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Not Much Just Chillin': The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers
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Not Much Just Chillin': The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers

3.42  ·  Rating Details ·  341 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
Suddenly they go from striving for A’s to barely passing, from fretting about cooties to obsessing for hours about crushes. Former chatterboxes answer in monosyllables; freethinkers mimic everything from clothes to opinions. Their bodies and psyches morph through the most radical changes since infancy. They are kids in the middle-school years, the age every adult remembers ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 31st 2004 by Ballantine Books (first published September 4th 2003)
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May 22, 2008 Maureen rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Maureen by: UMW
Shelves: education, brain
Although Ms. Perlstein closely follows members of a class through their eighth grade year, her findings are more than anecdotal. This book is better than many others on this topic for a couple of reasons. First, the author gives equal time to the stories of both boys and girls, which gives a pleasing balance to the book. There are many more books on the behavior of girls at this age than boys. Second, Perlstein discusses brain development in a way that makes the crazy way that children this age ...more
Don Incognito
Jan 21, 2010 Don Incognito rated it it was ok
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 grad ...more
Jul 19, 2009 Willa rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009
I just finished reading this book. It is an absorbing read in the tradition of "A Tribe Apart" and fits in well with such books as "Bringing up Geeks" and "Hold On To Your Kids." If even a fraction of the content is true, and there is no reason to doubt that, it is certainly chilling reading. It's also good reading, in the manner of A Day in the Life of Ivan Denosovich -- portraying the way the human spirit can show resilience in the worst of conditions. But should our public middle schools -- a ...more
Oct 25, 2007 Mary rated it liked it
Recommends it for: parents of 'tweens
Maybe this book should be called "Chilling", as in chilling for parents to read. The upside of this insider's look at middle schoolers (grades 6-8, ages 11-14) is that they really are still children in so many ways. The downside is that they can hurt each other and be hurt so badly despite being children. You may think you remember middle school but I guarantee this book will hold surprises and sobering lessons for everyone. Ironically, our family experienced a middle school crisis while I was r ...more
Jenifer Jacobs
Feb 18, 2015 Jenifer Jacobs rated it did not like it
This book reminds me why I absolutely hated Anthropology in college. The author condescendingly "observes" middle schoolers and then weaves a narrative. Much of what she writes could not be known by observation alone, and clearly the youngster did not tell her this information, therefore she made it up. If you are writing fiction that is OK but please don't try to pass it off as nonfiction. Having a middle schooler of my own and working with teens and tweens for many years I found much of what s ...more
Jul 18, 2011 Lyddie rated it it was ok
The book consists of some interesting anecdotes that brought back suppressed memories of being in 6th through 8th grade, but very little research was incorporated into the text explaining how this suburban Maryland school is typical of the nation's youth. I would have also appreciated an introductory chapter explaining how the author gained access to her student subjects, and a concluding chapter about the methods adults can take to help students through those early adolescent years.
Angela Juline
Feb 16, 2015 Angela Juline rated it did not like it
Strange writing style and organization...I get that it's supposed to be glimpses into a middle schooler's life, but it is just so weird. The author pretends to not editorialize, but she can't seem to help herself. Quite frankly, I think her portrayal does a disservice to what a real middle schooler is like. I found it to be rather cliched.
Blair Norman
Aug 15, 2016 Blair Norman rated it really liked it
Wish I had read this when my son was starting 6th grade. Recommended for anyone with kids in MS. Won’t give you the answers, just helps with understanding! Very well done.
On the plus side, the book is easy to read. At no point does it feel "too academic" (aka - too challenging to read, not "light enough," burdensome, etc.). I think this ease is facilitated by the text being so grounded in anecdotes. The book moves easily from scene to scene establishing the middle school scene through the lives of those living it. That I like.

But, at my core, I am a geeky academic, so there were numerous things missing from the book that I really wanted to see.

First, organizatio
Jessie Lowry
Sep 30, 2016 Jessie Lowry rated it liked it
Great vignettes and very detailed and realistic but the lessons were hiding in a lot of stories that became hard to keep up with. Hard to remember who was who and who had which issues. The way it was organized made it a hard read for me.
Nov 14, 2009 Emily rated it liked it
The book just starts with the lives of jr high/middle school kids, with no explanaion of who is telling the story! So, I suggest that you read the appendix first which explains that the author just hung out with a bunch of kids for a whole year. It bothered me that she would say stuff like, "Jimmy thought..." I think there were a lot of assumptions, both positive & negative, on the part of the author.

