Confessions of a So-Called Middle Child

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
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Charming, realistic take on middle school popularity race.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Confessions of a So-Called Middle Child doesn't set out to be educational, but through the story leads readers to invaluable life lessons and coping strategies.

Positive Messages

The novel shows the value of learning from your mistakes and the choices everyone, including kids, can make to care more about those around them. When Charlie accepts herself and learns to accept and care for others, she gains the admiration of the whole school. She acknowledges that she's not in the best shape and tries to be more health conscious in her eating habits, at her parents' behest. But she's confident in her sense of style and makes bold clothing choices to fit her mood. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Charlie's a reluctant hero, because it's much easier to be mean. However, she learns that doing good feels better, and she's supported by both kids and adults who provide positive role modeling.

Violence & Scariness

There's bullying behavior, including a prank gone wrong that ends up giving kids adverse reactions to a food item. No one's seriously harmed.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Confessions of a So-Called Middle Child deals with the real emotions kids deal with in the popularity race in middle school. It will bring up questions about fitting in, dealing with peer pressure, and doing the right thing. There's some hurtful name calling and scenes of bullying. The main character, a girl named Charlie, acknowledges that she's not in the best shape and struggles to be more health-conscious in her eating habits, at her parents' behest. But she's confident in her sense of style and makes bold clothing choices to fit her mood. 

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What's the story?

Charlie has a chance to start over after a disastrous end to a friendship and school year, but she's drawn to her old ways as she carves out a new place for herself in school. The popular-girls clique calls, but she's tasked by her therapist to befriend the least popular kid in school. It's life or death (of social status) in the middle school jungle as Charlie navigates her task, her feelings, and her past. Can she manage it all?

Is it any good?

CONFESSIONS OF A SO-CALLED MIDDLE CHILD is a great book. Parents of daughters will rejoice at book full of positive role models, from the adults down to the kids themselves, and characters that are rich and fully developed.

While the book covers a theme central to most books for kids this age --  popularity and social hierarchy -- it shows how kids can be proactive in defining themselves vs. looking for acceptance from the group. Charlie's funny, engaging, talks like a real kid, and has a positive body image, even though she's not perfectly in shape. The adults are supportive, firm when needed, and allow Charlie to find her way with guidance. Author Maria T. Lennon moves beyond the stereotypes and superhero happy endings to a real story with real people. Charlie and the people in her story could easily be in any city and school in America.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about middle school novels. Why are they so popular? What others have you read? How does this one compare?

  • Charlie's torn between wanting to belong to the popular (but mean) group and tapping into her compassionate side. Have you ever felt torn about stopping bullying behavior?

  • Do you identify with Charlie as a middle child?  What issues and perks are attributed to first borns or the "baby" of the family? Are these fair assessments or stereotypes?

  • The grown-ups around Charlie let her to explore her feelings and help her find the proper way to address the issues in her life. Whom do you talk to when you need to vent or problem solve?

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