Book Reviews: Middle Schoolers

Posted: May 14, 2013 in Book Reviews

I’ve finally figured out that middle schoolers are not my strong point. One of my favorite teachers in our facility (who cares deeply about the kids and is an excellent teacher, so take this with the lovingness it was intended) calls them the thumb sucking gangsters. That being said, maybe I’m not the best judge of a book for these young people. I’m too impatient! And I tend towards the deeper, more thoughtful books. So read these reviews with all of that in mind.

BARNES, Derrick. We Could Be Brothers. Scholastic. 164p. October 2010.  $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-13573-3.


Gr. 5 – up –An exploration of the lives of youth impacted by lack of a father, the story begins with Robeson in detention, where he meets Pacino. Robeson has a Dad and Pacino does not. Tariq is in and out of group homes. Lots of dissing on Pacino’s side keeps it real.

A week in the lives of these two boys has them exploring each other’s homes and lives, avoiding and getting into fights and checking out the girl. The week is broken up by section headings such as Strangers on Tuesday, Cool on Wednesday and Solutions on Saturday as well as chapter headings with time and place. The format is perfect for middle school and reluctant readers who need easy stopping places and lots of structure. Readers who enjoyed Secret Saturdays by Maldonado and books by Walter Dean Myers will also like this one.s to cover up his feelings of loss and anger, and Tariq’s acting out threatens all three boys. Robeson tends to be a bit preachy, repeating quotes from his father as well as African American authors, which get’s Pacino going with more disses.

 images-2FLAKE, Sharon. You Don’t Even Know Me. 208p. Jump at the Sun. Feb. 2010. $16.99. 978-1-4231-0014-0.

Gr. 8 – 12. Ten portraits interspersed with poetry easily draw the reader into the lives of a variety of African American boys. In “Getting Even,” a young boy copes with his grandfather’s death and the desire to find who killed him. Jeffery gets thrown out of his Auntie’s house with nowhere to go. Eric goes against his dad’s command of staying home with his siblings and instead finds a girl, some fun and some trouble; Justin writes in his journal about death, suicide and sexual abuse. La’Ron is too afraid to tell his father he is HIV positive, so writes him a letter: and his father writes back. The concluding story, “Pretty Mothers are a Problem” is a chilling portrait of 15 year old Jeffrey, seduced by a neighbor and the devastation faced by her daughter. Boys and girls will be drawn to the cover and want to find out what they don’t even know. Complex and thought provoking stories won’t disappoint. Amy Cheney Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA

images-1  MALDONADO, Torrey. Secret Saturdays. Putnam. 208p. April, 2010. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25158-0.

Gr 5-7.  Justin and Sean live in the Red Hook projects, are half Puerto Rican and half African American, and their fathers aren’t living with them. They became friends when Sean sticks up for Justin, but now Sean is straying further from their friendship, avoiding their scheduled sleepovers, lying, not doing as well in school, and getting into more and more fights when he used to advocate dissing instead of fists. Where is Sean going on Saturdays? Why isn’t he telling his friends Justin, Kyle and Vanessa? Justin heads up the squad to find out why, but with more drama than action, the reader may just not care. Justin worries, on more than one occasion, that because he’s so worried about Sean people are going to think he’s gay. There’s also the possibility that Sean’s dad is gay – Justin’s reasoning is that he sends Sean shiny trinkets from Puerto Rico. He also inaccurately portrays his cousin as gay because he dresses up in women’s clothes and wants to be called Vicky.  While these fallacies go unaddressed, what is addressed is what it means to be a friend, what is privacy, and how difficult it is for boys to talk with each other.

With so few books out for “urban” middle school boys of color besides the fantastic Bluford series, this book, with all it’s flaws, may still be a draw for some readers. The cover, type size and format, with cool font and photo at the head of each chapter will attract reluctant readers, but the content may not sustain them. – Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library Juvenile Hall,  CA 

imagesVillareal, Ray. Don’t Call me Hero. 201p. Pinata Books. 2011. $10.95. 978-1-55885-711-7. Grades 6-10. It’s always exciting to have books with latino male characters that are universal in nature such as this. Middle schooler Rawly struggles with a brother in prison, working at his mom’s restaurant that isn’t doing too well, an unrequited crush and  a best friend who may not be, truly a friend. He also, just to make sure the book appeals to all teen boys, likes comic books and heros.  In a not so subtle plot device, Rawly is the right place at the right time, and he rescues a woman who gets caught in a flash flood. The rescue is captured by the local news, and the woman turns out to be a famous model. Rawly is hailed a hero, suddenly dealing with the spotlight and all it brings: popularity, girls, jealousy, advice on how to collect money, and most importantly, who he is and what he really believes. Can Rawly’s fame help save his mom’s struggling restaurant? Does Miyoko, the most popular girl in school, really like Rawly – or just what she thinks he can do for her?  The ending is a bit abrupt, on the negative side, but all the threads are not resolved nice and neat on the positive side. The big type and hopefully good cover – the arc did not show the complete cover – will make this a welcome addition to all public and school libraries short on books for latino males. Reluctant readers may enjoy but…there is nothing extraordinary here. – Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library Juvenile Hall,  CA 

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