By Varian Johnson
Available now from Arthur A. Levine (Scholastic)
Varian Johnson is a local Austin author, so I saw him speak several times back when I lived there. He's been talking the talk and walking the walk about diversity in children's books since before it was trendy. I'm happy to see him make the jump to middle grade and reach a new group of readers.
THE GREAT GREENE HEIST throws the reader right into the deep end with a varied cast of characters and a flurry of references to past escapades. This book is clearly positioned to be the start of a series, but it doesn't waste time. At first I felt like I'd missed a book, but then I caught on. There's very little talking down to the reader.
Jackson Greene is known around school for getting things done, but he's decided to stop interfering ever since his last caper ended up destroying his relationship with his best friend, Gaby. But now his rival and the richest kid in school, Frank Sinclair, is running against Gaby for Student Council President, and Jackson just knows he isn't going to play fair.
THE GREAT GREENE HEIST is one of those books where everyone actually cares about Student Council. If you just go with it, it's fun. It's very much a homage to OCEAN'S 11 and other heist films, with a crackerjack team of nerds who each have their own specialties. The technology is fake, but the cleverness and scheming are real.
This quick-paced novel will appeal to readers looking for an adventure set in the present day. Everything is kept on an age appropriate level, from kissing (just a peck!) to racial tension. Most of the characters a broad types, but Jackson himself is well rounded. THE GREAT GREENE HEIST stands well on its own, but I do hope it gets sequels. It's a fun book.