David and Scott had been best friends since grade school. They were the type of friends who walked to and from school everyday and spent most of their free time together. However, in middle school Scott, who is smart, good looking, and athletic, finds himself being invited to hangout with the popular boys. At first, David also hangs out with the popular kids, but his acceptance into this group is only due to his association with Scott. David doesn't particularly like Scott's new friends and he knows that they are just barely tolerating him. But even worse is that David gets the feeling that Scott, his best friend, is embarrassed by David's presence when hanging out with these "cool" kids.
David tries to fit in and even goes along with a vicious prank on an elderly woman even though he knows it was wrong. (During the prank, the woman puts a "curse" at David.) However, David's attempts to fit in fail and gradually he gets the idea that his friendship with Scott is over. To emphasize that they are no longer friends, Scott with his new buddies decide to make David's school life miserable. David finds himself alone and seemingly cursed in the unfriendly world of middle school.
Yet David makes new friends. There is Larry, an odd guy, who constantly wears blue sunglasses, and claims to have lived all over the world. And there is Maureen (better known as Mo) a petite girl with short hair and "a-don't-mess-with-me" demeanor. And then there is "Ms. Williams"- the girl David likes and has given hints that she likes him too. David should be happy. He has new friends and he is on the verge of asking Ms. Williams out. However, Scott and his buddies not only continue to tease David, but also start picking on his new friends and his younger brother. Even worse is that David thinks that the "curse" put upon him, which he believes is causing to do a lot of dumb, clumsy, and obnoxious stuff, is ruining his chances with Ms. Williams. So David must find a way to beat the curse and in doing so he must also confront the bullies as well as his own guilt and fears.
Louis Sachar's depiction of middle school life certainly rings true in many aspects. (I had a close grade school friend who abandoned me for the popular crowd in junior high.) Also, Sachar recognizes that sometimes fighting back is the only thing that will make a middle school bully back off. (I tried for months to ignore the bullies who had targetted me. However, that only encouraged wanna-be kids to see me as an easy way to increase their social standing. It was only after I finally stood up and I clobbered a wanna-be that most of the teasing ended.) Sachar's depiction of a middle school brawl is graphic and very realistic.
Also realistic is the language used by the characters. However, I have to agree with some of the other reviewers here that this sort of language is inappropriate for the age group this book is marketed for. Yes, I used this sort of language when I was 12, but I don't think the use of it should be encouraged in a book for kids 9-12. It's also unneccessary. I think there are some good lessons to be learned from this book such as moral responsibility and standing up for yourself and your friends, but the inclusion of some very harsh language will make teachers and school librarians less likely to recommend it to their students.