Middle School book club for adults!
November 18, 2009 5:46 PM   Subscribe

Middle School book club for adults! A group of friends and I have recently started a book club featuring middle school literature. The first book we read was The Giver and the resulting discussion was amazing. I am looking for more books like this - young adult literature with larger themes. We have also considered Island of the Blue Dolphins and A Wrinkle in Time. What other books would you recommend?
posted by koselig to Writing & Language (83 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
The Hunger Game (like The Lottery or 1984 for middle school kids)
The Book Thief (Holocaust)
posted by melodykramer at 5:47 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Animal Farm
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:48 PM on November 18, 2009

Hatchet? or is that too young?

I really enjoyed Sabriel; the sequels, not necessarily as much, but all three are good.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:50 PM on November 18, 2009

Tribes of Palos Verdes.
posted by fire&wings at 5:50 PM on November 18, 2009

there's a lot of middle school book lists online to get you started.

here's a pretty long one (pdf)

if you search for specifically "honors" or "AP" books, they should all be pretty good in the conversation starter column.
posted by nadawi at 5:51 PM on November 18, 2009

Bridge to Terabithia
A Day No Pigs Would Die
Summer of My German Soldier
To Kill a Mockingbird
posted by BundleOfHers at 5:52 PM on November 18, 2009

This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:52 PM on November 18, 2009

Harriet the Spy
posted by Babblesort at 5:53 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding Hunger Games.

I really liked How I Live Now, but I think it's more high school than middle-school.
posted by craichead at 5:54 PM on November 18, 2009

Holes by Louis Sachar
posted by jamaro at 5:54 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Great idea!

The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. LeGuin
The His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman
The Harry Potter books
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Anything by Judy Blume
posted by xenophile at 5:55 PM on November 18, 2009

Pretty much anything by William Sleator. House of Stairs is actually one of those things that comes up pretty frequently on AskMe as a "Help me remember this book I read in highschool" question.
posted by lalex at 5:56 PM on November 18, 2009

Julie of the Wolves.

Seconding Bridge to Terabithia
posted by Sassyfras at 5:59 PM on November 18, 2009

Jezebel.com used to have a feature called Fine Lines where they'd review/revisit YA novels. You may find some inspiration there. (Scroll down for a list of books they've covered.)
posted by jrossi4r at 5:59 PM on November 18, 2009

Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse, which is a lovely verse novel about the Dust Bowl.
posted by lysimache at 5:59 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Gossamer (another book by Lois Lowry)

Flowers for Algernon

Nthing a Wrinkle in Time
posted by Wolfster at 6:00 PM on November 18, 2009

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler might be for a slightly younger age group but it remains one of my favorite books. Also, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.
posted by pemberkins at 6:02 PM on November 18, 2009

Dear Mr. Henshaw and Diary of a Wimpy Kid come to mind.

I subbed in a 6th grade Language Arts class today and they had The Long Rain in the textbook. The book also suggested that the kids read other Bradbury short story collections and named one novel although I can't for the life of me remember what it is right now.
posted by theichibun at 6:02 PM on November 18, 2009

Anything by Alexander Key.
posted by january at 6:03 PM on November 18, 2009

I really liked The Hero and the Crown when I was that age.

Nthing A Wrinkle in Time and all the books that follow. Your club sounds like fun, wish I could join!
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:06 PM on November 18, 2009

Anything by John Marsden
posted by Kerasia at 6:09 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are sequels to both A Wrinkle in time (see this set) and Island of the Blue Dolphins (Zia). Also, Scott O'Dell wrote quite a few novels about heroic young women which I remember loving when I was in middle school.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:15 PM on November 18, 2009

Uglies is all the rage in the Middle Schools these days.
posted by RedEmma at 6:16 PM on November 18, 2009

I was part of a group that did this. Once we had a Judy Blume twofer: one book we all read (Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret) and one wild card (everyone chose a different Blume novel to bring to the discussion). Probably our best meeting.
posted by roger ackroyd at 6:23 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Chocolate War and I Am the Cheese, both by Robert Cormier, were two of the darkest (and more interesting) books I read in middle school. Great for jumpstarting discussions about peer pressure, questionable authority figures, and teenage angst.
posted by cobwebberies at 6:31 PM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, Ratso and the Rats of NIMH, or The Westing Game. Also any of the "My Side of the Mountain" books.
posted by KoPi_42 at 6:33 PM on November 18, 2009

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
posted by bibliophibianj at 6:35 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

A lot of the books listed here -- including the three you mentioned in your question -- are Newbery winners -- you could do worse than to go down the list of winners and honors and pick out ones that look promising. If you want to read books for high school as well as middle school, check out the Printz winners and honors.
posted by cider at 6:36 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Z for Zacharias is a great, great disturbing book.

