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Not Much Just Chillin': The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers Paperback – August 31, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 8.1.2004 edition (August 31, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345475763
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345475763
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #575,822 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Daniel J. Maloney on October 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Middle school kids often receive far too little attention by way of study and research. Perhaps some believe that middle school kids are not worth studying separately from adolescence since it is such a brief period of time. Yet, at the same time, there is probably no age group that goes through such a significant and dramatic set of developmental changes in a few short years than middle schoolers.

I applaud Linda Perlstein's efforts to capture the essence of middle school kids and to represent the trials and tribulations of this age. In her study, Perlstein spent a year's time becoming a part of a real middle school. Rather than study these kids from an academic perspective, Perlstein took a much more holistic and anthropological approach. She talked to the kids, she watched the kids, she spoke to their parents, and she observed their relational interactions and their highs and lows and she spent a lot of time with their teachers.

The result of Linda Perlstein's efforts is a significant book for educators, parents and kids on the struggles of middle school years. While some might attack this as a study less scientific or quantitative than rigorous academics might prefer, I believe that she is right on the mark in reporting on these kids through her experience of them. This is a tough age and my belief is that it grows even more stressful on kids as our society continues to change and as kids mature faster on a physical level.

I believe this is a book that should be read by a number of different groups and that it could be a foundation for some wonderful discussions among teachers and between teachers and parents.

An understudied subject most interestingly presented. Highly Recommended.

Daniel J. Maloney
Saint Paul, Minnesota USA
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia Kahn on September 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I heartily applaud what the author set out to do, and (as the parent of a 6th grader) I couldn't wait to get my hands on her book. I have to say I was pretty disappointed overall. While the author chooses to focus on 5 middle schoolers, she devotes a disproportionate amount of time to the girls' relationships and problems; by the end of the book I felt I knew much less about the problems facing boys. Why, for instance, does she go into great detail about the bat mitzvah of Elizabeth, but only briefly refer to the wedding of Eric's dad -- an event with equally large impact in his life?
Often she makes recommendations for parents or teachers to follow without citing any reference (other than, presumably, the comments of these admittedly self-centered tweeners). And her style of narrative can be confusing -- characters are brought into the story with little or no introduction, only to disappear and never return.
Having said all that, I still am glad I read the book. I feel I gleaned a few insights (and of course am comforted to know I'm not the only parent wondering where my wonderful child went). However, if you are looking for a more thoroughly researched book with clear suggestions for middle school parents and teachers, I highly recommend "Our Last Best Shot" by Laura Sessions Stepp. She takes a similar approach but, for my money, gets right to the heart of the matter while Perlstein floats on the surface.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Kay Jones, Educator on December 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Would you like to turn back time and repeat your middle school/junior high school days? NO!? Most of us would not want to revisit that developmental period of growing pains, rioting hormones, instant crushes, and social angst.
Linda Perlstein narrates the emotional rollercoaster rides of five "tweens" over one academic year in a suburban middle school in MD. She insightfully captures their dialogue, their mood swings, and their daily dramas. Parents about to experience their first "tween" and students in the field of education who are interested in teaching this age group will be benefit from reading this book.
I taught middle schoolers for nine of my 24 years in public school education and I remember clearly their emotional responses: "I didn't do anything!" "Why are you picking on me?" I was always surprised to learn, "I didn't like her yesterday, but today she's my best friend." Chaperoning dances was a learning experience about sexual development. The sixth graders were still separated by sex with boys leaning nervously against one wall and girls huddled on the other wall; the seventh graders chased and hit each other; and, the eighth graders melted together.
I found this book to be both enjoyable and enlightening. There were moments when I laughed out loud and moments when I empathized. Woven into the narrative about the students, Ms. Perlstein includes some pearls of wisdom from parents, educators, and medical professionals for working with "tweens." This is a time of tremendous change and many challenges for students. Hopefully, they will enjoy some of the moments on their rollercoaster rides between childhood and adulthood. And, adults involved with this age group are wise to remember, this too shall pass.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A reader in Seattle on September 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In Not Much Just Chillin', Linda Perlstein illustrates some of the important themes of the critical 11-13 age group through five frustrating, endearing and ultimately fascinating kids at Wilde Lake Middle School. Everybody can relate to the complex feelings and relationships revealed through Jackie, Eric, Elizabeth, Jimmy and Lily, but what parents will find most fascinating is what is going on in the lives of their middle-schoolers that the kids believe is "too much" for their parents to deal with. Perlstein effectively weaves in advice for parents and other adult figures in kids' lives and includes interesting notes from psychologists, teachers, sociologists, and other experts on "tweens". Written with humor and compassion, "Not Much Just Chillin'" is a must-read for anybody who deals with this age group.
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