|THE DETENTION CLUB|
Balzner + Bray
For Peter and his best friend, making the switch from elementary to middle school means going from popular to being seen as losers. When it becomes obvious that everyone else in the sixth grade has moved on from collecting mica and started going to parties on the weekends, Peter relies on his "out of the box" thinking to come up with scheme after scheme to become popular. Finally he lands on a "detention club," which involves framing influential students so that they can be in detention with him and become friends with him. The problem with this plot is that it takes such a long time to really come together*. Though the title of the book comes directly from Peter's detention plot, a good deal of the book follows Peter as he explores other ways to become popular as well as works on an idea for an invention for a competition. I'm definitely the type of reader who prefers plots to be focused, without a lot of wandering or subplots that often overpower the main plot, and in this regard The Detention Club disappointed me. The various subplots -- involving not only Peter's inventions but also a school thief, his overachieving sister, and his best friend -- often seemed to be fighting for my attention and a few of them seemed very underdeveloped until coming together in the book's conclusion.
Peter himself was a character I wasn't quite sure how to feel about. He was annoyingly arrogant and self-absorbed, but in a way that's completely realistic to the type of kid he was. Having easily sailed through his elementary years, Peter regards himself as much smarter than his fellow students and enters middle school thinking he doesn't need to study or try because things come so naturally to him. He finds out, of course, that middle school is not as easy as elementary school was, but it took quite a while to get there and in the meantime his superiority complex grated on me. While normally I'd dislike this type of character, Peter's age (he's in the sixth grade) gave it a different twist because I recognized bits of my former fellow classmates -- and maybe even myself -- in him and his predicament. It didn't make me enjoy his character exactly, but it did make for a better understanding of him. However, the extent that Peter's arrogance overshadowed his relationship with his best friend felt excessive, especially when it became clear that the best friend considered himself stupid next to Peter. In this area there was definitely relationship growth, but compounded with the other part of the novel that didn't work quite right together, it made for an iffy read. The book is definitely funny; many of Peter's conversations with his best friend seem to be an exchange of witty and weird thoughts. It made me laugh, but it also felt incredibly forced and took me out of the story.
All of that said, though I didn't love The Detention Club, it did have its moments. It's a funny book with offbeat characters, and while I admit I'm a sucker for family dynamics, the role Peter's sister played in the story was very interesting; I only wish it had been a larger part of the book.
*Like a few other middle grade novels I've read recently, this one took a while to really get going, so I'm wondering if this is less a flaw and more just a function of the genre. Maybe MG is a slower read than YA and because YA is what I primarily read I'm more sensitive to stories that take quite a while to get going. Thoughts?