Confessions of a So-called Middle Child by Maria Lennon features misfits, frenemies, fashion, and hidden tunnels.
I didn’t fall in love with Charlie Cooper right at first. I’m not sure why. We are introduced to her as she is visiting her school-ordered psychologist. He’s the author of The Middle Child, and thinks a lot of Charlie’s issues stem from her perceived lack of attention in comparison to her likable perfect older sister and cute little brother. As an older and wiser reader, I also saw her same acting out in her fashion choices and the way she chases after the popular crowd, who are not going to accept her for who she is.
She has a chance to start over. After the attention-pulling (and potentially dangerous) stunt she pulled at her last school, she’s suspended and forced to change schools. Her family moves across town when her dad gets a job working on Houdini’s mansion (this is where the hidden tunnels come in). Her psychologist agrees to release her from his care after her summer of hard work if and only if she befriends the most picked on, bullied, ignored student at her new school.
Charlie has a good start at school. She connects with a couple of girls, but will they stick with her if she’s nice to Marta? Things heat up when Marta proves not to be so invisible and is competing against her new friend Trixie for one spot. Charlie has to decide who she’s going to be. She can’t play both sides. Things come to a head in an over-the-top way, which honestly is what I love about reading middle grade fiction. The last quarter of the book was suspenseful and exciting, as Charlie is right in the middle of trying to solve the problem, and of course ends up fixing herself as well.
There’s some mild profanity in Confessions of a So-called Middle Child — hell, used several times as a place, and a couple others. I think it bothered me more because they were used by 12-year-old Charlie. But then I sort of laughed at the unrealistic use of “creep,” by Charlie’s mother, aimed at another driver. I don’t curse, but even I come up with a better substitute than that.
There’s no romance in this novel (other than thinking guys are cute), which is the truth about most middle school classrooms, in spite of what you might read in most other middle grade fiction. I loved the realism on this plot element as well as the real frenemy/foe issues. The slightly less realistic capers just made it fun!