Fitting In, Sticking Out, and Finding Yourself: 16 Books for Middle Schoolers

by Kari Ness Riedel

You said that you didn’t even know why they had middle school, that there ought to be some government program where, as soon as kids graduated elementary school, they got scooped up and sent to a lab where scientists could put them in a deep freeze until they were old enough for high school. For their own sake.” –Trent from Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff quoting his mom two days before he starts sixth grade.

If this sentiment resonates with your middle schooler, here are 16 books — ranging from funny to sad to dramatic — that accurately portray the ups and downs of middle school life, and how to survive it.

These recommendations are handpicked by middle school students, educators, and parents from reviews on, a social network and book discovery tool for young readers.

  • Funny Books

  • Smile

    by Raina Telgemeier

    This uber-popular graphic novel memoir recounts Telgemeier’s experiences after severely injuring her two front teeth at the start of sixth grade. Readers will laugh along with Raina as she relives the pain of friendships, boy drama, and even an earthquake. As Louisa says, “It was a heartwarming graphic novel that made me feel like I'm not the only quirky girl who's felt excluded at some time.”

  • Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life

    by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts

    Rafe just started middle school, and it’s … horrible. To survive days at school and problems at home, he comes up with Operation Rafe where he earns points for breaking oppressive rules like running in the halls and pulling the fire alarm. This hilarious adventure story is adored by students and the movie version comes out October 2016. Dasha says, “I love this book!!! It's everything you could imagine in one book … it’s about a kid my age dealing with real life struggles.” If you like this book, check out I Funny: A Middle School Story also by James Patterson.

  • The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

    by Tom Angleberger

    This is the story of Tommy, Dwight, and a group of nerdy sixth graders who follow the directions of a finger puppet, Origami Yoda, who makes surprisingly accurate predictions. This book perfectly captures sixth grade life and its odd social dynamics. “I think that this book was hilarious! It was a funny twist of ‘Star Wars’ and normal middle school life,” shares Robin.

  • Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom

    by Booki Vivat

    Abbie Wu is about to enter middle school and is feeling super frazzled. Unlike her best friends, who have already established themselves as the ‘smart one’ and the ‘dramatic one’, Abbie believes she’s without an identity of her own. This heavily illustrated book, which comes out in September 2016, chronicles Abby’s sixth grade year with all the ups and downs of fitting in, sticking out, and finding your true self. It’s honest, sweet, and laugh-out-loud funny.

  • Sad but Hopeful Books

  • Lost in the Sun

    by Lisa Graff

    In this powerful story, Trent starts sixth grade in the aftermath of a freak accident that left his classmate dead and left Trent with all kinds of terrible thoughts. Although most readers will not directly experience this type of tragedy, Trent’s concern with how others perceive him, his efforts to find goodness after screwing up, and his struggle to figure out how to act when he feels angry and lost are highly relatable. Chase recommends it, “This book was truly amazing, shocking, and very well written. I loved this book so much that I was mad when it ended.”

  • The Thing About Jellyfish

    by Ali Benjamin

    This poignant story is told from the perspective of Suzy, a seventh grader whose best friend Franny died over the summer in a swimming accident. It handles a mature theme about how young people make sense of death and their own life amidst the normal struggles of young adulthood. It is very relatable to kids who feel “different” as they transition from elementary to middle school. Lillian recommends it saying, “This was a really emotional book about how middle school can change your life. Suzy learns huge life lessons like how 12-year-olds can do big things in their own small family.”

  • Fish in a Tree

    by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

    Sixth grader Ally struggles with school and is considered "dumb" and a "pest" by most teachers — until she gets in Mr. Daniels's class. Her life turns around when this teacher realizes she struggles with dyslexia and brings out the best in her. It’s a moving story about friendships, overcoming adversity, and appreciating the uniqueness in all of us. “It was an amazing book. I loved it! It tells us about how many students feel in school,” says Kristina.

  • Goodbye Stranger

    by Rebecca Stead

    The story centers on three seventh graders, Bridge, Tab and Emily, who are dealing with typical middle school issues — taking selfies, liking boys, staying friends when your interests start to diverge, divorced parents — but this story takes it a few layers deeper. It's about knowing who you are and who you want to be, and dealing with who others think you should be. Ms. Horton said, “I like to read this book aloud to my seventh graders because it's beautiful, edgy, and wise … it perfectly captures how hard it is in middle school when you both want to act more grown-up, but still desire the fun and ease of being a kid.”

  • Real and Fantastical Drama

  • Finally

    by Wendy Mass

    Rory has a list of all the things she gets to do when she finally turns twelve. Get a cell phone. Wear makeup. Go to the mall with friends. But things don’t turn out quite as she expects. This is a great story about the ups and downs of becoming twelve and discovering what’s really important in life. Hadley highly recommends it, saying, “I really like this book. I can totally relate to what she’s going through.”

  • Booked

    by Kwame Alexander

    According to Chloe, the newest book by Newbery winning author Kwame Alexander is “the best soccer poetry book ever! This book will change your life!” Twelve-year-old Nick deals with problems at home, with girlfriends, with bullies, and even his soccer team with the help of his best friend and an inspiring librarian. This is a great coming-of-age story full of drama and humor.

  • Heat

    by Mike Lupica

    Twelve-year-old Michael throws serious heat when he pitches. He is accused of being older than he is and doesn’t have a birth certificate to prove his age. Newly orphaned since his father passed away, he is living with his 17-year-old brother and is constantly in fear of being sent to foster care or back to his hometown in Cuba. Sports drama mixes with family drama as well as the typical friendship and school issues faced by middle schoolers. Ellis urges others to read this, “If you are competitive and love sports, this would be a great book for you.”

  • Roller Girl

    by Victoria Jamieson

    In this Newbery Honor winning graphic novel, best friends, Astrid and Nicole, are used to doing everything together. But the summer before sixth grade, Astrid discovers her love of roller derby while Nicole heads to dance camp. This is a highly relatable story about figuring out your own identify, forming new friendships, and holding on to old friendships that are slipping away. Sonia says, “Read this book if you like comics, excitement, revenge, and drama.”

  • Doll Bones

    by Holly Black, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

    Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been best friends forever, playing one long game of make-believe centering around the Queen, an old china doll. But now that they are in middle school, they are starting to drift apart. Poppy has been having creepy dreams about the Queen and the ghost of a girl. The friends set off on a spooky adventure to lay the Queen’s ghost to rest. Mathilda highly recommends it: “This incredibly spooky book will chill you to the bone! I couldn't put it down!”

What other books would you recommend to middle school readers? Let us know in the comments below?