“The Mysterious Case of the Albright Academy” by Diane Stanley

Since I am taking a long time finishing the latest book, I figured you would enjoy a book review from the real talent in the family!  🙂  Kristen wrote this for the Tracy Press Book Nook on Oct 13, 2007.

Kristen got an early copy of this book, which will be released in December.

“Allbright Academy” is robotically perfect. All the students display model behavior, abide by the rules and are ever so polite. They are tidy, clever and brilliant. However, this is no natural phenomenon, as Franny and her friends find out.

Franny’s sister, Zoë, is discovered by Martha Evergood, one of the members of the Allbright Academy board of directors, while at a junior leadership conference in Washington, D.C. She invites her and her brother and sister, J.D. and Franny, to undergo testing at the school. Their parents eagerly take them to the prestigious academy.

Everyone is dazzled by the school. The campus is gorgeous, and the students are all unimaginably polite and composed — not a hair out of place. Each student’s education is specially tailored to his or her needs, and each is assigned to a cottage (dorms, really) with others who share similar interests. Cyclamen Cottage, for example, is for aspiring writers and poets.

The meals served at Allbright are healthy, especially the fat-free, chock-full-of-vitamins brownies, and each student has to take a P.D. (personal development) class, which helps improve their appearance and behavior.

Franny becomes exceedingly nervous about the testing; she wonders how a completely ordinary, average girl like herself will pass tests that will surely have rigorous standards. As she waits, she meets teary, depressed Cal Fiorello, charming Brooklyn Offloffalof and pompous Prescott Bottomy III. She avoids Prescott but becomes fast friends with Cal and Brooklyn.

Zoë passes all the evaluation tests with flying colors, but Franny and J.D. do not. However, Zoë refuses to accept Allbright’s invitation as long as her siblings can’t join her there, and Allbright graciously admits all three.

Once again, Franny is overwhelmed. It’s glaringly obvious to her that there’s no way she can hope to fit in at Allbright when her fellow eighth-graders are so overachieving and brilliant. How can she compete with kids like Prescott, whose test scores are so high they’re just about off the charts? One girl, Susan Carver, is the teen editor for the “Philadelphia Inquirer”; Cal knows several languages and hopes to expand her knowledge of Mandarin; and Brooklyn is going to have a book of poems, “In the Shadow of the Bridge,” published in the spring.

Franny’s confidence gets a much-needed boost during the traditional Allbright orientation exercise. The new students are separated into two groups, and each group has to build a robot. Franny is given the job of assembling the robot, and although she never gets the instructions, she successfully builds it, and her group wins.

During their first days at Allbright, Franny and her friends are content to scoff at its ridiculous rules and strange curriculum — Brooklyn in response to P.D. class: “They’re gonna give me grooming tips?” But within a few weeks, they become replicas of all the other students — perfect and mindless.

When Franny visits her family for Thanksgiving, they are surprised by her uppity, superior behavior. Her old friend Beamer also notices the difference in her, confronts her and ends up leaving on bad terms.

Then Cal is admitted into a hospital because of appendicitis. Within a few days, she’s feeling like her normal self, and she develops suspicions about what’s happening at the school. She, Franny and the others stop eating the so-called nutritional, vitamin-filled brownies and formulate a plan to uncover the truth about Allbright Academy.

“The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy” was clever and different from what I expected. I like how it remained light-hearted but had undercurrents of seriousness.

Sometimes it’s OK to challenge authority — especially when the authorities are sneaking behavior-modifying substances into the lunch brownies.

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