Sometimes I read a middle grade book and they get it just right, so that I feel like a kid again when I read it. Other times, I feel like a Mom, reading a book that I shouldn’t be reading. If I try to convince myself that I am twelve and reading this, I guess it has the kind of drama I liked when I was actually twelve. But I’m not so sure. For one thing, in the sheltered existence that my kids live, here on the east coast of the country, I’m pretty sure that my kids, (or most their age — 9-11), thankfully have no awareness of gang culture. And there is a lot of conversation about gangs in this book, which I guess I did not realize by the relatively benign description of it on Amazon. There is a lot to handle here, and honestly, I felt like a bit of a prude when I was reading it. It seems too sexually advanced for the intended 10 year old audience (according to the publisher), especially considering that most kids this age are just having their first fifth grade “health” classes. As the mother of an 11 year old who often reads well above her grade level, I would hold off on this one for a while. This book seemed more appropriate for an early YA title, but the main characters are in seventh grade, which does not feel right for that age reader.
There are different narrators in this book, and I found myself sighing when certain characters took over. There are email posts from principal to new teacher that I hope do not really happen in real life, but I imagine they do. (“Stick to the basics, easy on the creativity” kind of thing) Given the general maturity of the characters, there are two exceptions in Jake and his oddball friend Dorothy. But Jake and Dorothy truly bring outsider to a new level. It was incomprehensible to me that Dorothy could go from a seemingly lunatic kid (who walks around the school talking to herself and making animal noises at people), to an immensely popular girl in less than a school year. Every single main character is so extreme as to be almost completely unbelievable to read – I am a huge reader, and this was a challenging book to finish. I have to say, that one of the biggest surprises was that Disney published this book. Not what I would expect from them. However, I like that they would take the risk and go edgy, I would just like it to be better written. Honestly, if you need to read a good book about teenagers and gangs, read The Outsiders.