Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Pilfer Academy

Pilfer Academy
by Lauren Magaziner
Recommended Ages: 10+

In her second novel, the author of The Only Thing Worse Than Witches takes the popular idea of a secret boarding school that teaches unusual kids to do unusual things, and gives it an especially goofy twist. Described as "a school so bad it's criminal," Pilfer Academy doesn't just recruit its students; it kidnaps them. That's what happens to George Beckett, the naughtiest of his parents' six children, at the beginning of this book - snatched off the street by a daffy pair of teachers who subscribe to such dark arts as pasting together ransom notes, practicing stealth, picking locks, and perfecting the art of disguise. Yes, kids, it's a school for thieves.

The teachers aren't just criminal; they're criminally insane, like the pasta-scarfing headmaster, Dean Dean Deanbugle, who maintains order by threatening his students with a mysterious punishment called the Whirlyblerg. The school isn't just a museum of stolen artifacts; the whole manor house, grounds and all, was stolen from the Duke of Valois while he and his wife went out for coffee. The school's motto is "Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers." Try to sneak into the kitchen at night, and you might spend your detention brushing the teeth of a tankful of piranha. Try to sneak into the faculty lounge, and you may face even fiercer safeguards, such as a flock of man-eating chickens. Try to escape, and... let's not even talk about that. It's just too horrible. (So whirly. So blerggggg!)

But after acing his midterm exam, George finds himself wrestling with his conscience. Also, he misses his family, including the brother who is always putting him in a headlock. He decides he just has to escape. And while his roommate Milo would probably like nothing better than to see George gone, the only help he's going to get is from his best friend Tabitha, who is just so good at thieving that she doesn't feel challenged any more. Picture Hermione Granger storming out of Trelawney's class at Hogwarts, and extend it over all her subjects. The trouble is, the only way to escape from the school... is to steal it.

This is my first taste of Lauren Magaziner's writing. Though I am interested to want to read her previous book, it did bear some of the hallmarks of inexperience. Its goofiness was so over-the-top that the story almost couldn't hold together; which might actually work for some hyperactive children. I was interested to find a blog post by Magaziner, listing her favorite so-silly-they're-scary children's-book villains, in whose company Dean Dean Deanbugle really does fit in. I think she shows promise as a children's author, but still has room to grow. Also, her book had the bad luck to come out at about the same time as the similarly school-for-young-criminals-themed Munchem Academy book by Commander S.T. Bolivar III, The Boy Who Knew Too Much. But this specific branch off the Hogwarts family tree is budding in all directions, as evidenced by Soman Chainani's The School for Good and Evil, Victoria Forester's The Girl Who Could Fly, Catherine Jinks' Evil Genius, Stuart Gibbs' Spy School, Gitty Daneshvari's School of Fear and The League of Unexceptional Children, and all their sequels. I don't know if this book is going to have a sequel; but in spite of losing a few points by being just a little too harmlessly silly, it still made me laugh; for that alone, I'll be interested in seeing whatever else Magaziner puts out.

No comments: