Every year, usually during the spring book fair, I notice a few middle school kids who show some interest in reading romance novels. I watch them scan the room to see if anyone is looking before picking up a romance and peeking through it – and my heart goes out to them. Of course, they’re curious! When I was their age, I read Harlequin romance novels at my grandmother’s house and went through an obsession with Maureen Daly’s novel, Seventeenth Summer.
I can easily recall a scene early in the book where Jack arrives at Angie’s house to see if her family wants to buy any baked goods. She’s working in the garden. Here’s the passage from my own copy of the book which is pictured above.
Now, it wasn’t that I was shy or anything, but it’s awkward when a boy has on a clean shirt and his hair is combed and your hands are all muddy and you’re in your bare feet.
It can be challenging, though, to recommend romance novels to middle school students in 2017. The Young Adult section at the local bookstore has lots of choices, but much of the content is too explicit to be recommended by a teacher. And middle school kids deserve books that represent what they are feeling: curious, sometimes awkward, and maybe excited about a new relationship but one with respectful boundaries.
Thinking about new books for the middle school summer reading list, I found Literally by Lucy Keating, a romance novel with an intriguing premise. The main character, Annabelle, has a seemingly perfect life in Los Angeles. She lives in a great house, has lots of friends, and takes pride in her ability to keep everything under control. But then an author, Lucy Keating, speaks to Annabelle’s creative writing class, and things get a little strange. Lucy Keating begins describing the main character of her new novel, and it’s Annabelle! She describes Annabelle’s life perfectly and even knows that her parents are going through a stressful time. Understandably, it creeps Annabelle out and makes her wonder if she is really in charge or if someone else is “writing the plot.” The real author, Lucy Keating, clearly had fun playing with the structure of fiction and having a little fun with how YA novels work. There’s also a love triangle, and one of the boys was written just for Annabelle!
Yesterday, in honor of Independent Bookstore Day, I went to an author panel of middle grade writers, sponsored by my favorite bookstore, Buttonwood Books and Toys in Cohasset. A good line-up: Victoria Coe, author of Fenway and Hattie; Bridget Hodder, author of The Rat Prince; Lee Gjertsen Malone, author of The Last Boy at St. Edith’s; Erin Petti, author of The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee; Laura Shovan, the author of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary; and Monica Tesler, author of the Bounders series.
Monica’s first two sic-fi space adventures, Earth Force Rising and The Tundra Trials are in bookstores and libraries now, and there are three more to go in her series. Yesterday she brought the beautiful cover of her third book, The Forgotten Shrine, which will be published in early December.
I read The Last Boy at St. Edith’s last summer with a group of kids at Buttonwood so I was especially happy to meet Lee Malone, the book’s author. The story of the last boy to attend an all-girls school is warm-hearted and funny. Lee told us that the book was inspired when she looked at a mailing from her husband’s boarding school which had successfully transitioned to a co-ed school years earlier. She wondered what would happen if, in her words, “It didn’t work.”
I left the event with lots of new books to order for the school library and a few new ones on my “to be read” list.
And in pictures…
One of my students spends lots of time at a local farm and took these awesome pictures of new lambs. There’s always a black sheep, isn’t there?
And there’s this….