story of her year through her collection of stuff – notes from friends, report cards, receipts, cartoons, poems, etc. – an image of a funny, loveable girl struggling with her identity emerges, whoever that girl ultimately turns out to be.

My Take:

I was extremely skeptical reading a book that was told through stuff. At first glance, I thought there was no way that the book would be coherent and would only work for higher thinkers/readers. This book was actually pretty cool.

The first thing that makes this book neat is that it is not written like a typical book. Instead each page has “stuff” like to do lists, notes, IM’s, receipts, programs, etc. I would recommend reading the book twice. The first time just read the book to read it. The second time you read it, really take the time to look at the connections between all the stuff and what is said. For example, second on Ginny’s to-do list that opens the book is to get the role of the Sugarplum Fairy in the Nutcracker, so you know how much Ginny wants the role. Later on in the book you see the casting list, and on the next page you see a journal entry lamenting her stepfather’s forgetfulness, and you easily connect the dots for that plotline.

This is such a hilarious and beautiful story, about the resiliency and spirit that early adolescents have, in spite of things that always seem to go wrong.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars … A very easy read but is definitely better the second time.

Similar read: Middle School the Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson

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Schooled by Gordon Korman

Title: Schooled

Author: Gordon Korman

Publisher: Hyperion Book CH     Year: 2008

ISBN-13: 978-1423105169

Genre: Fiction

Age: 10 and up

Themes / Subjects: Middle School, Bullying, Hippies, Humor, Social Issues, Survival, Relationships, Prejudice

Plot Summary:

“Capricorn (Cap) Anderson has never watched television. He’s never tasted a pizza. Never even heard of a wedgie. Since he was little, his only experience has been living on a farm commune and being home-schooled by his hippie grandmother, Rain” (back of book). Yet when his grandmother falls from a tree and has to stay in the hospital for an extended period of time, Cap is forced to move in with a social worker and her mean teenage daughter. At school, Cap is immediately targeted because of his weirdness. He wears hemp, tie-dyed clothes, beads, has long hair and practices tai chi and meditation. At Claverage Middle School, it is a long standing tradition that the biggest nerd be elected eighth grade class president, and big man on campus Zach Powers has his eyes set on Cap.

My Take:

The kids at this school are horrible! What really bugs me about this book is the entire time Cap attends Claverage Middle School no one stands up for him, yet at the end of the book all 1100 students have something good to say about him. But what really bugged me was Mr. Kasigi’s, the principal, ignorance throughout the book. He knew that bullying was going on at his school and he knew the joke of the eighth grade president yet he looks the other way. As a mentor and educator he has a really horrible attitude.

Overall the book lacked the action that I’ve come to expect from Gordon Korman. Every day was the same for Cap with little change, I wasn’t a fan of the characters especially Mrs. Donelly, Cap’s social worker. Her daughter was one of the worse people to Cap yet she did little to stop her. And the ending, well it kind sucked. Suddenly everything is resolved. No problem. Really? Not very realistic.

With all that being said, it’s a work of fiction and a quick read and it might make kids think about different lifestyles and values different from their own. A school reading group could have a field day with this book when used in a discussion about bullying.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars … I really like Gordon Korman but I sit in the middle with this book. Too much bullying, not enough action and a not so great ending

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

 Title: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

 Author: Jeff Kinney

 Publisher: Amulet Books      Year: 2007

 ISBN-13: 978-0810993136

 Genre: Fiction

Age:9 and up

 Awards: #1 New York Times Best Seller for 114 weeks, 2008-2012 Nominated and  Won a Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards for Favorite Book (did not win in 2009 and 2012 is pending), 2010 Most Favorite Book Around the World, ALA Notable Book

 Themes/Subjects: Realistic fiction, humor, family life, social situations, middle school, friendship

Plot summary:

“First of all, let me get something straight: This is a JOURNAL, not a diary. I know what it says on the cover, but when Mom went out to buy this thing I SPECIFICALLY told her to get one that didn’t say “diary” on it. Great. All I need is for some jerk to catch me carrying this book around and get the wrong idea. The other thing I want to clear up right away is that this was MOM’s idea, not mine.”

Middle school is a strange and complicated world. Little weaklings are expected to share the halls with oversized gorillas who are already shaving. Friendships from elementary school are shifting and ideas of what makes certain kids popular are a mystery to Greg Heffley. In his diary, sorry journal, Greg’s thoughts, memories and experiences are poured out every day and accompanied by simple yet funny illustrations. Between dealing with dweeby parents, a mean older brother, annoying younger brother and goofy friends, Greg a wimpy kid himself is just trying to navigate the awkward world of middle school. Add in haunted houses, forbidden cheese, safety patrols, singing trees, and just plain family weirdness and you’ve got one heck of a first year of middle school!