Milo and The Phantom Tollbooth? Is that too young? We don't have middle school in Australia, so not sure about age range.

Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones is arguably her best book.
posted by smoke at 6:40 PM on November 18, 2009

I got my middle-school teaching license a couple years ago and collected books endlessly for awhile. Not actually teaching now, but here are some of my favorites:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - my book club read this recently
His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman (Golden Compass is by far the best)
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
The Lightning Thief by Percy Jackson (haven't read the rest of the series, but the first book is great!
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
posted by JannaK at 6:42 PM on November 18, 2009

The Absolutely True Diary of Sherman Alexie

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain

A lot of the other suggestions in this thread are the kinds that really make me smile and are probably most appropriate for what you're going for, I think. Lots of books that I'd forgotten about, but that I would love to read again as an adult. These two that I suggested are just two that I've seen on some booklists lately that I'd bet I would have really liked to have had around when I was younger (haven't read them myself yet).

I saw a girl reading "Island of the Blue Dolphins" the other day and I wanted to run up and hug her; it was at a get together with tons of adults and kids running around screaming, and she was totally in her own world, absorbed in the book. I had totally been there, and was just surprised that I wasn't the only that had found and cherished that book.
posted by sa3z at 6:47 PM on November 18, 2009

House of the Scorpion is an excellent book on many levels.

posted by jack.tinker at 6:53 PM on November 18, 2009

Feed by M.T. Anderson is easily the best "young adult" book I've ever read. I consider it real literature, absolutely on par with anything else I've ever read.

Every time I see it shelved in the same section as "Twilight", I die a little bit inside.
posted by Commander Rachek at 6:53 PM on November 18, 2009

Here is the link
posted by jack.tinker at 6:56 PM on November 18, 2009

The White Mountains Trilogy (aka The Tripods) by John Christopher. Loved this as a kid and read it first as a serialized comic strip in Boy's Life. I left the Boy Scouts, but kept reading the trilogy.
posted by grabbingsand at 6:56 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Ender's Game is a good choice

also The House of the Scorpion
posted by aetg at 6:56 PM on November 18, 2009

You may want to check out the book "Shelf Discovery - The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading" for more of a meta level. It has a really nice collection of the books we all read and loved, with some commentary that might be good conversation prompters (along with some "who the hell loved that?") and is roughly categorized into topic areas if you wanted to read two or three on a topic and compare and contrast.
posted by librarianamy at 7:19 PM on November 18, 2009

Kavik the Wolf Dog by Walt Morey
posted by ourroute at 7:27 PM on November 18, 2009

I just finished Shelf Discovery and thought the text was awful (all "OMG remember that one scene he was so dreamy amirite"), but it is a great reading list of 70s-80s YA fiction.

M.T. Anderson's Feed is in fact awesome, and the audiobook is even better. And enough good things can never be said about From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

On the nature of faith:
True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff
Ordinary Miracles by Stephanie Tolan

On family relationships:
Homecoming and Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt

Just plain awesome:
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:30 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

2nd-ing Summer of My German Soldier. Amazing book.
Belle Prater's Boy
Bud, Not Buddy
Dicey's Song
A Single Shard
Missing May
Walk Two Moons
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
The King Must Die, etc.
posted by dpcoffin at 7:32 PM on November 18, 2009

Great suggestions so far. I will definitely be taking these ideas to my next meeting! It is so interesting to revisit books that had such an impact when read during the middle school/young adult years. Keep 'em coming!
posted by koselig at 7:34 PM on November 18, 2009

One more here for Tuck Everlasting. I read it countless times when I was in middle school. It's beautifully written, and at a young age made me realize that the scope of my life was going to be much larger than the most recent set of events I'd experienced.
posted by bluishorange at 7:44 PM on November 18, 2009

