cover image The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects

Maurice Broaddus. HarperCollins/Tegen, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-279631-8

Broaddus’s middle grade debut, a dramatic exploration of middle school from the perspective of its most “troublemaking” students, brings his personal experience volunteering in special education classrooms to bear. Thelonius Mitchell, an African-American attendee of Persons Public Crossing Academy, is a “disruptive” seventh grader and special ed student prone to school pranks that don’t please school administrators. When a gun is found near the school, and Thelonius and his compatriots stand accused (“you just bring in the usual suspects”), he takes it upon himself to search for the real culprit. Broaddus peoples his Indianapolis academy with all manner of adults, from well-meaning to apathetic. Its students demonstrate similarly varied motives, many of them trapped in a system ill equipped to offer the support or protection they need. Though the story captivates, the voices and characterization given to the juvenile protagonists can at times feel a touch adult. Broaddus surprises readers with an ending that avoids a tidy, just resolution, and his portrayal of complex dynamics, particularly from the perspectives of faculty, administrators, and students alike, sheds revealing light on the nature of systemic profiling, based on class, race, and neurodiversity, at schools and within society. Ages 8–12. Agent: Jennifer Udden, Barry Goldblatt Literary. [em](May) [/em]