Monday, June 10, 2024

Control Freaks by J.E. Thomas

Today's read centers around a science fair competition and should swing in tons of middle grade drama as well. I'm assuming it will include a group of kids, who normally wouldn't have anything to do with each other, and pit them against tough odds while showing bonds of friendship forming? At least, that's what my crystal ball is telling me (or the blurb).

Let's just dive in and see how this handles all of that, shall we?

by J.E. Thomas
Levine Querido
Middle Grade Contemporary
320 pages
ages 8 to 12

AUGUST 13th!!!

One week. One prize. Seven really weird challenges.

The kids at Benjamin Banneker College Prep are a little… competitive. Okay. They’re a LOT competitive.

The minute Principal Yee announces an epic competition for the golden B-B trophy, seventh-grader Frederick Douglass Zezzmer knows he has to win.
But it won’t be easy. The competition doesn’t just include science, technology, engineering and math. It also has arts and sports. Not Doug’s best subjects.

Even worse, it’s a TEAM competition. Instead of being in a superstar group, Doug gets paired with four middle school misfits no one else wants.

Worst of all, Doug’s dad has a horrible backup plan. If Doug doesn’t win, he has to forget about becoming The World’s Greatest Inventor and spend the summer in sports camp, with his scary stepbrother.

With only a week to go, Doug launches a quest to turn his team of outcasts into winners… and maybe even friends


Competition fever shifts into overdrive with plenty of drama and learning to work together thrown in.

Doug is determined to become the greatest inventor ever, but his biological father sees sports in the future, instead. When the principal announces an intense, science competition with a special prize, Doug knows this is his chance to shoot for his dreams and shove that sport idea to the sidelines. But there's a hitch—isn't there always? It's a team competition, and Doug isn't anything but happy to work with others, especially when he realizes who he'll be working with. It was already going to be tough to prove himself, but now, it might just be impossible.

Science fair competition heads right into drama as these pages take on more than a few more serious issues, while embracing STEAM and the very competitive spirit. By allowing the chapters to switch between various characters' points of view, the reader gets to see the different challenges each person is facing and what is driving them to do what they do. It adds quite a bit of depth and more than a few subplots to weave with wit and heart under the main plot surrounding Doug's own goals and problems. Each of these hits upon themes, which middle graders can identify with (divorce, family health issues, pressures at home, etc), and each one comes across naturally. While all of this simmers along, the science fair madness (because this competition goes way beyond basic science fair) brings in STEAM goodness with technology, math, arts, and more.  So much more.

Despite everything going on, the story runs smoothly and doesn't grow confusing. Each chapter begins with the character's name as well as a small symbol to represent them, so it's clear who is telling the story. Each one has their own voice, and their personalities come across nicely. This also helps get a good handle on that chaos surrounding the competition competitiveness. This is where the action sits...and it's not to be underestimated. It was fun to see the tension build as problems arose (emotional as well as practical), and there's enough snark and humor built in to add spice. The pacing rolls along with only a few slower areas here and there. There are more than a few details surrounding the science, which is wonderful but does go in deeper than some readers might enjoy.  Those, who thrive in this direction, will appreciate this aspect, though.

This is a well-woven read, which incorporates diversity, science, and life issues with natural spark. Fans of science fair tension are especially going to want to take a peek at this one.

And here she is...

J.E. Thomas grew up near Colorado’s Front Range mountains. She spent her early summers stuffing grocery bags with books at the local library, reading feverishly, then repeating the process week after week. J.E. has bachelors’ degrees in Mass Communications and Political Science, as well as a master’s degree in Public Communications. She wrote Control Freaks while working as an administrator at the same independent school she attended as child.

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