Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Boy Who Knew Too Much

The Boy Who Knew Too Much
by Commander S.T. Bolivar III
Recommended Ages: 11+

Commander S.T. Bolivar III seems to be one of those authors of the school of N.E. Bode, Pseudonymous Bosch, and Lemony Snicket, whose true identity may perhaps eventually become known, but who currently enjoys the freedom to paint himself into the background of a tale of hero kids measuring themselves against grown-up villains. In this first book of the "Munchem Academy" series, the Commander aims to set the record straight about the greatest thief who ever lived, starting with Mattie Larimore's first and only arrest - for stealing a subway train. A disappointment to his loud, bossy businessman father and his Dominican telenovela starlet mother, Mattie is condemned to join his juvenile-delinquent older brother Carter at a reform school called Munchem Academy.

As soon as he arrives at Munchem, Mattie can't wait to go home. He tries and tries to be good enough, but somehow he keeps getting into trouble. Call it an impulse-control problem, like when he hits the class bully on the nose with a wet washrag. Call it a conflict between wanting to be the son his parents want and the brother Carter wants. He tries so hard to make the teachers like him that he makes enemies of the other students, but still it isn't enough. In desperation, Mattie recruits his two best friends - technology nerd Eliot and his bossy, animal-rescuing sister Caroline - to break into the headmaster's office in search of a handbook on how to be good. Funnily enough, he doesn't spot the book (though an eagle-eyed reader might). Instead, he finds himself in the middle of a scary adventure involving a conspiracy to replace bad students with good clones. And his biggest worry is that if Carter doesn't shape up - Carter, who never listens to him - he'll be next.

This is a heart-warming, funny, exciting introduction to the career of a crook with a heart of gold. I know, I just used the word "heart" twice in one sentence, but this book has plenty of heart, as well as some wickedly clever banter, over-the-top goofy characters, strange-enough-to-be-almost-believable adventure, and a reform school setting that is both grim and quirky. It will be fun to visit again. And though there are many ways Mattie Larimore and Munchem are unlike Harry Potter and Hogwarts - notable examples including the older-brother character of Carter and the substitution of crime instead of magic - there are many more reasons to expect this new series to catch fire with fans of the boy wizard.

This review is based on a free Kindle proof made available through Netgalley dot com, though the book was already released in September 2016.

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