Middle School Angst in the Sunshine State, a guest post by Nina Moreno
Maggie Diaz is starting the seventh grade with three very big goals.
First, she wants her own phone. She’s twelve now and it’s way way past time. Second, she wants her bike riding privileges to extend past school so she can go to the park with her friends. Yes, the park by the beach. And no, her Cuban American mother doesn’t want her right next to the ocean without adult supervision, but this is Miami, where everyone is right by the ocean. And finally, she wants her abuela out of her room. Living in a multi-generational home is one thing, but thanks to a new baby brother, her abuela is now her roommate. Maggie just wants to hang out with her friends after spending the whole summer apart. But both of her best friends have now discovered clubs and like…skills thanks to band and art club. And now they’re busy all the time and even have new friends. It’s making Maggie feel like everyone is leveling up except her. So…she comes up with a plan. She’s going to figure out her passion too, by trying out a bunch of clubs. And she’s finally going to get on honor roll to impress her parents enough to earn her some real independence. Because there’s no better time to define ourselves and figure it all out then seventh grade, right?
Join the Club, Maggie Diaz isn’t my first book, but it is my first one for middle grade readers. And while I have lots of experience being a moody, emotional, but stubbornly optimistic Florida kid, I didn’t join many clubs. Or any really. I didn’t do sports outside of PE and I definitely didn’t have permission to ride my bike all the way to the park to hang out without my parents. Florida or not, my Latina mother did not trust me near the ocean unless she was there to watch me like a hawk.
So, why did I—an introverted indoor kid—write a story about a tween joining so many clubs? Because, much like Maggie, I was once determined to define myself. Immediately. All thanks to a TV commercial (because I’m also totally a 90s kid) that aired on Nickelodeon and during Saturday morning cartoons. It was an ad that asked, “What’s your verb?” Followed by a bunch of quick, exciting shots of spinning ballerinas, kids dunking basketballs, and cheering happily after getting the winning goal. Each one of them knowing wholeheartedly what their verb was.
While I did not.
I grew up playing outside and riding my bike with friends in my neighborhood. We swam in creeks, ran through the woods behind my backyard, and made up games on the spot. But around seventh grade, my friends all just sort of stopped playing. They outgrew those games and tried out for our school’s sports teams instead. They had practices and meetings after school now. From one school year to the next it felt like everyone had found some purpose that I didn’t. They’d grown up. They had a verb.
I was an anxious tween who loved reading, writing fanfiction about boybands and teen dramas, and spending hours downloading songs I wasn’t supposed to. And while I loved doing all of that, those weren’t hobbies that offered a tangible or exciting way to define myself. Extracurriculars and sports could be really expensive, and my parents worked a lot. And it’s not that I necessarily dreamed of becoming a cheerleader or joining the marching band, but I envied their Friday spirit shirts and team camaraderie. The way they confidently took up space in the band room and always knew what table they were going to sit at during lunch. Middle school was already so confusing and different, it felt like joining a team was the way to figure out where you fit.
Middle school was and continues to be a confusing time for everyone—even if their name is on a trophy or team shirt. Each summer and school year will bring on so many changes and restarts as we all evolve in our own unique ways. And in writing a MG story, this YA author realized that seventh grade can be a lot like those last years of high school. Because when it seems like everyone else knows what they want to do next, what do you do when you have no idea what you’re doing right now?
And while tween Nina never joined a sport, she did figure out a few things along the way. All that reading about different and similar experiences to mine helped me in a hundred different ways and that boyband fanfiction was absolutely worth it. Seventh grade is a great time to explore, create, try, and change, but so are all the years that come after. And in writing Maggie’s story, I got to crack open my old diary and welcome readers home by offering them all the humor, chaotic planning, and headstrong hope that shapes those years. But even with that fun nostalgia and hard-earned wisdom, I still know that the very last thing I needed to hear then was to simply be patient and not worry about it because it would all work out. Not worry? Are you kidding me?
Getting my jokes right was one thing, but it was critical for me to write the middle school existential crisis with all the importance it deserves. Those verbs and adjectives are anything but simple. And while our answers may continue to evolve over all the years and infinite versions of ourselves, our twelve-year-old version of that answer matters too.
Maggie Diaz is starting the seventh grade. And I can’t wait for you to meet her.
Meet the author
Nina Moreno was born and raised in Miami until a hurricane sent her family toward the pines of Georgia where she picked up an accent. She’s a proud University of Florida Gator who once had her dream job of shelving books at the library. Inspired by the folklore and stories passed down to her from her Cuban and Colombian family, she now writes about Latinas chasing their dreams, falling in love, and navigating life in the hyphen. Her first novel, Don’t Date Rosa Santos, was a Junior Library Guild Selection, Indie Next Pick for teen readers, and SIBA Okra Pick.
About Join the Club, Maggie Diaz by Nina Moreno, Courtney Lovett (Illustrator)
This humorous and heartfelt middle-grade debut by Nina Moreno with illustrations by Courtney Lovett is perfect for fans of Celia C. Pérez and Terri Libenson, and any reader still deciding what their passion in life is.
“MAYBE I’M GOOD AT SOMETHING I DON’T EVEN KNOW ABOUT YET.”
Everyone in Maggie Diaz’s life seems to be finding their true passion. The one thing that defines them as a person. Her best friends Zoey and Julian are too busy to hang out after school thanks to band and comics club. Mom is finishing her last semester in college. And Maggie’s perfect older sister Caro is perfectly-perfect at sports and tutoring.
So Maggie cooks up a plan to join every club she can! But trying to fit in with type-A future leaders, gardening whizzes, and the fearless kids in woodshop is intimidating, exhausting, and seriously confusing. And juggling homework, friends, and all of her after-school activities is way harder than it looks.
Seventh grade is all about figuring out who you are — good thing Maggie Diaz has the perfect plan!
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 05/17/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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