The cover really draws you into reading this new novel by Varian Johnson. I did so a few weeks ago at the end of my participation in the 48 Hour Book Challenge. It was my final title to read. As the final minutes ticked away there was only time to read the first two chapters. Not to be defeated, I started over a few days later. My initial two-point reaction remained the same:
- Was this a sequel? No, it’s not but it was like I missed the first course or two of an important dinner. I needed a scorecard with all the characters and back story thrown in. Just in the first ten pages you have Jackson Greene, Mrs. Kau, Coach Rainey, Mr. James, A.P Nelson, Gaby de la Cruz, Charlie de la Cruz, Naomi Sinclair, Keith Sinclair, Dr. Kelsey, Mr. Pritchard, Blitz at the Fitz, Mid-Day PDA, Lynne Thurber, Fiona, Omar Turner, Katie, and Heather Ames. Whew, I was exhausted. I checked out the prequel on Mr. Jonson’s web site and dove back into the story.
- I couldn’t get over that this cast of characters were mostly just turned 13-year-olds. What’s going on in Columbus, Ohio? I kept expecting a dream sequence to end. They all acted and appeared more like a high school crowd than middle school.
Moving beyond those concerns, I tossed aside the implausible plot and just enjoyed the story. It became an enjoyable ride. The diversity angle was great and the back story eventually explained. Fans of heist movies will get a kick out of the various roles each of the characters take. Real middle school age kids will be wondering why their school isn’t anything like Maplewood Middle.
PUBLICATION DATE:2014 PAGE COUNT: 226
FULL PLOT (From Amazon): Jackson Greene swears he’s given up scheming. Then school bully Keith Sinclair announces he’s running for Student Council president, against Jackson’s former friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby wants Jackson to stay out of it — but he knows Keith has “connections” to the principal, which could win him the presidency no matter the vote count.
So Jackson assembles a crack team: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess. Charlie de la Cruz, reporter. Together they devise a plan that will take down Keith, win Gaby’s respect, and make sure the election is done right. If they can pull it off, it will be remembered as the school’s greatest con ever — one worthy of the name THE GREAT GREENE HEIST.
FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT THE GREAT GREENE HEIST
- You are kept guessing how our young protagonist is going to pull off his plan. The reader gets many of the details, but there are still enough unanswered questions to keep those pages turning.
- A very rare African-American protagonist in a contemporary middle school book. No stereotypes, just another boy in a diverse group of characters.
- The brief though powerful scene that demonstrates racism is still out there.
- This cast of teen characters are smart and it’s something not to hide. Young readers take note.
- Many references are made to the movie, Oceans 11, but I think this would actually make a blockbuster movie in and of itself.
Jackson shook his head. The idea if Mrs. Goldman being a Sk8tr Boiz fan weirded him out. He figured someone like her – someone in her thirties – would like boring music, like smooth jazz.
Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.