not much just chillin': the hidden lives of middle schoolers
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Parents give up on them. Teachers can’t reach them. Often they can’t even love themselves. Instant-message middle-schoolers “Whassup?” and they’ll type back “NMJC” — “Not much just chillin’.” But it’s a lie, a front, a shrug as old as adolescent angst. Nobody just chills in middle school. That’s where everything happens. Sixth grade takes in children and eighth grade spits out teenagers. Their bodies and psyches morph through the most radical changes since infancy, leaving them torn between anxiety and ardor, dependence and autonomy, conformity and rebellion.

Not Much Just Chillin’ is an up-to-date anthropology of the critically formative middle school years. Linda Perlstein spent a year immersed in the lunchroom, classrooms, hearts, and minds of a group of suburban middle schoolers and emerged with this pathbreaking account. The book follows five representative kids through the school year as they study, flirt, argue, rollerskate, instant-message and expain what they think and feel. NMJC offers a trail map to the baffling no-man’s-land between child and teen, the time when children don’t want to grow up, and so badly do.

The book follows five children. Eric Ellis ended seventh grade striving to please, but by eighth grade realizes there’s not much room in his life to aim for A’s, and that it is in his power to ignore his schoolwork. Jackie Taylor, who not long ago invented a inoculation against boy germs, now obsesses over serial crushes, recounting soap-operatic plotlines mystifying to everyone who thinks you actually have to talk to a boy to be his girlfriend. Elizabeth Ginsburg, who used to ask her parents for help with just about everything, suddenly shrugs off their suggestions and invariably answers “Nothing” to the daily question, “What did you do at school today?” Jimmy Schissel is living through uncomfortable alterations to the way his body works—from sleeping to eating to thinking to sitting to running—and wonders what is normal and what comes next. Lily Mason is experiencing a new sixth-grade absorption in where she stands among her friends, such that to peek underneath her easygoing persona is to witness a constant effort to fit in, lest she drop a notch in the eyes of Mia Reilly.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux released Not Much Just Chillin' in hardcover in September 2003, and its now in its eighth paperback printing from Ballantine Books.

Buy Not Much Just Chillin' from


The New York Times
The children Ms. Perlstein follows are at once lovable, frustrating, contradictoryand real. ... Chillin may not make parents feel more comfortable about early adolescences arrival in their household, but it will certainly make them more prepared.

Richard W. Riley, former U.S. secretary of education
“Not Much Just Chillin takes the reader to a mystical placethe changing world of the middle schoolernever before visited in this personal way. Every parent, teacher, principal, and friend of an adolescent can gain useful insights from this book. Linda Perlstein has done a great service for education by spending a year with these boys and girls in their classrooms and homes, and then eloquently chronicling their complicated lives.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Deliciously observed ... Perlstein
s interpretation of whats going on inside their hormone-charged world is information every educator and parent should have. ... A fascinating and important book.”

Publishers Weekly Daily
“Perlstein stays out of the way of her middle schoolers, letting them tell their stories in their own voices. ... The magic of Not Much Just Chillin
is Perlstein's ability to echo artfully the language of her young subjects even during sections of exposition. ... More practically, the book offers a telling look at the social and psychological development of early adolescents and includes a discussion of brain research that is especially fascinating. Whether read on sociological grounds or for sheer entertainment, its the kind of book that will have you mentally revisiting your own middle school days.”

“Middle school was a tumultuous ride the first time around, but if you
re itching to relive it, heres the perfect hall pass. ... To readers with any investment in middle-school kids, Perlstein is a godsend. ... Shes not shy about dispensing parenting advice. But moms and dads would probably be wise to follow it. After all, shes done her homework.”

Chicago Tribune
“In a move that must have put her sanity in danger, author Linda Perlstein dove headfirst into the intricate social and emotional networks that make up the modern American middle school. A fascinating peek inside the mind of adolescents, her book provides parents with what is most likely a shocking, but informative, look at what goes on behind those 
I want to be alone closed doors and in those all-lowercase, acronym-laced Instant Messenger sessions that last hours.”

The New Yorker
“The sixth to eighth graders she interviews have complex opinions on justice, religion, and mortality
while adults fret over whether video games create irrational fears of violence, students formulate sophisticated responses to events such as the terrorist attacks of September 11th.”

Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out
“Linda Perlstein has managed to embed herself in the lives and minds of middle schoolers, thoroughly capturing both the major issues and the minutiae that govern the couse of these crucial years. A terrific read for parents and other adults who need to navigate along with them.

NEA Today
The kids in Not Much Just Chillin
speak with a candor that will alternately shock, fascinate, and inform both parents and teachers. ... The slang and fashions change, but the inhabitants remain as vulnerable and confused as ever.

The Wall Street Journal
I don
t know the name of the guy who invented middle school, but he sure had a wicked sense of humor. ... Linda Perlsteins Not Much Just Chillin paints a vivid picture of the difficulty of the task weve set for ourselves.

School Library Journal
Deft writing punctuated by well-documented observations bring these people and the depths of their challenges to life. In this subculture of suffocating peer pressure, burgeoning sexuality, obsessive gaming, gay bashing, and 
IMing, no one emerges unscathed. Readers will emerge more knowledgeable, more understanding, and more than a little concerned for the future of all of us.

More about the book:

This American Life

The Washington Post Magazine

All Things Considered


The Wall Street Journal

Christian Science Monitor




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Copyright © 2007 Linda Perlstein