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How two tween girls conquer seventh-grade woes

Two new novels with young heroines who learn to make the best of middle school.

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For those of you who don't remember, let me tell you a little about seventh grade.

Seventh grade was the year of exclusive sleepovers. It was the year we dissected fetal pigs, and while the girls screamed, the boys chased one another with innards. And seventh grade was the year I wore a rhinestone-studded shirt on school picture day. That, and an enormous black calculator watch.

Thankfully, authors Linda Urban and Jennifer L. Holm understand these – and other – trials of the "tween" years. And while the situations they present may seem wincingly familiar, the chances are that readers are likely to feel at home with these authors' relatable protagonists.

Let's start with 10-year-old Zoe Elias, the main character in Urban's debut novel A Crooked Kind of Perfect (Harcourt, 214 pp., $16). Zoe has yet to face the horrors of middle school, but fifth grade promises its own share of trouble. Think: an ex-best friend; the oddball boy; Mom, who's never home, and Dad, who never leaves the house.

But Zoe's got a plan. A simple one, involving a piano, some lessons, and, eventually, Carnegie Hall. It wouldn't be the tween years if something didn't go awry, though, right? And that's how Zoe ends up playing TV theme songs of yesteryear on a humdinger of an instrument: the Perfectone D-60. An organ.

While Urban's novel takes a more traditional approach to storytelling, Holm chronicles her protagonist's tween tragedy and triumph literally through stuff. In Middle school Is Worse Than Meatloaf (Antheneum Books for Young Readers, 128 pp., $12.99), readers get to know Ginny Davis via instant messages and drugstore receipts, phone bills, and, of course, another botched school photo.

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