Troublemaker (review)
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Reviewed by
Clements, Andrew. Troublemaker; illus. by Mark Elliott. Atheneum, 2011. [160p]. ISBN 978-1-4169-4930-5 $16.99 Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 4-7.

Clay Hensley delights in testing limits; he draws a caricature of his principal as a donkey, deliberately baits the art teacher into sending him to the principal's office, and then fearlessly hands the picture over to the principal, all the while chatting and smiling. Throughout the incident, Clay thinks about the opportunity he'll have to tell his nineteen-year-old brother Mitch all about it that night, as Mitch is returning home from a thirty-day stint in the county jail. Mitch, however, is not only not delighted, he actually lays into Clay about getting his act together before he makes the same kind of mistakes that Mitch made. Fulfilling a promise to Mitch, Clay transforms from troublemaker to model student (even adopting a new haircut and wardrobe), with somewhat surprising results. This thoughtful novel takes on a more serious tone than Clements' usual fare, and the emphasis is less on the school setting than on Clay's dramatic character shift and personal growth. The real strength of the story lies in in the before and after depictions of Clay; since readers meet Clay at his worst, the impact of his shift to the best is considerable. The third-person narration switches occasionally to the viewpoint of Mrs. Ormin, the school secretary, who's an external witness Clay's change (and who takes notes on Clay's meetings with the principal, providing a seven-page account of an incident from first grade that begs to be read aloud). This will have wide appeal, particularly among those who like to see their protagonists end the novel better than they started it. Final illustrations not seen. [End Page 514]

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