Really different from last year’s Newbery Honor book by the same author, Penny From Heaven, Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf is subtitled A Year Told Through Stuff, but it’s really more like a year told through lists, letters, cards, ticket stubs, reminder notes, report cards, newspaper clippings, cartoons, poems, and compositions– and a few other memorabilia and assorted, well, yeah, stuff.
Ginny starts seventh grade with a list of ten things to do, including “win something, anything” and “get a dad” and “ignore horoscope whenever possible.” She also starts out with a good attitude: “There’s nothing like the first day of school with all those waxed floors and hopeful faces. You can’t help but think you’ll get a fresh start and be the girl everyone thinks is cool . . .” Unfortunately, horoscope or no, Ginny’s fortunes go downhill from that first bright, hopeful day of school to an all-time low of five C’s and a disciplinary referral. Ginny’s a resilient character, though, and she comes back by the end of the book with a summer list and some hope for improvement in her eighth grade year.
The thing that’s going to be noticed about this book, of course, is the lack of a regular text and the gimmick of telling the story in notes and junk. I say “gimmick” because, honestly, until about halfway through the book, it annoyed me to have to look all over the page, turn some pages sideways, check the small print, and think in order to understand the story. Then, it got to be like a puzzle. I think kids might get into the game more quickly than I did, but then again my conservative daughter took one look at the book and said, “That’s not a real book.” I haven’t been able to interest her in it at all. My usual not-so-sneaky method is to read the first couple of chapters out loud, but that wouldn’t work at all for this book, so I’ll have to resort to leaving it lying around in conspicuous places and picking it up and laughing ostentatiously.
I do think Brown Bear Daughter, age 12, would enjoy this story of another dancer who struggles through seventh grade writing up gruesome life science experiments, turning her hair pink, and trying to get her mom to buy her the perfect (expensive) sweater. Here’s the verdict from Karate Kid, age 10:
This book is going to be hard to write about. You see, this book is written like… well, I can’t really tell you what it’s written like. It is told from lots of things, like emails, letters, comics, and a lot more that I can’t remember. The, I guess you could say, main character, is named Ginny. She is in middle school and wants a sweater. Yes, a sweater. I can’t really tell you any more about this book, except that I thought it was interesting and I hope you will too.”
The scoop from other bloggers:
Camille at Book Moot: “I will confess that I was reading the book while I was fixing its MARC record. I became hopelessly involved in the story though and when I saw the image of the program for Ginny’s ballet recital I gasped so loudly the library aide wondered what was wrong with me.”
Miss Yingling Reads: “I came away with the conclusion that this was really rather clever, and was something that reluctant readers might pick up.”
Elizabeth Bird of Fuse #8 Production: “Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf” is a tale told via “stuff”. Notes, detention slips, photos, CDs, invitations, shopping lists, you name it. A perfect blending of chaotic piles and orderly prose, this book gets to the heart of the best and the worst (more often the worst) of this most awkward and necessary of ages.
MotherReader: “I loved this innovative approach to charting a year, and props go out to Elicia Castaldi for the pictures. My sixth grade daughter (not middle school here, but still) really enjoyed the book too.”