384p. HarperCollins/Walden Pond. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062338204.
Gr 5–8—Middle school can be rough, even for a tight-knit pack of 13-year-old friends. When the new girl, Rose, joins their table at lunch, things start to change in uncomfortable ways for Frost, Bench, Deedee, and Wolf. It certainly doesn't help that the sharp words and mean thoughts that used to fly around on cell phones, which have been banned, are now pasted on the school walls via sticky notes, out there for everyone to see. The eighth grade that Anderson portrays contains a good deal of hurtful words and somewhat muted violence spun from his memories of being "short and smart (but not that smart) and scrawny and often alone." Both the wit of the prose and the bullying described are sharp and speak to everyday situations in today's schools. Stylistically the novel is solid, with a repetitive emphasis on the power of words. Anderson creates crucial suspense as narrator Frost looks back on the events of the story. Regrettably, the book overhypes itself to a substantial degree: the "war" is not the advertised monumental conflict of competing sides but rather a significant backdrop for a couple of major incidents in the lives of the main characters.
VERDICT A forceful book that focuses on bullying and the development of friendships in middle school amid exploration of the power of words. A good purchase for collections serving middle schoolers.

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