Escape

Middle School Literature

Star Crossed

Twelve-year-old Mattie wrestles with her crush on Gemma as they participate in their school production of Romeo and Juliet in what School Library Journal calls “a fine choice for middle school libraries in need of an accessible LGBTQ stories.”

Twelve-year-old Mattie is thrilled when she learns the eighth grade play will be Romeo and Juliet. In particular, she can’t wait to share the stage with Gemma Braithwaite, who has been cast as Juliet. Gemma is brilliant, pretty—and British!—and Mattie starts to see her as more than just a friend. But Mattie has also had an on/off crush on her classmate Elijah since, well, forever. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls?

If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things offstage are beginning to resemble their own Shakespearean drama: the cast is fighting, and the boy playing Romeo may not be up to the challenge of the role. And due to a last-minute emergency, Mattie is asked to step up and take over the leading role—opposite Gemma’s Juliet—just as Mattie’s secret crush starts to become not-so-secret in her group of friends.

In this funny, sweet, and clever look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to become a lead player in her own life.

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Lily and Dunkin

Lily Jo McGrother, born Timothy McGrother, is a girl. But being a girl is not so easy when you look like a boy. Especially when you’re in the eighth grade.

Dunkin Dorfman, birth name Norbert Dorfman, is dealing with bipolar disorder and has just moved from the New Jersey town he’s called home for the past thirteen years. This would be hard enough, but the fact that he is also hiding from a painful secret makes it even worse.

One summer morning, Lily Jo McGrother meets Dunkin Dorfman, and their lives forever change.

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Totally Joe

One quarter of the “Gang of Five” from The Misfits (2001) tells his own story of coming out and overcoming bullies and prejudice through alphabetical entries in his “alphabiography.” Joe Bunch aka JoDan aka Scorpio (among other names) works his way from October to March to fulfill his teacher Mr. Daly’s assignment to write about his life from A to Z, including “life lessons” at the end of each entry. Though things do go Joe’s way, the story is nothing but realistic. Howe has created a character that lives and breathes with all of the inconsistencies, fears and longings of your normal average seventh-grade homosexual. Joe still thinks “exchanging saliva” is excruciatingly gross, but he knows he wants to date boys. He thinks Colin is cute and fun to be with, but Joe just can’t “tone down” on command. His family is not surprised when he finally lets them in on his secret with the gentle assistance of his artistic Aunt Pam and his (sometimes overly) helpful best friend Addie. The timeline overlaps the events of the companion novel, but fans of the first won’t feel déjà vu. There’s more of a sense of spending extra time with a favorite friend.

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If You Believe In Mermaids… Don’t Tell

Thirteen-year-old Todd Winslow is the best diver at summer camp. If only diving could save him. Underwater is a much kinder world, a secret mermaid world that no one else can know about – not Dad, and definitely not Brad, the camp’s numero uno bad boy. Todd tries to fit in, playing nice with flirty model-wannabe Sylvie and shunning nature-nerd Olivia – but you can only fool people for so long. Brad is watching every move, ready to expose all that’s different about Todd. Then there’s the doll thing. And Dad finds out. How will Todd survive now?

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Drama

Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, she can’t really sing. Instead she’s the set designer for the drama department stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier.

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Better Nate Than Ever

Nate Foster has big dreams. His whole life, he’s wanted to star in a Broadway show (heck, he’d settle for *seeing* a Broadway show). But how is Nate supposed to make his dreams come true when he’s stuck in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, where no one (except his best pal Libby) appreciates a good show tune? With Libby’s help, Nate plans a daring overnight escape to New York. There’s an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, and Nate knows this could be the difference between small-town blues and big-time stardom.

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