Nothing But the Truth: a Documentary Novel. Very involving story about a boy who gets caught up in a politically-charged gaff that gets blown out of proportion by his community and the mass media. Feels like it was written in the post-9/11 world, but was actually written in 1991, so it's eerily prescient of the atmosphere that was to follow.
posted by meadowlark lime at 7:56 PM on November 18, 2009

Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book is really great for discussion, especially in light of the idea that it's sort of a retelling of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book
posted by alight at 8:01 PM on November 18, 2009

Beverly Cleary's teen fiction: Fifteen, Jean and Johnny, The Luckiest Girl, Sister of the Bride.
posted by brujita at 8:15 PM on November 18, 2009

I am sad to tell you that there is no book like The Giver. None. I read that novel three or four times in a row, and it made me seriously and quietly philosophical. Having said that:

Singularity by William Sleator is about a pair of twins who discover a mysterious time-altering property. Science fiction, fabulous, award-winning, and lauded by the ever-awesome Orson Scott Card.

Tuck Everlasting, suggested upthread, was much-loved by my peers when we read it in 6th grade.

Also, I remember feeling that Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None had pretty awesome underlying themes of how people feel or do not feel guilt, while also being a really interesting mystery story. According to wikipedia, it is also the seventh most popular book of all time.
posted by Night_owl at 8:21 PM on November 18, 2009

Maniac Magee
posted by tamitang at 8:27 PM on November 18, 2009

the wren books by sherwood smith. i was the girl who found out the upper limit of how many books you were allowed to check out of the public library at one time (32). wren to the rescue, the first book, was my favorite book. when i discovered there were two more in college, i almost cried.
posted by anthropomorphic at 8:29 PM on November 18, 2009

"Number the Stars" is another Lois Lowry book (quite a few mentions of hers here.) I also liked the discussions we had with an old classic, "Tess of the d'Urbervilles"
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:30 PM on November 18, 2009

Jezebel did a series of this sort of thing. Here's one.
posted by k8t at 8:48 PM on November 18, 2009

Holes by Louis Sachar is probably the only "middle school" book I've read, but man is that a great one. Magical Realism at its best. Even the Disney-fied movie was pretty good.
posted by zardoz at 8:51 PM on November 18, 2009

Go Ask Alice
posted by patheral at 8:52 PM on November 18, 2009

Terry Pratchett's Bromeliad Trilogy is really fun
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:38 PM on November 18, 2009

I'm just popping into this thread to second the suggestion to just run through the list of Newbery Winners. Pretty much most of my favorite YA books are on that list!
posted by desuetude at 9:39 PM on November 18, 2009

Feed, by M.T. Anderson, definitely. Holes is the obvious recommendation from Louis Sachar, but his earlier stuff is wonderful, too. There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom is one of my all-time favorite books.

My sis is a YA connoisseur - I'll send her this link and she'll have some great suggestions for ya. (She won't mention this, but if you're still doing the book club a year from now, I highly recommend her own book, Like Mandarin. Slated for release by Harcourt in fall 2010. You heard it here first!!)
posted by granted at 9:40 PM on November 18, 2009

Damn I fucked that up. I meant Delacorte, 2011. Maybe I shouldn't send her the link, I'm a horrible sister
posted by granted at 9:47 PM on November 18, 2009

A Separate Peace by John Knowles
posted by anonymous78 at 10:01 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

My wife teaches middle school and tosses books at me. She's a big fan of Barcode Tatoo. which i haven't read.
I did read Uglies, and it was very good. I also enjoyed Star Girl a lot. I wish I'd have had books this good back in the early 60s.
And, in a voice of dissent, avoid Judy Blume at all costs.
posted by cccorlew at 10:51 PM on November 18, 2009

Ohhh Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson! Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars! Possibly also Philip Hall Likes Me, I Reckon Maybe by Bette Green.

Seconding Holes.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:30 AM on November 19, 2009

