Not Much Just Chillin'
Linda Perlstein
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Buy *Not Much Just Chillin': The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers* online

Not Much Just Chillin': The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers
Linda Perlstein
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
272 pages
September 2003
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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I don't think I'm alone in saying that there are about a million things that I'd rather do than relive my middle school years. I mean, back when I was going through it, it was called junior high, but it was basically the same: trying to fit in, trying to please your friends (whoever they were this week), trying to please your parents (even though it didn't seem like it to them) and generally making your way into teenhood.

Junior high was such a difficult time for me that, arrogantly, I thought that no one hated the experience more than I did. So, I get a perverse thrill every time evidence emerges that disproves my theory.

The latest person to document the pain of these excruciating years between childhood and the teen years is Washington Post reporter Linda Perlstein, whose new book Not Much Just Chillin': The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers shows this tough time through the eyes of a handful of students at a suburban Maryland middle school.

All the familiar characters are there. There's Mia, the popular girl who is both impressed and freaked out by her status. There's brainy Liz, the daughter of hippie parents who seem to treat parenting a teenage girl with all the delicacy and strategy of hostage negotiations. Eric, the smart but under-performing boy from a broken home. Lily, who is constantly enamored of her best friend, the popular Mia. Jackie, the sensible girl who gets serial crushes on boys but, so far, hasn't engaged in the reckless sexual behavior of some other girls she knows.

Perlstein chronicles their actions, conversations and their thoughts on everything from the Sept. 11 tragedy to friendship, schoolwork and romantic relationships. Because of her attention to detail, her subjects are shown to be complicated, sensitive -- though occasionally maddening -- human beings, and not the monsters that they often seem to be at this stage.

Despite their occasionally childish, self-destructive behavior -- such as blowing of classwork that they need to do to pass, or gossiping about a supposed "best friend" behind her back -- we feel for these kids. We root for them, and we look forward to seeing what the future holds for them. Perlstein shows middle school for the scary, often heartbreaking experience it is for nearly every kid. Everyone who reads it should be able to identify -- and realizes, finally, that they weren't alone.

© 2004 by Amanda Cuda for Curled Up With a Good Book

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