In Finley’s middle school, kissing frogs might lead to princes—if there were any frogs! Categorizing classmates leads to a battle of the sexes in this M!X novel from the author of Just Another Day in My Insanely Real Life.
According to Finley and her BFF, Maya, middle school boys can be put into three separate categories: tadpoles, croakers, and frogs. Per their official Life Cycle of Amphibian Boys, while tadpoles are totally not developed yet (read: boys who still love fart jokes and can’t have a normal conversation with girls without making fun of them), a frog is the top of the boy food chain—evolved and mature. Sadly, not many boys have reached that elusive frog status at Staunton Middle School.
Finley thought she had everyone pegged, until Zachary Mattison enters the picture. After suddenly leaving the year before, Zachary’s surprise reappearance at SMS forces Finley to see him in a new light. And when the official life cycle list falls into the wrong hands, it causes a battle between the boys and girls that turns into an all-out war—one that Finley isn’t sure anyone can really win...
About the Author
Barbara Dee is the author of several middle grade novels including Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have received several starred reviews and been included on many best-of lists, including the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten, the Chicago Public Library Best of the Best, and the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Star-Crossed was also a Goodreads Choice Awards finalist. Barbara is one of the founders of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival. She lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound dog named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.
Read an Excerpt
The (Almost) Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys
Today Wyeth Brockman became a Croaker.
Well, I mean, almost. Really close.
The way it happened was, he asked my best friend, Maya, if she’d seen this movie called Battlescar III. And when Maya said no (because seriously, why would she), Wyeth replied, “Well, I’m going this weekend.”
His voice croaked on the word “weekend.” Like it went “WEEK” (high pitch) “end” (lower pitch). And then he turned the color of a moldy strawberry.
For Wyeth, this was progress.
Okay, I’ll explain.
A few months ago, Maya and I had divided all the boys we knew into three categories: Tadpole, Croaker, and Frog. We’d even made a chart about it in my science binder: The Amphibian Life Cycle (a.k.a. Finley & Maya’s Super-Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys).
First we named all the Tadpoles, the squeaky, silly little babies who belonged back in elementary school. Maya and I ignored the Tadpoles as much as possible. But it wasn’t easy, because they were incredibly loud and obnoxious, the kind of boys who made fart jokes on the school bus.
Next were the Croakers, the boys who were starting to mature. Have you ever seen an actual tadpole turn into an actual frog? They go through this weird mutant in-between stage when they have fishy tails, but also reptile arms and legs. Croakers had croaky-sounding voices (hence the name), but that wasn’t the grossest thing about them: They smelled like wet socks, or else like too much deodorant; they chewed with their mouths open; they stepped on your feet. But at least they talked to girls. Or rather, tried to talk to girls. Most of the boys we knew were Croakers; even in the eighth grade, they were definitely the majority.
Frogs were the highest form of middle school boy. What made a boy a Frog wasn’t just that his voice had mostly stopped croaking; it was other stuff, like making eye contact with you in the hallway. Frogs were the boys who shared their homework, who laughed at your jokes, who’d discovered napkins. They weren’t perfect, but they used shampoo. You could have a conversation with Frogs; they were the boys you could crush on. I’m not saying you did; I’m saying you could. But Frogs were rare in the eighth grade, and anyhow, the best ones were usually taken.
Up until today, Wyeth Brockman had been stuck at the Tadpole stage. In fact, considering the squeaky way he giggled, his obsession with LEGOs, the way he blew bubbles with his straw—plus the way he never, ever spoke to girls, even when they asked him a simple question—I thought he’d probably stay a Tadpole forever.
So when he asked Maya if she’d seen that stupid movie, this was definitely the first sign of Croaker behavior. It wasn’t just the voice croaking and the blushing; it was the super awkwardness of the whole conversation. I’m seeing a movie you would probably find excruciating. In case you wanted to know.
Let me put it another way: If Wyeth had still been a Tadpole, he wouldn’t have mentioned this stupid movie to a girl. He probably wouldn’t have mentioned anything to any girl, period.
If he’d become a Frog, he would have added something like, You’re welcome to come to the stupid movie. Or even, Would you like to go to the stupid movie with me?
But a Croaker couldn’t make it to the invitation part. Maybe Wyeth didn’t even realize he wanted to invite Maya. Maybe he just thought he’d share his moviegoing habits out loud, and if a girl such as Maya happened to be listening, well, all righty then.
A.k.a., totally Croaker.
All of this happened in social studies, where our teacher, Mr. Schiavone, had arranged the desks in “work stations” to “facilitate discussion.” This month my “work station” consisted of me, Maya, Wyeth, and Jarret Lynch, who was the world’s reigning Croaker champion, and also, by the way, not a nice person. No one (besides Maya and me) knew about the Amphibian Life Cycle, so I could have just announced Wyeth’s upgrade to Croaker status. But if I had, Jarret would probably have gone, Huh? What are you talking about?
And the thing was, I didn’t want to embarrass Wyeth. Or any boy, really; that wasn’t the point of the Life Cycle, which was just about dealing with boy immaturity. Which was a major issue, as any girl in middle school can tell you.
So instead I passed Maya a note: CROAK???
She smiled. Then she wrote back: Hmm, mayyyybe . . .
You didn’t hear him croak just now? I wrote. On the word “WEEKEND.” Plus he kinda/sorta asked you out!!!
Maya rolled her eyes. No, he didn’t, Finley. He just said he was seeing a dumb movie.
Me: That’s a Croaker invite!
Me: I’m putting it on the chart!