Thrilled that you guys discussed The Giver - it keeps threading itself back into my brain with regularity for such a slim volume.
I like teaching and discussing picture books with students, which I haven't seen mentioned here. Shaun Tan's The Rabbits [with John Marsden] is thought-provoking and was a surprisingly rich source of discussion at our book club.
"Tomorrow When the War Began" is a very popular text here in Australia and worth reading. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is excellent, especially if you happen to read To Kill A Mockingbird at the same time - same aged narrators, but one white and one black; same time and place but very different takes on the lived experiences of different races. Lots to talk about for adults.
posted by honey-barbara at 2:42 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Catherine, Called Birdy
Chasing Redbird and Walk Two Moons--both by Sharon Creech
Wringer and Stargirl--both by Jerry Spinelli
A Dog’s Story-Ann Martin
Where the Red Fern grows
Tuck Everlasting
Kite Runner
The Book Thief
The Life of Pi
Out of the Dust
The Thief Lord, Inkheart, Inkspell, Dragon Rider--all by Cornelia Funke
Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux--both by Kate DiCamillo
The Great Gilly Hopkins
The Giver – Lois Lowry
Holes – Louis Sachar
Jacob Have I Loved – Katherine Patterson
posted by Elsie at 4:42 AM on November 19, 2009

I'm granted's sister :) I wish my book came out in fall 2010, but publishing's slooow.

Some amazing answers here. I want to mention that while YA is split between 12 & up and 14 & up, The Giver, A Wrinkle in Time, and Island of the Blue Dolphins are all Middle Grade (MG), falling into the 8-12 bracket (though of course all three are well worth reading by people of all ages). "Middle School" would cross both categories, since junior high kids vary like crazy.

Here are some of my favorites:

(just a few)
Wringer - Jerry Spinelli
Everything by Louis Sachar, but specifically Holes and There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom (to second my sister)
The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Elizabeth George Speare

In the last ten years, the young adult genre has faced such a renaissance that it makes my heart swell to be a part of it. The list of Printz winners is your best bet for finding paramount literary YA. onwards...

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Feed by M.T. Anderson (I agree with Commander Rachek)
Speak or Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
How I Live Now - Meg Rosoff
Tales From Outer Suburbia - Shaun Tan (short, illustrated vignettes, genius)
Graceling and Fire - Kristin Cashore
Living Dead Girl - Elizabeth Scott (one of the most horrifying things you will ever read)
A Certain Slant of Light - Laura Whitcomb
Shiver - Maggie Stiefvater
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Finnkin of the Rock - Melina Marchetta

Have fun!
posted by changeling at 6:53 AM on November 19, 2009

I'm a little surprised M.T. Anderson's been mentioned a few times and no one has said anything about The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing. It's probably on the higher end of the YA spectrum, but it's a hell of a read.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:58 AM on November 19, 2009

Oh and also The Catalogue of the Universe and The Haunting, both by Margaret Mahy.
posted by Ziggy500 at 7:04 AM on November 19, 2009

Patheral and i are the same age with the same book memory- Go Ask Alice was a big one when i was in middle school. Much more contraversial than Judy Blume and along with Art Linkletter, the reason i will forever think of LSD as the worst drug ever. We need a Go Ask Alice for the meth generation.

My middle schooler loves "The Giver". You started at the top of her list. She also loves "Holes" and "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" and "The boy in the striped pajamas" The "Cliques" series is big with her friends. I think that and the "twilight" stuff is the fluff for most of them. My daughter's fluff is all the Mike Lupica books. Pretty trite and formulaic but she can't resist a feel good sport story.
posted by domino at 7:10 AM on November 19, 2009

I think it was already mentioned above, but another shout-out for Catherine Called Birdy. I still occasionally pick it up and reread it, and it's just as good as it was back then, if not funnier.

A little-known book called Quest for a Maid was one of my all-time favorites. Strong spunky female characters in a really interesting time period (13th century Scotland).

Wise Child
and its prequel, Juniper.

Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness quartet.

May be difficult for middle school, but I Capture the Castle is one of the best books I have ever read.

Gawd I love YA books.
posted by bookgirl18 at 8:24 AM on November 19, 2009

Way before he wrote Holes, Sachar wrote a book called Someday Angeline. I remember ADORING it when i was little (though i wonder how it would hold up now?)

Cynthia Voight's Homecoming made a strong impression on me as well.

And everything, everything, by Madeline L'Engle, whose books I still re-read periodically. (My best friend feels the same way about Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series.)
posted by desuetude at 8:32 AM on November 19, 2009

Nthing votes for Holes and A Seperate Peace. A Seperate Peace I read in high school, the other I read as an adult (over thirty). The film of Holes isn't bad, either.

Ender's Game is an engaging read and I would have liked it as a middle-schooler. Not sure that it's middle-schooler reading material, though.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was readable but not particularly deep or challenging.

