How to Survive Middle School

by Donna Gephart
ages: 10+
First sentence: “The first day of summer vacation is important, because what you do that day sets the tone for the rest of summer.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy sent to me by the author.

David Greenberg loves making movies: short little funny vids that kind-of riff on The Daily Show. He makes them with his best friend, Elliot, and yeah, they just upload them to YouTube, but it’s the making them together that’s the fun part.

Or so David thought. That was before the summer before sixth grade, and Elliot decides that what they really need to go is go to the mall and scope out girls. David, however, disagrees, and the friendship is on the rocks. Right before middle school.

Unfortunately — and in a very stereotypical turn; do all middle schools have to have the bully who is less-than-smart, smokes, and flushes heads in toilets? — Elliot partners up with the school bully, and they gang up on David. Now, on top of still trying to adjust to his Mom’s leaving two years earlier, David has to deal with a best friend-turned-traitor. And this leads to all kinds of trouble: suspensions, detentions, fights… On the other hand, it also leads him to be friends with Sophie, bright, formerly homeschooled, and, interestingly enough, amazingly connected. She finds David’s videos hilarious and emails a link to some friends. The link passes around and the video goes viral. David’s an internet star!

Now, to just reconcile his popularity on the internet with his increasing loser status in real life.

It was a clever concept, contrasting real life with virtual life, and I think Gephart managed that fairly well. It’s a timeless story, adjusting to new situations, trying to make new friends, and what to do when your anchor leaves you. But, sometimes I couldn’t help wondering: how relevant will all this be in five, ten years? Will we even know (or care) who Jon Stewart is? Don’t get me wrong: I love the show. It’s just using pop culture references in a book automatically makes it less timeless than those where the story stands more on its own.

That said, David is a great character, and his trials and tribulations will be real to the age group this is intended for. So it’s a bit pop culture-heavy, and a bit too stereotypical. There’s a singing hamster and an 11-year-old who gets to be famous for 15 minutes. It’s fun. And sometimes that’s all you can ask for out of a book.

One thought on “How to Survive Middle School

  1. That's a really interesting point you bring up, because there are a lot of books now that reference pop culture. I guess for me I wonder if maybe the author isn't all that concerned about staying power and more about getting the book out there? You know? I guess it's all up to them, but for me I can't see it lasting, with a rare exception of course.

    Loved the review by the way! Thanks for sharing it on the link up last week!


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