Seventh grader Martin McLean is confident about one thing: his math skills. He is most comfortable when he is working word problems and helping his fellow Mathletes. When bully Nelson Turlington starts teasing Martin about being gay, Martin has an anxiety attack and leaves math class. He's never thought about his sexuality ... and it is definitely not something he's going to tell his mom about! Especially after Mr. Peterson called her about the panic attack.
Sensing he needs a man, Martin's mom invites her brother to stay with them. On Saturday, Tio Billy takes Martin to Hoosier Mama? Coffee House to introduce Martin to some of his friends. Martin didn't know he was there to see a drag show, but by the end he knew he wanted to be a drag queen. With Tio Billy's help, Martin creates Lottie Leon, his drag queen alter ego. As Lottie, Martin has lots of confidence, but Martin still worries about what people will think of his drag life, and he's not ready to share that with his friends. When the amateur drag queen and Mathletes Regional competitions are scheduled for the same night, Martin has to decide - is he going to be Lottie or Martin?
I hope every preteen reads this book. The heart of the story is Martin's struggle to understand who he is, and every tween can relate to that. The cast is diverse and inclusive, and I especially loved the Spanish woven into the conversations within Martin's family. Both the family and friendship dynamics felt real: Martin being uncomfortable sharing his emotions with his Mom; his wanting to know more about his father and why he left; frustrated friends Pickle and Carmen who couldn't understand his sudden, unexplained distance.
The story balances realism with humor, offering readers a way through moments that may hit too close to home or be uncomfortable for them. Overall, the story is well paced. My one nit is that the reactions of his friends and teammates when Martin shared details about being a drag queen was pushed through too fast, without allowing space for a character (and therefore a reader) who might have been uncomfortable. Nelson, being a bully, doesn't count.
Teens (especially those in 7th grade) will instantly connect with Martin, Carmen, and Pickles. Fun as an independent read and a read-aloud.
Martin is figuring out who he is, including his sexual orientation. While we do not see that as an awareness factor, other adults may find it uncomfortable.
This is a first-person narrated story told by a 7th grade boy who is struggling with family, friendship, and identity.
Martin McLean, Middle School Queen is a great foundation for a middle-school book club. Themes of friendship, honesty, and being yourself stand out as strong contenders for discussing the character dynamics, as well as how they relate to readers' real lives.
Given Martin's relationship with his Tio Billy and Mr. Peterson (teacher) there are also opportunities to talk about the value of having a trusted adult with whom you can talk about personal matters, including bullying, emotional changes, physical changes, etc.
12 and Up
12 and Up
Definitely borrow. Even readers not struggling with sexual identity will relate to Martin's efforts to figure out his place in his family and his world.