Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff by Jennifer L. Holm, with artwork and illustrations by Elicia Castaldi, is a unique look at one girl's seventh grade experience. It relays all of the fears and concerns of a typical middle school student, but in a very cool format. It really is told through Ginny's stuff: her to-do lists (she likes scratching out tasks as she completes them), her tests and essays, notes to and from her mom, her grandfather, and her teachers, her older brother's hand-drawn comics, even her report cards and bank statements (she makes money baby-sitting, then spends it and ends up with the same balance every month).
The concept is executed wonderfully. Holm and Castaldi have given Ginny a definite life and personality, just through her stuff. Castaldi's artwork is beautiful. News clippings, greetings cards, and store receipts all look authentic. It brought to mind The Baby-Sitters Club Chain Letter book from many years ago. Though the BSC book actually had letters you could unfold, cards you could open, and other trinkets readers could keep, I liked that Middle School was all right here on the page, so nothing could get torn or out of place.
Every single thing written, drawn, or otherwise included on the page is a part of the story. When Ginny dyes her hair against her mom's wishes, we see the receipt from the store where she bought the dye and other items, then the receipt from the hair salon where Ginny's mother takes her to fix her hair. When her mother remarries, a newspaper clipping describes the event. When Ginny's older brother gets in trouble, he draws her comic strips to show what he did and to express his remorse. The comics are rendered by Holm's real-life brother, Matthew, who also works with her on the fun graphic novel series Babymouse.
A complete story is told here, just through one girl's stuff. Not only is this contemporary and appealing to kids currently in middle school, but it won't feel dated in five years because it is based on fairly timeless themes. It's not about having stuff - meaning it's not about the desire to have material items - but rather it's what your stuff says about you.
Ginny's story doesn't end here! In 2012, the authors released Eighth Grade is Making Me Sick: Ginny Davis's Year in Stuff. (Click here for my review.) Make sure to pick up both books - and grab Holm's previous works while you're at it!
Read my interview with Jennifer L. Holm.