My take:

I began reading this book in bed and let me tell you my sides hurt from trying to stifle my laughing! Before I knew it, it was after midnight and I had finished the book. I COULD NOT put this book down, it’s that funny! Working in a middle school, I saw so many of my students in this book and even a bit of myself from that age. Greg Heffley can honestly be described as a typical tween. He is oblivious of his faults and although he tends to get into trouble, he really does have good intentions. Unlike Nikki Maxwell from dork diaries, Greg isn’t an intentionally mean kid and almost always experiences consequences for his actions. I would highly recommend Diary of a Wimpy Kid to boys AND girls of all ages, especially to reluctant readers. For additional fun check out www.funbrain.com where Jeff Kinney originally posted Greg Heffley’s story. On there you will find additional illustrations and stories that did not make it into the published book.

Rating: 5 out of 5 – Every new middle school kid should read this!

Similar read: School is a Nightmare #1 First Week, Worst Week by Raymond Bean

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Dork Diaries: Tales From A Not-So-Fabulous Life By Rachel Renee Russell

 Title: Dork Diaries: Tales From A Not-So-Fabulous Life

 Author: Rachel Renee Russell

 Publisher: Aladdin     Year: 2009

 ISBN -13: 978-1416980063

 Genre: Fiction

 Age: 9 and up

 Themes / Subjects: junior high, popularity, comics, middle school, cliques, humor

 Awards:  New York Times Bestseller list for 42 weeks; USA Today Best Sellers list for 7   weeks; 2010 Children’s Choice Book of the Year Award for the 5th/6th grade division; nominated as Book of the Year by the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice

Plot Summary:

Fourteen-year-old Nikki Maxwell is a self proclaimed dork. This school year she has been awarded a scholarship to a prestigious private middle school, thanks in part to her dad’s contract with the school as their bug exterminator.  Nikki believes that a new iPhone will help her cinch a spot in the school’s  CCP (cute, cool & popular) group so when her mom returns home from the mall with a “special back-to-school”  present she is pretty ecstatic. What does her mother purchase for her? A stupid little diary. Nikki swears not to write in it but soon the pages are filled with sketches and stories of drama with the school’s resident mean girl, her embarrassing parents, new friends and hot crushes.

My Take:

For being a self-proclaimed dork, Nikki Maxwell is a pretty mean girl herself. Her character is shallow and self-centered and changes very little by the end of the book. While some of the situations she finds herself in are humorous there were twice as many situations where I felt like cringing with things that she had said or done.  This book is recommended for ages 9 and up, but some of the humor and situations would be much more appropriate for older girls. How would you like to explain to your 9 year old why “…hordes of celebrity party girls regularly FORGET to wear undies, not a single one would be caught dead without her cell phone” (p.4)? Hopefully we see some sort of character development in the next book, but I won’t be rushing off to read it.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars – Girls are probably better off reading “Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Similar Read: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

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Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman

 Title: Son of the Mob

 Author: Gordon Korman

 Publisher: Hyperion  Year: 2004

 ISBN-13: 978-0786815937

 Genre: Fiction

 Age: 12 and up

Awards: American Library Association 2003 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults Annotated List – Book 2001 Son of the Mob

Themes / Subjects: humor, mystery/detective, family life, social situations

Plot Summary:

17-year-old Vince Luca just wants to be your normal high school student and lead a normal life. He spends his time chasing girls, playing on the football team and hanging out with his best friend Alex. But there is absolutely nothing normal about his family. His father happens to be THE mob boss running the “vending machine business” in New York and Vince’s “uncles,” brother, and dad expect him to join the family business. Vince on the other hand wants nothing to do with it. Instead he rebels and attempts to escape his family’s image and reputation. However, nothing goes as Vince plans and to make matters worse he’s fallen for the one girl whose father could take down the whole Luca family and business.

My Take:

This was my first time reading anything by Gordon Korman and I am hooked! This book is not your typical kill/torture mafia story but rather less talk more action, page turning suspense and just a hint of romance.  Korman does a phenomenal job describing and bringing to life the internal and external struggles Vince Luca experiences as a result of being a “mob prince” and a senior in high school. Torn between loyalty to his family and the desire to be a good, normal kid, Vince is going to have to make some rather gutsy decisions that are going to impact everyone around him.

There are some references to drugs and sex but they do not play a major role in the book. Violence is a big part of the mafia life, aka “vending machine business”, but it is important to note that Vince does everything in his power to avoid violence being used. I think his lack of threats and weapons is what makes him such a powerful and relatable character. Plus, it is very interesting to read about falling in love from a guy’s perspective without it ruining the pace of the story.

This book is a great way to open up a discussion with younger readers regarding morals and values because of the questionable acts of the Luca family and the ways in which Vince handles them.

And just because I love the way they describe it, from Publishers Weekly … “The Sopranos (minus the vulgarity and violence) meets Leave It to Beaver (minus the “aw-shucks” tone and dated sensibility) in Korman’s (No More Dead Dogs) brassy, comical caper. With its razor-sharp dialogue and bullet-fast pace, this tale could fly on either the small or big screen, yet it makes a page-turner of a novel.”

Rating: 5/5 stars … This book is a must read if you like action, suspense and a little romance. Or if you happen to find random bodies in the back of your car and suspect your parents to be in the “vending machine business.”

