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Sherman Alexie, Sherman Alexie author, Sherman Alexie award
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Sherman Alexie.

5 Books Middle School Readers Can’t Put Down

January 13, 2011
by Shannon Firth
Read on to discover five books for middle school readers that are sure to please.

“The Girl Who Owned A City” by O.T. Nelson

In “The Girl Who Owned a City,” a devastating virus has killed everyone older than the age of 12, leaving a population of children to fend for themselves. In order to keep herself and her younger brother alive, 12-year-old Lisa learns where to find food and how to drive, and ultimately creates a fortress to protect her group of friends from a neighborhood gang that bullies them and steals their food.

This book was written in the 1970s, but it’s certainly worth dusting off. The Book Parrot, a guest reviewer on The Book Pirate blog, calls it “one of my favorite books of all time.” The reviewer explains, “The Girl Who Owned a City has been described as Lord of the Flies for girls, but it’s so much more than that. And not just for girls either.”

“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie

In this semi-autobiographical young adult novel, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” celebrated poet and adult book author Sherman Alexie introduces Arnold Spirit, a.k.a. Junior, a Spokane Indian living in Wellpinit, Wash.

When a teacher pleads with Arnold to want more, to escape the hopelessness of the rez, Arnold switches to a rich white school and immediately becomes as much an outcast in his own community as he is a curiosity in his new one,” Ian Chipman, a reviewer for Booklist, writes.

Junior is considered a little bit of a dork because he loves to draw, but things at his new school look hopeful—he’s made some friends and made the basketball team. Still, Junior hasn’t escaped his family’s problems. When his dog gets sick, his parents can't afford to take it to a vet.

“My parents came from poor people, who came from poor people, who came from poor people, all the way back to the very first poor people. Adam and Eve covered their privates with fig leaves; the first Indians covered their privates with their tiny little hands.”

Alexie’s book is at turns humorous and heartbreaking. But the book’s dry wit and Junior’s resilient spirit, paired with Ellen Forney’s playful illustrations, offer relief from the book’s more tragic elements.

“Younger teens looking for the strength to lift themselves out of rough situations would do well to start here,” Chipman writes.

“The Black Sheep” by Yvonne Collins and Sandy Rideout

In “The Black Sheep,” 15-year-old Kendra Bishop wins a reality TV show essay contest and is suddenly thrust out of her overscheduled life in New York, away from her rigid banker parents, and into the Mulligan household in Monterey, Calif. While Mona and Max, Kendra’s new parents, tend to overshare, their cute 17-year-old son Mitch more than compensates for his parents’ annoying behavior.

Kendra starts out as a somewhat snooty Manhattan girl, but throughout the course of the book she develops into a smart girl who isn't afraid to fight for what she believes in,” according to McKenzie, a sophomore in high school who blogs at The Book Owl.

“Spud” by John van de Ruit

Spud” is the fictional diary of 13-year-old John “Spud” Milton, a scholarship student at a private boarding school in Durban, South Africa. His diary chronicles all the trouble that he and his friends—“Rambo,” “Boggo,” “Fatty,” “Gecko,” and the rest of the “The Crazy Eight”—create, sometimes in the classroom, but mostly after the lights go out in the dorms.

His diary, which begins in January 1990, also presents a teenager’s view of the events taking place in the political sphere, beginning with Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.

“Spud, so nicknamed for the slow pace of his pubescent development, develops in many other ways, as he struggles to survive in a world of crazy classmates, sadistic upperclassmen, drunken teachers, from whom his only escape is the occasional weekend visit to the maniacal world of his parents and grandmother, Wombat,” David Zimmerman, a frequent reviewer of Amazon books, writes.

If you enjoy Spud, you may also want to read van de Ruit’s later novels, “Spud: The Madness Continues,” and “Spud: Learning to Fly.”

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” by Jeff Kinney

Yes, it's another diary but because Jeff Kinney is primarily an illustrator, the pages of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” are less text-heavy than many of the selections above.

For 13-year-old Greg Heffley, summer vacation is “a three-month guilt trip.” He’d like to spend his time inside playing video games and watching TV, but his mother wants him to spend more time in nature. Greg discovers being outdoors isn’t terrible when he develops a crush on a lifeguard at the pool. But after he’s forced into mowing lawns and gets into a fight with his best friend Rowley, his summer begins to look a lot less exciting.

This is Kinney’s fourth book in the “Wimpy Kid” series, and it’s been well-received. Publishers Weekly gave it a “starred review,” saying, “Kinney's gift for telling, pitch-perfect details in both his writing and art remains … No reason to think kids won't devour this book as voraciously as its predecessors.”

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