Book: The Great Greene Heist
Author: Varian Johnson
Age Range: 10-14
The Great Green Heist is a fun caper novel for middle school students, written by Varian Johnson. It features Jackson Greene, a semi-reformed prankster who sets out, with a talented crew, to ensure that his former almost-girlfriend wins the election for student council president. There are spy novel trappings such as disguises, hidden microphones, and custom gadgets. However, the real emphasis in The Great Greene Heist is on interpersonal dynamics, and the role that the various kids play in the drama.
The Great Green Heist features a diverse cast of characters (as one can see by looking closely at the cover), but it is about the heist (well, more of a scam), rather than being about the ethnicity of any one character. Johnson does a nice job of including small details that let the reader know that the characters come from different backgrounds, without distracting too much from the story. There is one minor character, an administrative assistant in the Principal's office, who is overtly racist, but skin colors are otherwise mainly a background matter. A bigger difference in how Jackson perceives other students involves whether or not they play basketball (and how good they are), rather than what they look like.
In truth, I had a bit of trouble sorting out all of the characters and their relationships at the beginning of the book. I had to go back and skim the first few chapters a couple of times. A relationship diagram / cast of characters might have been helpful. There is a glossary of Jackson's past capers included in the book's end materials, as well as a list of the 15 rules that make up the "Greene Code of Conduct." For example, "Stay cool under pressure. A rattled crew is a mistake-prone crew."
The Great Greene Heist has an intro sure to pull kids in:
"As Jackson Greene sped past the Maplewood Middle School Cafeteria -- his trademark red tie skewed slightly to the left, a yellow No. 2 pencil balanced behind his hear, and a small spiral-bound notebook tucked in his right jacket pocket -- he found himself dangerously close to sliding back into the warm confines of scheming and pranking." (Page 1)
The story is a bit over the top, as is common in caper-type novels, featuring a candidate with basically no redeeming value, and a corrupt principal, not to mention a cooler-than-cool Jackson. I was reminded a bit of the Veronica Mars television series, in a good way. Kind of a quirkier, more interesting school than one might actually find in real life.
I enjoyed The Great Greene Heist, and I think that kids will, too. I especially liked the character of Gaby, a strong girl running for Student Council President. Gaby at one point laments a female friend who prefers watching boys play sports over playing herself, and vows never to be like that herself. I think I would have liked to be friends with her. And I love the fact that Jackson makes it cool to be smart.
The Great Green Heist has become a bit of a poster-book for diversity, in light of the recent We Need Diverse Books campaign. But don't read it out of some sense of making a difference by reading diverse books. No, read it because it's a fun story about smart kids taking matters into their own hands, and bending the rules for a greater good. Recommended for middle school readers, boys or girls.
Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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