Book Review: Middle School: The Inside Story

Middle schoolTitle: Middle School: The Inside Story

Authors: Cynthia Tobias & Sue Acuna

Cynthia Ulrich Tobias

Publisher: Tyndale

in association with Focus on the Family

Year: 2014

Pages: 208

[Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book by Tyndale Publishers in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. I was not provided with anything in exchange for my review. And as always, I promise to be perfectly honest about what I read.]

I will say upfront that I didn't like this book, but that doesn't mean it's not a good book for someone else. There is nothing inherently wrong with the book and there is nothing about the book that is unhelpful. I just didn't like it.

The book is divided into four parts: Changes, Parenting, Friends and Other Problems, and School. Each part is then subdivided into smaller parts dealing with issues under the general heading. So, under the section 'Changes' the authors deal with the strange dealings that come along with changes in the body as the child gets into his/her junior high years. The sections on Parenting and School are the longest sections with each having six sub-sections. The other two sections, Changes and Friends and Other problems, only have three sub-sections each which unbalances the book a little.

Throughout the book there are quotes from random middle school students who were interviewed by Sue Acuna, co-author of the book. I'm not really sure what to make of the quotes. It could be a case of these are genuine and fit nicely in with pre-determined chapters or it could be that they helped shape the content of the chapters. For me they were a distraction, mere fillers that acted as chicanes more than anything else. Periodically, too, there were brief anecdotes from the authors. These brief stories, mostly from their own families' or anonymous sources, again seemed to be perfectly fitted to the subject matter of the chapter–a fact I always find a little too convenient for my taste, but that's just me. I don't think the filler hurts the book but neither do I think it helps. I think it is filler that stretches a 75 page book to over 200 pages. (There is other stuff that I consider filler too. The only filler I appreciated was the 'Here's a Thought' text-boxes.)

The book is easy to read and it's not terribly deep. There's no doubt that it is filled with all sorts of helpful information that someone might well find beneficial. Nevertheless, I think even the authors would acknowledge that every family is different and has different needs and operates under a different dynamic. Thus we have to be careful when applying a template and suggesting that all things will work in all families. That being said, I don't think the authors of this book do that. Frankly, I think they manage to strike a very good balance between 'here are things that we have learned through our experience' and 'here are things you should do that will most certainly work for you.' They offer suggestions and helpful hints and ideas, but I think they manage to safely avoid dogma.


I want to go back to those quotes that are laced throughout the book. These quotes are from 'a middle schooler.' We are not told the age or the sex of the student or the circumstance under which the quote was collected. What I found is that most of the quotes that are pulled out and put front and center are highly negative about parents. One would think, after reading a few of these quotes, that most parents are absolutely horrible people and that the only way to solve the issue is to get along with this program. I think that if middle school students are just learning how to be middle school students then perhaps their parents are also just learning to be parents of middle school students. Perhaps a few quotes from disoriented parents would have provided some balance to the book. Me and my wife have raised three sons through their rough junior high years. It was not easy because all three boys were different and had their own unique personality that we had to adapt to, but it did get easier with each boy.

Finally, I want to say this. I get that this is a popular level book written for a general audience (I suspect their audience is primarily moms, but I could be wrong) and that they want to get helpful information into as many hands  as possible and that neither the authors nor the publishers want to bog people down with technicality, but 9  ? Really? Not even a bibliography or a 'here's where you can find more information' type page? With the exception of a couple of pages directing us to Focus on the Family stuff, a couple of references in the book to Tobias' other books, and a couple of references to Focus on the Family publications, we are simply left in the dark as to where all this information, helpful or otherwise, comes from. I think books that are designed to help us navigate such things as parenthood need to have a slightly more substantial research base than that of pull out quotes from 'a middle schooler.'

So, as I said at the beginning, there isn't anything necessarily wrong with the book. I just didn't like it. It is written from a female point of view (which again isn't wrong or bad), by two women who (according to their bios, have tons of practical experience). But I detect nothing in this book that would inspire another man to want to read it. I suspect stay at home mothers will enjoy this book and probably nod their way through in agreement. But I also think that if you are an adult, and you have happen to have any amount of common sense, you ought to be able to navigate your way through those strange middle school years without much help from this book.


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