Alfred Martino's Pinned (reviewed February 27, 2007) and Over the End Line are examples of great books that are just too old for my students. Jonny and Kyle have always been friends even though Kyle has the popularity that Jonny craves. Jonny is on his way to being a top soccer star and being popular, but all that changes after a drunken party when a girl is attacked by several of the soccer players and Jonny is too drunk to stop them. Riveting, interesting, and nuanced, this is just too much for middle school.
Michelle Kehm's Suzi Clue is also too old; some books dealing with prom go over well, but this one was unsatisfactory for reasons I can't quite name. Actually, the names were a little disconcerting, which is a personal sore point: a Spanish teacher named Ms. Picante, an indie girl named Jett Black, cheerleaders named Trixie Topp. The author has written for many adult magazines, so this just felt like a book for older high school students.
I really liked Patrick Carman's Atherton series, and am looking forward to his installation in The Thirty Nine Clues series, but his Skeleton Creek was something I couldn't get through. For one, it was produced in a handwriting font in all capital letters. This would not annoy students, but it felt like shouting. It is a mystery, with some horror, but is too slow paced for the students who prefer this sort of story. Too much time is spent on Ryan writing in his journal about how much he likes writing. The cheap Scholastic paper-over-board binding and the presence of a web site with videos that add to the story did not work in this book's favor. I can see it being popular at book fairs, however.
Fahy's Sleepless was really hard to pick up because the cover is just gross. Normally, I would think this is a big selling point, but again, the book gets off to a slow start. A group of students travels to New Orleans to help rebuild in the wake of Hurrican Katrina, and when they return home they find that they are walking in their sleep and killing people, probably due to a secret they all are keeping from their trip, or perhaps some voodoo at work. My students who like vampire/zombies/horror like a little faster paced story with a slightly lighter touch, so I think I'll pass. (Think Heather Brewer's The Chronicles of Vladimir Todd.)
Very excited about getting back to school! 6th graders start tomorrow!