The Uglies / Pretties / Specials trilogy is interesting. (There's now a fourth book which I have not read because trilogy means THREE dagnabbit. Now get off my lawn!) The same guy (Westerfeld) has also done a remixed vampire novel called Peeps that I liked better than the not-a-trilogy.

In reading-for-snark, I had way too much fun with Twilight and its successors. They're snarktastic and yet I can see (through a glass, darkly) the appeal that they would have had for my thirteen-year-old self. Had I been thirteen when I met 'em instead of thirty-something, they'd have shone as brightly as Edward in sunlight.
posted by which_chick at 8:56 AM on November 19, 2009

Some of these are repeats, take that as additional votes in their favor, I guess?

Someday Angeline
, Louis Sachar
Holes, Louis Sachar
There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom, Louis Sachar
Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli
The Harry Potter Series, J.K. Rowling
His Dark Materials Series, Philip Pullman
House of the Scorpion, Nancy Farmer
The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster (too young?)
The View from Saturday, E.L. Konigsburg
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg
Silent to the Bone, E.L. Konigsburg
You Don't Know Me, David Klass
The My Teacher Series, Bruce Coville

(I've just been looking at my bookshelf as I write this. I am a huge dork.)
posted by audacity at 2:07 PM on November 19, 2009

desuetude, Someday Angeline is just as good as you remember. I promise.
posted by audacity at 2:08 PM on November 19, 2009

Oh my goodness, I almost forgot:

The Tiffany Aching Series, Terry Pratchett

I adore these books. They might be my favorite of all the Discworld books. I like them better than Harry Potter.
posted by audacity at 2:10 PM on November 19, 2009

The Whipping Boy
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Maus by Art Spiegelman
Lord of the Flies

i'm glad I didn't read The Little Prince until high school.. probably wouldn't have grasped its weight at the tender age of 11. Still don't grasp all of it now.
posted by chalbe at 2:13 PM on November 19, 2009

About You Don't Know Me: When you read descriptions of it the thing everyone really leaves out is that it in addition to being a book that tackles a lot of tough issues it is also laugh-out-loud, tears-in-your-eyes, gasping-for-breath funny (or at least it was when I read it in high school).
posted by audacity at 2:15 PM on November 19, 2009

Another vote for the Uglies / Pretties / Specials trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. I'd love to listen in on, if not participate in, a discussion about it.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:33 PM on November 19, 2009

The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key. It's out of print, but you really ought to read it. Find a used copy. It's amazing.

(January - I've never heard of anybody else even knowing about Alexander Key. Glad he hasn't been entirely forgotten.)
posted by Cygnet at 3:39 PM on November 19, 2009

Crossing the Wire by Will Hobbs is really damn exciting and raises lots of issues about illegal immigrants/undocumented workers.
posted by LolaCola at 4:08 PM on November 19, 2009

A Taste of Blackberries - forgotten classic from the 70's, short and bittersweet
posted by cherrybounce at 4:48 PM on November 19, 2009

> Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars!

Seconding! And that reminds me of another awesome YA book by Byars, The Cartoonist, which deals with a boy who faces the loss of his personal sanctuary - the attic where he draws and keeps his drawings - after his brother and his brother's wife move back home. Lots of interesting family dynamics going on in there, as well as tension between self-imposed isolation vs interacting with others. Great stuff! Loving this thread and all the memories it's bringing back.
posted by cobwebberies at 5:55 PM on November 19, 2009

Thanks for all the suggestions everyone! Hopefully our book club will last long enough to explore lots of these great books!
posted by koselig at 7:16 PM on November 19, 2009

nadawi: "there's a lot of middle school book lists online to get you started.

here's a pretty long one (pdf)

if you search for specifically "honors" or "AP" books, they should all be pretty good in the conversation starter column.

I felt that this list was more on the high school level than middle school.
posted by radioamy at 8:03 AM on November 21, 2009

smoke: "Milo and The Phantom Tollbooth? Is that too young? We don't have middle school in Australia, so not sure about age range."

Funny, I was going to mention The Phantom Tollbooth but I have no idea what age it's for. It was read to me when I was in preschool, and I have read it myself several times including last year. It's freakin awesome.

My favorite author as a kid was Zilpha Keatley Snyder...all her books are awesome, but I particularly loved The Velvet Room, Libby on Wednesday and The Headless Cupid (4 books in that series I think).

By the way, this sounds like the best book club ever!
posted by radioamy at 8:07 AM on November 21, 2009

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