The Bad Apple. by T.R. Burns. April 12, 2012. Aladdin. 352 pages. ISBN: 9781442440296
The Bad Apple is the first title in a new series called Merits of Mischief. When Seamus accidentally kills his substitute teacher with an apple in the cafeteria, his parents send him to Kilter Academy, which they believe is a reform school. When Seamus arrives on campus, he learns that the opposite is true - Kilter is a school for training troublemakers to be better at their particular brand of trouble. For reasons he doesn’t quite understand, especially given how guilty he feels for murdering his teacher, Seamus quickly becomes a favorite of all of his teachers, and he even makes friends at the academy. That is, until they learn what he really did to end up there.
This series gets major points for creativity. It combines the most successful elements of Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Series of Unfortunate Events and the Gallagher Girls series and puts together a setting unlike any other in middle grade fiction. Though the story is predicated on a dire act of violence, the tone is surprisingly light, and the action moves so quickly, it’s easy to get hooked and just keep reading. At some points, I thought the writing suffered a little bit. The premise is so great, but it requires some clear world-building, which at times I felt was lacking. Some concepts - such as the demerits and gold stars system - could have used some more direct explanation - and I managed to miss the fact that Seamus was at the top of his class until more than halfway through the book.
What is hopeful, though, is how much happens toward the very end of the book. The ending has a huge twist in it that casts the entire setting in a new light, and some insights into the head of the school, Annika, also promise a lot more excitement and plot development in future books of the series. Now that universe has been established, almost anything can happen within it.
T.R. Burns, the author of this book, is a pen name for Tricia Rayburn, who writes the Maggie Bean books, but the two types of stories could not be more different. It’s amazing to me that they sprang from the same imagination. Still, though, fans of one might like to try the other just to see how different the two series are. I will say that the cover is misleading. While the cover suggests comparisons to The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, I actually think it compares better to things like Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go, Holes and even to Troublemaker by Andrew Clements.
The Bad Apple is a great title to suggest to boys who like mystery and adventure but who also like to read on the lighter side, without too much heavy subject matter. If kids you know get hooked on the series, let them know that Book 2, World of Trouble is scheduled to be published this April.
I borrowed The Bad Apple from my local public library.
For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.