Monday, July 7, 2014

Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes

For Joylin Johnson, 12, there is nothing better than a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, a game of one on one with Jake, or hanging out with her best friend KeeLee.  It all adds up to a good day for her.  Or at least it used to until middle school came along and everything changed.

Joylin is changing - she's growing up and not happy about the changes,  inside or outside her body.  But she continues to play basketball, making the team at school and garnering all of her basketball loving father's praise.  The problem is that leaves no praise left over for little brother Caden, a talented artist in his own right, who keeps trying to get his father's attention and a little praise for himself.

Then, one Saturday, Joylin heads over to join the boys only basketball game.  When Joylin gets the ball, she suddenly realizes the guard on the other team who's shadowing her has killer green eyes.  She loses the ball and has a fight with Jake, but finds out the boy's name is Santiago.

Suddenly, Joylin is smitten and to attract Santiago's attention, she changes herself to get him to notice her.  But heels and makeup just aren't her style and besides, Santiago still doesn't notice her.  Naturally, Jake and KeeLee are quick to point out that she really just needs to be herself.

But it takes a man texting in his car to make Joylin finally stop and reassess what are the most important things in her life.

When my Kiddo was around Joylin's age, she said to me one day "Wouldn't you love to be my age again?  It's the best!"  My answer was a flat out and resounding NO!  Once was enough.  And as the realities of tween life began to make themselves felt, she told me she could totally understand why I said no.

I had forgotten about his conversation until I started reading Nikki Grimes's Planet Middle School.  Grimes has managed to capture exactly what the transition from child to adolescent is like in this short, free verse volume.  It's all there - from changing hormones to clothes to zits to confusing feelings about boys, friends and life in general.

Joylin is the first person narrator and that  combined with the free verse style results in a feeling of stream of consciousness that gives this story a sense of intimacy and immediacy.  And Joylin is a great narrator - she's sassy, at times sarcastic, but she can also be kind and understanding, especially when it comes to her little brother.

This is an ideal book for anyone girl who has reached middle school age and who may be having some feelings of trepidation and anxiety about the changes she is facing or already experiencing.  It's always comforting to know that experiences like Joylin's happens to all girls.  I wish I had it to give to my Kiddo when she was 12.

One of the things I really loved about Planet Middle School is that the protagonist is African American but it is not about being African American per se, it is about being a girl entering a new phase of her life and that makes the story really universal.

Planet Middle School is, on the whole. a wonderful, very readable story about family friendship and growing up.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

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