Maplewood Middle School is in the midst of an election for student council officers. Gabriella de la Cruz is running for student council president. The student council president has a great deal of control over which school-sponsored clubs get funding. Keith Sinclair, an excellent villain, wants to be president so he can fund the clubs he likes and de-fund the others. He and his father, another excellent villain, arrange to buy the election. They buy it from Dr. Kelsey, the school principal and the third excellent villain. Enter Jackson Greene. Jackson finds out about the Sinclair’s attempt to buy the election and decides to put together a team to secure the election for his one-time girlfriend Gaby.
Jackson is super cool. He is in complete control of every detail of the heist. He chooses his team members very carefully and he knows how to get the best out of each of them. Each of the team members is a believable character.
There’s also a love story between Jackson and Gaby. They’d been very close, but Jackson was indiscreet with another girl and Gaby broke off their relationship. It’s been four months. Jackson misses Gaby and she misses Jackson. They miss their burgeoning romance, but most of all they miss their friendship. There is also a romance developing between two other members of Jackson’s team.
Jackson’s team is drawn from various ethnic backgrounds. Johnson creates this diversity in a way that seems effortless. As a reader, it never occurred to me that the racial diversity was unusual.
I loved the political angle of the book. Tampering with voting machines brings up memories of the 2000 election in Florida. It also reminds me of the rumors of tampering with voting machines in the 2004 election. How can the democratic process be honored in the face of machines that can be altered to produce a particular outcome? As I read the book I kept thinking “anyone who writes for The Pirate Tree blog (as Johnson does) couldn’t tell a story about machine tampering in which the tampering is successful and the success is positive.” Was I right?
Beyond tampering with voting machines, there’s the whole issue of buying elections. In a completely non–didactic way, Johnson is preparing kids to be voters in a post-Citizens United country.
Johnson draws such an accurate picture of Middle School that after reading the book I’m now trying to forget middle school all over again.