Middle School Confidential is a graphic novel and app series by Annie Fox that teaches young teenagers how to deal with common personal and social stumbling blocks. A nationally recognized teen expert and anti-bullying activist, she created the series to help teens effectively manage their relationships and emotions. The story follows a group of six friends trying figure out middle school. Each chapter has a different theme, and the app version includes quizzes to help readers reflect on the lessons. . There are three apps in the series, and this review focuses on "Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are."

Pros:

It’s easy to navigate and compatible across devices. You can zoom in and follow the story one panel at a time, which works well on mobile. The illustrations are colorful and attractive while the background music adds a cinematic quality to the experience. Providing the quizzes right after each chapter helps to reinforce the main points. It’s also a great opportunity for the reader to connect what’s happening in the story with their own life. In the first chapter, the kids were talking about what made them feel insecure, and the quiz after showed the user a series of statements, asking if each would make them feel more or less confident. It seemed to encourage self-reflection in a manageable way.

Cons:

I would have liked more narrative. Many chapters are just the six main characters chatting about the theme. I wasn’t wondering what was coming next. It would be nice if each lesson was woven into a story arc. This started to happen in the last few chapters that focused on Mateo’s performance in the talent show. One chapter ended with someone unplugging the music during Mateo’s performance, and I felt compelled to know what happened next.

I also would have loved if there were more detailed introductions to the characters at the beginning of the story. There is a part of the app where you can go and read short bios of each of the characters. But it would have been better if the first chapter just focused on introducing us to each of the characters and their world. I feel as though having a connection to the characters would make their lessons more powerful.

Sometimes the characters are not as sensitive as I would expect them to be. For example, one character was talking about how bad she feels about her weight, and another character just said, "Then do something about it." That was treated as a good response, but doesn’t show much empathy. Perhaps the author wanted their behavior to reflect real teenagers, but it sometimes muddles the message of teaching kids to be confident in who they are.

Our Takeaway:

While Middle School Confidential had many nice features and did provide some great opportunities for self-reflection, it could use a bit more narrative structure and character development.

Image: Matt Kindt via Annie Fox’s website