Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Secrets to Ruling School by Neil Swaab

The Secrets to Ruling School (Without Even Trying)The Secrets to Ruling School by Neil Swaab

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review copy provided by Netgalley

While this book is not the only one to come out in past few years looking like a rulebook written in a school notebook, this book is singular in its overall format. This book seems to dance back and forth between instructional guide and second-person narrative. I liked that. It was a very funny book too, though I wasn't particularly keen on a couple choices of verbiage such as referring to kids being 'screwed' when things go wrong, or to 'taking a dump' in the bathroom that were sprinkled throughout. That's the kind of stuff that makes a school librarian choose not to put a book on their shelves. Also, there was a reliance on the cliched school social structure that I find tiresome and completely unrealistic in most cases. Essentially, that kind of storytelling perpetuates archaic social settings that don't reflect the reality of today, making teenagers seem one-dimensional and agonizingly predictable.

However, I don't mean to come down on this decision too hard, because I really was very impressed with the book. Within the setting he created, Swaab did an impressive job of creating a gradually escalating plan to affect change throughout the school. The cliques that he used were essential to the overall plot. Each clique needed something from the other one that made for a ever-evolving set of obstacles that the main character, me, had to overcome in order to find his comfortable place in the school.

This book is full of advice, most of it the kind that would most teachers and parents openly weep, but all of it done in a tongue-in-cheek, humorous style. The astute reader will realize that the plans, though amazing elaborate and seemingly well thought out, all have glitches that tend to make them backfire for one reason or another and generally complicate the characters' lives further. It's not until the end is in sight that you start to realize that the characters are growing from experience together and that real friendships are forming. One character I felt continually bad for was Eugene Leach, whose unpopularity made him the butt of many of jokes about lonely he was. I don't feel like that was done in good taste. Still, there is something enjoyable about this story.

I'm sure it would appeal to readers of anything from I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President or Vordak the Incomprehensible: Rule the School to fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Big Nate: In a Class by Himself or Dear Dumb Diary Box Set #1-4 or Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life. It was right on par with those books for crass, occasionally crude humor.

Were I a middle school librarian, I would undoubtedly add this book to my library, but as I am dealing with an elementary crowd, I would probably pass this by in my next order. Still, as a reader, I was very impressed. I liked the book. I laughed throughout, and I would happily add this book to my personal collection. Good book if the audience is ready for it.

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