Most people probably look back on junior high with mixed emotions. There were a lot of ups and downs. I looked like a train wreck, scrawny and pale as a wet noodle with terrible hair, and wearing the same sweater over and over because it was the only one I owned that I liked, with high-waters and the Kmart brand of Eastlands. Despite this, I had a great group of girlfriends that were funny and smart and actually liked me (shout-out to Lee, Laura, Marty, Nik & the twins!).In particular, I remember seventh grade as a stand-out year. It was the last year that I still felt truly like a kid. I liked boys, but in more conceptual sense than eighth grade. My friends and I had finally mastered the one-curl bang and the lunch-time Poison VS Def Leppard wars were in full effect.
One of the biggest reasons I so happily remember my seventh grade year was English class. Mrs. Paradis was fun and engaging; her classroom was like an adventure to me. I had been an avid reader since before I even got into school, but seventh grade was the year that my love affair with literature caught fire. Unlike the Babysitter’s Club series, these books were a kind of universal language. Adults in my life had read them and cared to talk with me about them. We “knew” the same characters. “Stay gold, Ponyboy”, I would say with a somber nod to anyone who would listen. Man, I was cool.
The standouts that year were The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, and Animal Farm by George Orwell. I know there were many more, but 25 (ish) years later these are the three that I remember igniting in me a particular passion. I wanted to put away the safe “kiddie” novels I was reading and start asking larger questions. I realized that writing doesn’t have to be taken at face value; story can be a shell for something deeper. I loved this idea, it was like finding a treasure that was really a puzzle that you didn’t even know existed. I enjoyed thinking in layers. In retrospect, the books in the seventh grade curriculum at CMS (go maroon & gold!) were probably chosen for this very reason. I now raise my wine glass to the powers that be that chose those books for my class to read. Your curriculum worked for this book nerd.
This was my first introduction into “adult” reading. While my religious friends were taking their Confirmations and Bar Mitzvahs, I had my own little threshold-crossing from kid books to literature. Now reading was for more than fun, yet I still reading because it was fun. This was as close as I ever would get to any ceremony to mark my growing up in the eyes of society. And no one but me knew about it! But things were different from then on. Side note: I went crazy that summer reading Stephen King novels – only outside lying on the hammock, in broad daylight for safety. I devoured The Stand, The Shining, Thinner and anything else my stepfather had on the shelf.
Now as an adult I revisit childhood books, having recently read The Little Prince and Lord of the Flies I can highly recommend going backward and doing this at some point in your life.
Possible 7th grade reading list patched together from a shady memory and the internet:
The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton
Animal Farm, George Orwell
A Midsummer Nights Dream, William Shakespeare
Lord of the Flies (I feel like this was more likely 5th grade for us), William Golding
Of Mice and Men, George Steinbeck
The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane
The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells
Where the Red Fern Grows (again, I feel like this was read earlier), Wilson Rawls