The Classroom: The Epic Documentary of a Not-Yet-Epic Kid. by Robin Mellom. June 19, 2012. Disney-Hyperion. 288 pages. ISBN: 9781423150633
School often poses problems for worrywart Trevor Jones, but he’s always had his best friend Libby Gardner to save him from disaster. Therefore, it’s a huge shock when Libby arrives to the bus stop on the first day of middle school and immediately tells Trevor they can’t be “friend friends” anymore because she thinks they need to branch out. It gets even worse when Libby explains that Trevor has until the end of the first day of school to find a date to the Fall Dance - without any of her usual expert guidance.
There are a lot of books out there about the first day of middle school, but The Classroom is unique for two reasons. One is that the story is told in a documentary format, with breaks between chapters for interviews with the main characters. Characters’ pictures are shown, along with transcripts of what they have told the cameraman about their day at school, giving insight into the worries and motives of kids other than Trevor. I won’t say this is a successful gimmick all the time, but it’s a welcome change from the diary format that seems to be taking over lately. The documentary format is still visually appealing but it also takes a different approach, which makes the book stand out.
The second reason this book is unique among the scores of middle school books available is that it’s a friendship story from the male point of view. We have other middle school books about boys, of course - Diary of a Wimpy Kid, James Patterson’s new series, the Big Nate books - but somehow those books don’t focus quite as strongly on the changes in friendships that occur when middle school begins. A lot of attention is paid to girls losing their friends to the popular crowd, but Trevor is the first boy I’ve seen go through that in a work of fiction, and it was so completely refreshing to see that. I’m sure boys fall victim to shifting cliques as much as girls do, and this book really validates that experience.
I think the best term I could use to describe The Classroom is “tween soap opera.” This book reads like a cleaner version of DeGrassi, and it has a lot of great characters who would lend themselves easily to an animated cartoon series. It was fun to keep track of each characters’ trajectory throughout that first day of school, and the big cast of characters captured that crowded, chaotic environment of middle school hallways so well. The story itself unravels a litle bit at he end because the resolution comes so easily after all of Trevor’s turmoil, but it was still worth the ride it took to get there.
Recommend The Classroom to true wimpy kids who are fed up with Greg Heffley, and to fans of The Fourth Stall, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, and the Amelia Rules graphic novels.
I received a digital ARC of The Classroom from Netgalley.