Monday, May 20, 2019

MMGM- The Usual Suspects

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Broaddus, Maurice. The Usual Suspects
May 21st 2019 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Thelonius is a bright kid, but his behavior has sent him to a special education unit where the few students there are Emotionally Disturbed. The teacher is old and tired, and most of the work is on the computer. Thelonius' mother is very supportive and not happy with his shenanigans, and is having him tested very soon. His friend Nehemiah is also in the class; his family is less supportive, and he tends to have episodes where he runs around the classroom screaming. Thelonius' misbehavior is usually more deliberate, and he will occasionally pit classmates against each other and take advantage of the ensuing chaos. One of the teachers in the class, Mr. Blackmon, is wise to his ways, but tries to figure out what motivates this otherwise bright student. When a gun is found in a park near the school, the principal is eager to find out who is responsible... and rounds up the usual suspects, which include Thelonius and his classmates. Determined to find out who is responsible, Thelonius and Nehemiah investigate, going up against school bully Kutter as well as the mastermind who employs him to do her dirty work, Marcel. It's tough to get out of class long enough to talk to others and find clues, but this doesn't stop Thelonius. He eventually solves the mystery, but prefers to get the school evildoers in trouble for the gun instead of the actual suspect.
Strengths: This certainly had a fresh, new cast of characters, and treated them with an equal amount of respect and humor. ED units usually have much more troubled students, but this unit was realistic, and certainly represents a population that hardly ever makes it into #MGLit books. Thelonius is a somewhat more troubled and devious Big Nate. That he is surrounded by well meaning adults is fantastic; his mother, Mr. Blackmon, and the best principal, Mrs. Fitzgerald, that I've seen for a long time! (Well, other than Mac Barnett's Principal Barkin, who really endeared himself to me!) I love how she addresses the fact that the pull out program isn't working, and has made plans for some mainstreaming and resource room programs.
Weaknesses: There were some things, like the slang and the names (Tafrica, RaShawn) that seemed a tiny bit unlikely, and a few differences in how the school was run that gave me pause (Thelonius hadn't been tested but was in a pull out program?). But you know what? Mr. Broaddus tells us that he volunteers a lot at his children's school, so I will believe that he is reporting accurately. It's just different from my school. I did occasionally get so caught up in Thelonius' behavior that I lost sight of the mystery, but the behavior is what will draw students to this book.
What I really think: I have some students who need this RIGHT NOW. I will definitely be purchasing, and this will be popular with fans of Big Nate, Charlie Joe Jackson, and Maldonado's Tight. Odd combination, but one that is badly needed!


  1. This sounds like a great book that kids definitely need! Thanks so much for the review!

  2. An interesting new group in a book, often left out as you said. I imagine many kids will like it. Thanks, Karen.

  3. And a must have for me! Thanks for the introduction. I love the cast of characters.

  4. YAY - another new-to-me title! Thank you so much for this helpful review, Karen. Have a wonderful reading week!

  5. This sounds like it will fill a gap in the MG canon. Thanks for telling me about it.

  6. Thanks as usual for your great review. Can't wait to check it out myself.

  7. This sounds like a deceptively simple title with many plot twists going on. Thank you so much for sharing!