Pennybaker School Is Headed for Disaster

illus. by Marta Kissi. 320p. Bloomsbury. Jul. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781681191744.
Gr 4–7—Pennybaker Hill Academy accepts students with unique gifts. Sixth grader Thomas Fallgrout enrolls because of his genius basement chemistry and magic tricks. Upon arrival, Thomas is surprised that the students revere a statue of math teacher Helen Heirmauser. He feels their unilateral admiration is misplaced and old-fashioned. When someone steals the statue's head, everyone blames Thomas. Loathed by his new friends Wes and Owen, Thomas becomes isolated when even his parents and Grandma Jo think he is the thief. Thomas reluctantly colludes with his quirky neighbor Chip Mason, a boy with socks for every occasion, to find the real culprit. As the novel begins, Brown limns Thomas in first-person monologue with gross and wacky thoughts about history, science, and his life. Thomas exists in slight contrast to socially clueless Chip and is a pained witness to his mother's juvenile arguments with Grandma Jo. The story takes a serious turn when the school brands Thomas a thief. Gradually, he loses his entire support system, and his despair and sadness seem frighteningly real, most so when none of the adults in his life believe him. Forced to befriend Chip, Thomas learns to deconstruct the other boy's behaviors and becomes more empathetic. This seemingly light book includes a thoughtful look at judgment and friendship.
VERDICT A comedic intro twists into a nuanced exploration of character, with a detailed mystery. Give to readers who liked R.J. Palacio's Wonder.

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