Also, I read several reviews that said this book was "chilling" or "frightening" to parents
Jun 13, 2013 Samantha rated it really liked it
Linda Perlstein did something most superheroes would tremble at the thought of. She spent a year in middle school and documented the things she saw. In Not Much Just Chillin' she reveals her findings, including the dynamics that exist between middle schoolers and their peers, teachers, and parents. She discusses the sexually overt behavior of some middle schoolers, the blind disdain some of them have for adults, and the seeming lack of concern for their own well-being and academic achievement. S ...more
Apr 01, 2009 Terry rated it liked it
I really like Linda Perlstein's writing; I am a huge fan of her more recent book, Tested. This book, although very well written, doesn't really tell me anything new*. The school she observed seemed above average (a sea of new Macs in the computer lab; foreign language electives) and the kids she observed seemed pretty homogenous. It isn't until the very end of the book that she mentions girls who seem to have some fairly serious problems (self-mutilation and 19-year-old boyfriends) but the rest ...more
Mar 10, 2009 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: parents, teachers considering middle school
At times this book was simply too much for me! I spend all day with middle schoolers and it can be pretty painful to read Perstein's very detailed chronicles of their daily existence. Don't get me wrong, the book is fantastic! It's just that it can be really frustrating to read because it is SO on the ball about what these kids are like personality-wise and brain development-wise... and they are frustrating!!!

I love Perlstein's writing style. She's a journalist so her writing balances the human
Sep 22, 2010 Nancy rated it it was amazing
Wow. If you have a middle schooler, know a middle schooler, or ever where a middle schooler, I highly recommend reading this book. Perlstein is an education reporter, not a mental health professional, so this isn't a "how to raise a kid" kind of book. She just follows a few kids for a year and intersperses their stories with information about what kids at that age are going through emotionally, physiologically, socially, and mentally. It was such a great reminder of all the drama that occurs at ...more
Colleen Reynolds
Apr 15, 2009 Colleen Reynolds rated it it was amazing
This book should be a must-read for parents of middle-schoolers. I don't think I ever intuitively really thought about the major changes an adolescent goes through...and how that effects them emotionally. The premise is that a reporter embeds herself (with permission from all involved) and chronicles the lives of middle school kids and their parents. It was almost like looking directly at the life of my own middle schooler. It made me realize that it was like looking into my own life as a middle ...more
Feb 04, 2013 Brianna rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I picked this up because when I was hired for my job, I was tasked with creating more programming for middle school students. In addition to working with middle school students to get to know them better, I wanted to read this book, which I heard about on the middle school themed episode of This American Life. I appreciate how Perlstein hones in on the lives of a few students and highlights the highs and lows of their year in middle school. She also throws in some brain research tidbits that hel ...more
Kelly Hager
May 10, 2010 Kelly Hager rated it really liked it
I haven't read any non-fiction in a while, and this caught my eye in the bookstore last year, so I'm glad to finally get around to it. It's set in a Maryland middle school (Wilde Lake) and follows a few middle schoolers around for a year. I liked it, and it's probably much less alarming than you'd think. There're relationships involved, but nobody's having sex and there's nothing in the way of drinking or drugs.

One thing I did think was interesting is the fact that it seems like parents (even i
Nola Decker
Sep 10, 2015 Nola Decker rated it liked it
NOT MUCH JUST CHILLIN was reasonably useful but I found myself wanting more. Maybe more facts about the tween brain or more ideas about how to use her anecdotes to make generalizations about the middle school population. OR, in many cases, I was wanting to know what to do as a parent of one of these non-communicative self-absorbed slackers. Is there a way to keep them engaged and motivated or are they doomed to this 2 or 3 year period of nothingness??

