Release Date: April 24, 2012
For all of his 12 years, Seamus Hinkle has stayed out of trouble, but on one fateful afternoon in the Cloudview Middle School cafeteria, Seamus accidentally does the unthinkable—a substitute teacher is dead, and Seamus is to blame. Unable to return to Cloudview, Seamus’ parents take him to the most infamous of reform schools: Kilter Academy. But when Seamus’ parents drive off, headmistress Annika Kilter shows her true colors: she’s not interested in reforming delinquents, but quite the opposite—the mission of Kilter Academy is to foster troublemaking, and she's decided Seamus is her star pupil! Together with his new mischief-making friends, Seamus lives every young boy’s dream of getting points for getting in trouble! But soon Seamus discovers that Kilter Academy may have more plans in store for its students than just turning out troublemakers… (courtesy of Goodreads.)
I've been meaning to check out T.R. Burns book Bad Apple ever since BEA 2012 when the author blurbed the book to us at an author speed-dating event. T.R. Burns is a pseudonym for Tricia Rayburn. Following the model of J.K., Tricia chose a masculine sounding name for her children's book featuring a male main character. It irritates me that authors and publishers find this a necessary tactic to draw in boy readers, but unfortunately they probably do it for good reason.
At any rate, Bad Apple is a cute start to a middle school series. Seamus is a quiet, unobtrusive boy. The one time he does something a little bit daring - throws an apple in the cafeteria at lunch, he accidentally strikes his substitute teacher in the head and kills her. So now he's shipped off to boarding school. A school advertised as dealing with trouble-makers, but really it's encouraging them to become even more mischievous.
Seamus is amazingly lucky, aside from the killing teacher part. Here's a kid who has no desire to get into trouble and he accidentally becomes the top troublemaker in the school. Everytime he screws up, it turns out that he's unintentionally played a huge prank on a teacher. As a character, Seamus will be relatable to most kids - presumably the average reader is a wallflower, non-troublemaker as well. He is a bit bland. You can't really nail down a solid personality. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Blank lead characters allow the reader to envision himself or herself in the character's shoes. But it does make him kind of boring.
The concept of a school designed to raise troublemakers is genius. I think any kid will be drawn to the fun of being encouraged to play pranks and break the rules. The problem is that the concept isn't developed into a strong enough plot. There were various adventures and conflicts, but not much to make me remember the story after I'd finished or really care. I felt like Bad Apple tries to channel the wonder and magic of Harry Potter in a non-fantastical way, but misses the mark.
Despite not fully realizing its potential, Bad Apple is a cute, light read. I don't think it will entrance children, but they'll have a kid time while reading it. And a sudden twist at the very end, will make them (and me) look forward to coming back for more.
Rating: 3 / 5
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