Similar read: Breaking Point by Alex Flinn

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The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

 Title: The Red Pyramid

 Author: Rick Riordan

 Publisher: Hyperion Book CH

 ISBN -13: 978-1423113454

 Genre: Fantasy Fiction

 Age: 10 and up

 Awards: A #1 New York Times bestseller ; A School Library Journal Best Book of 2010 ; Winner: Children’s Choice Book Awards 2011: Best Book, Grades 5-6

Themes / Subjects: Fantasy, adventure, Egyptian Mythology, family life, siblings

Plot Summary:

Carter Kane, 14, and Sadie Kane, 12, have grown up practically as strangers since their mother’s death six years earlier. While Sadie has grown up with her grandparents in London, Carter has travelled the world with their father, Egyptologist Dr. Julius Kane. On Christmas Eve, the family is reunited in London and headed to the British Museum for an experiment to “set things right.” Things, however, go terribly wrong and five Egyptian gods are released, including Set who entombed Dr. Kane and causes the children to flee for their lives.

Now the siblings must embark on a journey to master their hidden powers as descendents of magicians who can host Egyptian gods, learn to work and understand one another and save mankind from Set’s destructive red pyramid.

My take:

After reading the Percy Jackson series by Riordan, this book was very hard for me to get into even with my love for Egyptian mythology. I expected it to have as much action and adventure as the Percy Jackson series and instead felt like there was a lot of down-time/explanations which made the story seem to drag on. Riordan does an excellent job incorporating Egyptian mythology and providing readers with additional information and a means of keeping track of all the gods in the back of the book.

The best  part of the book was the way the character’s personalities and relationship developed throughout the book. The book is told from both Sadie and Carter’s perspective, alternating chapters and as though it were an audio recording allowing readers inside the thoughts of both the main characters. I was especially impressed with the impact race/ethnicity played and how it impacted the characters. Although they are siblings, Sadie and Carter are not only practically strangers but physically look nothing alike. Sadie is caucasian with an English accent who likes to wear combat boots and a streak of color in her hair. Carter on the other hand is African-American and always dressed presentable in slacks and a button down shirt. Immediately I felt sorry for Carter because of the two he always seems to get the raw end of the deal and is overshadowed by his little sister.

Rating: 3/5 stars because it was not as adventurous as some of Riordan’s other reads but still an interesting insight to how Egyptian gods might spend their time and the hilarity of sibling rivalry.

Similar Read : The Pharoh’s Secret by Marissa Moss

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Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Title: Incarceron

Author: Catherine Fisher

Publisher: Penguin Group Year: 2011

ISBN: 9780803733961

Genre: Science fiction / fiction

Age: 12 and up

Awards: Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2010

Subject/themes: Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy

 

Plot Summary:

Incarceron is a prison like no other. Imagine a prison with no guards or bars but a futuristic and artificial world containing forests of metal trees, cities, oceans and the ever watchful red-eye. Incarceron has been sealed for centuries and escape is only a dream that few believe in and supposedly achieved by only one man, the legendary Sapphique. However, prisoner and “Starseer” Finn, has no recollection of his past and strongly believes he is from the Outside.

Outside is a world that was once a realm of advanced technology and discovery but is now trapped in the 17th century because time has been forbidden in an effort to save humanity. Claudia, daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, is tangled in an arranged marriage to the (wrongful) heir of the throne and an assassination plot against the queen. She is suspicious of the death of Giles, her original betrothed and rightful heir to the throne, and believes the answers to her questions lie within Incarceron.

With the help of a few friends and crystal keys, Finn and Claudia must work together to save each other and discover who they really are.

My take:

This book was AMAZING and will seriously blow your minds! At first the idea of two separate worlds existing within one world was hard to wrap my brain around and I would stop and think to myself, “Isn’t Incarceron suppose to be a prison?” But I strongly urge readers to keep reading and it will all begin to make sense, I promise.

Incarceron was supposed to be a grand experiment where “undesireables” would be removed from our world and placed within its boundaries with everything needed to create a utopia. 150 years after it was sealed, the Outside still consider Incarceron to be a success, however the prison has become a complete failure. Violence and tyranny are rampant, resources have dwindled, and the prison has developed its own self-awareness. And yet no one, not even the Warden does anything about it. Yet on the Outside, things are just  as restrictive as being in a prison. Although advanced technologies and science once flourished, it has been forbidden by the king and the world has plunged back into the 17th century. Strict protocols must be followed at all times and resentment grows among the nobles. Imagine having to wash clothes by hand or not being able to drive a car but knowing those technologies exist.

The details to describe these two worlds is superb and the relationship between the characters is both breathtaking and heartbreaking. Claudia is easily my favorite character because she is strong, stubborn, spunky, and intelligent. Finn, on the other hand, is not very strong but I found his reliability and compassion for his friends, despite their vices to be relatable.

Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars. This book had the ability to get a five star rating if some parts of it weren’t super confusing and didn’t require me to reread sections.

Similar in style and theme to : The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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