I'm giving it three stars just because I can
A journalist follows several suburband Maryland middle schoolers during the course of the 2001-02 school year. This highly readable documentary account details these students' conversations, motives or lack of, frustrations, changing friendships, dreams and relations with their parents and families. The author also ties in their actions and thought processes to the dramatic physical, emotional and brain changes that go on during this period of life. It helps explain why teens this age are the wa ...more
Hank Stuever
Sep 27, 2011 Hank Stuever rated it it was amazing
Think of all those books people have done about "a year in the life of a typical (or atypical) high school," which, not very deep down, are less works of journalism than they are merely functions of the author's lingering fascination with high school. NOW, think of a book that truly desires to crack the mysteries of human beings who are going to middle school. This is that book. (As with my review of the author's other book,Tested, you should know that she's a dear friend of mine. Doesn't matter ...more
Dec 16, 2011 Victoria rated it it was ok
I heard about this book on This American Life's episode entitled "Middle School". Which was very good, incidentally. But this book was....just so-so. The kids were followed really intensively, which was great, and middle-school is a very interesting age range, so I appreciated this book. What this book was lacking was more explanations for the kid's behaviors. She occasionally cited research or psychological explanations, but I definitely wanted much more. The other issue is that there were a lo ...more
More episodic than I would have liked, Perlstein focuses a little too much on the rhythm of the school year so her attempt to draw plot out of the back-and-forth drama of the average middle school is not super-engaging. The most valuable thing I took away from this book as a middle school teacher: this stage of adolescent development is comparable to 2-year-olds. Add a hefty dose of peer pressure and insecurity and this makes perfect sense of middle schoolers: they're highly impatient, talk cons ...more
Jun 03, 2013 jacky rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education, lib-aub, 2013
insightful, yet not shocking. It made me not excited for my children to become teens by bringing forth the role of the parent (totally different from my role of teacher teaching 9th grade and teen on my own adolescence). Some items were very revealing to me about confusing behaviors I've witnessed as a teacher, while others really reminded me of some of the uglier moments of my own past. I really liked the male perspective, too. I'd consider this a must read for anyone teaching grades 6 - 9.
Stacy Natal
Sep 14, 2012 Stacy Natal rated it it was ok
Although the anecdotes in the book somewhat depict the unique brains of middle school students, I felt that the Maryland students that the author used for the study are not necessarily typical of the middle school students that I know. These kids are given a lot more freedom than mine. The main message is the same as it always is... pay attention to your kids, set a good example for them, and be there when they need you. However the book is so chaotically written that it took me quite awhile to ...more
Sep 13, 2012 Brandy rated it really liked it
Anecdotal portraits of several middle schoolers, so this could seem pretty useless--but it's a broad cross-section of kids that are profiled with all their middle-school dramas, and it's not hard to extrapolate behavior patterns. I don't know that this gives me a lot of insight for working with teens, but it's interesting nonetheless to get a glimpse of what middle-school lives are like--and not just the life I had.
Jul 08, 2008 Rachael rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Perlstein is a reporter who goes into a middle school and 'uncovers' kids behaving like kids. It wasn't a bad book - was even interesting at times - but also wasn't great. There was a lack of the depth I found in, say, A Tribe Apart, and the advice given to teachers and parents seemed vague and rather ineffective. The focus on 'normal' kids was good, but other input would have been equally helpful.
This book wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great either. The author did a great job of stringing together a bunch of vignettes about young adolescents. After a while, I felt like I was plodding through the book, though. I would put it down for weeks and forget about it. Nothing in this book was really new to me or even all that shocking. Perhaps because I am a middle school teacher and I remember middle school fairly well. Lots of drama and dirty talkin'.
Debbie Blicher
Aug 25, 2016 Debbie Blicher rated it it was amazing
Shelves: journalism, parenting
Amazing reporting. Perlstein somehow got a handful of middle school kids to talk to her throughout the school year about what was going on in their lives and how they felt about it. Written with compassion and subtle humor. I'm a parent of middle schoolers myself, and I found it illuminating. Sure, not all the horrors of middle school are documented--humans always dream up new ones--but the motivations ring true.
Mar 24, 2014 Meagan rated it liked it
I didn't find any of the content in this book surprising, but I teach middle schoolers every day. I suppose I forget how much of middle schoolers' lives and psyches the common public may not know about. This book is somewhat dated now but I'm sure it's still quite informative for parents who wonder what their middle school students are thinking. I wish that the author had drawn conclusions at the end of the book.
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Linda was the first curator of the Amazon Books bricks-and-mortar bookstore chain and managed the nonfiction and lifestyle book selection. Before that she was a freelance book editor and a consultant to several nonprofits and foundations in the fields of K-12 and higher education. She worked at The Washington Post from 1994 to 2004, as a copy editor, graphics editor, and, for most of those years, ...more
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