Book Lists, Young Adult

Books I Read in Middle School

Ah, middle school. There was a point in time where I would beg my mom to drive me to the library every week and she would have to limit the amount of books I’d check out. I think my subconscious goal was to read everything in the “Teen/Young Adult” section of the library.

I must admit that I cherish middle school Julia’s tenacity. Back then I was just sort of wandering through the shelves and picking whatever books had the most exciting covers. After reading the books in often just one sitting, I’d log onto Tumblr and Pinterest (the only two forms of social media I had) and search to see what other people my age thought about what I’d just read.

There are many books I read in middle school where I now think back and go hmm….. Some of these picks don’t stand the test of time for me. You know what? That’s okay. Life’s a journey, I suppose. We all have questionable interests.

I grew up in a boom for YA Lit. The Hunger Games and Harry Potter had changed the game and everyone wanted that kind of success. Books started to become a bit formulaic as everyone jumped on the dystopian and fantasy trains to write the next big hit. Even back then, I noticed this. Teenage girls are incredibly huge consumers of the YA market, so it is important for writers and publishers to note that we do recognize these patterns. Even at twelve I picked up books and could immediately tell if it was The Hunger Games with a few tweaks. This was always disappointing.

The other problem, which I think pervades to this day, is the tendency of YA novel to make female characters be extremely polarizing in their views of love. Either the protagonist only thinks about love, or she abhors it and is extremely resentful towards other women who do care about love.

Still, I read a lot of books that followed these patterns and may have loved them at the time even with their pitfalls. Now, let’s look back at some of the books I read in middle school that kind of make me giggle today.

Disclaimer: I am not saying you should not read any of these books, and you can certainly like them, too! While I don’t feel that they hold up for me now, I did love reading stories like these for a long time and there is so much merit in that.

Six Books From my Middle School Bookshelf

1. Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Oh dear, sweet Delirium. The basic gist of this book is society sees love as a disease. As you can imagine, this creates a space for a whole lot of dystopian teenage angst. This felt like a pretty powerful book to me at twelve. Seventh grade had enough emotional turmoil without our society ruling that love is a disease, and Delirium felt like it was so raw and real to me. Now, I just kind of giggle when I think about this book. It’s really cheesy, and perhaps not as powerful and poignant as I once believed.

2. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

This story is a forbidden romance between teenage girl Nora and a fallen angel named Patch. The fact that middle school me swooned over a character named Patch aside, this book basically makes the main character obsolete. Nora has absolutely no agency besides obsessing over Patch all day. She’s boiled down to only what she can provide in the romantic sphere. I would like add that I did read this entire series, and at the end of the last book I was so frustrated over the ending that I actually cried. That might say more about me than about Hush, Hush, but know the series does not have a satisfying conclusion.

3. Matched by Ally Condie

This dystopian YA is about a society where teenagers are “Matched” with their romantic partner for life when they are only seventeen. I never finished Matched even in middle school. Although a notoriously popular book of the 2010s, it focuses too much on emulating a formulaic YA popular tale. Also, the main character falls flat for me.

4. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

This human and werewolf romance really appealed to me in middle school. Yet upon reread, I begin to realize how terrible the main character treats everyone that isn’t the love interest. Specifically, she treats her best friends terribly. Also, for a book about werewolves, the plot feels extremely slow. What disappoints me most now about this book is the romance. Not only is it not as exciting as I remembered, it’s actually quite creepy.

5. Allegiant by Veronica Roth

The YA community has always been pretty split over the Divergent series, but I lean to the side of enjoyment. Divergent is a book I genuinely enjoyed, and Insurgent certainly has pitfalls but nothing near the experience of Allegiant. I know I’ve talked about Allegiant before on this blog, but I came out the other end of this book just so sad and frustrated. There is no character growth for the protagonist. Tris does not value the voices of the people she cares about that also care about her. The plot felt like it had no real direction. For a series with such an engaging beginning, I just wanted so much more from this book.

6. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Sigh… I do think this book is well written. I also do not hate all John Green novels and have read most if not all of them. In middle school, both the book and film adaptation of TFIOS sent me into a full-blown sob-fest. Now when I reread TFIOS I just can’t get over a lot of the (super quotable) cringe teenage dialogue between Hazel and Gus. Especially all of the times when Gus tries to be aggressively prolific and metaphorical. Also, kissing at the Anne Frank House? I can’t forget it.

In conclusion, middle school girls are equally impressionable and intelligent. The stories that we as writers give to young audiences should be done so with conscious thought of what the stories are trying to say. I read a lot of books as a kid, but the ones that stick with me are the ones with multi-dimensional characters who did not just sit around and think about their love lives all day, or resent other women for their emotions. Young readers are smart enough to pick up on when books feel aggressively formulaic, and that was often the reason I did not finish books back then.

I recognize that perhaps I am no longer the target audience for many of these stories. Regardless of my current opinions I have to give credit to the fact that these books kept me reading at a time in life where many kids stop. So maybe I wouldn’t pick them up at the library now, but I am glad that they existed at the time.

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