Clay Hensley is always in trouble. He likes the attention it gets him at school, but more than that, he likes having tales of mischief to tell his older brother, Mitch. Mitch has just spent some time in jail, however, and when he comes home, he starts getting on Clay’s case, asking him to work on his behavior and promise not to get in so much trouble anymore. Clay would do anything to please his big brother, but is it too late to make such a drastic change?
This school story by the master of contemporary school stories addresses an important topic in a straightforward, entertaining, and positive manner. Though Clay is difficult to discipline in school, and has a tough relationship with the principal, he’s also a talented artist whose abilities are recognized by the art teacher, and possesses an interesting personality, whose merits are recognized by the principal’s secretary. Though Clay isn’t headed down a very promising path when the book begins, he still has a lot going for him, which makes the reader sympathize with him and hope for his success.
Clements’s story does clearly have a moral, but it doesn’t come across in a preachy way. Clay makes his own decisions every step of the way, and it’s through his feelings that the reader comes to understand the importance of cleaning up his act and not winding up in jail as his brother did. I’m not sure this book alone would be enough to convince a kid who acts up in class to reconsider his behavior, but I do think the story gives well-behaved kids some insight into the minds of those troublemakers they know in their classes. Ultimately, the story demonstrates that no one is ever just one thing, and that each of us is the master of our own destiny.
In addition to Troublemaker, I'd also recommend checking out Dexter the Tough, a chapter book by Margaret Peterson Haddix which covers very similar subject matter.
I borrowed Troublemaker from my local public library.