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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist- PITY PARTY by Kathleen Lane

Introduction by Heavy Medal Award Committee member Michelle Lettus.

PITY PARTY by Kathleen Lane is a collection of middle school stories. For the most part, the stories are not connected other than the mention of Bridger Middle School. Think back to Stories from Wayside School, except these stories are darker. Katya hears a voice that at one time protected her, but now it seems to be controlling her. Alice is ghosted by her friends because she does not respond to a text. Lexa is unhappy with the new playground system that separates the kids into groups by the way they play. Mixed in with these stories are quizzes, advertisements, and more.

PITY PARTY is the quintessential story for middle school students. It’s a party no one wants to go to, but we have all been there. The interpretation of the theme is well done throughout the book and presented in different ways. We don’t always fit in and sometimes it feels like we are stuck in a hole that we just can’t get out of. The options we have (or believe to have) just do not work, so let’s just sit and wait until someone notices. Appropriateness of style is also strong, especially for the kids who are currently middle school. Kids are used to video clips that are short and not necessarily related, which is exactly how the book is set up.

Kids will relate to the feelings portrayed in this novel and many adults will remember what it’s like to feel like an outcast.

Heavy Medal Award Committee members and others are now invited to discuss this book further in the Comments section below. Please start with positive observations first; stick to positives until at least three comments have been posted or we reach 1:00 pm EST. Let the Mock Newbery discussion begin!

About Emily Mroczek-Bayci

Emily Mroczek (Bayci) is a freelance children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs. She served on the 2019 Newbery committee. You can reach her at


  1. Aryssa Damron says

    I agree that this book might appeal perfectly to a current middle-grader, but I especially enjoyed the “choose your own adventure” section

  2. Emily Mroczek says

    Thanks for the intro Michelle! We had a few titles about bullying this year (flight of the puffin, finding junie kim) and I thought this one really stood out because of the unique presentation and relatability

  3. Stephanie Saggione says

    Yes, the unique set up of this book stood out. I think that most middle school students would find a relatable story in this collection. The unhappiness of the characters was offset by the humorous sections so the heavy topics did not make the book too difficult to read.

  4. Rox Anne Close says

    PITY PARTY was a unique read, extremely clever and darkly funny. I appreciated the very real understanding Lane presented of the middle school experience. This book is especially strong in ‘Interpretation of theme’ and it shines in ‘appropriateness of style’ for junior high students. The satire in the stories could lead to cynicism, but instead the stories inspire courage to be yourself.

  5. Courtney Hague says

    I agree with what has already been said here. PITY PARTY is such a unique and clever read. I especially loved that, while it is a short story collection, the stories all firmly uphold the theme of being yourself and growing up and not always fitting in.

  6. Aryssa Damron says

    While I did enjoy it in the moment, is comparison to every other Newbery-contender I read this year, this one just, unfortunately, did not stand out to me.

    • Aryssa Damron says

      Not sure if it was the structure, or just a comparison problem though! I didn’t find the prose particularly memorable.

  7. Lisa Levin says

    While I love the title of this book, it wasn’t one of my favorites on the list. I agree that it is creatively written and crafted and very relatable to middle school students and issues today. I’m just not sure what students I could give this book to. I wanted more for the “choose your own adventure” section. It fell short. I think my favorite story in the book was “The Voice” and how it does play out throughout the book ending on a good note with her not listening to the voice and not being afraid to move forward.

    • Emily Joan Smith says

      I’m with you, Lisa. I found the choose your own adventure section gimmicky and disconnected to the overall theme of the books. What I do appreciate is the great humor toward the challenging feelings of middle school, but I would have preferred to get to know the characters. I’m hoping this book might catch on among a few reluctant readers who typically lack the stamina to stick with a long story, but I’ve already had a few strong readers say it was “too weird.”

  8. Tamara DePasquale says

    I’m coming to the “Pity Party” a little late…oh I couldn’t resist! I was so intrigued by the structure of this book, but I kept waiting for more and was left disappointed. I never felt connected with the characters, only their situations. Nothing here is fully developed, and I did not find the writing rising to the level of a Newbery.

    It was clever, and the sprinkling of humor kept this book from being a total downer. I agree with Emily and her comment about parts feeling “gimmicky.” What I did see, was a fantastic stage production for a middle school drama club with each character shining on the stage with a different voice. Perhaps its the launchpad for an original production that allows for many voices and variety of expression. It just didn’t work as a cohesive story for me and does not stand up with the titles I have at the top of my list thus far our discussions..

  9. Amanda Bishop says

    I agree with what many have already said. This book is really unique and I enjoyed the playfulness of the ads and choose your own adventure pieces. I commend Kathleen Lane for making a book that takes on some heavy subject matter but has the skill to add in humor throughout. I think there are so many middle school kids who will love the quirkiness of this book, particularly those students who are always looking for something unusual. It certainly stays true throughout to the theme of the book. However, with so many other outstanding titles this year, I’m not sure this one will be a winner.

  10. Megan Howes says

    A little late on this one, but I am astounded at how well Lane described anxiety, OCD, and intrusive thoughts. This will give a lot of kids comfort who are facing these issues. I also thought this was a fun book, and that all the stories were strong, but I did feel that it was a bit all over the place. I would love to see Lane with a story that focuses on a more centralized storyline, because I do think she is a great writer!

  11. Louie Lauer says

    I haven’t a chance to re-read this one since I read it this summer. I remember being really intrigued by the structure and thought that it worked very well in terms of communicating the central theme. I agree that some of the sections felt gimmicky, but I also felt that that was kind of the point. In the end, the choose-your-adventure section ended up kind of taking you in a circle. At first I thought that was an oversight, but then I thought maybe this was intentional (to mirror all of the confusion and change in the middle school experience). I also remember that there was a point about 2/3 of the way through that my feeling about this book changed from “Oh, this is clever” to “Oh, this is important”. There are some affirming ideas told in clever ways that will land with middle grade readers.

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