As you can guess from the jacket description, and as the tone of this book will indicate, this book was written with middle-schoolers' parents in mind. It tries to explain how middle-schoolers think. I'm not a parent, but I was curious to know how similar the experiences described in this book are to my experiences. They're only generally similar, and in limited respects. The middle school depicted in this book (Wilde Lake Middle School, somewhere in Maryland, circa 2001) starts with sixth grade, and ends with eighth. You can read the details yourself, but I thought I would list the similarities and differences between this middle school and mine. I went to a middle school in Phoenix, Arizona, from 1992-1994. (I'm not an educator, just a haunted ex-student.)
-My school included only seventh and eighth grade.
-Emotional abuse, often in the form of sexual harassment, is definitely a worse problem than being physically assaulted. Author Linda Perlstein touches only on the edges of this with Wilde Lake Middle School.
Sexuality and sexual harassment: The premise is that if kids don't have as much knowledge of and interest in sexuality as their classmates, they will be harassed. About this, Perlstein mentions students obnoxiously asking each other about bodily parts or functions and pretending they know a lot. That happens everywhere. Maybe my school wasn't as nice as Wilde Lake, but what I saw was far more persistent and pervasive than Perlstein indicates it to be at Wilde Lake. Male sexual harassment often takes the form of students asking classmates questions to test their knowledge, usually either "do you know what [body part, or behavior:] is?" or "do you [process, often masturbation:]?" Riddles might be used; one they got me with was "If you had a friend named Jack who had trouble getting off his horse, would you help Jack off a horse?" This wasn't violent, just very persistent; If the questioned student does not know the answer, or answers wrong, he will be revealed as naive, and targeted for more extensive harassment. That often means being accused of being "gay." Perlstein points out that middle-schoolers tend to describe anything they don't like as "gay," but it can go further: students who are naive and/or not seemingly interested in their sexuality or in the opposite sex can be taunted as alleged homosexuals. Accusers often pretend to be gay themselves in order to do that.
In my experience, the sexual harassment is most intense in gym (P.E.) class locker rooms, encouraged by students' having to partly undress in front of each other. (In my P.E. class, we were required only to change shirts; gym shorts were not needed.) The accusing guys, pretending to be "queer," would--in a crudely "humorous" manner--would ask a targeted student for physical contact and, if the target was shirtless, initiate it (running fingers over the target's chest, for instance, and pretending to be excited). The target couldn't do much to stop it, such as fighting with the harassers, because there would be several of them.
Non-sexual bullying: Sexually naive and/or different (physically or mentally, or both) students might also receive physical assault, but I never knew it to be very serious or frequent. I got slugged from time to time, and worked over once (punched in various spots at intervals of a minute or so, because my groans amused the attackers), but never anything that constituted classically being beaten up. (I didn't see that many fights at my school either.)
The kids might also, in classes using tools (science labs, home economics, or shop), use tools to harass (rarely or never causing injury). During the sewing section of home ec, I had a fellow poking (not stabbing) me in the back with a seam ripper. My parents got me out of shop class before anything other than verbal abuse happened.
This book just isn't deep; it only scratches the surface of what can happen to kids in middle school.