At the time I first read it, Niven's book was way above my reading level. There were words and concepts that I did not understand (and the dictionary definition didn't help either.) So, according to the way some researchers think about adolescent and young adult reading, I should have been frustrated at the difficulty of it. Reading that book should have been a huge mistake that resulted in me being so frustrated that I would turn my back on reading forever.
As it turned out, though, I found reading something that was too difficult for me to understand fully oddly exhilarating I remember feeling the same way about some books by Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and A.E. VanVogt. As I reread it, I was that there were some sexual references that were subtle enough that they must have flown right over my head -- but I also remembered how I felt trying to puzzle out the relationships between the main characters, Louis Wu -- a long-lived human; Nessus - an alien being from a race whose defining characteristic is cowardice; Speaker -- one of the kzin, a catlike predator alien species; and Teela Brown -- a human who is the result of a selective breeding program that isolates luck as a characteristic. I remembered how cool the concept of a vast ringworld was -- built by and incredibly advances civilization, yet fallen into ruin.
I have no idea if 8th grade geeks of today would find it as exciting as I did, but it seems to me that it might be worth a shot. Or maybe it would be better for high school kids. Really, though, this book commercial is less about the book and more about this idea -- if a student wants to read something that you know is way to hard for him or her, let him or her give it a shot. The combination of being allowed to make a choice and the challenge of something they shouldn't be able to read may give them the chance to jump a reading level or two when no one is looking.