In contrast to the recent spate of books that focus on bullying (e.g., Rosalind Wiseman's Queen Bees and Wannabees and Rachel Simmons's Odd Girl Out), Washington Post education reporter Perlstein examines all facets of being an ordinary "tween." She discusses such issues as consumerism (according to Perlstein, 12- to 15-year-olds spend on average $59 a week, not counting money their parents spend on them); romance, which doesn't necessarily imply the couple ever spends time alone together; and the phenomenon of instant messaging-all to give parents of young children an idea of what lies ahead. True, much can be learned from reading catalogues and magazines geared specifically to preteens, like Delia's catalogue, CosmoGIRL! and YM, but Perlstein delves deeper into how boys and girls view life by tracking five students at Wilde Lake Middle School in Columbia, Md., a "rough" suburban school in an affluent area. Her subjects include the likable eighth-grader Eric Ellis, who is very bright and very bored, and seventh-graders Jackie Taylor, who is learning to deal with crushes on boys, and Elizabeth Ginsburg, whose favorite answer to her parents' questions is "nothing." There are also sixth-graders Jimmy Schissel, who is unhappy with his changing body, and Lily Mason, who worries about wearing-and doing-the right thing. In addition to details about the children's confirmations, bat mitzvahs, friendships and homework, Perlstein interweaves information about how middle-school children learn best and what parents can do to help.
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In this groundbreaking study, Perlstein chronicles the frightening and fascinating lives of the kids, teachers, and parents she grew to know intimately during a year in Columbia, MD. She introduces Eric, a bright but unmotivated African-American boy hobbled by his home life, and Elizabeth, an overachieving only child whose doting folks try to help her navigate a year of competitive swimming, her Bat Mitzvah, and pressures none of them really comprehend. She also profiles Jackie, who has become so "relationship" obsessed that her world resembles a soap opera. Sixth-graders Jimmy, whose body changes have him simultaneously terrified and thrilled, and Lily, who agonizes over what constitutes "cool" in a world where nothing makes sense anymore, are just beginning to move into the mysterious hall of mirrors that is middle school. Deft writing punctuated by well-documented observations bring these people and the depths of their challenges to life. In this subculture of suffocating peer pressure, burgeoning sexuality, obsessive gaming, gay bashing, and "IM"ing, no one emerges unscathed. Readers will emerge more knowledgeable, more understanding, and more than a little concerned for the future of all of us.-Mary R. Hofmann, Rivera Middle School, Merced, CA
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I've just read the intro and first chapter. Already I have highlighted about 5 passages that exactly fit my 13 year old 7th grader. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Tamiko Kemp
I enjoyed how the book seemed like it was part novel, part documentary. VERY insightful to students in middle school.Published 19 months ago by Catherine Burris
I read other reviews here and am struck somewhat by their petty criticisms. Some complain that the book was based on the author's observations in an upper middle-class setting. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Brian A. Foster
My daughter just finished middle school. I recognized so much of her behavior and our drama in these pages. It would have been nice to know we are actually normal. Read morePublished on July 21, 2013 by Denice Williams
As a middle school teacher, I picked up this book to learn a little more about the "secret lives" of the average middle schooler. Read morePublished on October 14, 2011 by LewisHenry
This book is not beneficial to any teacher who teaches school in the USA. This book just makes middle schools who are not raised as Jewish appear as if they struggle, meanwhile... Read morePublished on May 24, 2011 by pnutbutternation
Probably the highlight of Perlstein's work is her ability to depict middle school students on their own terms-- this could not have been an easy feat for her or for the students... Read morePublished on July 3, 2010 by Amy
I was excited to pick up this book and get to reading. Shortly into it, I found I had trouble keeping track of who was who and was frustrated by the structure of the book. Read morePublished on March 5, 2010 by J. Merlavage