She shrugged. And as soon as Mr. Schiavone started assigning the homework, I opened my science binder to the back. I glanced around to make sure no one was looking, especially Jarret. Then I flipped to the Amphibian Life Cycle chart, and next to Wyeth’s name I wrote the word “Croaker.”
Wyeth Brockman: Croaker.
But yeah, I had to admit it looked funny.
I thought about Maya’s objection. We’d been doing the Life Cycle for about five months now, and whenever we upgraded any boy, we usually agreed on the change of status. So maybe she was right, maybe it was too soon for Wyeth—a single croak, a one-time blush, and a super-awkward invitation didn’t qualify him for Croaker. And besides, I told myself, just look at him: He was chewing his thumbnail, which was a Tadpole thing to do, especially in public.
Still, Wyeth had made some actual progress today, and it would be wrong to ignore it. When a Tadpole evolved—even a fraction of an iota—it belonged on the chart, even if you couldn’t figure exactly how.
So I erased “Croaker.” I considered the options. Finally, this is what I wrote:
Wyeth Brockman: Tadpole with Croaker tendencies.
I liked this description; it seemed fair to me, and I felt sure Maya would agree with it eventually.
But even so, I wrote it in pencil, in case I needed to change my mind.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I received a copy to facilitate my review. The opinions expressed here are my own. Finley and Maya are best friends and eighth graders. Like most middle school kids they are trying to figure out the opposite sex. They have made a scientific study out of it. They have created a "guide" called "The Amphibian Life Cycle". They have compared boys to frogs. Yes you heard me right. First they have the Tadpoles. Those are the things that don't quite resemble frogs, yet you know that they are on their way to becoming frogs. For middle school boys it means they are trying hard to turn into the boys you will one day find as mature beings in high school, yet they have too much immaturity to be their yet. Next they have the Croakers. These are the boys whose voice has begun to change and they are at a point where they can talk to or attempt to talk to girls, even if what they say is stupid. Then you have the Frogs. These are the boys who seem to have matured. They can carry on an intelligent conversation. Finley doesn't seem to realize that it isn't just boys who go through this transformation, but kids in general. I know, I've been a parent and I'm a middle school teacher. We get some kids into our sixth grade classes that you know are going to be tadpoles most of middle school. You pray that they will be able to become at least Croakers by eighth grade. Then you have the scary kids who come as frogs. I say scary because they come already acting like little adults. This can be good or bad based on how far ahead their frog mentality is. When Zachary Mattison, previously known as Freakazoid returns after being gone for several months he has gone from tadpole to definite frog. This befuddles both Maya and Finley. When "The Amphibian Life Cycle" becomes public knowledge then a war breaks out. Friendships are tried and tested. You see what bullying can look like to one person and how it can be viewed differently by another. Did I enjoy this book? Oh yes! I want to read this to my class. It is definitely worth at least doing a book talk and starting a conversation in class. This is one I foresee getting more copies of. I will also be purchasing "Trauma Queen" by Barbara Dee. If it is as good as this one I won't be able to keep it on my shelves. I am going to recommend this to all of my fellow teachers, parents and to middle school teachers everywhere.
Great book ! Makes u want to keep turning the page.thx for reading
Ultimately, this is a story about growing up. We start in the shallow end of the pool and wind up in the great big beyond...but along the way, there are bumps, bruises, and lessons to be learned. It all starts with the rating system that Finley and her friend Maya created to help sort out the boys from the...well, those that were taking the next step in their path toward manhood. It's fine and dandy until the information falls into the wrong hands. Things get out of hand as the boUltimately, this is a story about growing up. We start in the shallow end of the pool and wind up in the great big beyond...but along the way, there are bumps, bruises, and lessons to be learned. Perhaps it would be better said then that this story is about those bumps and bruises because poor Finley is in for quite a few. It all starts with the rating system that she and her friend Maya created to help sort out the boys from the...well, those that were taking the next step in their path toward manhood. It's fine and dandy until the information falls into the wrong hands. ~dun dun dunnn~ Things get out of hand as the boys turn against the girls in a battle of whit's to see who can out frog the other. Trust me...my wording may be funny but the back and forth between them is even funnier. Aside from the back and forth bantering between the sexes, we also have a little girl to girl rivalry. The story delicately explores the intricate nature of the relationship between best friends, in this case girl friends. It reveals the unspoken competitions, the hurt feelings, and the overall sense of leaving one another behind that can (and sadly does) happen as we grow up. Is it all preventable? To some degree...and that's where the tale is reassuring for those that are going through that pothole riddled road in their own lives (or have little ones that are headed that way). Don't let the lessons fool you though, there is plenty of fun to be had between the pages and the life cycle of the frogs, I mean boys....is just the beginning. In conclusion, another great read to grow with from an author who has become a well recognized name in her chosen genre. Her stories feature relatable characters in realistic situations that make it easy to step right into, whether you be the target audience, or somewhere beyond. Boys turn against the girls in a battle of whit's to see who can out frog the other. Trust me...my wording may be funny but the back and forth between them is even funnier. Aside from the back and forth bantering between the sexes, we also have a little girl to girl rivalry. The story delicately explores the intricate nature of the relationship between best friends, in this case girl friends. It reveals the unspoken competitions, the hurt feelings, and the overall sense of leaving one another behind that can (and sadly does) happen as we grow up. Is it all preventable? To some degree...and that's where the tale is reassuring for those that are going through that pothole riddled road in their own lives (or have little ones that are headed that way). In conclusion, another great read to grow with from an author who has become a well recognized name in her chosen genre. Her stories feature relatable characters in realistic situations that make it easy to step right into, whether you be the target audience, or somewhere beyond. ***review copy received in exchange for my honest review...full post can be seen on my site***