After reading a 1000-page novel recently, followed by a novel about the Vietnam War, I was looking for something quick and light to enjoy! I found just the right tasty morsel in the unique middle-grade novel, Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff by Jennifer L. Holm with pictures by Elicia Castaldi.
I loved the creativity of this book – the story of 12-year old Ginny’s first year of middle school, told entirely through, as the sub-title explains, stuff. What kind of stuff? All kinds! There is no traditional narrative in this novel; the story is told through pictures of all sorts of things in Ginny’s life: excerpts from her journal, notes from her mom, things she tears out of magazines, receipts, checks, IMs between Ginny and her best friend, and more.
I thought the book might be gimmicky and cute, but it has surprising depth. Yes, the format is its main draw, but it’s also a very real-feeling story of an adolescent struggling through seventh grade. One of the first pages shows Ginny’s list of goals for seventh grade, written in her journal. In addition to the typical challenges facing any middle school student, Ginny is also dealing with a brand-new stepfather, an older brother whose ever-increasing pranks have her worried about his future, and the recent loss of her previous best friend.
While you’re perusing through all of Ginny’s stuff, you come to care about her and worry about her and root for her. There’s more here than first meets the eye. That being said, the format is lots of fun. There is a lot of humor inserted among the story, as when a clipped magazine article advising a change of hair color is shown with a receipt from the drugstore for hair color, followed on the next page by a bill from a hair salon for fixing a botched color job! I’ve included a couple of sample pages here, just to give you a tiny glimpse into the creativity and variety. All in all, this is a funny, warm story that will appeal to any middle-grade girl.