Monday, September 5, 2011

In the Middle Monday Review of
The Odd Job Squad by Karl Fields

Monday, September 5, 2011

 In the Middle Monday is a feature where I review books that while geared towards middle school readers are what I believe represent excellent examples of story.

The best way to get even is to get Odd... Thirteen-year-old Ander Cartwright is an expert on two subjects: fortune cookies and payback. Especially payback. When he’s not struggling with algebra, Ander leads an anonymous revenge club that operates within the walls of Marina Middle School. Got a beef with a classmate? Email Ander’s crew and, if your case if legit, they’ll get even on your behalf. It’s not easy to right wrongs and fly under the radar at the same time. That’s why Ander developed three simple rules designed to help him and his friends stay incognito. But when Ander spots the opportunity to settle a score of his own, he ignores the rules, setting off a chain of events that threatens to blow his cover, and it’ll take all the butt-kicking, detention-dodging skill the guys can muster to keep a lid on their secret.(Publisher's summary from Goodreads)

Middle school and bullies walk hand in hand down the locker filled halls of grades six through eight and Karl Fields takes this unfortunate fact of life and creates for his readers an entertaining yet realistic twist on getting even in his debut novel The Odd Job Squad.

Ander and his best buds Christian, Joe, and Shooter (the only girl in the group) have been trying to set things right for victims of bullying at Marina Middle since sixth grade. Together they decide which cases to take on from the various emails they received and follow a few simple rules: everyone has to agree to take on a case, the payback should match the crime, and it should never be personal. But when Ander gets a chance to payback an old nemesis he forgets the rules and the squad’s anonymity is threatened. What follows is a frantic push to set things right, and in the process, not only does Ander grow and learn about revenge not being sweet, but he also gets a glimpse at why bullies become bullies.

What makes The Odd Job Squad a perfect middle school read is equals amounts of charming relatable characters, interesting and original events, and real issues facing tweens and young adults. I loved Ander, who is a typical middle school guy who struggles with algebra and the fact that he lacks athletic abilities. But what he lacks in these two areas he more than makes up in personality and his strong sense of right and wrong. His intentions to fight for the underdogs is noble and his loyalty to his friends make Ander not only a fantastic narrator, but a character I wanted to succeed. He is a keen observer of human nature using what he labels as people’s preactions. Ander’s voice, as well as the other characters in the book, is authentic and gives credence to the story without compromising or watering it down as many middle school often authors do.

The events that move the story forward were completely original and fun to participate in. Part of the conflict involves a quest to score tickets to a boy band concert, which takes the odd squad on a scavenger hunt around San Francisco and ends up with Ander singing one of the band’s pop hits in Chinese.

But what I really appreciated most about the book was how Fields’ managed to deal with the issue of revenge without leaving the reader believing that getting even is an acceptable way to deal with bullies. The ending leaves the reader contemplating what causes a bully to be mean in the first place? And provides a few answers to reflect upon. I also enjoyed the other theme of friendship and the budding of romance that occurs between Ander and Shooter.

Although I usually prefer young adult novels, The Odd Job Squad is a book that will appeal to not only middle school, but many young adult and adult readers too. It is definitely a book I will be recommending to my students this year and will consider for next year's Area Wide Book Battle.

Source: Received copy for review from author
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